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Gastronaut    by Stefan Gates order for
by Stefan Gates
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

What a delightful book. Stefan Gates contends that there is almost nothing edible that cannot be cooked, shredded, sliced and diced, baked, stewed, steamed, fried, roasted, or smeared with pesto, and then eaten with - maybe not gusto - but at least with pleasure.

The first paragraph of this unusual work includes the words, 'I just want to encourage you to play with your food.' And does Gates play. He is an adventurous epicurean. While reading about some of his dishes might induce nausea, the reader has to admit he will try darned near anything. Though I'm a firm believer in the not knocking it 'til you've tried it school of eating, even I have trouble with some of his featured dishes. 'Why Not Eat Insects?' heads one of his many chapters. Why not, indeed? Another 'Our Secret Cannibal Desires' raises the hair on the back of my neck. With visions of Oliver asking, 'More, Sir?', I read the recipe for gruel. Sorry, not for me. The Sea Urchins Gonads stopped me cold as did the recipe for Testicles. No, thanks.

I will admit I'd love to be able to taste a Fragolina Grape and Marsh Samphire, and Brillat-Savarin's Truffled Turkey. I've had Guinea Pig in a private home in the Andes where the next meal ran around the kitchen floor not knowing why his playmates were disappearing. Not worth the effort to me. But then I'm not Peruvian and they might not like Philadelphia Scrapple. The chapter on 'Teaching Grandmother to Suck Eggs' brought back memories of failed tries. The chapter that was most fun in my mind is 'How To Stage a Bacchanalian Orgy'. Not my bag, but it sure was a blast to read about. And don't miss the directions for a backyard pit to cook a pig.

Whatever food strikes your fancy - or turns you green - you're sure to find a reference to it in Gastronaut. And I must include The Gastronaut's Creed (according to Stefan Gates):

'Food Will Consume 16 Percent Of My Life.
That Life Is Too Precious To Waste, Therefore:
I resolve, whenever possible, to transform food from fuel into love, power, adventure, poetry, sex, or drama.
I will never turn down the opportunity to taste or cook something new.
I will never forget: canapes are evil.
I will remember that culinary disaster does not necessarily equate failure.
I will always keep a jar of pesto on hand in case of the latter.

Stefan Gates lives by that creed, while he is also a BBC comedy producer and director, and stars in the BBC series Full on Food. We're told that his 'culinary experimentation in the kitchen can be unpredictable and often unsettling. His approach to cooking is irreverent, eclectic (and sometimes delicious).' Gastronaut is well worth a read.

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