The Oxford Dictionary defines a cookbook as “a book containing recipes and other information about the preparation and cooking of food. Danish Chef Bo Bech’s latest cookbook In my Blood – itself a curious and suggestive title – surpasses this definition, posing an inquiry into what a cookbook and its role in contemporary culture has become.
With this beautifully designed artist’s art book Bech has created a new genre, one which slips between traditional and contemporary cookbook presentations. This is not simply a cookbook with clever plating, sharp photographs, recipes, chef-loud comments and a wealth of creative inspiration.
It is more.
It is an original collaboration of images and ideas that go beyond the kitchen shelf and bypasses a world saturated with coffee table cookbooks. It’s innate style assures it a place in any Art Book collection.
The book is a memory project, a contemporary autobiography, (lest Bech forget and we too) and compared to his “first kiss “ in his Bride and Fox project in New York this is a sweet, lingering “indelible kiss” to Geist (his restaurant) in Copenhagen.
Striding into his future and his new normal as a global adventurer and lifestyle entrepreneur, Bech lives as artist Egon Schiel described himself once, “I must see new things and investigate them. I want to taste dark water and see crackling trees and wild woods.” In My Blood, which could easily translate to From My Heart although the tone would be less formidable – opens with a masterful stroke. He begins with responses to a selection of Proustian Questions* which lead into his personal and professional narrative. He shares his motives, passions and failures which Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei’s comments are “the only thing we can do honestly is learn from our falls.“
Bech describes how he overcomes his being “angry at ingredients”…. salmon for example, or onions and breaking down his animosity to transform them into what he finally likes and can stand by.
Mistakes are often essential to his innovations.
He shows his architect’s blueprints and renderings as the imaginative beginnings of his restaurant project and his book, while later soft lyrical water colour paintings shape the spirit and unfolding history of Geist.
Scenes from the daily life in the restaurant unfold lyrically, page by page like pictures at an exhibition.
In My Blood is a major undertaking in which Bech plays builder, chef and kitchen alchemist, writer, philosopher, thinker, photographer, book designer and collaborator in his raw and practical theatre.
A triumphant achievement and perhaps his magnum opus – for this decade at least. It should engage conversation amongst his chef friends (does he have any foe?) his assistants, trainees, and winning over the sophisticated art book buying audience.
“Even the act of peeling a potato can be a work of art if it is a conscious act.” Jospeh Beuys .
Bo Bech needs little introduction. His success, character and place in contemporary cuisine in Denmark, Europe followed by his leap to New York and his forays to the East are known and respected.
When asked his favourite occupation, he replied “meeting people around a dining table ready to receive something but not knowing what will come, is magical suspense,” which speaks exactly of what he does.
He provides the magic, exposing a hidden treasure and watches how it lands in the moment.
In this book, his second, he choses 100 recipes to share under his working concept based around his call for “primordial and straightforward cooking,” to make a plate “without all kinds of fuss.”
He says that he couldn’t stop himself from writing this one and so soon after his first. As a self professed late bloomer in the cooking fraternity -he began at 24 – he was intent on enjoying and pushing himself to record his life as an accomplished chef deciding to create Geist after his earlier success at Praustian. Clearly thought out, incisive, honest and entailing more hard work and with as perfect as possible delivery, he’s managed. He has two restaurants, two books and a future of questions and answers and action.
And the Reviewer
I simply love this book. I love the aesthetics, the design, the content, the marriage of analogous images and crisp minimalist photographs along with Bech’s unmistakeable clear and concise recipes. His choices give one confidence as a foodie, inspired by visuals and ingredient prompts and simple techniques.
I am ready to surprise my friends inspired by his less is more ethic, with guidelines pared down and suitable for four persons at table.
Of his 100 recipes, grill a peach sprinkle with lemon peel and curry then arrange with nasturtium leaves is on my summer menu as is Brussel sprouts with gooseberries.
I live by the sea so Blue Mussels with shiso leaves and capers, pointed cabbage with sesame and crayfish are easy to come by. It just indicates his marvellously easy and attainable ingredients. There is no need to trek mountain high, wilderness deep, moss lichen and rare berry hunt, no need to dehydrate, ferment, pickle, or chase down umami at all.
Then there is the fresh green herb salad with recommendations to marry vegetables, blossoms, flowers and nuts. Some recipes are a bit more complicated like stilton and chocolate. These I will give to a fried to cook for me.
The book is a win win win for a chef, an aspiring cooked or the home foodie, the dinner party maker and Art book lover and collector .
In My Blood is a book to own, buy for a friend or suggest to someone.
The Proust Questionnaire was popularized by Marcel Proust, the French essayist who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals their nature . Find one on the last page of each issue of Vanity Fair magazine .
In My Blood by Bo Bech is available from www.chefbobech.com