Cookbook Review: Modern Batch Cookery

Regardless of where you fall on the quality side of that Le Cordon Bleu education lawsuit, we can all probably agree that culinary school is expensive. Wiley may not have seen that side of the consumer complaint coming, but the publishing company has been churning out a hefty number of cookbooks in association with the Culinary Institute of America in recent years, Modern Batch Cookery being the latest of the bunch.

Most of those books have been cookbook library worthy. Have we made any téte pressée (rolled pressed pig's head) from that Art of Charcuterie book yet? Of course not. But like those culinary school recipe binders we have piled on our shelves, we dig the idea. More so when the price tag doesn't come with promises of a multiple decade student loan. Yet as the latest in the series, Modern Batch Cookery walks a somewhat unfamiliar line.

In textbooks like Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, the point of professional instruction is clear -- and still, if only vaguely, relevant to the obsessive home cook. Or at least those home cooks who truly get a thrill out of "Yes, Chef!" militaristic responses to criticisms of their croissant folding technique.

Modern Batch Cookery is billed as a book that focuses on "healthy cooking, nutrition, and smart menu planning" on the press release. Read further, and you'll discover there are "more than 200 healthy, nutritious, large-batch recipes" including tequila-roasted oysters, Venetian bean and potato soup, and gorgonzola and pear sandwiches. The key here is in that "large-batch recipes" aspect of the book.

Unlike a pastry book or one focused on charcuterie, that might appeal to the left-of-center croissant or salumi enthusiast, Modern Batch Cookery is -- ironically? -- less relevant to the home cook precisely because it focuses on recipes like buttermilk fried chicken and quiche Lorraine that you actually might make on a Wednesday night. In that regard, this is like a brewing book that truly appeals to the professional making tank-worthy IPAs rather than carboy-limited home brewers like us. (Do you have a kitchen counter big enough to take on 50 orders of beef short ribs with polenta?)

The chapters follow that culinary school logic -- beginning with a chapter called "The Culinary Professional" (Translation: How to not make an ass of yourself on a cruise ship or in a 300+ staff hotel), and ending with "Recipes For Reception Foods" (exactly what it sounds like -- roast pepper and goat cheese canapés). That quiche Lorraine? It looks pretty much like the culinary school eggs-heavy cream-bacon-nutmeg-Emmentaler staple fit to serve 50 people. Is it good? Sure, in that heavy cream and butter classic way. But culinary school is not where you learn to be creative. It's where you learn to make true classic recipes the right way (if you've been to culinary school, you know what that means). You don't get to add sea salt or (gasp!) fresh herbs to that quiche. You are evaluated on your ability to follow the formula, to understand how it works. All well and good when you're a student.

Is Modern Batch Cookery a thorough, well-researched book? Sure. Is it the right book for you? That depends. You have to want to know the "right" way to make something according to a higher culinary school authority (and believe us, there is a right way according to culinary school instructors). And so for us, the culinary school tome as home cookbook works better with something like charcuterie, probably because we haven't the faintest weeknight background in curing meat. But hey, if you're as excited about making a classic bread and butter pudding for a 50-person family reunion as we are in making kielbasa on a Saturday morning, then this book is definitely for you.


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