Book Review: Reel Cuisine

It’s Oscars week! So it’s fitting that I post a film-related book review. Vertical recently released the English language version of Reel Cuisine, a cookbook written by a Japanese film stylist, whose recipes are inspired by movie scenes.

Back Cover Blurb

Professional food stylist Nami Iijima has worked on the sets of more than a dozen international films and TV programs. Her dishes have inspired hunger across the globe. The Finnish/Japanese co-production “Seagull Diner” was partially inspired by her scrumptious and worldly dishes.

Packaging

This being a book by a film food stylist, its strongest point is the photographs that accompany the recipes. They’re not just shot in appealing manner; each dish is presented in a way that re-creates the feel of the cinematic scene that inspired it.

Unfortunately, the format Vertical chose to release the book isn’t ideal for the content. It’s a small paperback so it’s not impressive to be a coffee-table book, and the binding is on the flimsy side for a cookbook. Cookbooks are typically sturdier stuff, made to withstand being propped open multiple times on the kitchen counter. This little book would not be up to that task; I was only part way through my first read when a couple pages detached from the spine.

The Review

This is the first Vertical cookbook I’ve reviewed. When I read its summary blurb, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Now having read it, I’m uncertain what American audience it would appeal to.

The author is Nami Iijima, a Japanese film food stylist. This book is an offshoot of her newsmagazine column “Reel Cuisine,” in which her goal is to “faithfully recreate the dishes shown in various films” in a way that is “easy and accessible, even for people who … aren’t so confident in the kitchen.” This English-language edition contains seventy recipes, each of which includes a brief summary of the film that inspired it and a photograph of the completed dish. Thanks to the prevalence of Hollywood films, Americans will recognize most of the movies referenced. The book also includes four pages entitled “Work Diary,” in which Iijima-sensei gives a glimpse into her life as a film food stylist; two pages of her favorite quotes and scenes; and an index of recipes.

The book gets points for eye-candy (the cactus plate for “Green Salad” is pretty cool), but it doesn’t quite accomplish the goal of “easy and accessible.” This is primarily due to the fact that Iijima-sensei was writing for a Japanese audience. Vertical does provide measurements in US standards as well as metric, but her choices for ingredients are based off products commonly available in Japanese stores. For instance, her recipes call for “cake flour” and “bread flour” but no mention is made of “all-purpose flour.” For “Burritos,” the recipe includes instructions for making tortillas out of bread flour and butter, whereas an American version would probably instruct you to purchase tortillas at the store.

Many recipes are for Western dishes, but several distinctly Japanese foods which will require access to an Asian grocery store are also on the list. In addition, some of those dishes require a certain amount of cultural familiarity. If you don’t know what “Sukiyaki” is and how it’s eaten, you could get confused by that particular recipe. Ingredients for the “Iced Azuki” include “classic syrup,” and I still haven’t figured out what that is. (Simple syrup? Maple syrup?)

Iijima-sensei includes helpful preparation notes for some recipes, but all instructions are text. There are no figures or diagrams, only pictures of the finished product.

Occasionally, Iijima-sensei drops details about how she went about getting a dish camera-ready. Unfortunately, there is no section devoted to those techniques. Several recipes merely end with the instruction, “Plate.” Considering she’s a professional who specializes in making food look good on film, I think she missed an opportunity to impart something valuable to the reader.

In Summary

While Reel Cuisine gets points for imaginatively shot photographs, it falls short as a cookbook, in large part because of the different range of ingredients available in Japan and America. As for the book’s film angle, it’s a cute concept but would have been a better sell if Iijima-sensei included a section about her cinematic styling techniques.

First published at the Fandom Post.

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