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    Top 10 Cookbooks of 2012

    by Emily Bell and Nicholas Rummell, with Rachel Willard
    December 2012

    SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine

    SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine

    By Shelly Lindgren and Matthew Accarrino with Kate Leahy
    Ten Speed Press
    October 2012


    Too many Italian cookbooks rely on the usual suspects: stock photos of sweeping Tuscan hills, old Italian men grouchily grasping at some guanciale, and tried and true pasta and braised meat recipes. SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine has those as well, and much more. For instance: discussions of the various wine varietals of northern Italy, a few surprise recipe additions (mustard spaetzle and rye gnocchi), and photo-enhanced instructions on how to break down and cook suckling pigs and whole lamb. Written by the sommelier and chef team at the San Francisco restaurant by the same name, the cookbook is broken down by roads instead of appetizers, entrees, desserts, offering the reader a choice to virtually explore the regions of Alto Adige and Umbria. That comprehensive approach—wine, Italian history, vignettes from Chef Matthew Accarrino's time in the country—is like a multi-course meal from some amalgam Italian mecca—or, more likely, a dinner at Accarrino's San Francisco mainstay.
    by Nicholas Rummell
    Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen

    Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen

    By Charlotte Druckman
    Chronicle Books
    November 2012


    We’re a behind-the-scenes kind of public. We feed on the nitty gritty of kitchen culture like a sordid tasting menu of illicit deeds. But one story that’s gone relatively untold—despite the growing ranks of its protagonists—is the specific experience of the female in professional cooking. Cue Charlotte Druckman and her gutsy, lively account of women in the industry. The tongue-in-cheek title (and pink cleaver knife cover) are about as ironically girlish as the book gets (a particularly powerful chapter is called “An Embarrassment of Bitches”). Druckman conducted interviews and culled stories from 73 female chefs, all in an effort to shed light on what it’s like—what it’s really like—to be a woman in chef whites. But no definitions—“chef,” or even “female”—are taken for granted. Instead Druckman explores those concepts with her interviewees, including Anne Rosenzweig, Naomi Pomeroy, and Christina Tosi, who weigh in on topics like double standards, guilt and motherhood, back-of-the-house power dynamics—both inter- and intra-gender—and the comparatively secretive exploits of female partying. “I think maybe we’re just smarter,” says Beth Aretsky. “I think we just leave it at that.”
    by Emily Bell
    Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America

    Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America

    By Maricel E. Presilla
    W.W. Norton & Company
    October 2012


    A Latin companion piece to The Joy of Cooking, Chef Maricel Presilla's newest cookbook is much like her James Beard Award-winning Pan-Latin cuisine—an ode to all things South of the Border. She even says if you read this book "you will eat my life." While some prose veers (forgivably) toward the flowery, especially when she waxes nostalgic about the seductive smells of Peruvian and Mexican kitchens, the 900-page tome is a virtual must-read (or at least must-skim) for those serious about cooking, say, some Chilean Conger Eel Soup or Cuban-style Roast Pig, or for brewing up some Chicha Morada. It's not just the encyclopedic recipe list that makes this well worth the read, but also Presilla's illustrated explanation of essential Latinate kitchen tools, the dialectical differences regarding various ingredients, and the cooking superstitions and myths in those countries. It's no less than a culinary tour of Latin America cookery, plumbing the depths of its most rustic adobos and scaling the Andean heights of anticuchos and ceviches.
    by Nicholas Rummell
    A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

    A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

    By April Bloomfield with JJ Goode
    Ecco (Harper Collins)
    April 2012


    The story of a chef doesn’t end with a restaurant. It lives on with his or her reputation, the narrative that accompanies the name. And with A Girl and Her Pig, April Bloomfield has given her fellow chefs a tale and a template to follow. Not only does the book continue Bloomfield’s success story with grace and character, it translates (and humbly diffuses) some of the almighty chef-myth. As in Bloomfield’s early years, told in snippets before each recipe, the book is about connecting over food. And despite the title, it isn’t exclusively porcine (writer JJ Goode laments that a “vegetable savant like April has become best known for burgers and offal”). After sharing cooking tips (a persnickety preference for things like oblique cut vegetables, and a casually imprecise hand at measuring) the chef shares recipes for dishes like “My Curry,” “A Lamb’s Head,” and the seemingly casual perfection of “Roasted Veg.” The food—the best of rusticity and finesse—celebrates Bloomfield’s English heritage and showcases the kind of intuitive delicacy of execution that exalts her cuisine stateside.
    by Emily Bell
    Primal Cuts: Cooking with America's Best Butchers (Revised & Updated)

    Primal Cuts: Cooking with America's Best Butchers (Revised & Updated)

    By Marissa Guggiana
    Welcome Books
    September 2012


    Primal Cuts isn’t just an ode to American butchery—“A task crude and compassionate.” It’s a catalogue—a carnivore’s face book of sorts—filled with some of the best talent in the industry. And at its core is Marissa Guggiana, writer, co-founder of the Butcher’s Guild, and lover of meat (to the bone). The revised and updated release of her butcher-championing book adds to the original’s 100 recipes and 50 profiles, evidence of a population turning from mass production and mass consumption to the integrity of slow food systems—vital for any chef looking to get acquainted with the purveyors upon whom responsible meat consumption will depend. As it turns out, America’s butchers are a motley crew, so you get guys like Guggiana’s “farmer-hero” Joel Salatin (a sophisticated, tireless champion of food system progress) in the same binding as young guns like Berlin Reed (a near kid who took butchery and a blog and made a responsible business out in Oregon). Recipes are as various, ranging from former French Laundry butcher’s recipe for Corned Veal Tongue to a Lamb Osso Bucco from chef-butcher-mom Tia Harrison.
    by Emily Bell
    Restaurant Man

    Restaurant Man

    By Joe Bastianich
    Penguin
    September 2012


    Whatever the name conjures, the titular “restaurant man” in Joe Bastianich’s industry memoir isn’t a superhero or a monster. He’s a bit of both, a man working his way up the ranks of the industry while the industry works its way into his blood and bones, morphing into a kind of hybrid: pragmatic, profane, hospitable, and hostile. From an introductory lesson in the stark simplicity of restaurant math, through a tour of his restaurant-family childhood, to his hot-shit-or-die Wall Street glory days (where he first learned the “Machiavellian politics of the street”), Bastianich doesn’t romanticize. He’s honest, explicitly honest, about where he’s been, what it takes, and why it works. Take the formula behind so much success with partner Mario Batali: “We buy it, we fix it, we sell it for a profit”. That’s what makes this the right book for would-be restaurateurs and the industry-hungry looking for lessons from the real deal—and a supremely wine savvy one at that. Restaurant Man continues a legacy begun by Bastianich’s father—“my biological imperative”—spelling out what it means to be a bona fide, in-the-trenches soldier of hospitality and, ideally, making a profit at that.
    by Emily Bell
    Wines of the Southern Hemisphere: The Complete Guide

    Wines of the Southern Hemisphere: The Complete Guide

    By Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
    Sterling Epicure
    October 2012


    New World wine isn’t hemisphere-specific. There are exciting regions opening up—or rather, coming to much-delayed international attention—all over the globe. But this is certainly the moment, the great global awakening to the enological powerhouse that is the Southern Hemisphere. Appropriate then that “World Wine Guys” Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen are reporting from the front lines of the regions and countries responsible for our collective cup running over. The book is divided into profiles of seven countries where quality and new world affordability collide (Argentina, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Brazil), with introductions to major players and producers (regional recipes round out each profile). But like any expansive wine book, the flavor’s in the details, and DeSimone and Jenssen get to the human side of things, interviewing wine makers and wine writers from region to region to get at the roots of wine culture in the southern hemisphere.
    by Emily Bell
    The Elements of Dessert

    The Elements of Dessert

    By Francisco Migoya
    The Culinary Institute of America
    October 2012


    Even in a long career, it's never a bad idea to brush up on the basics, especially when it comes to pastry. The Elements of Dessert does just that, and no wonder. It's written by CIA Chef Instructor and International Chefs Congress Presenter Francisco Migoya, who delves succinctly into the creaming method, the custard method, the time and place for a meringue, the proper approach to composed cheese courses, and the various types of dough. Heck, it even has a short section on “the method for tasting food,” in case you were doing it wrong (hint: you might have been, as Migoya offers a spreadsheet on flavor compatibility and “frontal versus background flavors”). But it also offers hundreds of brilliantly confounding and innovative recipes, from plated desserts to mignardises and entremets and even dessert buffets. The starkly beautiful pictures of Migoya’s modernist creations are, so to speak, the icing on the intricately composed cake.
    by Nicholas Rummell
    Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking

    Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking

    By Andoni Luis Aduriz
    Phiadon Press
    May 2012

    Reading Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking is like watching an Ingmar Bergman film. The first page shows a rock shore best by crashing waves. The second, a horse traversing a marshy field with snow-capped mountains in the background, followed by a silhouetted man holding a giant scythe. Such images are stark and dramatic, but would you really expect anything different from Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, whose culinary creations have helped change the cooking world? While Aduriz's recollections of the 2010 fire at Mugaritz, and his culinary philosophy ("cooking in whispers, barely audible over the silence") are conceptually interesting, one reads this book for three reasons. First, the gorgeous photos. Second, Aduriz's unique mathematical approaches to flavor and seasonality (circle charts, decision trees, and a timeline of Aduriz's modernist experimentation fill out the book's pages). And, last but most definitely not least, the dare-to-try recipes. For the ambitious chef, or the dreamer, there's no beating a cookbook that has recipes for Edible Stones, Carrots Cooked in Clay, and Fossilized Salsify. From start to finish, Mugaritiz intends to educate not by didactics, but inspiration—and it succeeds on nearly every page.
    by Nicholas Rummell
    Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better

    Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better

    Seamus Mullen
    Andrews McMeel
    April 2012

    Chef, heal thyself. If ever there was a book to answer that call, it’s here. Seamus Mullen’s Hero Foods isn’t another catalogue of health food recipes gathered under a thematic umbrella (raw, gluten-free, Nouvelle-redux). It’s a testament to a lifestyle revelation that shook one man, and his menus, to the core. And it all began when Mullen was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune diseases that causes  physically debilitating inflammation—devastating news for a man who works on his feet, with his hands. But as he learned to cope, Mullen discovered something incredible: the power of food to heal the human body. “As a chef,” Mullen writes, “I’ve always been aware of the role that food can play in our health. But I never understood just how crucial it was to my own wellness.” Hero Food, then, is a record of Mullen’s renewed understanding, brimming with recipes in 18 chapters covering the real foods that changed Mullen’s life (olive oil, berries, grains, “good birds,” the list goes on). And unlike any “health” cookbook, Hero Food is fundamentally culinary: the Tertulia chef cooks with an intuition for product and place—with a passion that comes from a creativity, and a body, renewed.
    by Emily Bell

    HONORABLE MENTIONS

    99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Going to Culinary School

    99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Going to Culinary School

    Regina Varolli
    99 Series
    May 2012

    Hindsight is 20/20, sure. But it also tends to come just a bit too late. Fortunately for those considering a career of the kitchen kind, Regina Varolli’s gathered the hindsight of a variety of culinary pros, transforming their regrets and revelations into 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Going to Culinary School. A tidy addition to the 99 Things series, Varolli’s book isn’t just tips for the academy bound (there are those, too). It’s written, in large part, in response to the lapse between culinary student expectations, costs, and career prospects that may or may not quite line up at the end of the day. As much as she dives into the hard stuff— the book is divided into sections, from the basic “Why Go” to “Where,” and the all-important “How” ($$$)—Varolli doesn’t skip over intangibles like “Camaraderie,” which she emphasizes as a supportive element in school and professional kitchens alike. She also includes a chapter for “Career Changers,” and doesn’t traipse around the psychological discipline required to endure hours of mindless “Grunt Work” as a freshly minted, and inevitably frustrated, graduate. As she says in the intro, “With this book, I aim to arm today’s generation of culinary hopefuls with the knowledge they’ll need to never get fooled again.” Roger Daltry would be proud.
    by Emily Bell
    Modernist Cuisine at Home

    Modernist Cuisine at Home

    By Dr. Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet
    The Cooking Lab
    October 2012


    Publishing miracles do happen. The game-changing, six-volume scientific mega-tome known as Modernist Cuisine (a Top 10 winner last year) has been whittled down to two (comparatively beefy) volumes. Simply dubbed Modernist Cuisine at Home, the book melds the scientific, artistic, and homey (e.g., recipes for Mac n’ Cheese and Chicken Wings) while embracing “abstract and modern technologies,” says co-author Dr. Nathan Myhrvold. The two-part set includes a water-proof, wire-bound booklet brimming with tutorials on appliances, detailed diagrams, intricate cutaways, and instructions. And while many of the book’s 406 recipes rely on ingredients and instruments you can’t find in a typical market. (French Scrambled Eggs call for siphons and nitrous oxide), Myhrvold and co-author Maxime Bilet give highly detailed instructions on where to find—and how to use—such products, as well as offering an enlightening perspective on commonplace kitchen tools, i.e., the many uses for the standard pressure cooker. Taking their cue from the French Nouvelle cuisine movement, the authors declare that “cuisine is the creative art in which chef and diner are in dialogue”—a dialogue now transferred to the home cook, growing louder and stronger and, with this book, much, much smarter.
    by Rachel Willard