Picks and Pans Review: Judith Olney on Chocolate

updated 03/25/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/25/1985 01:00AM

The only consciousness of style Judith Olney shows in this disappointing video is reflected in the several changes of clothing she goes through. As far as flair in preparation and presentation goes, forget it. You could find more wit and pizzazz in a tape on buying municipal bonds, even though chocolate ought to be as rich a subject as there is. Not here, as we race through the genesis of the bean, the melting of chocolate and some pedestrian recipes for truffles and mousse. Technique is emphasized to such a degree that the whole lesson is too precise, too impersonal. If we wanted robot cooks, we'd build them. Cooking is a human, passionate art, and Olney, an English professor and author of The Joy of Chocolate, has neither the passion nor much of an artistic touch. The facts she demonstrates in this tape could easily be gained from any of a number of cookbooks. One recipe she works up is the "geode." This is a layered white-and-dark chocolate bombe that got its inspiration from a variety of rock. It also looks like something your 4 year old might construct with Play-Doh. Another example of Olney's cooking repertoire is a "chocolate cabbage cake." (Don't panic; the cake doesn't involve real cabbage.) This is described as a cake built on "the Twinkie principle." She's not kidding, since it's filled with whipped cream flavored with cocoa. Still, it is helpful to watch her make the chocolate leaves and curls for the cake. But whether this somewhat valuable segment justifies buying the tape is another question. Olney stresses that one should not be shy about using one's hands in preparing food. That's certainly an acceptable notion, yet it hardly justifies a show-off segment in which Olney makes sponge cake using only her hands and a single bowl. It's something most of us are likely to do only if our spatula has been chewed up by the family dog. Olney manages to keep her spiffy outfits clean, even through the utensil-less sequence. But that's about all she accomplishes. (Baffico/ Breger Video, Inc., $39.95)

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