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Saturday, February 2, 2008


...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 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 bumpf 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 -

Speed Press, 2007, 230 pages, ISBN 978-1-58008-781-0, $35US hard covers) is
by the chef/owner of Citizen Cake, Citizen Cupcake, and Orson in San
Francisco. She was a pastry chef of the year in 2006 (Bon Appetit), and has
appeared regularly on the Food Network, including "Iron Chef America".
Notable log rollers for the book include Mario Batali and four other chefs.
But why also Robin Williams? Here are 65 or so dessert recipes, with lots of
colour photography for the preps and (too many) location shots. The 10
anime-style sequences can appeal to a young audience; they illustrate key
techniques and ingredient information throughout the book. Most of the preps
are elaborate and somewhat complex, but they have been adapted to home
kitchens. Each comes with a preparation timeline for organization and mise
en place, and there is also a "minimalist" version for those who are pressed
for time. Commercial chefs scale everything by weight. Falkner lists both
home cooking volumes and scaling for the ingredients, and this is a good
thing, since only scaling is accurate. Thus, under apple galettes, we read
that you can prepare the puff pastry up to one month in advance, make the
caramel sauce one week in advance, and what to do just before serving. The
minimalist version suggests making strip tarts rather than the puff pastry.
For the ingredients, you'll need 2 cups (or 10 ounces) of flour, 12
tablespoons (6 ounces) of cold unsalted butter, etc. She opens the book
with - what else? - chocolate chip cookies. She follows with chocolate
desserts, fruit, cupcakes, "classics", and heavy construction and layering.
The publisher has a metric conversion chart at the back. Check out

Quality/Price Rating: 90.

14. THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY COOKBOOK; a taste of Provence (ThreeForks, 2008;
distr. Canadian Manda Group, 162 pages, ISBN 978-0-7627-4375-9, $24.95 US
hard covers) is by Scott Cohen, executive chef of Las Canarias and Pesca on
the River, both in San Antonio. Co-author Marian Betancourt is a freelance
food writer with an immense string of credits to her name. Notable
logrollers include Jacques Pepin and Ed Brown (Eight One Restaurant in NYC).
After 15 years in New York (this after a stagiaire in France), Cohen moved
out to Texas. Here they present about 100 recipes derived from his two
places, and they are reflective of the landscape. But I rather think that it
more Sonoma than Provence, since many of the dishes had that Southwest
flavour. Typical dishes include black olive tapenade with pickled nopalitos,
tuna tartare with sesame seeds and serrano, squash blossom roasted corn
huitacoche soup, red snapper cioppino, pissaladiere with goat cheese,
cauliflower mashes with mexican oregano. There is the usual equipment and
pantry inventory advice, condiments, sources in the surrounding Texas Hill
country area, and a metric conversion table. This is reliable and do-able
cooking. Quality/Price Rating: 89.

15. THE BOSTON CHEF'S TABLE; the best in contemporary cuisine (ThreeForks,
2008; distr. Canadian Manda Group, 234 pages, ISBN 978-0-7627-4514-2, $24.95
US hard covers) has been assembled by Clara Silverstein, a former food
writer with the Boston Herald. She has collected and highlighted over 100
recipes from chefs in the Boston area, including Todd English, Jasper White,
and Lydia Shire. Chapters are arranged by course (appetizers to desserts and
brunch), and the recipes - of course - have been modified for home use. Each
prep gets an entry for the restaurant, along with names and addresses and
web sites. Sometimes cook's notes are offered. And there is always a
mini-profile of the establishment, sometime with a photo. Thus, for New
England cheese pie there is an entry for Meritage at the Boston Harbor
Hotel, under Executive Chef Daniel Bruce. There's lobster and sweet potato
cakes from Ned Devine's at Faneuil Hall, scallops with turnip puree from
Blu, beet and kale risotto from L'Espalier, and baked lemon pudding from
Locke-Ober. Restaurants and recipes are indexed together, and there is a
metric conversion chart for the US measurements. Quality/Price rating: 90.

16. BISTRO LAURENT TOURONDEL; new American bistro cooking (John Wiley, 2008,
286 pages, ISBN 978-0-471-75883-9, $34.95US hard covers) is by the eponymous
Executive Chef who has more than six restaurants in the US. He was named
Restaurateur of the Year for 2007 by Bob Appetit. Food author Michele
Scicolone is the co-writer. Noted logrollers include the usual team of
Batali and Flay. Here, Tourondel has 150 recipes derived from his
restaurants, which have been described as "traditional French bistro with
the a la carte options of an American steakhouse." An initial response might
be: "how thrilling!" But ultimately this is global fusion cuisine with a
multiplicity of flavours centered around a core of meat or seafood tones.
The range, and table of contents, moves from appetizers through to desserts:
grilled white asparagus, egg, prosciutto, black truffle vinaigrette; green
papaya chicken salad; spicy curry duck noodles; potato-watercress soup, blue
cheese and bacon; roasted cod fish, herb-bacon crust; dried apricot bread
pudding. US volume measurements for each ingredient are used, but there is
no table of metric equivalents (except for oven temperatures). He has a
special section on techniques, but there are still too many extraneous
photos of the chef and his resto at work. Wine suggestions and cook's tips
are exceedingly useful. Mail order sources are all US, mostly within
striking distance of New York City. Quality/Price rating: 87.

17. NEW WORLD PROVENCE; modern French cooking for friends and family
(Arsenal Pulp Books, 2007, 216 pages, ISBN 978-1-55152-223-4, $22.95US soft
covers) is by the husband-and-wife team of Alessandra and Jean-Francis
Quaglia. They met while working at restos in Nice. They opened their first
Provence restaurant in Vancouver in 1997, and their second in 2002. Here are
130 healthy and simple recipes based on their resto menus. Antipasti comes
first (I'm allowing that word since the Italians were all over Provence
before the French were), followed by appetizers and the rest of the courses.
For some reason, there is a chapter on Brunch, between the Meat Mains and
the Desserts. Try sauteed squid with chili-citrus vinaigrette; salade
forestiere; roasted vegetable tartelettes with sun-dried tomatoes; fennel
pollen-dusted wild salmon with lemon aioli; pear and fig torte. The preps
are more Northern Mediterranean rather than Provencal, but it is all the
same related cuisine. The narrative material and cook's tips are a bit
memoirish, and there are extraneous photos of the authors and/or staff and
friends standing around or preparing something, rather than pictures about
the plated food. US volume and metric weight measures are mingled and
inconsistent; there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/Price rating:

18. ONE POT ITALIAN COOKING (Whitecap, 2007, 192 pages, ISBN
978-1-55285-900-1, $29.95 paper covers) is by Massimo Capra, co-owner and
chef of Mistura in Toronto. He appears regularly on the Food Network, and
this book is endorsed by two other Food Network regulars, Lynn Crawford
(Four Seasons in NYC) and Michael Smith. It is a strange book for Capra to
author, since he runs an upscale Italian resto at Av and Dav in Toronto. One
pot? Does Mistura even do one pot cooking? Well, yes it does:
balsamic-glazed lamb ribs, which has been and still is a fixture on their
menu. He says that lamb ribs are hard to find (probably because his resto
has cornered the market on them!) but worth the effort. Here are more than
100 "easy" and "authentic" recipes. One pot is also to taken to mean one
skillet or one sauce pan as well. So we get soups, stews and braises,
sautees, and desserts. Most of the food is definitely rustic. Try Tuscan
cabbage soup (ribollita), chestnut polenta, farmer's risotto, garganelli
with fava beans and prosciutto, chicken rolls with eggplant, or Lombardy
sand cake.

Quality/Price rating: 90.

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