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The Outlaw Cook


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John Thorne: John Thorne is one of America's great food writers; he has a large cult following, which reads his quarterly newsletter, 'Simple Cooking', based in New England and begun in 1980, with dedication and enthusiasm.


This is the type of cookbook an avid cook would like to curl up with and read from cover to cover on a cold winter's day. John Thorne, who publishes the quarterly newsletter Simple Cooking with Matt Lewis Thorne and who is author of a book with the same title ( LJ 9/15/87), has winnowed from this newsletter a tasty collection of essays and recipes. He discusses the historical background and regional derivatives for many dishes spanning the globe, and he includes many easy-to-prepare, flavorful recipes. The ``outlaw'' theme is drawn from Thorne's insistence that people use recipes only as a guideline and experiment heavily according to individual tastes. Thorne closes his book with a critique of the current culinary scene, expressing disdain for the hype and faddishness of contemporary cooking and urging a return to our gastronomic roots. An alternative approach to cookery worthy of selection by most public libraries.-- Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Lib., Ind.

``I think you don't have to be a good cook . . . to be an interested cook,'' opines John Thorne ( Simple Cooking ) in this enlightening collection of essays, which illustrate, through their range and idiosyncrasy, exactly the sweep of that ``interested'' cook. Composed primarily of selections from the newsletter Simple Cooking , which Thorne writes with his wife, Matt, the book offers a series of extended comments on foods that interest him for their simple perfection, like avocados, for their relation to a national people, like boeuf aux carottes to the French during WW II, or for their place in his personal history (the metaphysics of bread, and its baking, led him to build his own outdoor wood-fired bread oven). The thoughtful selection of recipes includes Spanish meatball soup, ``plowman's lunch'' and fresh raspberry cake, reflecting the bent of an erudite, self-made cook. As in other collections of short, previously published works, the voice and pace of the essays may wane on repetition. But in moderate spells, the essays delight with passion and originality. This is one of few recent books that can successfully encompass the history of the recent enshrinement of pesto, an analysis of Martha Stewart's need to be loved and a culinary awakening caused by Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum. (Nov.)

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