"I have two humble ambitions in writing this book," Stefan Gates writes, right off the bat.
"1. To blow your mind.
2. To transform your meals into adventures."
His first goal is much easier, at least when it comes to cookbooks. Entire cookbook catalogs owe their popularity to their effectiveness in immersing the reader in a fantasy world of food they can never hope to emulate. They are the purest food porn.
In them, the atomized eucalyptus foam always swaddles the free-range lamb chops as soothingly as a hand-knitted sweater. The free-trade single-source Peruvian chocolate curls perkily crowning the ganache domes never wilt in the kitchen heat.
Most big ideas never make it from the cookbook to the kitchen counter, but Gates sets out to change that in "The Extraordinary Cookbook," his fifth volume. Gates has become known for the "extreme food" shows he's done for the BBC and his website, thegastronaut.com. He delivers the why-it-works details like Alton Brown and evokes the try-anything-once swagger of Anthony Bourdain.
Gates has delivered a book full of ideas for giving your guests a meal they will never forget. They tread the line between achieveable and ridiculous, with plenty of notions that might make reasonably proficient cooks itch to throw a party.
You could start small, like the Bloody Mary Tomatoes that turn the adult drink into party snacks, or individual loaves of herbed bread baked in terra-cotta flowerpots.
Recipes get seriously quickly, however. If you know where to get your hands on a nice fresh pig's head, Gates would guide you in making the coarse pate called, bluntly, headcheese. He's got lots of offal ideas, including lamb's testicles and pig's feet.
Party ideas include the crabs-and-hammers party, the sushi party, or a great pool of polenta and fixings served right on the tabletop.
There's recipes for more ordinary dishes as well, like pastas, artichokes, fondue, bagna cauda, bone marrow and chicken liver parfait. His brainstorms include avocado-lime soup served in a bowl cast from ice, smoking salmon in a cookie tin, and a special gift for the culinary masochist: instructions for preparing turducken.
He does veer into ridiculous-but-still-entertaining with El-Bulli-esque procedures for making pearls of colored apple juice stiffened with sodium alginate, and frying an egg on a piece of paper. There's even a gilded roast chicken, if you have the caliber of guest list in mind that would appreciate being served a poached bird covered in gold foil.
The Extraordinary Cookbook
By Stefan Gates
224 pages, $29.95