In 50 Foods, Edward Behr Guides Toward Greater Deliciousness

All images courtesy Penguin Press
Learn how to handle your beef in 50 Foods

Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.

50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste
By Edward Behr, 432 pages, Penguin Press, $35

Edward Behr has been thinking about 50 Foods for a long time. "I had the idea for the book about 10 years ago," the noted cookbook author and editor of The Art of Eating says. "And all during that time, until rather close to the end, I was working on lists of what was in and what was out." He kept lists of fruits and cheeses, nuts and meats, but the final selections hinged on a sense of balance: "I wanted things that had a little something special about them...That you could extrapolate from and apply the same kinds of advice to other foods." And they needed to be foods that Behr personally loved and had history with.

So 50 Foods is not a cookbook. Instead, it's a "guide to deliciousness," the author says, to eating well, and understanding ingredient and flavor. It's a book about connoisseurship, about caring for apples and artichokes, chestnuts and chocolates, hams, lambs, pastas and plums -- where and when to buy (or grow) them, what qualities to look for, storing, handling, preparing, and pairing each food so as to consume it at its absolute best. Because how an ingredient is treated impacts flavor, and Behr adds historical context that informs why ingredients prefer to be treated in a particular way. For people who care about food, the book informs and fascinates.

See what he writes about figs: "Some varieties show their ripeness by a drop of nectar that appears at the open eye where the petals are attached. The color, according to variety, is green, violet, bronze, brown, dark-purplish, or mixed. The skin and flesh are giving, almost animal-like. Ripeness is essential, yet a ripe fig is so vulnerable and the time between ripeness and decay is so short that a ripe fig can't be shipped. It lasts only hours. To enjoy figs in an ideal state, you have to be in the warm places where they thrive." A lusher fig you'll never meet, but should you find yourself in Turkey in fig season, you'll know how to pick one.

On the next page, we chat with Behr about chocolate, sourcing food in the city, and where restaurants are headed.

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