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Cooking lessons from a book: photos do the teaching

By Phyllis HanesFood editor of The Christian Science Monitor / March 12, 1981


It was five years ago that Time-Life first talked Richard Olney about serving as technical and creative adviser to a new series of cooking books called The Good Cook.

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Whether or not he and the working crew started testing recipes immediately I'm not sure, but the results are certainly well worth the time, effort, and expertise that have gone into this excellent series.

The collection of 15 or more cooking books, each on a particular subject, is just about the best example of cooking lessons by book to date with its color photos of cooking in process -- something that has been done many times in other books but somehow not done quite as well.

From "Soups" you will learn how to simmer and garnish broths, how to make pureed soups from vegetables, poultry, and seafoods. "Pasta" includes recipes for green, spinach pasta and red, beef pasta; wonderful combinations of macaroni , spaghetti, and shells with broccoli and snow peas, clams, and leftovers.

"Pork" begins with guides to cuts, boning, brining, stocks, stuffing and sausages; broiling and roasting; poaching; braising and stewing; and mixed methods with useful tips for casseroles.

As with the other Time-Life cooking series, "Foods of the World" they are available by monthly subscription or in bookstores where they appear two months after release to the subscribers.

Working in London, with a full staff of Time-Life writers, photographers, researchers, and others experts, Olney is basically responsible for the planning and supervision and final selection of recipes submitted by other consultants.

The United States editions of "The Good Cook" are revised slightly to bring the books "into accord" with American useage, ingredients, and measurements. when I talked with Olney in the London kitchen-offices, he was working on the 20 th volume for this series. Although they aim to work regular hours, Olney is apt to be in the kitchens all day and on some occasions until 10 p.m. or midnight -- and usually the staff will work along with him if they're working on something that takes a long time to finish.

Each volume of the ambitious series covers a specific category of food. Among those already published of the 15 or more that are planned, are "Poultry," "Fish," "Soups," "Salads," "Pork," "Beef and Veal," and "Classic Desserts."

The first 80 pages or so of each book are instructive and educational -- the cooking school directions, step-by-step photos in color demonstrating every technique needed to prepare the food that is the subject -- excellent succinct text explaining the principles behind the techniques.

The second half of each volume is made up of an anthology of more than 200 recipes. Selected under Olney's supervision they come from a wide range of what must be fascinating cookbooks -- ancient and modern, Oriental and Western, from past greats Escoffier and Curnonsky, from modern cooks like James Beard, Jacques Pepin, Nika Hazelton.

Olney is creating the basic series for the European readership and it is then adjusted or reedited for the American public. Therefore the recipes are done in metric and are offered to subscribers in England, The Netherlands, France, and Germany mainly, also Spain, Ireland, Japan, and Italy.

He has chosen all the anthology -- each book has 450 recipes per volume. He does the styling, and all studio cooking for photography.

He is working in a sense of five or six books at once which means three months of shooting, overlapping three volumes at one time, plus reading copy.

When I talked with him in London he was currently working on the volume about "Variety Meats" which will be called that in the US but will be "Offal" in the European volumes. He's enjoying this volume, working with ears, feet, lung, heart, sheep's heads.