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Basic Information Tools for the Kitchen

A video and a book arm the timid with practical tips, many from celebrated chefs at restaurants across the country

By Phyllis HanesSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 6, 1993


EVERY year, cookbook publishers churn out volumes of information for home cooks and aspiring chefs.

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A few of the best of these - "Mastering The Art of French Cooking," by Julia Child, "The Joy of Cooking," by Marion R. Becker and Irma S. Rombauer and "The Silver Palate," by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins - describe valuable cooking techniques and help people to overcome intimidation in the kitchen.

But, there are still questions the books don't answer, such as: "When can you leave out the salt? or "How do you fix the flavor when it just isn't there?" and "Why is it that two people can follow the same recipe and one dish comes out great and the other only so-so?

Restaurant owner and chef Jasper White ("Jasper's") and TV anchorwoman Natalie Jacobson, both Bostonians, aim to answer such queries in their two-volume video: "Natalie's Kitchen with Jasper White: What Your Cookbook Doesn't Tell You." (Dawn Productions, 1992, Volume I is 106 mins. and Volume II 126 mins.)

A television reporter who co-anchors the evening news on WCVB-TV and is reportedly an excellent cook, Ms. Jacobson puts the questions to Jasper. "Why are you crushing the tomatoes?" she asks as they make marinara sauce.

With a video, techniques are demonstrated before the viewer's eyes.

"When a cooking video is really good, it can explain by showing, and you learn much you cannot find in a cookbook," Mr. White says. "I see video as a future for cooking."

The video, more of an encyclopedia of cooking techniques than a cooking show, was taped in Jacobson's kitchen using her own pots and pans.

It demonstrates, for example, how to shuck oysters, de-vein shrimp, and fillet fish.

Volume II takes you to market as only video can. One may read about selecting ripe fruit or looking at fish, but seeing the processes up close with someone emphasizing key points locks the image in mind.

The video also provides directions for keeping a sauce from curdling, testing for doneness, and when to add herbs.

All that's missing is recipes.

But, "Natalie's Kitchen" sticks to the basics. "Julia Child uses techniques to demonstrate particular dishes. We use the dishes to demonstrate the technique," White explains. "This is a basic cooking lesson for those who don't know how to cook."

"But it is also for people who need to cook every night and want to pick up better techniques and quicker methods," Jacobson says.

Thanks to time-coding on the video box, viewers can quickly find answers to puzzling techniques by simply rewinding or fast-forwarding the tape.

The video not only captures images but also many sounds one can't get from a cookbook, such as the sizzle of a few drops of oil as it dribbles around a wok, the bubbling of boiling water, and the punching of bread dough after it has risen. Pointers in print

It's not often one comes across a directory of cooking secrets divulged by some of this country's most famous chefs.

"Trucs of the Trade, 101 Tricks, Tips, and Recipes from America's Greatest Chefs," by Frank Ball and Arlene Feltman (HarperPerennial, $15 paper, 1992), does just that.

The French noun truc (pronounced "trook") is "a trick, gimmick, or shortcut used in cooking," Ms. Feltman explains. "It's finding a way of doing something easier, cheaper, or just better."