I’m willing to bet everyone has heard the aphorism I picked for the title of this entry in one way or another. “You get out what you put in.” “You get what you give.” “If you want the best, use the best.”
Obviously it applies to your work, your relationships, your hobbies, your lifestyle- virtually everything (food and baking in particular!)
It applies to your mind too. I’ve mentioned in a previous post about how artists build up a mental gallery, comprised of everything in a given medium they’ve ever experienced. Painters recall their favorite works, poets their favorite poems, cooks and bakers their favorite dishes. From these elements, they draw inspiration to create what’s new.
It follows then: if your gallery is filled with asinine crap, what can you possibly put out? The only thing you can get out of bad examples is dire warnings. Good musicians seek out the work of other good musicians. Good writers read good books, and culinarians should eat good food.
As I was thinking of what to write for this entry, my eyes wandered around my bedroom and fell on my bookshelves. I read quite a lot, and very varied subjects- religion and philosophy (comparative theology was an interest for much of my life), psychology (my BA degree), poetry, fiction, biographies, epics, and- of course- my cookbooks and food texts.
Much of what I know and do is not just due to personal experience and education- formal, tangential, and otherwise,- but also to the sheer amount of information and quality of work I had chosen to surround and bombard myself with.
Here are some of my favorites. The list nowhere near definitive, but for anyone out there that wants to build a mental gallery of their own- or just have some interesting material to hang in it, I highly recommend these as a starting point.
The BHB’s Book List
- Kitchen Confidential, Medium Raw, and The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain
So, you want to be a professional cook? Dream of getting paid to make magic in the kitchen of some big city bistro? Here’s real talk- Bourdain spent 25 years in the culinary world, and has no problem telling you what it’s really like. When your done with that, he tells you what it’s like to travel the world- talking to people and eating food you’ve only ever seen on TV. If you STILL want to be a cook after all that, you’re just crazy enough to do it.
- The Joy of Cooking by Marion Rombauer Becker, et al
There is a reason a copy of this book was in your mother’s kitchen. And your grandmothers. And probably her mother’s too. It is a timeless and indispensable guide to the basics of all manner of preparations. It is your encyclopedia.
- The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman
If Joy of Cooking is your encyclopedia, meet the index. Ruhlman breaks down the little tips and secrets professional chefs use to make the ordinary into the extraordinary. If you are a student, buy a copy and keep it on you at all times. No recipes here- just know-how.
- Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen
This was the first baking textbook I ever got. It still sits on my shelf- an A to Z for everything to do with bread, pastry, or almost anything else to do with putting flour and liquid in an oven. It’s a little bit pricy, but if you’re a baker, it’s a perfect resource.
- Advanced Bread and Pastry by Michel Suas
Another school textbook, this one focused almost exclusively on the precise science and exquisite art of breadmaking. If you are aware that there is better bread out there than Wonder Bread, that it comes from places beside the supermarket, or if you just want to wail on some dough at the end of the day and eat it later, this is the book you need.
- How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science by Paula I. Figoni
If you’re like me, it wasn’t just the warm fuzzies of feeding friends and loved ones that drew you to baking, or the pride and accomplishment dervied from working with your hands either. It was the chance to play mad scientist in the kitchen and eat your experiments. This book is the beginner’s science textbook of culinary school- want to know why we use wheat flour over others? Or why apples turn brown so quickly? Or what happens in sourdough that makes it sour? Here’s where you start.
- Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Here is the history text. Want to know why we use a wok for stir-fry? Or why you can find wooden spoons or something like in almost every kitchen? Feed your inner history nerd and find how how technology changed the food we eat and how we eat it.
In addition to these, I highly suggest the following as well-
- Your favorite holy book (if religious)
You can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Study your favorite ancient texts. If you aren’t religious, learn where your family came from and learn everything you can about the culture. You are born with a heritage- the acme of the experience and lives of all your ancestors. If none of these apply, just pick a culture that fascinates you. Culture is a VAST pool of knowledge and inspiration to draw from, and it’s all yours. Jump in.
- Your favorite fiction
There is no shame in escaping the real world now and again. Find your favorite fiction, and read it over again. Follow Frodo across Middle Earth. Stand beside Allan Quatermain as he traverses Africa, or stand between two worlds with Harry Potter and his friends. Go on voyages- make sure to bring back everything you’ve learned. When you finish all the books of your favorite author, find out who THEIR favorite authors were, and read their books too. The inspiration for your inspiration… think about it.
- Your favorite poetry
Yes, I know not everyone likes poetry. Or not everyone gets it. Folks who don’t think they “get” poetry tend to imagine prancing ninnies in tights holding skulls, or turtleneck-laden beatniks wailing on bongos. Real facts? Music is poetry. Song is poetry. Poetry is rhythm, meter, cadence, word choice, intonation, and emotion. It’s speech. Start with whatever you know, and branch from there. My personal favorites include Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Shel Silverstein, Robert Service, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes. Start with any of them.
Once again, this list was nowhere near exhaustive- but hopefully these will be good resources for you- knowledge, idea fodder, or just something interesting to talk about with friends.
And who doesn’t need more of that?
Stay literate, stay awake, and of course-