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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Resto/Celebrity Cookbooks for August 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 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 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 –

17. OLAF'S KITCHEN; a master chef shares his passion (John Wiley &
Sons, 2008, 224 pages, ISBN 978-0-470-15565-3, $28.95 soft covers) is
by Olaf Mertens, who studied culinary work in Germany. Subsequently, he
spent several years at Rogues Restaurant, and now is head chef and
partner at three Mississauga restaurants (On the Curve, Ten Restaurant
& Wine Bar, and West50 Pourhouse and Grille. This is another book about
a chef writing for home cooks who want flair in their approaches to
dinner. Low fat but flavourful dishes can be approached by using herbs
instead of fats. Throughout the book, there is a sense of German
influences (chocolate sauerkraut cake, spaetzle, herbal schnapps-cured
salmon, scalloped kohlrabi, strudel, soured beef short ribs, et al)
with a lighter touch. As with most current books, there is the S-L-O
approach (seasonal, local, organic if possible) too. There is a nice
section on "faster-cooking" foods, so you can quickly entertain or have
a mid-week meal. Beer is the prep liquid of choice for cooking. While
the book does emphasize low fat, there are some exciting cheese dishes
including a goat cheese brule cake. Of note are nice pictures of the
unidentified staff – which makes the book an easy sell at his restos.
Quality/Price rating: 86.

18. FOOD 2.0 (Dorling Kindersley, 2008, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-7566-
3358-5, $25 US hard covers) is by Charlie Ayers, one-time cook for
Google in 1999 when they only had 40 employees. The book is "with Karen
Alexander and Carolyn Humphries". Log rollers include Iron Chef Cat
Cora. His mission was to get the workers all back to their respective
computer screens in the afternoon pumped with energy. He left in 2005,
and by that time, he was feeding 1500 a day. He now has an earth-
friendly fast food resto (Calafia) in Palo Alta. His shopping
principles are SLO: seasonal, local and organic. His backup drive is
always a fully loaded pantry. His 100 recipes try to promote
concentration in the brain, starting with brekkies and moving through
to the pick me ups at the end of the day. Try an apricot multi-grain
breakfast, or a cranberry-orange bread, dragon breath noodles, khmer
spring rolls, turkey-avocado-carrot wrap, or snapper in a yogurt coat.
More details at Quality/Price rating: 87.

19. BREAKFAST AT THE WOLSELEY (Quadrille, 2008; distr. Ten Speed Press,
128 pages, ISBN 978-1-84400444-7, $29.95US hard covers) is by the
quirky A.A. Gill, a restaurant critic for the Sunday Times and a
freelance food writer. He has written many books, including two on
London restaurants The Ivy and Le Caprice, also owned by the owners of
The Wolseley. Coincidence? I think not…. Here he gives a behind-the-
scenes look at breakfast served in a tony Piccadilly resto which bills
itself as a cross between a café and a brasserie (maybe a brashcafe?).
He details the front of house activities and the kitchen scenes. While
Gill did the essays, there was a photographer and a recipe team (Julian
O'Neill and Lewis Esson). Breakfast – also known as brekkies – might be
the most important meal of the day, but it seems a lot easier to re3ad
about it rather than make it. Would you like to cook, before 7 AM,
brioche, haggis and duck egg, lamb kidneys with Madeira, compote of
prune and elderflower? I didn't think so, but invite me over if you do.
Gill's essay is good basic history of the European breakfast.
Quality/Price rating: 86.

128 pages, ISBN 878-0-470-22939-2, $19.95 US hard covers) is by Larry
Flax and Rick Rosenfield, co-founders of the California Pizza Kitchen,
which opened first in 1985 and now is a chain of 230 restos in 30 US
states and eight countries. The group has also come up with "The
California Pizza Kitchen Cookbook" (1996, and with sales of over
250,000) and "California Pizza Kitchen Pasta, Salads, Soups and Sides".
More about the restos are at The book is useful for sales
at the restaurants, for obviously there are many fans. Here, the
concentration is on preps the whole family can both make and enjoy,
including all the signature dishes which bear no relation to Italian
pizza whatsoever except for the dough. Jerk Chicken? S'mores? Chipotle
chicken? And other non-pizzas like mac and cheese, salads, panini,
piccatas, Fifty recipes here, largely developed by Brian Sullivan,
Senior Vice President of Culinary Development. Quality/Price rating:

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