Susur Lee is a man of few words. While lesser chefs have hogged the spotlight, Lee - perhaps the most innovative cook in North America - prefers to let his cooking do the talking. So the publication of his first-ever cookbook - A Culinary Life , written with Jacob Richler (Ten Speed) - understandably has local foodies salivating. At last, all will be revealed! Sadly, Lee's Life is one unfulfilled. Actually two slim volumes joined together so that, unfathomably, it unfolds like an accordion, the book's first 115 pages are a disposable snore-fest by Richler retelling yet again the familiar story of Lee's early days in Hong Kong, his emigration to Canada in the 70s and his quick rise to the top of Toronto's restaurant scene with Lotus and Susur.
Once you've waded through that wankery - 45 minutes, tops - the second section of some 90 recipes comes as something of a letdown. As expected, most of the them contain myriad ingredients (Eggplant Caviar Tarts on Corn and Parsley Polenta with Black Olive Dust alone lists 26) and detailed techniques that will daunt even the most skilled home cook.
Lee offers little insight into the inspiration for his signature dishes, and the few times that he does, they're inexplicably in the book's first section instead of next to the recipes where they belong.
At 60 bucks a pop, A Culinary Life will be big on holiday gift lists. Flip through its luxurious pages, be bemused by its impractical packaging, prop it up on a prominent shelf and impress your friends. But somehow I doubt anyone's ever going to use it as a cookbook. Susur Lee deserves better.