This is the first book of Jürgen Dollase’s Cooking University, treating tomatoes only. Food critic Dollase, also a founding member of the Krautrock band “Wallenstein”, was born in 1948 in Oberhausen, Germany. He admits that to his 35th birthday he had been living solely on fast-food. The change happened, he said in an interview, when he was on a trip with his wife strolling around a neighbourhood with many fine restaurants. She expected to eat in one of them and when her husband took her to the next fast-food joint, she started to cry. Also, from then on, he deliberately tried to overcome any culinary prejudices he had been nourishing for most of his life against certain types of food.
He shares this self-punishing attitude with Jeffrey Steingarten, whose book “The man who ate everything” – a collection of satirical musings on food – I wrote about a while back. Of Steingarten Dollase once wrote that the American food critic babbled too much. Dollased added that Steingarten never gets to the point. Since not getting to the point may function as a definition of babbling, we can only infert that both writers like to hear themselves talk and are never shy to create factual redundancies where a pretty metaphor lingers nearby, even if everything has been said already.
Why “University”? This book starts at a very low entry level with a couple of recipes for tomato salads, using only tomatoes, green salad and a basic vinaigrette. In the following chapters more complex flavors are treated and different textures and varying temperatures are introduced. I am not sure yet, how the tomato can serve as a universal example for most vegetables, but apparently that is what Dollase is trying to say.
I haven’t read all of it or made all recipes, but overall and first impression is good. However, his style of writing is an absolute singularity in our times. Although Dollase tries to keep to a disinterested and neutral tone, the gist is that there is only one way to truth: Dollase hinself. Which sometimes is only unintentionally funny, of course. At the same time, the man must be aware of his own quirkiness. Like a Günter Netzer of food writing. He claims to be something of a pioneer by introducing analysis of textures (soft, crispy, …) to food writing. That cannot be true, generations of chefs have been experimenting with textures, e.g. adding nuts to a tomato salad. Will report back on this as soon as I have gained a better perspective on this book.
Oh, and it even has a recipe for tomato bread in it. It is nothing like Steingarten’s hilarious quest for sourdough bread, you can read about in aforementioned book, but better than no bread recipe at all. I haven’t made it yet, the fact, that Dollase does not specify what kind of flour is used, makes me suspicious. Is the renowned food critic, unlike his American counterpart, a bread nihilist?
(A picture of J. Dollase’s “Tomatenbrot” made from “flour” and other ingredients.)
More books of this series are in the making, the next three ones entitled “Pork”, “Pasta” and “Shopping Guide”. I’m not sure if I will buy any of them. Dollase is a food critic, not a cook. He comes across very theoretical and precise in everything he does, but sometimes I doubt he has the practical background to teach about preparing food or paid his dues in the kitchen. His ideas are sometimes a little off and overlooking the simplest methods and ways to produce the best results.