The Flavor Thesaurus
I hadn’t realized the depth of my dependence on cookbooks until I noticed that my copy of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking had fingernail marks running below the recipes. Here was stark evidence of my
timidity, an insistence on clinging to a set of instructions, like a handrail in the dark, when after twenty years of cooking I should surely have been well enough versed in the basics to let go and trust my instincts. Had I ever
really learned to cook? Or was I just reasonably adept at following instructions? My mother, like her mother before her, is an excellent cook but owns only two recipe books and a scrapbook of clippings, and rarely consults even those. I began to suspect that the dozens of books I owned were both a symptom and a cause of my lack of kitchen confidence. It was at a dinner around the same time that a friend served a dish using two ingredients it would never have occurred to me to pair. How, I wondered, did she know that would work? There was something in the air about surprising flavor matches, the kind of audacious combinations pioneered by chefs like Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adrià and Grant Achatz. What lay at the heart of their approach to food was, as far as I could see, a deeper understanding of the links between flavors. Being an ordinary, if slightly obsessive, home cook, I didn’t have the equipment or resources to research these; what I needed was a manual, a primer to help me understand how and why one flavor might go with another, their points in common and
their differences. Something like a thesaurus of flavors. But no such book existed and so, with what turned out in hindsight to be almost touching naivete, I thought I might try to compile one myself.