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"Think Like a Chef" and "The Search for Soul Mountain"

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And he cooks! When I was young and stupid, I despaired of ever getting a girlfriend because I did not have a nice car, money, or abs. What was my angle going to be? I decided to learn to cook because I would never date someone who doesn't like to eat. Despite my gross over-generalizations about what women need, I realized my plan worked when I heard my girlfriend (now wife) say to her grandmother, "And he cooks!" I wish I had started with "Think Like a Chef" (Clarkson Potter, $37.50) by Tom Colicchio, the owner-chef of Gramercy Tavern and Craft in New York. Based on the classes he teaches, this book covers cooking basics with an eye for creativity and intuition in the kitchen. I could have been married years earlier. Roasting, braising, blanching, stock making and vinaigrettes are covered quickly but completely. Roasting is distilled to, "brown, gently roast, baste, rest." It may read like "stop, drop and roll," but it works, as my attempt at pan-roasted sirloin attests. The next section of the book is titled "Studies." Roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and braised artichokes are presented separately as simple building blocks of great meals. If you are thinking of selling your house, and you want the place to smell great (and if you want to enjoy a good meal) try his slow-braised chicken with artichokes. The rest of the book covers ingredients in threes such as lobster, peas and pasta, and duck, root vegetables and apples. The recipes stay simple, but the flavors become complex as you work your way through this excellent book. Any cookbook that can make me like Brussels sprouts (here with bacon and apple cider sauce) will undoubtedly maintain an important position on my cookbook shelf. — Thom Jeter The Search for Soul Mountain Gao Xingjian's plays have been suppressed by the Chinese government and he has spent time in a re-education camp. Now, Xingjian's epic novel of the intersection of the ancient Middle Kingdom and today's People's Republic of China is available. "Soul Mountain" (HarperCollins, $27) is the English translation of the Chinese, "Lingshan." The book's English translator, Sinologist Mabel Lee, renders the text in clear, simple language. Lee's choice of leaving a few key terms in Chinese enhances the text's interest, but reading the book with an atlas at hand is recommended for those unfamiliar with Chinese geography. The narrator of "Soul Mountain" must travel constantly in order to avoid being recognized by members of the Communist Party. He wanders on foot along the Yangtze River with a backpack and tape recorder, searching for folk songs, forbidden religious texts and local history, as well as fragments of his childhood. The peripatetic narrator also searches for meaning and beauty, almost wanting to renounce the world for a chaste life as a monk. Once, when a would-be Taoist monk in a cave invites him in out of the rain, he notices that his host is reading a literary rag. He asks the man if such stories affect his studies and notes the response: "Ha, they're all about common occurrences between men and women." Fiction passes the time on rainy days when the spiritual young man can't work. "Soul Mountain" is loaded with chance meetings like this one. The quest for beauty leads to unspoiled mountain vistas; it also leads to disappointment. Foggy weather prevents the narrator from going to a lake district where golden-hair moss is said to grow. In another episode, when the narrator switches from "I" to "You," the "You" character meets a beautiful female character and seduces her with his stories. She, in return, tells him lies. The author explains in the book that he is writing "Soul Mountain" for himself because his works cannot be published in his native country. Some critics have suggested that awarding him the 2000 Nobel Prize for Literature was a politically motivated protest against this ban. Chinese officials have, not surprisingly, dismissed the work as "very, very average." Readers of this spellbindingly intimate testimony to the present state of the world's third largest country will feel fortunate to find out about the "Soul Mountain" of China for themselves. — Ann Bayliss Read anything you've particularly enjoyed? Share your thoughts with us at repps@styleweekly,com or at Books, Style Weekly, 1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201. Richmond 23230

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