I’m an engineer and I can’t help but approach my review as I would an engineering task. What’s the problem? The book is expensive and on one know if it’s worth it. And, for some reason, folks have decided I can figure that out. How will we know when we’re done? Well, that one is pretty easy. Once I’ve got through every recipe and weighed it against some criteria of “worth,” I can make a judgement. How will we measure that the solution solves the problem? Measurement, oh, measurement. Always fun to debate. I’ve lost more arguments in technical meetings over how we’ll decide something is “good” than I can count. (Also lost many about definitions of so-called “common” terms but that’s a topic for another time.)
What Makes a Cookbook Worth Buying
For some people, cookbooks are about fantasy. They show us a glimpse into the kitchen at a fancy restaurant or into the Barefoot Contessa’s house in the Hamptons. It’s not a life we’ll likely ever had, but we could. It lets us dream. Maybe this is why you’d buy Zero, for the idea of it. If that’s the case, do your own evaluation as I don’t live in your head nor you in mine. What I find to be my ideal is very different from yours.
For some people, cookbooks are about inspiration. You flip through and maybe you make a recipe or two, but mostly it inspires you to do more. Bake more bread. Try out your Nana’s recipe for meatballs. Eat outdoors. It’s a jumping off point for things already on your “someday” list – or adds to it. It inspired me to try more things in the kitchen, as the non-cook in my family. Heck, I even used the sous vide for something other than making cold brew or setting it up for my husband to make something. Again, I can’t help you decide if this will inspire you or not. Your head != my head. (It’s weird in there, full of Disney lyrics and a childhood fear off the vacuum cleaner.)
For some people, the cookbook is about the recipes. You buy the book to actually make things from it and eat/drink them. That’s how I’m approaching the book. Do I want to and can I easily get the stuff to make the recipes?
Each recipe will be graded on the following:
- Equipment Needed
- Does a typical person already own all they needed? (Rating of A)
- Do you have to buy a few investment items to make these things? (Rating of B)
- Does only a very well-equipped home kitchen have these things? (Full disclosure: My household falls into the last category.) (Rating of C)
- Ingredients Needed
- Go to an average grocery store – using Publix Supermarket for comparison but think your typical Giant, Safeway, King Sooper (Rating of A)
- Go to a better grocery store – using Whole Foods for comparison (Rating of B)
- Go online – unless you live in a town with a ton of specialty stores, you’ll need to jump online for this (Rating of C)
- Techniques Needed
- Anyone can do it – think someone who has made things like boxed mac and cheese and has to Google what “spatchcock” means (after giggling) (Rating of A+)
- I can do it – okay, so you don’t know me, probably. I don’t like to cook but have basic knife skills, can bake things that are just mix and pour, can make a roast chicken with the “cover in butter and herbs and cook to temperature” technique. If you’ve ever successfully made a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, you are me. (Rating of A)
- My husband can do it – He loves to cook and has been doing it for years. He’s the type to make bread from scratch to use to make stuffing from scratch for Thanksgiving. We own over 500 cookbooks. (Rating of B)
- Only my neighbor could do it – He’s an Art Institute-trained chef who now works on the Operations side of things but, again, trained chef. (Rating of C)
- Sounds Good Factor
- Good to almost everyone – Ask ten people (who like cocktails) on the street if something sounds good, and you’ll get 8 or 9 affirmatives. (Rating of A)
- Good to the not-very-picky – I hate vinegar and asparagus and mushrooms so consider myself a picky eater. I’d not be in this category. Think odd but not extremely odd ingredients for cocktails. (Rating of B)
- Good to the adventurous – If you try things like Parmesan gelato or the world’s hottest salsa, you’re in this category. Nothing scares you when it comes to food except foodborne pathogens. (Rating of C)
We’ll use the good ‘ole letter grade to GPA translation (A+ = 4.5, A = 4, B = 3, C = 2) to get a number score then do a weighted average as follows:
Final score = (Equipment + Ingredients + Technique + 2 x Sounds Good) / 5
Once I get to the end of the book, I’ll tally up all the scores and come up with a master Worth Buying the Book (WBTB for short, ’cause engineering LIVES for acronyms) score. And, yes, I’ll probably make up a Google Sheets of the ratings for those with no attention span / my fellow data-lovers.
Tomorrow: The first two recipes to whet our appetites. You may even run off and make them right after reading.