Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review of "Cooking for the President"

"Cooking for the President" is a new cookbook that was 20 odd years in the making. It is an epic project comprising 544 pages. The book, a labor of love by the daughter of our former President Wee Kim Wee is a must-have. I finally got to see this definitive guide which was launched at the end of 2010. It is the Nonya cook's Larousse Gastronomique/Escoffier all rolled into one. The glossary and measurements appendix would look like the papers for the Cambridge A Levels Chemistry exams. So thorough is it that the glossary has photos of the various types of fish normally chosen by Nonyas for their dishes, plus the butcher cuts for the different meats. More interestingly, the cookbook covers a wide range of little known home dishes - those that as a child, I would see on the dinner table from time to time but now have no inkling how to cook them because they were never recorded. They were the simple whip-up's that a Nonya housewife of old invariably knew how to concoct almost instinctively.

The food photos were all shot by the author - the President's daughter and they are the better ones out there. Kudos to her persistence because creating this mammoth cookbook is no mean feat. As an aspiring cookbook writer myself, I only wish I had her discipline and faith in God and I console myself with the fact that she is much older and more experienced than me. (See blog entry "Why and How I Wrote 'Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen'").

President Wee was a most beloved figure and was the pride of our Peranakan community. He was the first ethnically Chinese president in Singapore and a Baba, underscoring once again the influence that Babas had in the political establishments in Southeast Asia. (Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, Tan Cheng Lock and our current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to name a few.) Mrs. Wee was well known for her Nonya food which she served at open houses in the embassies that President Wee helmed during his years as a diplomat.

It is a sweet tribute to a much-loved and esteemed couple, made all the more special that at 94, Mrs. Wee's dreams of putting her recipes to print for future generations were realized. The cookbook is indeed a curatorial piece of culinary history.


JJJo said...

Hi Sharon, the Wee Kim Wee School of COmmunication and Information is holding a charity auction and one of the items is this cookbook. I found your review very well-written and seek your permission to use it as an explanatory write-up to accompany the cookbook display. Of course we will credit you appropriately.

Please let me know if you have any concerns.

Best wishes
Joanna Tan

Sharon Wee said...

Yes, by all means if it is not too late!

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