Thinking About Food

Relae: A Book of Ideas, by Christian F. Puglisi, (Ten Speed Press), 448 pages, released November 11, 2014

If you know any foodies, particularly foodies who take their own cooking seriously, Relae could make a striking gift book. The book shares the name of author Christian F. Puglisi’s Copenhagen restaurant. This is a substantial book, filled with gorgeous photos, and beautifully bound in a sort of eco-industrial style.

Relae isn’t really a cookbook, though is has a generous recipe collection. Instead, it is, as its cover states, a book of ideas. The idea sections begin the book and are marked by notches in the manner of an unabridged dictionary. Headings include “Liquids,” “Animal,” “Manipulations,” “Texture,” and “Theory.” Each section is composed of a series of short (usually two-page) essays. The “Liquids” section, for example, has essays titled “Water,” “Wine,” “Fruit Vinegars,” and “Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.”

One of the pleasures of this book is asdsifting through the essays, using them as starting places for one’s own culinary explorations. For example, I hadn’t thought of water quality as an issue in cooking—it comes out of the tap, and I use it. Puglisi, however, has a special water-processing system also used by one high-end Copenhagen coffee roaster. (I also learned from my wife that her employer, the U.S. coffee roasting company Peet’s, triple filters all the water used in the roasting process and in the drinks they serve at their retail shops.) While this might seem pretentious at first, Puglisi reminds us that “A cup of coffee is 99 percent water…. It doesn’t take a degree in chemistry to figure out that when reducing a stock… as the water evaporates [it becomes] even tougher for all the flavors and aromas to come through.” These are the kind of ruminations at the heart of Relae.

Many of recipes in Relae strike my non-Scandinavian palate as quixotic: Lumpfish Roe, Daikon, and Almonds; Pickled Skate, Mussels, and Celery Root; Potato, Seaweed, and Peccorino. Fankly, I really won’t be using the recipe half of the book except for a few of the “Herbivorous Starters” (otherwise will have some of old good ones from Cooking them will require determined searching-out of ingredients and plenty of time for the multi-step preparations.

If you’re looking for a book of recipes you can serve for dinner on weeknights, Relae won’t do you any good. It may even be too ambitious for your more complex entertainment cooking. But if you like thinking about cooking and food in all its various forms, you’ll find Relae a title to pick up for interesting reading.

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