Gray Kunz has teamed up with food writer Peter Kaminsky to put together a cookbook that looks precisely at what taste is. They have identified 14 basic tastes in the chef's palate and offer recipes showing how to use these fundamental building blocks.
Kunz (former four-star chef of New York's Lespinasse restaurant) and Kaminsky (New York Times food writer and author of The Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass) team up for a cookbook variation. Instead of arranging food by course or primary ingredient, they identify 14 basic tastes (salty, sweet, floral herbal, "funky," meaty, etc.) then groups them into four categories: Tastes That Push, Tastes That Pull, Tastes That Punctuate and Taste Platforms. The resulting recipes are, understandably, high-concept chef food. Explaining how they layer and balance tastes, the authors conclude each recipe with Our Taste Notes, which take an oenophile's approach to flavor description. Sweet Scallops in a Pink Lentil Crust with a Hot-and-Sweet Bell Pepper Reduction ends thusly: "The taste comes through first as crunch, then salt, and then heat. Next you get sweetness from the scallops.... The celery leaves provide a final garden note with some bitterness to close down the taste." Components are combined fearlessly. Green Onion Fondue includes scallions, tomatoes, dates, cornichons, mint and ajowan. Lady Apples with Gruyere Celery Pork Pockets are stuffed pork chops tweaked with cumin, mustard, prosciutto, turnips and quartered lady apples. As complicated and as multi-ingrediented as many recipes are, the directions are admirably clear, and some recipes, such as Oysters and Cabbage and Two-Tomato Coulis with Three Basils, are quite simple. While some readers may initially find the concept to be contrived, most will welcome this unusual means of creating and characterizing food.