...is 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.EAST/WEST (Interlink Books, 2017, 272 pages, ISBN 978-1-56656-006-1 $35 USD hardbound) is by Shane Delia, who has a cooking TV show in Australia and owns two places in Melbourne (Maha Restaurant and Biggie Smalls Kebab Shop). His book is a culinary journey through Malta (he is Maltese), Lebanon (his wife is Lebanese), Iran, Turkey, Morocco, and Andalusia. Typical foods include orange blossom, rose petals, slow-cooked meats, fermented yogurts, dates, olives – all of them available outside the Middle East. He presents 80 recipes drawn from his restaurant repertoire and redesigned for the home kitchen. He's also written a brief glossary for the Middle East pantry. The opening chapter on Malta is particularly attractive since the cuisine is rarely found outside of the region. He begins, of course, with the great pork and pea pastizzi, followed by the rabbit stew with raisin gremolata. Lebanon features grilled haloumi with pomegranate and sumac dressing, Iran has slow-roasted lamb shoulder with yogurt and nigella seed bread, Turkey has scallop-filled zucchini flowers with smoked eel dressing and orange and coriander crumb, Morocco has rfissa, and Andalusia features tuna tartare with harissa aioli. Each country opens with a photo essay. The book could have been improved if it also used more metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 89.
8.UNICORN FOOD (Workman Publishing, 2018, 184 pages, ISBN 978-1-5235-0213-4 $19.95 USD hardbound) is by Kat Odell who owns the plant-based food and drink brand Unicorn Food. She's also a food writer and editor. Here she brings us (as the subtitle says) "beautiful plant-based recipes to nurture your inner magical beast". It's arranged by course, but first there is a unicorn pantry, filled with algae, bee pollen, cacao, chia seeds, chlorophyll, coconut, gluten-free nuts and seeds (and their milks), goji berries, maca root, plus a dozen more. The book is vegan, but she does use raw honey which can be substituted for. Other chapters cover milks and drinks, brunch, snacks, sweets, spreads, and a range of plants. Brunch, for example, includes probiotic morning custards, breakfast tabbouleh bowls with avocado, and avo-chia brekkies pudding. It's a very attractive book making effective use for colour. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, but at least it had conversion tables. Quality/price rating: 89.
9.PASSIONE (Interlink Books, 2017, 208 pages, ISBN 978-1-56656-027-6 $30 USD hardbound) is by Gennaro Contaldo, He has appeared on many cooking shows, most notably his own "Two Greedy Italians" on PBS. He has long owned Passione the London UK restaurant, and the name for his book. He is reputed to have taught Jamie Oliver all he knows about Italian cooking (Oliver says: "His talent for cooking and storytelling changed my life and food forever"). His previous book for Interlink was Panetteria, about Italian baking. This current one is basic book plus recollections of his experiences, ranging from the Italian pantry through zuppe, pasta, polenta, risotto, pesce, carne, verdure, plus bread, snacks, and dessert. He's got over 100 recipes, and includes a mixed root vegetable soup, pennette with zucchini flowers, farfalle with peas and pancetta and ricotta, duck breasts in limoncello, and puffball cutlets. The book could have been improved if it also used more metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 89
10.EAT FEEL FRESH (Alpha Books, 2018, 257 pages, ISBN 978-1-4654-7562-6 $25 USD hardbound) is by Sahara Rose, podcaster, blogger and best-selling author of Ayurveda books. She teaches that food is divine medicine with the power to heal BUT the best food for one person may not be beneficial to another. Here she promotes guidelines for modern tastes and lifestyles in context of how to eat according to one's specific needs. Every meal should be healing with a plant-based nutrient-dense diet. The influential Deepak Chopra has written a foreword. Topic chapters include breakfast (chai pancakes, smoothies, sweet pottao cereal, savoury oatmeal, and chickpea flour frittatas). There are dinners, desserts, snacks, sides, and healthy "potions" (dosha tea, chai latte, alkaline green juice). She's also got a separate chapter for "six-taste bowls": sweet hearty base and healthy fats, colourful bitter veggies and pungent aromatics, and astringent plant protein with salty/sour/stringent garnishes. Thirteen bowls are presented, along with customized variations based on the six tastes. It's a very colourful book with great food stylings. 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.
11.ASMA'S INDIAN KITCHEN (Interlink Books, 2019, 184 pages, ISBN 978-1-62371-912-8 $30 USD hardbound) is by Asma Khan, owner of London's Darjeeling Express (from supper club to pop-up to restaurant) which re-creates the food of Calcutta via its all-woman kitchen. She's also part of Chef's Table (Netflix). Partially a memoir, with her immigrant's story, the book was first published in the US by Pavilion. This is Indian home cooking at its best in four chapters, starting with feasts for two, feasts for family, feasts for friends, and celebratory feasts. She concludes with 13 menu suggestions covering the bases of vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, and meat feasts. She's even got a no-expense-spared celebratory feast of six dishes (raan, macher, pulao, korma, kachumber, and rajma). The book could have been improved if it also used more metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 89.
12.A WOMAN'S DRINK (Chronicle Books, 2018, 208 pages, ISBN 978-1-4521-7329-0 $19.95 USD hardbound) is by Natalka Burian and Scott Schneider, who together are business partners in bars in Brooklyn: Elsa and Ramona. Burian was appalled at how masculine bars were in 2007, but she decided that she wanted to own one and redecorate it with a feminine interior and the emphasis on the perfect drink. Schneider is now in charge of the cocktail program at both places. This book of 50 cocktail recipes shows every temperament and taste, from powerful concoctions down through light and frothy. And it has been customized for the home bar. Still, a proper bar needs lots of equipment for all the shaking, stirring, straining, and serving, PLUS a lot of garnishes for the various drinks. Hosting a mixed party is a lot of work, but if you just want a few items that you – and you alone – may enjoy, then equipment and ingredients can be cut back. Name brands are classified by price points. The 50 recipes cover solo drinking, drinking for two, drinking with a crowd, drinking with family, drinking with people who don't drink, drinking in a hurry, and leisurely drinking. Try the Salted Watermelon Rose Popsicles or Negroni for a Group. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements. Quality/price rating: 88
13.GENNARO'S FAST COOK ITALIAN (Interlink Books, 2018, 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-62371-980-7 $30 USD hardbound) is by Gennaro Contaldo, He has appeared on many cooking shows, most notably his own "Two Greedy Italians" on PBS. He has long owned Passione the London UK restaurant. He is reputed to have taught Jamie Oliver all he knows about Italian cooking (Oliver says: "His talent for cooking and storytelling changed my life and food forever"). His previous book for Interlink was Panetteria, about Italian baking. This one has 90 preps to create an Italian feast in 40 minutes or less. It will call for a larger Italian pantry (extended to the refrigerator, to the freezer, and to fresh produce that keeps for a bit, such as salad greens, herbs, bell peppers) to make sure that all ingredients are on hand. It is arranged by course: salads, soups, pasta, et al through to desserts. There are primer chapters on Italian fast cooking and simple sauces. As he says, "gone are the days when women stayed at home" and made their own pasta or soaked their own beans. Try prosciutto with roasted apples and pears or cavatelli with sausage, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes – or even hake with mixed potatoes and red onion agrodolce. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements. Quality/price rating: 89