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Beauty for the street library?

"For me, good food comes about only if you put yourself in it. Food is for giving, and the act of cooking is a gift from the cook to the diner. The pleasure of the table comes from sharing, from the friend who says, 'I want to cook for you'. My appreciation is of their act of cooking." Tetsuya

This is possibly the most beautiful cookbook on my shelves, and I have a few of those. As you must realise by now I'm a sucker for beauty.

I have no idea why I bought this book. Tetsuya is Japanese, and in spite of the French and Chinese influences and his love of Australian produce, the recipes are fundamentally Japanese I think. And Japanese is one of my least favourite cuisines. It's not that it's repulsive in any way but I have to say I find it sort of empty - stunningly exquisite to look at, but curiously bland to the taste. Now I admit I have not dined at the best Japanese restaurants, even high quality ones, let alone Tetsuya's of course. But then his restaurant Tetsuya's is in Sydney and I don't live in Sydney. I think he has a second restaurant in Singapore now, but I'm not going there anytime soon either. Maybe I had one of those recurring moments - I have plenty of them - when I wonder whether I should have another try at becoming a Japanese food fan. It's yet another one of those food things that I feel bad about not liking - like blue cheese and oysters. After all that's another thing about Japanese food it seems to me. You either adore it or you really don't. So I suspect that it was a feeling that I ought to learn from the top exponent of the cuisine, combined with the overwhelming beauty of the book.

Anyway, we - the inhabitants of Wild Cherry Drive - have just put up a street library at the junction with the longer street at the end of ours. Well three neighbours did the work, but it was well discussed by the whole street. And so I thought I should probably start weeding our massive book collection for the library and I thought I would start with my cookbooks. Having recently disposed of those two Marie Claire volumes to the op shop I am now considering this for the street library. Because in my head, it is beautiful, but vacuous and I'm never likely to cook anything from it.

But I had to have another look at it. Maybe I had been unfair. At the moment it is relegated to the very top shelf of a tall bookshelf. I can only just reach it and so it doesn't get looked at very often. Maybe I've arranged them all wrong. I should put the most used in the most inaccessible places and the unloved right in front of my face.

In a way I think of Tetsuya as a chef's chef. A bit like Heston Blumenthal and all of those other super famous chefs. They are not talking to you and me. The publisher's blurb on the back cover says:

"Tetsuya Wakuda is widely considered Australia's finest and most original chef."

A sentiment that Robert Carrier repeated in his New Great Dishes of the World saying that:

"Tetsuya Wakuda is one of the world's most inventive chefs. His small, 50-seat, two-floored restaurant in Sydney, Australia, is one of the greatest eating places in the world. Everything this man touches turns to gastronomic gold."

Mind you when he wrote that he had just anointed him the best chef in Australia. Nevertheless I'm sure it's a sentiment with which others concur.

Daunting. And in a way the very thing that probably most attracted me to this book - it's beauty - is also the very thing that prevents me trying to reproduce any of the recipes. The photography of the dishes and the design of the book is exquisite - see these two examples below.

On the left is Seasonal garden greens with soy and balsamic vinaigrette - which is just a recipe for a vinaigrette really - 80ml grapeseed oil, 80ml olive oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 3 tablespoons mirin, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic for 80g of mixed leaves. Just mix all the vinaigrette ingredients and toss. Or else Consommé of tomato and tea. Slightly more complicated this one but only four ingredients and one of those is water.

Simple is a word that comes up over and over again in the few reviews that I have found, and, indeed many - like the two above are ridiculously simple. So why don't I give them a go? They are well within my capabilities after all. Yes I think it's the beauty. It's not welcoming is it? It's presented as art and I can't do art. It's like this Picasso drawing - a print of which we have on a wall in one of our bedrooms. I could look at that and say I could do that - it's only four lines after all - but of course I couldn't. I could try and copy it, but I'm guessing even then it would not be perfect like Picasso's version. So perhaps the beauty of the dishes as illustrated in this book puts me off in the same way. So beautiful that I could in no way approximate it. And not quite real.

One of the most photographed dishes in the world apparently is his Confit of Petuna ocean trout with fennel salad, seen here on the right - scanned I'm afraid so not a perfect reproduction. At the time of writing the book it was often referred to as his signature dish. I don't know if it still is. And this too is actually pretty simple. So maybe I should try this as my fish dish of the week. Not that I will be able to get a fillet of ocean trout here in Eltham. But I can get salmon.

Mind you the other thing that he emphasises right from the start, is the quality of the ingredients. You start with the ingredients he says - not those dying veggies in your fridge. No - the perfect, the organic, best that money can buy fish. Nevertheless you could give it a go and you actually can watch the man himself show you how it's done.

Actually when I found this I also found that there are a whole lot of videos on YouTube of him cooking various things. I think he must have done a series with Ray Martin in Tasmania. SBS also has a whole lot of recipes, some of them gleaned from various Maeve O'Meara programs so there may be videos of those too.

One of the other dishes that seems to be talked about a lot is his Twice-cooked chicken with bread sauce which goes under a number of different names, but then he does say somewhere in his book that he doesn't necessarily cook the same dish the same way all the time. Robert Carrier says of this one - he reproduces it in his Great New Dishes of the World:

"one of the most interesting dishes I have tasted in my many, many visits over the years to the world's greatest restaurants. ... a masterpiece of flavour, texture and imagination."

To demonstrate the variation here are three different pictures of it from here and there - the first being from the book, and the second from Robert Carrier. The third is from delicious. I think and is where I found the recipe online.

This one is a bit more tricky - mostly because of the way he prepares the chicken in the first place, but once that's done, again the rest is relatively easy.

As is Sashimi of hamachi (kingfish) with blood orange and ginger vinaigrette but perhaps not quite as easy is Roasted scampi seasoned with tea and scampi oil. And he does do dessert as well - although I couldn't find a recipe for this one online - Flourless chocolate cake with chocolate sorbet and blood orange ice-cream. It's another one that Robert Carrier features, so I suppose it must good.

When I started flicking through this book today, in total awe of the design (by one Katie Miller) and the photographs (Takeshi Morieda) I was struck by how many of them were either to be served cold - all his soups were cold soups - or raw - lots of raw fish. Again not something that I warm to (oh dear pardon the pun - well is it a pun?). I also view this as a shortcoming of mine because when, on occasion I have either made or eaten cold soup it has been delicious, and ditto for raw fish. But yet again when you are dealing with this kind of food, you need to make sure that you have top quality ingredients.

"His culinary philosophy centres on pure, clean flavours that are decisive, yet completely refined. His amazing technique, Asian heritage, sincere humility, worldwide travels and insatiable curiosity combine to create incredible soulful dishes that exude passion in every bite." Charlie Trotter

"The menu dégustation is structured as a series of tiny tastes to highlight the entirety of the ingredients - their particular taste, texture, smell and look - whether they be from land, sea or earth. In Japanese tradition, the greater the variety of food served, the greater is the host's hospitality ... One dish leads to the other, and builds on the taste and structure of the one before. The steamed before the grilled, the raw before the cooked." Tetsuya Wakuda

So what am I going to do with this beautiful object full of beautiful - nay - exquisite food? A whole team of people poured their hearts and souls into its production. How churlish of me to reject it, abandon it to a street corner and the whims of passers by. I wonder if many have actually made the dishes found therein. I did find a few recipes on the net bravely attempted and actually liked enough to repeat online. Should I keep it and actually make something from it? If I choose carefully there are a few that are indeed attainable - but desirable? I'm not so sure. They certainly would not look as beautiful as those shown here. Presentation is not my forté. If I put it in the library shall I be sadder if somebody takes it or if nobody takes it and at some point I have to return it to my shelves?

I find in my old age that beauty of every kind is becoming such a large part of my life. Maybe it's because my own is long gone even though I never thought I had it at the time. Maybe it's because I have just matured and grown to appreciate the beauty of little things. But I'm obviously put off by it too. Too perfect - so - no give it a miss. I might be disappointed, or, worse still fail.

It probably needs to go to a more deserving home.

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