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I learned about the Food Lover’s Companion from a minor celebrity chef I worked with briefly, years ago. He turned out to be an arrogant asshole, and he didn’t last long at our restaurant. But while he was with us, he did insist that everyone who worked there — servers, line cooks, even the hostesses and the dish dogs — purchase and read this book. It was by far his most brilliant idea.
The Food Lover’s Companion is the definitive reference book on food, drink and culinary terms, and a must-have for any serious foodie. From abalone to zwieback, this intrepid encyclopedia of all things edible is packed with over 6,000 cross-referenced definitions and descriptions to exponentially up your food IQ.
Wanna know how many sliced parsnips make a full pound? Need to explain the difference between white, blond and brown roux? Weighing the benefits of a manual ice cream maker versus an electric one? You’ll find your answers in the Companion. Spend some quality time between its covers, and you’ll soon know your ass from your asafetida. (The latter, by the way, is a flavoring obtained from a giant fennel-like plant that grows in Iran and India. It’s used particularly in Indian cuisine and can be found in powdered or lump form at many Indian markets. Asafetida has a strong, garlicky smell and should be used sparingly. I know this because I looked it up. In the Food Lover’s Companion.)
My own copy of the Companion is now worn and tattered and slightly gummy from years of atmospheric kitchen grease. I take it with me sometimes on my culinary adventures, and I refer to it often — especially for the wealth of information stuffed into the appendices: conversion formulas and substitution suggestions, a guide to food labels and additives, a pasta glossary, illustrated meat charts and even a hand test for grilling temperatures.
The Food Lover’s Companion, now in its Fifth Hardcover Edition, was edited by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst and is available on Amazon.com for about thirty bucks. Get your hands on a copy and I guarantee you’ll soon be a more confident and knowledgeable eater. And if you read your Companion from cover to cover, you’ll become a true culinary genius — someone who’s able to one day go on Jeopardy and lean into the microphone and say in a loud, clear voice:
“I’ll take ’Food and Drink‘ for eight hundred please, Alex.”