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Thursday, June 26, 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 –

classics (Bloomsbury, 2007; distr. Raincoast, 319 pages, ISBN 978-0-
7475-9405-5, $45 Canadian hard covers) is by Heston Blumental, chef-
owner of the Fat Duck in the UK, getting three Michelin stars in 2004.
It was voted best restaurant in the world in 2005. The following year
he was awarded an OBE; his motto is "Perfection Takes Time". This book
is based on the BBC cooking series of the same name. His search for the
perfect versions of (among others) roast chicken and pizza are
complemented in this sequel by a search for the most perfect versions
of hamburger, risotto, Peking duck, chili con carne, trifle, baked
Alaska. Eight in all. He goes to India for chicken tikka masala and to
Italy for risotto. This is the quest for the best, as he says, and is
quite engaging in style. He has lots of photos and descriptive pix.
Everything, of course, is complicated, but then the end products are
superb. The Peking duck goes on and on for three courses. There's a
supply list that is all country-of-origin (e.g., the risotto stuff is
sourced in Italy, the Peking duck is sourced from Beijing) and a
bibliography for background reading. Quality/Price Rating: 89.

15. BBQ JOINT; stories and secret recipes from the barbecue belt (Gibbs
Smith, 2008; distr. Raincoast, 168 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-0218-7,
$15.95US paper covers) is by David Gelin. He has been endorsed by BBQ
and folklore specialists. These are stories from the proverbial "hole-
in-the-wall" restaurants that are off the beaten track and serve locals
only. These are the places to find great barbecues. He also has
anecdotes and histories of the joints covered – and, of course,
recipes. States covered include from Alabama to Texas, all of the
South. Sixty establishments are noted, such as five in Tennessee (Hog
Heaven, Sportsman's BBQ, Scotts BBQ, Payne's BBQ, and Three Little Pigs
BBQ). Not every place has a recipe listed. Try a North Alabama White
Sauce (mostly for chicken), Arkansas BBQ rice, a Florida cassava with
garlic sauce, or a South Carolina hash. There's a chapter on building
your own BBQ pit, and a location map for travelers. Quality/Price
rating: 85.

16. CAPE BRETON TASTES; recipes from Cape Breton's best restaurants
(Nimbus Publishing, 2008, 80 pages, ISBN 978-1-55109-657-5, $22.95
paper covers) has been assembled by Gary Walsh. He has 28 recipes from
28 restaurants on Cape Breton. There are also plenty of photos of
scenery and plated dishes. The preps cover all courses, from starters
to desserts, and especially with seafood. While there is a listing of
all the restos at the end of the book, there are no street addresses,
phone numbers or web sites. Avoirdupois weights and measures are used,
but there is no table of metric conversions. And no index to the
recipes…Arichat on Cape Breton has L'Auberge Acadienne with its chicken
fricot with bannock; Cheticamp's Restaurant Acadien has pate a la
viande (meat pie); Louisbourg's Cranberry Cove Inn has seafood chowder;
and Malagawatch's Cape Breton Smokehouse has a smoked salmon quiche. A
nice production despite my caveats. Quality/Price rating: 86.

17. COOKING WITH JOHNNY VEE; international cuisine with a modern flair
(Gibbs Smith, 2008,; distr. Raincoast, 216 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-0155-5, $24.95 US paper
covers) is by Vee, who has cooked all over, finally settling in as a
food writer and cooking school owner in Santa Fe, New Mexico
( Vee is Chef John Vollertsen who was once a
sous at the Coyote Café. This is a book for entertaining, with material
drawn from his classes. The cuisine is mainly global fusion (Moroccan,
Thai, Australian), but it also draws quite heavily on local New Mexican
chili lore and recipes. There are sidebars on tips and techniques.
You'll also need a pantry (fully described here) with spices, oils,
vinegars, rices, flours, and sauces. The book has been arranged by
class topic: green chile festival, red chile festival, New Year brunch,
and others. The publisher has added metric conversion charts. But there
are too many. Try any of: chocolate pine nut tacos, red chile pork
tamale, beer battered artichoke fritters, Indonesian chicken laksa, or
pecan- and herb-crusted salmon. Quality/Price Rating: 87.

18. CAKE LOVE; how to bake cakes from scratch (Stewart, Tabori & Chang,
2008, 224 pages, ISBN 978-1-58479-662-6, $27.50US hard covers) is by
Warren Brown, who opened his CakeLove bakery in 2002 (a year later he
opened LoveCafe). He has hosted the Food Network's US show "Sugar
Rush". The more than 75 recipes concentrate on cakes, and there are
about 150 colour photos, many detailing step-by-step approaches.
Chapter headings include pound cakes, butter cakes, and foam cakes.
Other sections deal with frostings and glazes, fillings, meringues, and
"assembly". The book has conversion charts, but these are all
avoirdupois with the conversion being from weight to volume or vice
versa, and not metric. About fifty cakes are covered, such as chocolate
pound cake, citron bundt, yellow butter cake, and Mr. Banana legs.
Quality/Price Rating: 87.
19. ITALY, THE ROMAGNOLI WAY; a culinary journey (Lyons Press, 2008;
distr. Canadian Manda, 352 pages, ISBN 978-1-59921-244-9, $24.95US hard
covers) is by Franco and Gwen Romagnoli. Franco, with his first wife,
created the PBS TV cooking series in the 1960s: "The Romagnolis'
Table". It was the first Italian cooking show, and they wrote nine
cookbooks and opened many restaurants in the Boston area. With his
second wife (a food and travel writer), he here explores the little
known places of Italy, complete with carefully chosen recipes. They
visit 18 regions, from North to South. They talk to local farmers and
producers. From Lago d'Orta comes trota affogata (trout), from
Trentino-Alto Adige comes canederli in brodo (pasta soup), from Emilia-
Romagna there is a timballo, Tuscany contributes a coniglio in salmi,
and Sicilia has cucusu co' a ghiotta 'e pisci. No general index, but
there are two indexes for the 40 recipes, by region and by course.
Preps use avoirdupois weights and measures, but there are no metric
tables of equivalents. Overall, a nifty travel book (with colour
photos) but there is hardly anything on wines and cheeses.
Quality/Price rating: 87.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Hi Dean!
I'm a publicist here at Gibbs Smith and I totally appreciate your reviews of our two cookbooks. Is there any way we could get you to link to the Gibbs Smith website so your readers can order the books? Either that or Amazon would be fantastic.
We also have a blog. Check us out: