5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.
Has a non-cookbook ever sent you scrambling kitchen-ward?
For legendary and James Beard award-winning chef Norman Van Aken, literature often beelines straight from his brain to his stomach.
He says of the delicious bond: "The strands of fate and history pull us in circles we may never fully comprehend, but they are there. And why I’m a chef is moved, most surely by all of the ‘levers’ moved by the pencils, pens and typewriters of these artists and many more."
Five Non-Cookbooks that Influenced My Cooking: Norman Van Aken
The phrase was not his, but his way of making it so darn fascinating sure was. I might have snapped up the book on the strength of M.F.K. Fisher’s prominent endorsement on the back cover alone. She is one of my favorites of all time.
The book remains extremely relevant. Here’s an example.
2. "Oliver Twist," Charles Dickens
You realize that you can identify with others who, though from distant places, are very much like you in the dizzying, twisting, road of life. When young Oliver loses a contest and must represent the other hungry inmates of the workhouse they live in and asks on behalf of all: 'Please, sir, I want some more.'
He is another human suddenly, and defenselessly, caught up in the cross-hairs of social injustice in the hope for a better world for many, including his very young self.
Reading that book again at age 20, I had no idea that becoming a cook would let me have access not only to food but a place where I could find a community and kindred spirits. And while that may not be everything it certainly is a lot."
3. “Culture and Cuisine," Jean-François Revel
After reading this book, I sat down and over the course of about two weeks wrote a paper I titled 'Fusion.' I wrote the paper only for my own personal understanding; I had no intention of publishing it.
Iin the Fall of '88, I was asked to join other chefs on stage in Santa Fe for a symposium on American Cuisine to describe why we cooked the way each of us did. The other chefs that day on stage with me were Tom Douglas, Lydia Shire, Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter.
My definition of fusion refers to fusion between haute cuisine - or aristocratic-styled 'restaurant' cuisine - with the more down-to-earth, rustic home cooking.
Later, by others, it also came to mean the 'fusion' between various cultures and countries. Fusion cuisine can and does take place in almost every continent.
Jean-François Revel states: 'There is gastronomy when there is a permanent quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns and when there is a public both competent enough and rich enough to arbitrate this quarrel.'
I think that fusion is the mother of all of the different types of hyphenated cuisines. Like me, other chefs across the globe are finding that there is a combined power in what I named 'fusion cooking.'
In my cooking, I create an interplay, a fusion, between regionalism and technical know-how. My cooking is the result of coupling our native regional foodstuffs like conch, black beans, plantains, mangoes, coconuts, grouper, key limes, snapper, shrimp and the folk cooking methods intrinsic their preparation, with my self-taught classical techniques.
'New World Cuisine' is the term I came up with to describe the fusion occurring in Florida and the immediately surrounding areas."
4. “In the Night Kitchen”, Maurice Sendak
As the young boy, Mickey fell out of his clothes and into cake batter where he was met with a city made out of a baker’s stock and trade tools.
Mickey proclaims, 'I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me!' That made us both wonder what existential intent that meant - and I still don’t know. The story confounds, captivates and liberates - which essentially all art (and the art of cuisine) seeks to do.
This year Justin and I wrote our first cookbook together. The bond was forged in mythical storytelling as well as in blood."
5. “On the Road," Jack Kerouac
So many characterize Kerouac as a ‘free spirit,’ when in fact, he was almost never free from the hurt of his brother Gerard’s early death when Jack was 4 or 5 years of age. Jack is a seeker and my friends and I were as well. We too hitchhiked around America with rucksacks slung to our hungry frames.
Kerouac’s book 'Desolation Angels' might be my favorite of his, but it was 'On the Road' that got me started. I didn’t know until much later that he wrote the famous 120-foot scroll version in an apartment on West 20th Street in New York.
I wonder how close it was to my own family’s home in two preceding generations. My maternal grandfather lived at 252 W. 20th when he was a boy. My great-grandfather lived at 312, and my grandmother and grandfather lived at 400 when my mother was born."
Do you feast on non-cookbooks as well? Share your favorite titles in the comments.
Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.