I have a weakness for beautiful coffee table cookbooks. This one is particularly well done. The photographs are superb. The text is very well written and although this is supposed to be a cookbook it feels more like a documentary. One of the authors is Australian-born Lebanese of immigrant parents and a chef in Melbourne. The co-author is his ex-wife who is English.
WHAT I LIKED:
- Superb photography by Matt Harvey. I actually bought the book because I was so attracted by the photographs. They are full page and really show a flair for communicating the light, colors, architecture and general atmosphere of the area.
- Excellent prose: the writer gives very accurate descriptions, making you feel like you were there. The book is divided into sections such as ” A day in Gemmayzeh ” (artsy Beirut neighborhood) with soup recipes, or “The butchers of Baalbeck” for meat mezzes. I loved the articles on the local artisans such as the Ghosn brothers and their arak factory, or the folks who farm and export the wonderful Lebanese pine nuts.
WHAT I DID NOT LIKE:
- It is contradictory: the book is the result of the author’s quest for his Lebanese roots, yet most of the recipes are not very traditional. So, you are left wondering if he truly cares about Lebanese cuisine, or does he want to show off his take on it?
- I found inaccuracy: for example, there is a recipe for manoushi bread with cheese that mentions ackawi as a blue cheese. Now, it is my understanding for having bought it and used it many times over that ackawi or akkawe is very similar to mozzarella!
- For a chef who suppposedly wants to show off his roots I did not see much evidence of it. Case in point, the book is replete with recipes such as” sour cherry mascarpone sorbet” or “duck fatayer”or “rabbit hotpot with black pepper, ginger and cinnamon”or “confit salmon tarator”. I did not see any effort in showing the traditional techniques or flavors.
This book is a good investment if, like me, you are feeling nostalgic and want to see beautiful pictures of a much loved homeland. However, if you are looking for traditional recipes, forget it!
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