Books & Literature

Cookbook Review: Is This a Cookbook? by Heston Blumenthal, illustrated by Dave McKean

Every recipe is simple, straightforward and totally do-able. This is Heston at his most accessible.

Feature image credit: Bloomsbury Publishing

This cookbook is far from just a list of inspiring or unique recipes. As thick as an encyclopedia, and as factually detailed as one, molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal shares his extensive knowledge in the culinary arts. Within the food industry, Blumenthal has won multiple chef and restaurant awards, and is considered one of the founders of multi-sensory cooking.

For myself, like many other readers not within the food industry, it is possible that your only knowledge of his work is as a well-known celebrity chef, as Blumenthal has starred in multiple television shows such as Heston’s Fantastical Food. Alternatively, you may have been fortunate enough to eat at one of his hard-to-get-a-booking-at restaurants. Either way, it is unlikely that you are aware that his approach to cooking is fully scientific, so much so that he is an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK).

The recipe book includes an introduction, so we learn more about his general approach. As you progress through the book, he introduces many recipes with background information. This includes why he has paired certain ingredients together, why he is drawn to the use of certain ingredients, what he considers to be healthy ingredients, or flavourful ingredients and, how he values traditional recipes, only revamping them for enhancement, not for novelty.

The information included for certain recipes was one of the most enjoyable parts of this “cookbook”. In many ways you could compare this to an introductory blog that some recipes have online when you are searching for a recipe to cook, but it is much more interesting. Although sometimes personal (like blogs), the information provided is often about the underpinning sensory approach to the recipe.

Wonderfully illustrated, Is This a Cookbook? uses a combination of comics, illustrations, and photos, set against a backdrop of variously styled pages, to accompany each recipe, with each recipe separately written on a plain white page for easy use.

As these alternate pictorial pages are subtly decorated, many with a soft colour background, it is a refreshing change from the glossy brightness of many recipe books, as it feels homely. For the review of the book, I decided to make a fusion recipe (Kimcheese toastie), a summer recipe (Smoothie), and a revamped traditional recipe (Mac ‘n’ cheese).

Smoothie (page 56)

Hard to describe, refreshing with a zesty taste. The banana is dominant but leaves a nice fresh aftertaste of parsley and cucumber. Very smooth to drink and went down easy.

I used frozen banana and that makes a difference; it is too “warm” to be a smoothie using a room or fridge temperature banana.

Kimcheese Toastie (page 34)

The flavour of the cheese paired really well with the kimchi, addictively so! With the kimchi adding a nice crunch to the toastie, it also had a most agreeable texture when eating. I enjoyed it so much that I experimented further and found the toastie to be even better when using radish kimchi rather than the advised cabbage kimchi.

For the best outcome, layer the toastie completely with kimchi, so it is at least half a centimetre in height.

Mac ‘n’ Cheese (page 226)

This was one of Blumenthal’s revamped recipes, and unlike the other two recipes I tried, to me it lacked any wow factor. Although it is different from the traditional mac and cheese, I found the taste far too subtle for my liking. If, however, you prefer a lightly flavoured meal, or are someone who eats a blander style food, this may just be to your liking.

The mac and cheese would be a useful accompaniment to a roast or a dish to serve up at a large gathering, as it is something you can blend with other foods easily due to its subtlety. It can also be pre-prepared for an event. As such, although bland, it is a functional recipe.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Bloomsbury Publishing
Released: October 2022
RRP: $44.99

A great motivator for experimenting in the kitchen!

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