Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A book review: The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine


“If you want to keep your appetite, stay out of the kitchen.”  Auguste Escoffier,1903

I just finished reading a great book entitled The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine by Steven Rinella. The story in a nutshell is about Rinella, a fellow Michigander, who spent an entire year traveling all over the United States scavenging and hunting enough food for a huge 3 day feast. But this is no ordinary feast and it is no ordinary food.

Rinella grew up hunting and fishing in Michigan so he was totally comfortable eating all kinds of critters and birds. When he got his hands on a 5,000 page French cookbook, called Le Guide Culinaire written by Auguste Escoffier in 1903, he was inspired to try his hand at the art of using wild game in high cuisine. And not just your basic wild game, but every part of every type of animal…. You know, the weird parts of every animal…. Think bladders, livers and hearts.

I was completely surprised to learn that French high cuisine in the early 1900’s included much of this type of food - folks just couldn’t eat enough sparrows and gizzards! Escoffier says that during the difficult war years, when food was scarce, he was forced to use every scrap of food and he served military officers braised horse, cats and dogs, and even rats. I guess that even the zoo animals were eaten once their own food had run out.
Anyway, Rinella decides to host a 3 day feast  - 15 courses each day! – all based on Le Guide Culinaire.  He spends an entire year, traveling around the country hunting big game - deer, elk, bear, antelope, goats and mules – and fishing all kinds of waters for all kinds of swimming things – turtles, eels, rays, frogs and even carp.

I’m not going to spoil the ending of the book by telling how the feast went…..let’s just say his vegetarian girlfriend puts on a brave face as a big plate of coeur de veau saute  is placed in front of her…..that’s elk heart with béchamel sauce for those of you not ‘in-the-know.’

I thought I would hate this book, with all its gruesome description of slaughtering and butchering and slicing, but I actually found it super interesting. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with a thoughtful person ‘taking’ (even hunters don’t use the work ‘kill’) his food from nature and then carefully using the animal to his benefit. What makes me dizzy is the thought of all the misused animals shot full of antibiotics, crammed in deplorable conditions all for our eating pleasure. Where’s the care and thought in any of that?  I think both Rinella and Escoffier would agree with me. 

3 comments:

  1. I am always looking for good book recommendations and this sounds like one I would enjoy a lot. Thanks, Tracy!

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  2. What a cool book. I don't know if I could stomach the descriptions, and I know I couldn't eat the food, but I do agree that if you go out and catch your food in the wild and work for it...that is WAY different than factory farmed meat stuffed full of corn and meds.

    Have a great day Tracy!

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  3. A friend of my husband's recommended the title to me and I ended up really liking the book! The topic of food is so interesting to me, especially the history of food and of what we eat.

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