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Monday, August 14, 2017

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 best 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 at home, but how could that be? The books 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 photo shots, verging on gastroporn. There are endorsements from other celebrities in magnificent cases 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 –
7.PRAISE THE LARD (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017, 336 pages, ISBN 978-0-544-70249-3 $25 USD hardbound) is by Mike and daughter Amy Mills. They own 17th Street Barbecue restaurants in Illinois; Mike is also a partner in Blue Smoke in NYC. Mike is in the Barbecue Hall of Fame; Amy is a BBQ consultant for branding, marketing and pr work. Their previous BBQ book was a Beard nominee. It is a thorough and comprehensive work, coming with some heavy-duty logrolling as well. Their premise is the holy trinity of Esses: seasoning, smoke and sauce. It's a heavy-duty book featuring classic pit-smoked meats, but there are adaptations to backyards and casual family dining. Still, the feed-a-crowd preps are in one of the largest chapters. You can get more details at They've got 8 basic useful rubs and 7 basic sauces (blackberry and raspberry and apricot, mustard and chipotle and habanero, et al). They've got temperature guides and lots of tips. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 89.
8.SO GOOD (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-544-66331-2 $30 USD hardbound) is for the fans of Richard Blais who has appeared many times on Top Chef, Food Network, MasterChef, and other shows (besides owning restaurants in Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham, San Diego and Los Angeles). These are about 100 of his home-style preps for families (no liquid nitrogen) but rather leg of lamb roasted in hay with rosemary and garlic potatoes, sweet-and-sour ham hocks with mustard greens, and spicy green pozole. There are also some memoir materials here to emphasize the family connections, and Rachel Ray and Emeril Lagasse lead off the logrollers. Once again, the book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 87.
9.MASTERCHEF STREET FOOD OF THE WORLD (Absolute Press, 2017, 304 pages, ISBN 978-1-4729-0916-9 $35 USD hardbound) is by food writer Genevieve Taylor, with sourced contributions from MasterChef TV champions such as Ping Coombes (UK), Christine Ha (USA), Simon Wood (UK), and others from Australia, France, and Denmark – 13 in all. This is a pretty full collection, arranged by continent. Canada turns up with butter tarts; bacalaito comes from Puerto Rico. Venezuela has arepas, Peru has ceviche, El Salvador has pupusas. There's also Cajun shrimp po' boy, tamales with pulled pork, fricasse Tunisienne, and socca Nicoise wraps. Preparations have their ingredients listed in mainly metric measurements, but there are tables of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 90.
10.SIMPLY FISH (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017, 209 pages, ISBN 978-1-5107-1750-3 $24.99 USD hardbound) is by Matthew Dolan, owner-chef of Twenty-Five Lusk in San Francisco. Here he concentrates on the plenitude of West Pacific Coast seafood – so it is more than just fish. The 75 preps include such as Bay scallop fish tacos, various tuna (albacore, yellowfin), salmon, petrale, rock cod, ling cos, mussels, halibut, prawns, et al. Sustainable seafood is the theme, and here it is arranged by season beginning with winter. There is even a chapter on the whole fish and larger gatherings. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there are tables of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 86.
11.SHAKE SHACK (Clarkson Potter, 2017, 240 pages, ISBN 978-0-553-45981-4 $26 USD hardbound) is by Randy Garutti and Mark Rosati. Randy is CEO of Shake Shack; Mark is Culinary Director of Shake Shack. The roadside burger-and-shake stand has locations around the world. Part cookbook, part memoir stories, the package includes a format designed to keep millennials happy. There's lots of material on how Shake Shack came to be and spread. The original menu had a variety of burgers and dogs, with the works for each and crinkle cut french fries.  For dessert there was frozen custards with housemade toppings, cookies, donuts and beverages. The preps are all given separate chapters. The burger chapter has immense detail on the hamburger in the USA, along with the anatomy of a ShackBurger. The hot dog chapter is similar, as is the crinkle cut french fries. Th come all the shakes. A fun book, well worth reading, and as a gift. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 86.
12.KNIFE (Flatiron Books, 2017, 246 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-07917-6 $29.99 USD hardbound) is by John Tesar, who has opened two restaurants in Dallas and had appeared on Top Chef TV show. He's with Beard Award-winning food and wine writer Jordan MacKay. Can this be a slasher cookbook? Well, the subtitle does say "Texas steakhouse meals at home". There are some details about his cooking life, about beef, and about equipment. The emphasis is definitely on steak but there are other cuts in other chapters as well, including beef sandwiches and burgers, charcuterie and tartares. Anything that involves a knife – so those skills need to be emphasized. The unusual also appears, such as bacon-crusted bone marrow or pork blood sausage or octopus with chorizo. Sides are covered, and the last chapter is called "One Dessert"  – which is chocolate coffee tart. But you'll need the book for the steaks and their sauces/rubs. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 88.
13.HOME COOK (Guardian Books Faber and Faber, 2017, 320 pages, ISBN 978-1-78335096-4 $53.95 CAD hardbound) is by Tomasina Miers, who was the winner of BBC MasterChef 2005, and has gone on to cheffing about and co-founding UK's Wahaca group (Mexican food). She's also written a pile of cookbooks, including two dealing with Mexican food. These 300 recipes have probably been published in the (Manchester) Guardian's Weekend Cook series. It's a family oriented book, fuss-free and easy to do preps for the home. She's got bowls (who hasn't these days?), bites and salads, weekends, daily dinners, kids' food, some sweet items, and a pantry to pull it all together. Try her black bean and chorizo soup or chestnut and spelt with chorizo soup. Very tasty is her sobresada, avocado and pecorino pizza. The for dessert there is coconut and jasmine rice pudding. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of equivalents. Quality/price rating: 86.
14.FULL MOON SUPPERS AT SALT WATER FARM (Roost Books, 2017, 240 pages, ISBN 978-1-61180-332-7, $35 USD hardbound) is by Annemarie Ahearn, who owns Salt Water Farm cooking school in Maine. These are 12 seasonal dinners derived from more than 100 sold-out dinners at the farm. Each supper includes details of the month on climate and kitchen tasks. This is followed by a menu based on that description. It's arranged by month, beginning with January (sea urchin butter on toast, potato gnocchi, roasted beets, poached cod, cinnamon rice pudding) to December (oysters Rockefeller, chestnut soup, bitter greens, rib eye, linzer torte). She gives full details on how to prepare, of course, but also a primer on the general nature of entertaining. Wine recommendations might have been useful, particularly the of the fruit variety. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 88.
15.FABIO'S 30-MINUTE ITALIAN (St. Martin's Press, 2017, ISBN 978-1-250-10995-8 $27.99 USD hardbound) is by Fabio Viviani, who has appeared on Top Chef and now has a chain of restaurants – 16 in all nationally. A perfect fan-based audience for his latest book. He had earlier written Fabio's Italian Kitchen. The log-rollers here are other chefs and restaurant owners. The emphasis is family food in 30 minutes or less. The secret, of course, is the mise en place and the pantry/larder. Get everything together and away you go. Just no socializing if you want to get the job done. Over 100 recipes include such as 15-minute seafood cioppino, baked gruyere/grana padano and caramelized onion tart, white chocolate souffles, orange and calabrian pepper sauce, and chunky pork and veal bolognese sauce. Stories and memories also abound within the covers. The arrangement of the book is from apps to desserts. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 85.

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