Sunday, March 27, 2011

Arto der Haroutunian

A uniquely intense writer who was an architect, really wanted to be a musician but loved food so much that he became a cookbook writer.

He was Armenian but the family lived in Syria and Lebanon, and moved to post-war England with all its deprivations and seventh-rate produce.

It is easy enough to scoff about ingredients in these food-crazy times but dial back about half a century and life was not so easy. You could forget about zucchini and arugula, and fenugreek and fresh turmeric might as well have been fantasies for the average cook.

It was in this environment that the author wrote these books.

He was a polymath and the intensity leaps off every page. The cross-connections between cuisines are made entirely organically (and correctly!) and the sheer encyclopaedic knowledge shines through.

The cookbooks are primarily concerned with the Mediterranean but they leap as far ashore as Mongolia and India when the logical connection between dishes is needed.

The author died tragically young but he authored twelve cookbooks only four of which are easily available.

You can't go wrong with any of them, and these days you will no longer have to make any substitutions. (The author is careful in stating the original first, and the substitution second. It's only the substitutions that make the books dated.)

This is home cooking of the most elevated kind. There are no duds here!!!

And most of all, the author's intense engagement with every aspect of the cooking process both physical and intellectual shines through.

What more could one ask?

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