The Frugal Gourmet's Culinary Handbook: An Updated Version of an American Classic on Food and Cooking
(2 customer reviews)
collection of American recipes, including cooking terms and procedures
- Amazon Sales Rank: #736924 in Books
- Published on: 1991-09
- Original language: English
- Number of items: 1
- Binding: Hardcover
- 497 pages
Most helpful customer reviews
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful.
An annotated forgotten classic, and a suitable gift for your favorite kitchen antiquarian
By Brian Connors
It's easy to forget that Jeff Smith, who ended his culinary career in the midst of a sex scandal filled with more questions than answers and who ultimately died in obscurity, at one time held the same place in the pop culinary world as Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray do now. It's a simple fact: sometimes otherwise great people do stupid things that utterly obliterate an otherwise stellar legacy. But no matter what the truth of the whole matter is, I have to agree with Alton Brown's two-liner review of Smith's original volume in his stellar "I'm Just Here for the Food": "I don't care what he does or did in his personal life. Everything in here worked back then and still does."
Now over a hundred years old, Charles Fellows' Culinary Handbook, written for the turn-of-the-century American hospitality trade, was an answer to such tomes as Escoffier's Guide Culinaire, whose first edition had come out two years previous and was no doubt very close at hand in Fellows' trade, even as he sought to create a purely American answer to Escoffier's masterwork. And Fellows did produce a very solid volume -- practically anything that needs to be known about upscale American cookery circa 1900 is here, and it's very instructive to flip through the book and find out about lost culinary fashions and changes in meaning and technique over the years.
In 1991, Jeff Smith and his sous-chef Craig Wollam released their updating of the book. This is important, since Fellows never made the splash he'd hoped to on the culinary scene, and much of the history behind it had been left in the past along with the Culinary Handbook. (Incidentally, despite Smith's failing health and increasing reliance on Wollam behind the scenes and on screen, this is the only one of Smith's books where Wollam recieves a coauthor credit.) Smith and Wollam give the book a much-needed dose of context, first and foremost, using the famously gluttonous railroad magnate Diamond Jim Brady and the ultrafancy New York restaurant Delmonico's (its last successor, the New Orleans location, now owned by Emeril Lagasse) as examples of what was popular on the tables of the 1900s. Much of the book recieves substantial annotation from Smith and Wollam, including a good number of recipes with modern appeal fully articulated from Fellows' concise descriptions and a section exploring the differences between 1904 and 1991 kitchen techniques.
As essential as this book is for the historian of American food (and it's sad that it will probably never see print again because of Smith's fall from grace), it suffers from some grating flaws. The first is the fact that much of Smith's history must be taken with a grain of salt -- while Smith was an excellent cook and writer, he was known to play fast and loose with historical research, especially when religion was involved. While religion factors into only one or two of his books (particularly "The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast" and "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine"), it does leave one with the need to do some extra fact checking when using this or any Frugal Gourmet book for historical research. The other glaring flaw is the layout -- while Smith and Wollam's commentary is clearly distinguished from Fellows' original work with different-colored text and a lighter typeface, it's unnecessarily difficult to figure out where one entry ends and another begins, as recipe descriptions really aren't meaningfully separated from the entry text at all. (If this were ever reprinted, William Morrow & Co would be well advised to redo all the typesetting in this book to remedy this fault, as it seriously impairs the readability in this book.)
For whatever flaws the man had, though, Jeff Smith was an excellent writer and a culinary inspiration to millions. His work on salvaging this forgotten volume makes it a must-read for any student of antiquarian cooking, so if you or a friend is into that sort of thing, you must seek out a copy.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful.
A culinary lexicon
By Patrick W. Crabtree
I was disappointed in this book after buying it. I really like all the Frugal Gourmet (Jeff Smith) cookbooks and I loved his shows (which will probably never air again as he got into troubles prior to his death). I particularly liked his first cookbook, "The Frugal Goumet," which I rated five stars.
However, I sensed that this book came more from Craig Wollem (Smith's assistant) more than it did from Jeff Smith. Granted, it's bulging with great technical information but it isn't really a work that one can sit down and read (without going crazy). It's just a reference book.
So, if you really need to know all these cooking terms and historic commentaries, this one might work for you -- but, sadly, it didn't for me.