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Indie Groundbreaking Book: Notes on Cooking

Refined Cooking - and Refined Publishing - Do Not Call Attention to Themselves
I see over 5,000 new books come through the door each year, so it’s not very often I get excited about tearing open another envelope. But I did get excited the other day when I glimpsed the cover of a book I recognized without even reading the title.

Actually, what I recognized was the distinctive design of Notes On Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft, because its striking appearance mimics the memorable 2004 IPPY Award-winning book, Notes on Directing. It wasn’t just the design our IPPY judges liked: we loved its concise, organized approach to presenting “everything you need to know” about the topic and could see how valuable it would be to any student of theater or film.

Not that the new book's appearance is flamboyant. It is very subtle -- handsome, compact -- just the right size. As one of its tips states, "Refined cooking, like refined behavior, does not call attention to itself."

Notes on Cooking is the second title in the RCR Creative Press Notes on... series. Quite a different topic, but also somewhat related, as both the arts of cooking and fine dining are such important aspects of our lives, and for many, truly as much a form of entertainment as a stage play or a musical performance.

“Cook more, do it well, do it right…” says the book’s introduction. It then delivers “what every cook needs to know,” but without a single recipe – this is cooking knowledge that goes “beyond the recipe.” The book’s text consists of 217 “notes” organized into 19 chapters that blend enduring culinary truths, the highest standards of kitchen conduct, and timeless gems of cooking wisdom.

“From understanding the recipe to presentation, from tools to storage, from stocks and sauces to wine and spirits, the assertive, no-nonsense language of Notes on Cooking provides the explanatory commentary, helpful examples, and insights (from Alice Waters, Escoffier, da Vinci, and many others) that will help anyone become a better cook,” says the publisher’s description. “The notes also include life lessons – about how to bring delight, how to recognize quality, and how to see beauty in simplicity – that are as valuable outside the kitchen as they are inside.”

Some examples of the philosophical: “10. Your soul is in the food;” “20. Please, PLEASE slow down;” and “216. Food never lies.” And, the practical: “67. Taste as you go;” “111. Always let rice rest;” and “170. Cook bacon in a cold pan.”

“The Notes on... books are an attempt to capture the best of two worlds: the pithiness, easy digestibility and timeliness of Web content, without its volatility, and the enduring, timeless quality of a traditional book without being cumbersome or tedious,” says co-author and creative director Russell Reich. “The result is a series of short but beautiful, little but powerful books on basic fields of human creation, packed with wisdom. Our role models included The Art of War and The Elements of Style."

“We aimed to provide more than just useful information,” says Reich. “These books also introduce the element of character into a non-fiction book. There was a single piece of guidance that Frank Hauser, my co-author, gave me when we did Notes on Directing: 'The voice of the book, its persona, is who the readers THINK they have a relationship with. But that person isn't necessarily you and it isn't necessarily me, even though we're the ones writing it. Hopefully, it's someone far more interesting than either one of us. Your job is to decide who that person is. You have to answer the question: What is the nature of the relationship the reader has with him?'”

Wise words of advice to any writer, made even more poignant by Hauser’s death in 2007 at age 85. The new book is dedicated to his memory.
“There is a bounty of exceptionally good recipes out there. But the best recipes alone do not teach much. They just outline a procedure. We wanted to fill the gap,” says co-author and chef, Lauren Braun Costello. “We wanted readers to turn to any page in our book, follow any one of the notes, and become a better, wiser, more skilled cook.”

Ms. Costello developed her craft in the kitchens of some of the world’s most renowned chefs and as the owner and Executive Chef of Gotham Caterers in New York City. She was a recipe tester for the 75th anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking, and is a private chef, instructor, and food stylist for national television broadcasts including The Early Show on CBS, ABC’s The View, and CNN’s dLife.

Early reactions to the book are good: Daniel Boulud calls it “superb;” Lidia Bastianich says it is “invaluable;” James Peterson finds it “indispensable;” Michael Romano declares it “wonderful;” and Gael Greene says it is “amazing.”

Notes on Cooking is for the everyday cook wanting to improve, the seasoned expert looking to review the highest culinary standards, and the food lover seeking a fascinating glimpse into the pursuit of epicurean excellence. The book also features a recommended equipment list, an annotated reading list, and suggestions for food pairings.

Until now, such enduring good advice – especially this quick, efficient, and easy – has rarely been found outside a professional kitchen or textbook. Good things do come in small packages – and here’s one that will fit right into your apron pocket.

* * * * *

Notes On Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft
by Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich
June 2009 • Trade hardcover • $21.95 • 176 pages • 5 1/4" x 7 3/4"
ISBN-13: 978-0-9724255-1-3
To order: Pathway Book Service, 4 White Brook Road, Gilsum, NH 03448
voice 800•345•6665 - fax 603•357•2073 - email pbs@pathwaybook.com