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Sunday, December 16, 2018

* 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 –
16.SOUTHERN BAKED; celebrating life with pie (Gibbs Smith, 2018, 200 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-4898-7 $24.99 USD hardbound) is by Amanda Dalton Wilbanks, who opened her first retail bakery in Georgia in 2012: Southern Baked Pie Company. It now has three retail outlets and ships nationally. But why order, when you can bake at home with this very book!! Wilbanks gives us the signature pastry recipe for the sweet and savoury pie creations, plus some special-day meal ideas for all seasons. The book is arranged by month, beginning with January, and we celebrate New Year's Day. In February, we celebrate Valentine's Day. Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are next, with "game day", "summer picnic", "girls' night" and "birthday" in-between. Her simple pie doughs rely on cold ingredients. She goes into pre-baked dough, partially-baked dough, and lattice tops. She had me at lemon chess pie...Large typeface for the aging (like me). The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes (for international sales), but at least it had a metric conversion chart (but small typeface). Quality/price rating: 87
17.CHARRED & SMOKED (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018, 205 pages, ISBN 978-1-5107-3157-8 $22.99 USD hardbound) is by Derek Bugge, currently chef at Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi in Washington State, after a long career through the Pacific Northwest working in a variety of situations (bars, oyster houses, country clubs, and more). His collaborator is James O. Fraioli who has 28 cookbooks and a James Beard Award to his credit. The book has more than 75 preps and cooking techniques for the grilled set. They open with cooking methods, equipment, rubs, dressings, marinades and sauces. Everything is "charred & smoked": roasted small bites, caramelized soups and salads, grilled and charred feats, blistered and grilled sides, charred and toasted desserts – and even some "smokey" drinks. Smoked bacon pepper jelly anyone? Burnt ash aioli, smoked fig with foie gras moose, grilled frisee with bacon vinaigrette, grilled lamb with charred rapini and mint chimichurri, blistered corn with mayonnaise and queso and chile. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes (for international sales), but at least it had metric conversion charts. Quality/price rating:  89
18.RICH TABLE (Chronicle Books, 2018, 288 pages, ISBN 978-1-4521-5637-8 $35 USD hardbound) is by Sarah and Evan Rich. "Rich Table" is the name of their restaurant, Carolyn Alburger is the collaborating writer, and Kate Williams is the recipe developer. Heavy duty log rolling here includes David Chang and the late Anthony Bourdain. It's arranged by course: bites, appetizers, pastas, mains, desserts, cocktails. The bites and the apps (35 preps in all) could easily be a bar menu on its own. The Richs try to make every dish a combination of salty, acidic, fatty and savoury, with different levels where appropriate or intuitive. They have multiple uses for baby greens and lettuces, bone marrow, Champagne vinegar, Douglas fir powder (!), EVOO of course, kosher salt, organic Greek yogurt, mustard seed oil, popped sorghum, and dashi. Lots of memoir-type material about the restaurant life, photos, and banter prevail. It is also great to see both metric and American measurements being used in the recipes, except there is no metric listed for teaspoons. Never the less, quality/price rating: 88

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