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Restaurant/Celebrity Cookbooks (July 23, 2009)

book review
by Dean Tudor, www.deantudor.com

Restaurant/celebrity cookbooks are one of the hottest trends in cookbooks. Actually, they've been around for many years, but never in such proliferation. They are automatic sellers, since the book can be flogged at the restaurant or TV show and since the chef ends up being a celebrity somewhere, doing guest cooking or catering or even turning up on the Food Network. Most of these books will certainly appeal to fans of the chef and/or the restaurant.

Many of the recipes in these books actually come off the menus of the restaurants involved. Occasionally, there will be, in these books, special notes or preps, or recipes for items no longer on the menu. Stories or anecdotes will be related to the history of a dish. But because most of these books are American, they use only US volume measurements for the ingredients; sometimes there is a table of metric equivalents, but more often there is not. I'll try to point this out.

The usual schtick is "favourite recipes made easy for everyday cooks." There is also PR copy on "demystifying ethnic ingredients." PR bumf also includes much use of the magic phrase "mouth-watering recipes" as if that is what it takes to sell such a book. I keep hearing from readers, users, and other food writers that some restaurant recipes (not necessarily from these books) don't seem to work, but how could that be? They all claim to be kitchen-tested for the home, and many books identify the food researcher by name.

Most books are loaded with tips, techniques, and advice, as well as gregarious stories about life in the restaurant world. Photos abound, usually of the chef bounding about. But of course there are a lot of food shots, verging on gastroporn. The endorsements are from other celebrities in a magnificent case of logrolling. If resources are cited, they are usually American mail order firms, with websites. Some companies, though, will ship around the world, so don't ignore them altogether. Here's a rundown on the latest crop of such books.


Pintxos: small plates in the Basque tradition
(Ten Speed Press, 2009, 202 pages, ISBN 978-1-58008-922-7, $24.95 US, hard covers) is by Gerald Hirigoyen, chef-owner of two San Francisco restos (Piperade and Bocadillos). He was named or nominated for several "best chef" awards in California. The focusing food writer is Lisa Weiss, who has co- written many other cookbooks. Top-notch log rollers here are Eric Ripert, Paula Wolfert, and Chuck Williams (Williams-Sonoma).

With "small plates" as the single hottest menu trend in North America, it seems appropriate to begin specializing beyond Spain and the Eastern Mediterranean. Here are 75 preps for appetizer-sized French Basque and Spanish Basque dishes, albeit with some California influences. The arrangement is by type of dish (griddle, beans, sandwiches, braises, innards, fried bites, salads, skewers, montaditos, and soups). He has wine notes that offering pairings for each dish, as well as tips for cooks to make their own pairings. Avoirdupois measurements are used in the recipes, but there is no metric table of equivalencies. There are notes about the Basque pantry, US sources of supply, and a large-typeface index.

Try hanger steak with chimichurri, calamari with peppers and wild mushroom salad, white bean and salt cod stew, fava beans with crème fraiche and mint, oxtail empanadas, sweetbreads, artichoke chips with lemon aioli, or sardines escabeche.

Quality/Price rating: 88.


Dirty Dishes: a restaurateur's story of passion, pain and pasta
(Bloomsbury, 2009, 256 pages, ISBN 978-1-59691-442-1, $25 US hard covers) is by Pino Luongo, who has owned and operated several restaurants, since 1983, in New York and Chicago. Currently, he is chef and owner of New York's Centolire. As he says, "Everybody has an opinion about me... A lot of people love me, and a lot of people hate me... a lot of what you've heard about me is true."

His memoir covers his Tuscan boyhood right up through his business partners, former partners, food critics, and others. He is also the author of several cookbooks. He rose from dishwasher to owner-operator. But after dealing with a corporate chain (the relationship went sour), he left everything behind and returned to cooking. Here are his stories about the rich and famous, ably assisted by collaborator Andrew Friedman, who has co-authored many cookbooks with celebrity chefs. Portions of the book were in "Don't Try This at Home," a collection of kitchen disasters. And for the first time since 1988, he's back to just one restaurant.

There is no index to the contents, so you cannot look up Warhol, Zagat, Stallone, or Onassis to see what he says about them – you must browse. There are 10 recipes, mostly for basic Tuscan dishes.

Quality/Price rating: 88.


Sizzle in Hell's Kitchen: ethnic recipes from restaurants of New York City's Ninth Avenue neighborhood (Gibbs Smith, 2009; dist. Raincoast, 224 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-0445-7, $30 US hard covers) is a collection of preps collated by Carliss Retif Pond, a culinary advisor living in New York. Arranged by course (apps to desserts), this collection reflects the preps as presented by 43 local restaurants reflecting the cuisines of Africa, Louisiana, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Asia, Cuba, Druze (Israel), the Mediterranean, Russia, Puerto Rico, Argentina, even Ireland: all of course reflective of the waves of immigrants that have arrived through the Hell's Kitchen area.

Recipes are sourced, and include such as railroad pork chops with apricot-mango sauce, yebeg tibs (Ethiopian), spiedino macelleria, spiha (Deuze), pla lad prik (Thai), molokhia (Egypt), kartoffelsuppe (Germany), pistou soup, and samosas with potato and peas. All of it perfect street or diner food. There are some photos and stories about the restaurants and their owners, many of which have been ion the same family hands for generations. Avoirdupois measurements are used in the recipes, but there is a metric table of equivalencies.

Quality/Price rating: 89.


Canyon Ranch: Nourish: indulgently healthy cuisine
(Penguin Viking Studio, 2009, 372 pages, ISBN 978-0-670-02073-7, $40 US hard covers) is by Scott Uehlein, executive chef at the Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson since 1999. For almost thirty years, it has been a top spa destination for health and wellness. The culinary philosophy here is the same as at all spas: natural, nutritional, wholesome ingredients must be fresh and seasonal. Each prep includes nutritional data and techniques.

The book is arranged by course, from beverages and snacks through to desserts, with vegetarian entrees and all of the major food groups. Avoirdupois measurements are used in the recipes, but there is no metric table of equivalencies. There is, however, a useful chart of ingredient conversions from weights to volumes, so that a pound of acorn squash could be three cups. There are lists of gluten-free recipes and dairy-free recipes, but no page references are given. There is also a US web resources listing.

Uehlein emphasizes colour and downplays white. Try his chilled cucumber soup with arugula, apple- cranberry salmon salad, tomato feta relish, grilled beef tenderloins with tomato-blue cheese salsa, and almond macaroons.

Quality/Price rating: 87.


Seven Fires: grilling the Argentine way (Artisan, 2009; dist. T. Allen, 278 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-354-5, $35 US hard covers) is by Francis Mallmann, who owns two restaurants in Mendoza and Buenos Aires, plus a third in Uruguay. This Patagonian chef has applied his skills for the home cook. According to the publisher, the Argentines grill more meat per capita than any other country.

Since 1995, Mallmann has been working exclusively with wood-fired cookery, both rustic and refined. He has burnt stories and crusty stories here. He has seven methods of cooking. Parilla is the most prominent, since this is basically what's called BBQ in North America. But the other six can be employed as well, although asador (whole pigs or lambs affixed to an iron cross that faces a bonfire) and rescoldo (cooking food by burying in hot embers and ashes) may not be too practical at home. Most recipes are adapted for cooking indoors, so the book is useful for any kitchen in any season. Preps cover the whole range of food from apps to desserts; the arrangement of the book includes extensive chapters on beef, lamb, chicken, pork, plus seafood and vegetables.

Try fresh figs with mozzarella, pears and iberico ham, bricklayer steak, lamb Malbec, salt crust chicken, salmon a la vara, or carmelized endives with vinegar. There are, of course, sections on techniques and equipment needed. Absolutely gorgeous photography. Avoirdupois measurements are used in the recipes, but there is a metric table of equivalencies.

Quality/Price rating: 90.


Tea & Cumpets: rituals & recipes from European tearooms and cafes (Chronicle Books, 2009, 180 pages, ISBN 978-0-8118-6214-1, $19.95 US hard covers) is by Chronicle cookbook author Margaret M. Johnson, who also writes food articles for the press. Here she collects and collates recipes from tearooms throughout Europe, in some cases adapting them for home use. Preps concern mainly sandwiches, pastries, cakes and scones, crumpets, et al. After the primer material on teas and some history, she has separate chapters on the sandwiches, the breads, and the sweets.

Preps are sourced. Thus, there is The Clarence (Dublin) and its spiced egg sandwiches, the cucumber sandwiches from Claridge's (London), tea brack from the Quay House in Galway, meringues from Willow Tea Rooms (Glasgow), and gooseberry mousse from Llangoed Hall in Wales. Most tearooms are in the UK and Eire. Others are spotty in Paris and Switzerland (in the French cantons), principally at hotels with an English clientele.

She has a concluding chapter on the French style of teas, along with recipes for madeleines, crème caramel, and petit pains au chocolat. There is a US resource list for ingredients. Avoirdupois measurements are used in the recipes, but there is a metric table of equivalencies.

Quality/Price rating: 87.


Rustic Fruit Desserts: crumbles, buckles, cobblers, pandowdies, and more (Ten Speed Press, 2009, 164 pages, ISBN 978-1-58008-976-0, $22 US hard covers) is by Cory Schreiber (founder of Wildwood Restaurant) and Julie Richardson (founder of Baker & Spice), both of Portland, Oregon. I am not sure what is in the publisher's mind here: most of the preps come from Richardson (she's the baker) but it is Schreiber's attributed book as first author. In addition, the publisher felt it necessary to have heavy-duty logrolling from such as Sara Moulton (exec chef of Gourmet) and David Lebovitz (former top dessert chef from Chez Panisse).

This is a basic book of old-time cooked-fruit desserts, generally without pastry crusts. Anyone can make them. Included are crisps, slumps, betties, buckles, grunts, crumbles, cobblers, pandowdies, bread puddings, cakes, compotes, custards, fools (but no syllabubs), galettes, teacakes, and trifles. Generic preps are listed for stone fruit slump, stone fruit tea cake, stone fruit crisp, and stone fruit upside-down cornmeal cake. Substitutions are encouraged.

Apples, stone fruit, and berries are the main three categories of fruit. The book is arranged by season as it follows the course of development of the fruit. And it is also based primarily on what is available in the Pacific Northwest. Try raspberry red currant cobbler, upside-down sweet cherry cake, maple apple dumpling, cranberry buckle with vanilla crumb, or caramel peach grunt. There's a short US sources lists. Avoirdupois measurements are used in the recipes, but there is no metric table of equivalencies.

Quality/Price rating: 89.


Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies (Ten Speed Press, 2009, 118 pages, ISBN 9788-0-1-58008-980-7, $16.95 US hard covers) is by Mollie Cox Bryan, a food writer. Here are more than 65 recipes for pies from the family-owned "Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant and Bakery" in the Shenandoah Valley, VA. It is sixty years old, and her family now runs it, along with some cafeterias, a buffet, catering business and a take-out counter which sells 100 pies a day.

To me, the classic US Southern pie has always been Chess Pie, made with either lemons or vinegar or a combination. But try to find it in this book. There is no index entry for "Chess" Pie. The inside front cover says that there is a Lemon Chess Pie in the book. Most references I've seen to Chess Pie don't mention "Lemon" in the title. I look up Lemon in the index, and find an entry for "Lemon pies" on page 73 and 110. Not on 73, but it is on page 110. Are they trying to hide something? Other deficiencies of the index include a Make-Your-Own-Flavor Chiffon Pie entry, but none for Chiffon Pie. Streusel Topping has its own entry, but it is not cross-listed under Toppings and sauces as it should be.

Part one of the book covers crusts and toppings. The second part deals with fruits and nut pies. Cream and custards are up next, followed by frozen/icebox pies, and "pies for the cupboard." There's some good primer material on how to make pie crusts and cooking times. Try weepless meringue, caramel apple nut pie, chestnut pie, winter squash pie, brown sugar pie, raisin pie, and shoo fly pie. Avoirdupois measurements are used in the recipes, but there is no metric table of equivalencies.

Quality/Price rating: 88.


Smoked, Slathered, and Seasoned: a complete guide to flavoring food for the grill (Wiley, 2009, 334 pages, ISBN 978-0-470-18648-0, $19.95 US, soft covers) is by Elizabeth Karmel, owner of the Grill Friends line of grilling products and the executive chef for Hill Country barbecue restaurant in New York City. She also runs girlsatthegrill.com and grillfriends.com. Here she offers a booming 400 recipes for marinades, brines, barbecue sauces, glazes, mops, salsa, jellies, dipping sauces, pestos, and tapenades. All of these can be applied to hot-and-fast grilling or low-and-slow BBQ. The essence is in balancing the flavours for the likes of ribs, burgers, steaks, poultry, seafood, vegetables and fruit.

The book is arranged by the title: there's a section of items to be soaked, another for slathered items, and a third for seasoned (rubs). Double columns throughout are used, with economically smaller pictures. There is good use of typefaces and sizes. Sidebars are used wherever appropriate. Avoirdupois measurements are used in the recipes, but there is no metric table of equivalencies. Try pomegranate BBQ sauce, carrot-jalapeno relish, cherry-chile steak sauce, sesame-soy mop, or roasted garlic-Dijon butter.

Quality/Price rating: 90.


A Touch of Tropical Spice: recipes from chili crab to Laksa (Tuttle Publishing, 2009; distr. Ten Speed, 144 pages, ISBN 978-0-8048-4081-1, $24.95 US hard covers) has been collated by Wendy Hutton, an Asiatic food specialist. These 75 preps all come from four Four Seasons Resorts and Hotels – the ones in Bali at Jimbaran Bay and Sayan, the Maldives resort at Kuda Huraa, and Hotel Singapore.

This is high-level spicy Asiatic cooking at its best from the world-renowned Four Seasons teams. The range is India, Maldives, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, and covering virtually every course from breakfast and snacks through to evening mains. Brunches and picnics are also included. In addition to the 75 preps, there are 34 recipes for basics of sambals, sauces, dips, dressings, jams, chutneys, and pickles.

The list of web-based resources includes Australia, Germany, Scandinavia, the UK, and the USA. Executive chefs responsible for the home versions of the food are named, and ingredients are expressed in both avoirdupois and metric weights and measures. Try passionfruit cheesecake, pan fried fish fillets with mango, grilled rending rib-eye steaks, sweet corn and leek soup with crab dumplings, BBQ jumbo shrimp with vindaloo dip, or even "coconut rice with assorted side dishes." All with gorgeous photography.

Quality/Price rating: 89.


The Rusty Parrot Cookbook: recipes from Jackson Hole's acclaimed lodge (Gibbs Smith, 2009; distr. Raincoast, 224 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236- 0347-4, $50 US hard covers) is by Darla Worden and Eliza Cross. Both are lifestyles writers; Worden lives in Jackson Hole (Wyoming) and Cross lives in Centennial, Colorado. The Rusty Parrot Lodge & Spa seems to make everybody's top ten lists. Indeed, it has been AAA Four Diamond for 15 consecutive years. Their Wild Sage Restaurant specializes in "over-the-top" breakfasts.

This is a typical souvenir-type book, featuring the home kitchen version of their most popular dishes. It has a lot of photography and essays, historical gleanings from the area. And of course it has to be nicely recommended for anyone who has had a good experience there. It is an oversized book, and it is very heavy in weight. The arrangement is seasonal, with a source directory that is all US. Surprisingly, they recommend a local Wyoming source for seafood. Avoirdupois measurements are used in the recipes, but there is a metric table of equivalencies.

Try a jumbo lump crab cake, opal basil stuffed chicken breast, yakinori salad roll, hazelnut blanc mange, sake and green curry-braised pork belly, or griddled haystack mountain goat cheese.

Quality/Price rating: 85.

 

 

 

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