Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cookbook Review: What’s Cooking in the Okavango Delta?

By: Michelle Hershman

I was dreading writing this review because I hate giving bad reviews. I know, as a book reviewer, I need to get over that, but I still feel guilty providing negative feedback. Unfortunately, after reading the What’s Cooking in the Okavango Delta? cookbook, I really have no choice. I have almost nothing redeeming to say about this book.
First of all, it’s really big. It’s thick and rectangular -- more like a coffee table book than a cookbook. The shape of a cookbook may not seem like a big deal, but when you lack counter space, it makes a huge difference. Second, the picture on the cover is of the author and chef, Harry Feiersinger, standing next to a rock formation (in the Okavango Delta, I’m assuming). If this was a book about the history and culture of the Okavango Delta that included some recipes, that cover might make sense. But it’s not – it’s a cookbook and nothing about the picture alerts me to the fact that the book is comprised solely of recipes.
Third, there is no introduction other than a dedication page and a sentence saying that “some of the menus are classic while most of them are of my own creation while working in the Okavango Delta.” It is absolutely fine to skip over all the fluff and get right into the recipes when you write a cookbook. But, this particular cookbook is not self-explanatory and would really benefit from an introduction.
That brings me to my fourth point: the recipes are seemingly all over the place. Breaded Mushrooms with Parmesan and Avocado Sweet Chili Dip is followed by Classic French Crème Brulee which is followed by Cucumber Beet Salad. It took me a few times flipping through the book to realize that the recipes are in alphabetical order – for the most part. Alphabetical order may work for encyclopedias or even a cooking encyclopedia (I have one of those) but it does not work for this type of cookbook. If Feiersinger had separated the recipes into appetizers, entrees, desserts, sauces, classics, Okavango Delta classics, etc., this book would have made more sense and been a lot easier to read. Chapters, subtitles - some sort of organizational structure – would have made a world of difference. To drive the point home further, it would have been really nice to know which recipes are native to the Okavango Delta as that is seemingly the point of the book.

My fifth and final point as to why I am not a huge fan of this cookbook is that the recipes are not appealing. Again, this could be helped by adding brief explanations. Every so often there is a note or a one-sentence description before the recipe, but for most of the recipes, there is nothing. One recipe is called “Cornets.” What’s a Cornet? I have no idea. Maybe it’s the most amazing dish in the world, but I’ll never know because there is no description and no picture so I’m not going to risk making it. Speaking of pictures, there are photographs of a lot of the recipes but they are horrible amateur shots with bad lighting that makes the food look extremely unappetizing.
If you write a cookbook that includes a lot of recipes that no one has ever heard of, you need to accompany those recipes with enticing words and pictures. I love to try new things but I’m not going to waste hours in the kitchen making “Kaiserschmarren” if I have no idea what that dish is. Usually, when I get a new cookbook, I cannot wait to try out the new recipes, but I fear this book will be going to the back of my shelf never to see the light of day again.

P.S. I forgot to mention the typos....

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