Appetite for Books
Gastronaut
Adventures in food
for the romantic, the
foolhardy, and the brave


by Stefan Gates
Harcourt, 2005
$14.00, paper
257 pages


Don't expect to be cooking dinner from Gastronaut. Stefan Gates offers no advice for weeknight shortcuts and don't open this book for fifteen minute meals.

Instead, Gates will have you gilding Cheetos, and sucking eggs. Why? Just because. Because, as he writes in the his Gastronaut's creed, "Food will consume 16 percent of my life... and I resolve to, whenever possible, transform food from fuel into love, power, adventure, poetry, sex, or drama." Now, isn't that much more interesting that a few clever turns with ground beef?

The book begins with tales of culinary adventure, including the gilded cheetos and answers to questions beyond the obvious - why? Gates makes no bones, this is pointless and unnecessary, but when buying gold leaf, Gates writes, " ...a warm feeling sweeps through you. Enjoy it - that's decadence setting in."

Gates is interested in recipes that have the potential to destroy the kitchen, which he says he tries to do every weekend. Cheese making, for example. Gates admits you won't save money and that you can buy better, but its "fascinating and enormously satisfying" to make your own.

Along with cheese making, he starts out with some adventurous basics - how to smoke in a cookie tin and how to, sort of, make your own moonshine. I've fiddled around with rennet and made mozzarella and even done w bit of stovetop smoking, but we're barely into Gate's adventures.

He explores - thankfully not too literally, but with great open-mindedness - cannibalism, aphrodisiacs, and flatulence. He then moves on to exhibitionism, grand projects, and a chapter on leftovers. His recipes include the bizarre and the historic, along with some that he admits, are just embarrassing, like Toffee Fondue. Melted candies with more to dip, guaranteed to leave your guests confused and jittery.

But Gates is nothing if not upfront. He finishes his recipe for Hasty Pudding with the directions "Under NO circumstances should you bother to make this."

Most of the book's actually cookable dishes (really, they're all cookable, far fewer are edible) are in the Leftovers chapter, meant to be an easy way into full-blown gastronautomy. It includes recipes like Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, Beef Carpaccio and Whole Roasted Pineapple. The fruit is cored, stood upright, (mine was in pieces on its side, never mind) and basted with a sugar syrup flavored with vanilla and cilantro. It is unutterably sweet, but I find pineapples to be sweeter than they used to be. Whatever happened to the tongue numbing tingle when you ate too much?

This book is fun and a little bit silly, and sincere on some level. But it is not mere pranksterism, Gates has done his homework. Before you embark on Carrot Jam he'll tell you carrots originated in Afghanistan, used to be purple, and you can't eat their feathery green tops. If you're interested in throwing a Last Supper, Gates has checked in with the local clergy for expert information. If you're interested in hosting a genuine Bacchanalian orgy, Gates is your man.

Read, enjoy, try, but if you're invited to the Gates' for dinner, slip a bagel into your pocket.

© 2006 Claudia Kousoulas
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