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Sunday, May 6, 2012

THE RESTAURANT/CELEBRITY COOKBOOK... 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 and/or the media personality. 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 shtick 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. The celebrity books, with well-known chefs or entertainers, seem
to have too much self-involvement and ego. And, 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 –
11. FRENCH BISTRO; seasonal recipes (Flammarion 2011, 2012; distr. by
Random House of Canada, 216 pages, ISBN 978-2-08-020088-4, $34.95US
hard covers) is by Bertrand Auboyneau, owner of Paul Bert in Paris, and
Francois Simon, food writer for Le Figaro. The seasonal preps come from
the bistro, and Simon explains the ten essentials that make a great
bistro (the chalkboard menu is one of them; the bistro chair is
another). To those ten, I'd add an eleventh: quality of fat used. The
book also includes features on a baker's dozen of the best French
bistros in Paris. There are 56 recipes – try duck foie gras marbled
with leeks, organic tomato and anchovy Nicoise-style salad, sauteed
sweetbreads with green asparagus, or flattened hen with vin jaune
fpllowed by rice pudding with dolce con leche. Preparations have their
ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but
there is no table of equivalents. Quality/price rating: 88.
12. THE MANSION ON TURTLE CREEK COOKBOOK. (Rizzoli, 2012; distr. Random
House Canada, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-8478-36536, $39.95US hard covers)
is from the Mansion, with preps largely by Dean Fearing and editorial
assistance from food writer Helen Thompson. Fearing was the author of
the same named book published in 1994; he left the Manson in 2007 to
open his own resto. Here is the collection of some 100 preps from the
past twenty-five years. The Mansion Restaurant was one of the early
leaders in the New Southwestern cuisine, bringing forth lobster tacos
and tortilla soups (both found here). Contemporary dishes include
grilled snapper with a tomatillo-serrano vinaigrette and cornbread
oyster or red grapefruit tart with avocado ice cream. There's a long
history of the Mansion as well as a wealth of photos that were not in
the previous cookbook since it was, well, mainly a cookbook. The
current work is a "presentation" copy for a coffee table, and is quite
suitable for fans of the Mansion.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements,
but there is a table of metric equivalents.
Quality/price rating: 88.

13. DESSERTED; recipes and tales from an Island Chocolatier (Down East
Books, 2011; distr. Nimbus, 128 pages, ISBN 978-0-89272-991-3, $29.95
US hard covers) is by Kate Shaffer who was transplanted to Maine by her
husband. An experienced restaurant chef, she began cooking at a
lighthouse inn on Isle au Haut, one of the remote islands off Maine.
After five years, she began making gourmet
truffles and other chocolates (Black Dinah Chocolatiers). Here are 45
preps, each with stories and anecdotes about island life. It's been
categorized as an armchair cookbook since most people seem to buy
chocolates rather than make them. Nevertheless, there's a lot of fun
here. It is arranged by food format, with breakfast, tarts, pies,
cakes, cookies, ice creams, puddings, and even a few savouries. Try
pumpkin cheesecake with elderberry glaze and chocolate walnut crumb
crust, or white-chocolate lavender pound cake, or roast chicken with
New England-style mole poblano. Preparations have their ingredients
listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric
equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.

14. CHLOE'S KITCHEN; 125 easy, delicious recipes for making the food
you love the vegan way (Free Press, 2012; distr. Simon & Schuster, 272
pages, ISBN 978-1-4516-3674-1, $18.99 US paper covers) is by Chloe
Coscarelli, winner of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars. She is the first
vegan to win anything on the Food network. She's had chef training and
has worked at a variety of California and New York restos. She's also
accessible at While not gluten-free, the book does
recommend several commercially available alternatives such as purchased
all-purpose non-gluten flours or brown rice pasta. It's a beginners
book but with veganism as the theme. Dishes have been spiced up or
sweetened in order to appeal, but all are healthy and delicious.
Arrangement is by course. Try avocado pesto pasta, wasabi sesame noodle
salad, chocolate walnut fudge, or cheesy broccoli soup in sourdough
bread bowls. At the back there are ten menu suggestions, and each dish
has a page reference to save you from looking it up in the index.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements,
but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.

20. NOBU'S VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK (Pie Books, 2012; distr. Random House of
Canada, 176 pages, ISBN 978-4-89444-905-3, $39.95 US hard covers) is by
Nobu Matsuhisa, one of the leading Japanese restaurateurs of this
generation. He opened Matsuhisa in Los Angeles in 1987, followed by
Nobu in New York City in 1994. Since then he has opened about 30 more
restaurants around the world, and produced a half-dozen cookbooks, each
one eagerly awaited by his fans and followers of Japanese cooking. And
in true style, each book has been a work of art with gorgeous photos of
food display by Masashi Kuma, a Beard Award-nominated photographer.
There are over 70 recipes here, covering the gamut of fresh salads,
party foods, sizzling plates, desserts and cocktails. He emphasizes
"umami" found in many veggies (especially sea vegetables) for full
flavours, to replace tastes derived from animal flesh. Soy beans, of
course, through tofu, yuba and miso, play a prominent role.
Professionals will admire this book for Nobu bringing in play all the
textures, flavours and colours of veggies. I particularly enjoyed the
rice, soba noodles and soup chapter with his take on nigiri sushi,
crispy rice cubes with tar and pumpkin mash, and ten-vegetable tomato
soup. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and
avoirdupois measurements for the most part, but there is no table of
equivalents. Here's also a glossary of Japanese ingredients and a list
(with addresses) of all of his restaurants. Quality/price rating: 91.

21. NATURE; simple, healthy, and good (Rizzoli, 2011; distr. Random
House of Canada, 361 pages, ISBN 978-0-8478-3840-0, $45 US hard covers)
is by Alain Ducasse, the well-known world class restaurateur, with his
assistants Paue Neyrat for the recipe finishing and Chistophe Saintagne
for the editorial work. Log rolling is by Thomas Keller and Daniel
Boulud. It was originally published in France in 2009, and then
translated and published by Hardie Grant Books in the UK last year.
This is the North American publication. It's a heavy book with a padded 
cover, but it does lie open relatively flat on your kitchen counter.
There are 190 recipes here for simple, healthy and flavourful foods.
The preps are written in narrative style with a fainter than usual
typeface for the ingredients used; this can be off-putting by many
older people. Try vegetables a la barigoule with vanilla, spinach and
soft-boiled eggs, chestnut soup with bacon and flaked porcini, soft
potato pancakes, sauteed rabbit with apples, or whole poached sea bass
with herb cream. First-rate photography. Preparations have their
ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table
of metric equivalents. There is an interesting index by main
ingredient. Quality/price rating: 84.

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