One of the overarching sentiments governing cooking these days is the idea that less is more, simple is better. Fancy food has become déclassé.
There are challenges when packaging such recipes for today’s cookbook-buying public. Just as so many contemporary TV personalities draw audiences first because of their looks, with any skill or talent they might posses coming a distant second, so too the simple recipe collection must now be gussied up – in just the right way – to appeal to today’s consumer.
Toronto Star Cookbook, by the paper’s food editor, Jennifer Bain, gathers 150 recipes that have appeared over the years in the daily’s pages. It’s hard to pin down exactly why they belong together, though everything about the cookbook is pretty. It’s packed with lovingly staged, artfully sloppy photos of smashed watermelons, crumbly pies, soups in chipped tureens, tarnished silverware, weathered cutting boards, and well-loved kitchen knives (one so rusty it threatens tetanus). There’s a smattering of old-fashioned pen drawings, and some retro graphic elements mimicking typewriter keys. It’s all tastefully shabby, very deliberately arranged to present some sentimental, idealized version of “real life.” With such carefully calibrated hominess, the book broadcasts its culinary message: nothing fancy here.
There was a time when recipe collections were required to stand on their own merits. That’s not to say Bain’s couldn’t. Drawn mainly from reputable restaurant chefs and other third-party sources, this collection is splendid, inviting, and delightfully diverse. And yes, almost to the last, they are extremely simple.