“Given our shared passion for cooking, how is it that we were suddenly convinced to retire our pots and pans for good? It’s not just the extra cupboard space that our oven now provides.”
– from the book reviewed here…
Buenos Aires – Okay, pet peeve in regard to book titles. Yes, book titles. If you have a catchy title, if you, or your editor or publisher, gave it some thought, why do you need a subtitle explaining what your book is all about? Is it really that difficult, with a book called Raw Food Real World for anyone to grasp the subject matter at hand? Does it need 100 Recipes to Get the Glow? Which, by the way, comes across to me at least as less explicative than the title – sure, I get the 100 recipes part, but “get the glow”?
That out of the way, let’s look at the book. It’s a subject matter that’s all the rage these days – raw food or life food. It’s written by a chef who, at least within the New York foodie world, is pretty well known, and his wife, who isn’t. It’s beautifully illustrated with photos of the food, and less so with lots of pictures of the two of them, presumeably glowing. Not that they’re not a cute couple, in fact, Matthew Kenney is… well, was… one of the cutest chefs around – but that’s 15 years ago or so when he was running Matthew’s on the Upper West Side (which was not a raw food vegan restaurant and was a spot I regularly dined at and had a good number of late eve conversations with Matthew about the industry after introducing myself) – we all lose a bit of cuteness with age, you know? Graphically, it’s not well designed – the recipes for the most part are fine, but the chapter introductions are all done in spindly white text set on vividly colorful pages, with a particular fondness it seemed for yellow and orange, making them difficult to read.
Their explanations of how and why they got into a raw food lifestyle are relatively straightforward, if, perhaps, punctuated by a few too many gee golly gosh how good I felt after I did this moments that get a bit repetitive. The level of detail is probably just about perfect for someone who’s more interested in this as a recipe book than as an explication of the lifestyle itself. The recipes are well written and clear, and sound delicious. On the other hand, most of them sound like things that are fairly complex to make – the “real world” part of the title is a bit misleading. I did a little surfing online to see what sort of reaction the book has garnered among the raw food folk, and one of the most common comments is something to the effect of “everything looks so good, but way beyond my skill level to make”. Which was my reaction and I cook for a living.
The recipes, and the whole story they present, in general, are clearly aimed at those with a lot of time on their hands to make stuff, and more, with a lot of cash to burn. Exotic ingredients, professional level equipment – and no suggestions for substitutions on either – in fact a bit disparaging of any attempts to make this food without using the best (and most expensive) kitchen tools and ingredients out there (with supplier sources listed for where to order all this exotica from should you live somewhere, say, other than New York City or San Francisco).
On the positive side, I like that they don’t preach. In fact they’re quite clear that they aren’t fanatically committed to a 100% raw food vegan lifestyle, and actually enjoy eating both cooked food and non-vegetable food, when they eat out, but have chosen this for home – and even that has it’s minor exceptions. In their lead-ins they do make it sound like anyone could jump on the bandwagon should they want to, it’s just a shame that the recipes make it seem far harder than it has to be to do so. And that leaves this book, for me, as one to sit and glow on the coffee table, should you be so inclined, and less likely to be on the kitchen bookshelf where it might be used.