Book Reviews · Educational

The Flavor Bible – A Book Review

I know that the Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg isn’t really a cocktail or liquor book, but considering how helpful it’s been to me, I felt like it really deserved it’s own review. While this book could certainly be useful to people creating pairing menus or making new and exciting cocktails for higher end bars, where it really shines in my opinion, is Infusions.

The Book Itself

Physically, this is a very imposing book. Were I in some kind of peril and needed one of my spirits books to defend myself, it would probably come down to this one and Liquid Intelligence (Sorry Smugglers Cove, I need that surface area). The book does have a Book Jacket, which I might have mentioned before, I totally hate. It’s a fast way to take a good, clean looking book and make it look like garbage within a month of ownership (and actual use). The Jacket is made worse by the fact that the cover of the book is a full color, gorgeously printed picture, meaning that they totally could have done their title on the book, they just chose not to. Alas, there is no accounting for taste.

The pages are high quality color printing on an almost card-stock like paper. I really like this because it means whoever printed it really did intend for it as a ‘working book’ this is meant to be kept in a working kitchen or bar. It is meant to be used, not just decoratively sat in a corner next to “Martha Stewart’s Butter Marathon” and “Cooking With Wine: Don’t. Just Drink It“. It also has a great deal of high quality pictures inside as well. They don’t really help you, but it certainly makes me want to cook.

The Content

This is clearly where The Flavor Bible goes above and beyond. I honestly can’t say that I’ve ‘Read’ the Flavor Bible, because it’s not for reading. It’s a reference book.

The Bible is broken up into Three chapters: Learning to recognize the language of food, Communicating via the language of food, and The Charts. Chapter 1 is 21 pages, chapter 2 is 12. The remaining 340 pages are charts and charts and charts of how to pair foods and what with. In fact, the first thing Chapter 3 does is teach you how to read the damn thing! But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Chapter 1

Professional chefs and food enthusiasts will probably find chapter 1 to be ‘common sense’ stuff. You don’t need to learn how to enjoy food, or what elements make it good, that’s just natural! But, speaking as someone who ‘just ate’ for most of my life and only learned how to love food after becoming an adult, these things are Totally Learned. Nothing innate about it. In the infographic below, I’ve shown how Karen and Andrew break down the basics of cooking, but to really get the full impact you still have to read it!

infographic showing The Flavor Bible's breakdown of how flavor is perceived and how experiences change perceptions of food.
I think I’m getting better at these… I hope.

Chapter 2

For me, Chapter 2 is where you really hit the ‘no shit’ section, but I’ve worked in bars long enough to know that a large amount of people don’t consider seasonality or surroundings when picking drinks (or food). Or, at least, they aren’t as cognizant of the changes in there choices as I might expect.

In this chapter, they cover the ideas behind why we (in the general sense) drink red wine in winter and white wine in summer. Why you want chili when it’s cold and cucumber and watermelon when it’s hot. How rainy days call for hot toddies and tea, or how Thanksgiving isn’t the same without cranberry and pumpkin pie.

Smell is one of the most intense receptors we have, with taste following closely behind. Both of these senses are incredibly closely interlocked with memory and emotions. Humans do not eat in a vacuum; every bite we take is either bringing up old memories or busy creating new ones. We form habits and preferences based on the way we grew up and what we were fed or given at the time, and we carry those into our daily lives as adults. In the Flavor Bible, they merely quantify and categorize those feelings so that you, as a chef or cocktail artist, can better utilize the habits and feelings of those around to to create an exceptional experience.

Chapter 3

There is really only one way to demonstrate the depth and quality that goes into this part of the book, and that is just to show you. Let’s do Vodka for this demonstration.

Vodka

Weight: light-medium
Volume: quiet

amaretto
apples and apple juice
beef consomme
beet juice
berries
blackberries
carraway
carrots, juice
caviar
celery and leaves
celery root
cilantro
cinnamon
cloves
coffee
coconut
cranberry juice
cream
cucumber
currants, black
ginger
grapefruit juice
honey
horseradish
kaffir lime leaf
kahlua
Lemon Juice
lemongrass
lemon thyme
lemon verbena
licorice
lime Juice
mangoes
maraschino
melon
oats
green olives
orange juice
black pepper
Pineapple juice
polish cuisine
pomegranate juice
raspberries
rose
RUSSIAN CUISINE
Smoked fish
star anise
sugar
tomato juice
triple sec
vanilla

Hopefully it’s clear to you how this could up your cocktail game, along with your serving suggestions and menu pairings. A lot of these are probably things that you’ve used plenty of before… Vodka, lemon, sugar is a lemon drop. Berry flavored vodkas are some of the best sellers. Pairing Vodka with Russian cuisine is clearly a good idea. But, there are probably some that aren’t as obvious… the beet juice and the carrot juice for example, are probably a little bit strange. Consider though, that one of the favorite ways to drink vodka is in a Bloody Mary, made mostly out of Tomato Juice. Is it really so strange to have your vodka with beets or carrots then? I happen to have had cocktails made with just such combinations and I can verify that they were delicious.

Flavor Affinities

That’s not the best part though… I said that I liked this book best for infusions and it certainly delivers. Sure, you could probably piece together your own suggestions from the list, but the Flavor Bible did the work there for you too. Many of the headings also come with Flavor Affinities, which are basically just the best recipes for an infusion or cocktail (proportions not included).

vodkaamarettocreamKahlua
vodka applebeetcarawayhorseradish
vodkaapplecinnamonclovecranberry
vodkabeef
consomme
celery leafhorseradish
vodkablackberryblack pepperrose
vodkacarrot juicelemon thymelime
vodkacelery lime juice
vodkacilantrococonutlimesugar
vodkacilantrolime juice
vodkacoffeecream
vodkacranberryorange
vodkacranberrystar anise
vodkagrapefruitmaraschino liqueur
vodkahoney oats
vodkalemonlemon verbena
vodka limepineapple

So from the above suggestions, I have Bolded anything I would try to make an infusion out of and italicized things i would make a drink out of. For the remaining 3/16, One is a meal suggestion, One sounds like a 22 year old’s yoga-health-drink-power-hour-concoction, and the last one I consider to be culinary permission to put vodka in your oatmeal. With time, experimentation, and patience, right here you have the recipe for 7 exciting and innovative infused vodkas. And that’s just from the Vodka entry! This book has 340 pages of every spice, herb, fruit, vegetable, and more! When it comes to innovation and infusion… this will probably always be the first book I reach for.

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