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Book (p)review: All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips

AUH-coverThis is not a proper book review, since I haven’t tried any of the recipes, but a preview of a book that I’ve been waiting for. The pub date kept getting pushed back, but it’s now set for August, I have a proof copy in my hands, and I can’t wait any longer to write something about it.

It’s no surprise that All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips is beautiful. Carolyn herself illustrated it and her publisher, now copublisher, McSweeney’s is known for beautiful and creative book design. There are line drawings instead of glitzy photographs (see them here), a generous page size with room for marginal notes, and fascinating and detailed sidebars – for example, one on wine (p. 190) that fills in a story that I’ve been talking to people about since last June, when I visited Yantai for the Gourmand Book Awards and learned that wine-making was taking off in China. Grape wine as an ingredient in an ancient dish, Consort’s Chicken, for example – who knew?

A couple of things that caught my eye:

  1. Practical substitutions. Carolyn not only recommends Korean flour to get the right result in Chinese breads and pastas, but provides a recipe for mixing ordinary unbleached all-purpose flour with pastry flour.
  2. Descriptions that we can relate to. Calling a lotus-leaf wrapped rice cake a tamale makes so much sense!
  3. An account of Julia Child’s experiences in India and China during World War II and an imaginary picture of how she might have taught the “art of Chinese cooking.” Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, favorite writers of mine, apparently disliked Chinese food, and I’m thrilled that Julia Child was more open-minded.

Ken Hom’s foreword calls the book “a classic, as well as an invaluable reference for any serious cook’s kitchen.” I agree, and it’s a thrill to have Ken as well as Carolyn as advisers on the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Chinese Cuisines. More to come, as this serious cook begins to explore All Under Heaven.

You can also read the author’s note about the book by clicking here. Her blog is packed with recipes and stories – plenty to enjoy before the book comes out.

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