|Top Cookbooks 2008
by Lynley Fleak, JJ Proville, Heather Sperling
Ferran Adriá, Albert Adriá, Juli Soler (Phaidon) $49.95
Some call el Bulli the most important restaurant of our time; it's certainly the most mysterious. The ratio of diners who want reservations to those who get reservations is around 400:1, and while many meals have been well-documented, the experience remains elusive and singular. The hefty A Day at el Bulli is a close look at a day in the life of the gastronomic monument, from the first rays of sun on the water to the locking of the door at 2am. But it's more than just a picture book. Inserts discuss the history of the restaurant, creative methodology, even a guest's path from front door to table. Beyond the sheer marvel of such a detailed pictorial documentary, the book's appeal and impact come from its humanity. It reminds pious followers that el Bulli is simply a restaurant; it’s human and alive, filled with people brought together by a common cause: devotion to food, wine, and the pursuit of high cuisine.
David Tanis (Artisan) $35.00
The title of A Platter of Figs alludes to Tanis’s metaphor for the ideal food: fresh and fleeting. His love of seasonal ingredients is no surprise. Tanis lives two lives, spending half the year as head chef at Chez Panisse and the other half hosting a supper club at his home in Paris. Those who love the Chez Panisse books will appreciate this as a continuation in the series. It’s different, to be sure, but touched with the same seasonal mentality and small techniques that make ingredients shine. The book flows like the seasons it’s created for and includes 24 menus, each recipe serving eight to 10 people. The result is a presentation of straightforward, sophisticated food that is meant to be shared with others. Photographer Christopher Hirscheimer’s pictures present Tanis’ vision of beautiful food—uncontrived and voluptuous. A Platter of Figs seems to be targeting a foodie audience, but Tanis’ message about real-life cooking and back-to-basics approach will serve as a refreshing reminder and inspiration for restaurant chefs.
Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (Ten Speed Press) $50.00
The ingredients, preparations, and ”how the hell did he do this?” elements of Achatz’s signature dishes at Alinea are finally assembled into a volume available to the mere mortal. If you’ve never experienced dining at Alinea, but wish you had, this will get you a step closer. The photography is up-close and stunning and the wealth of detailed information in each recipe is staggering. Each dish is broken down into its various components, which range from simple to highly complex, and is followed by meticulous instructions for plating and presentation. What’s more, no dish element is repeated in another—and with 100 recipes, that’s saying a lot. Alinea carries the requisite testimonials from food media heavyweights (e.g. Steingarten, Ruhlman), but the most interesting of the book’s six essays is Achatz’s piece on the thought process, choice of technique, and ingredient selection behind some of his most memorable dishes. The beauty and sophistication of the Alinea cookbook propels it into the very top percentile of this year cookbooks, and makes for the grandest of gifts.
David Waltuck and Andrew Friedman (Taunton Press) $50.00
New York’s Chanterelle opened in 1979 and has steadfastly remained one of the city’s most timeless restaurants. The book, the restaurant’s first, begins with a charming account of the business’s beginnings, and in the same light, thoughtful prose appears throughout the book in recipe introductions and anecdotes about staff and events. The 150-plus recipes inspired by Chef David Waltuck’s seasoned and delicate interpretation of French country-style cooking are complemented by photography that provides an appealing, evocative look at the life and times of the restaurant. Chanterelle, with its surprisingly creative and ambitious dishes (e.g. Squab Mousse with Juniper and Green Peppercorns, Scallops with Duck Fat, or Brined Roast Pork Loin with Fennel Jus and Fennel Flan) is a perfect gift for inspiring your favorite cook around the holidays and throughout the seasons.
Joel Robuchon (Knopf) $35.00
This is the essence of Robuchon, distilled into one thick tome. From the sheer size, we’d guess that The Complete Robuchon is a compilation of nearly every recipe the great chef made in his career in French post-nouvelle cuisine. You won’t find color photographs or glossy paper in this book, just straight-up recipes for the classics and his own signature dishes, from Vichyssoise and pommes puree to sea bass tartare. Robuchon includes his thoughts on cooking methods, use of wine in food, and structures the rest like a classic French cookbook. It begins with stocks and sauces and progresses through salads, eggs, regional dishes, meat and seafood (a whole chapter dedicated to offal!), and ends with dessert. Eight hundred-plus recipes might sound like a lot, but its user-friendly layout and familiar writing style are enough to excite you about this wealth of knowledge; to his devout fans, it will read like a romantic novel. The simplicity of this book makes Robuchon’s tried and tested cooking within anyone’s reach, and is definitely a must-have for anyone interested in French cooking.
Dale DeGroff (Clarkson Potter) $35.00
In The Essential Cocktail, patron saint of mixology Dale DeGroff provides the definitive handbook for any amateur or professional bartender. DeGroff has drawn from his decades of experience behind the bar and compiled simplified – but by no means dumbed-down – recipes for every fundamental classic and modern cocktail that should be in any serious mixologist’s repertoire. DeGroff provides remarkably comprehensible methods that make for effective recipes that work – he makes the Sazerac looks easy. Additionally, the mix-master adds crucial directives, like how to scale up a margarita in party situations, and indicated where it is appropriate to make your own drink variations. What’s more, DeGroff includes the history and lore of each drink, along with personal anecdotes, favorite riffs and advice to make the reader a better bartender. DeGroff is one of today’s foremost authorities on cocktails, and his latest book is a great gift to inspire and educate both professionals and non-professionals alike.
Jennifer McLagan (Ten Speed Press) $32.50
These days, chefs gladly cook animals from head to tail, appear in video tutorials for making headcheese, and dutifully sing the praises of pork fat to their diners. Yes, it’s looking like America’s restaurant audience is finally over its phobia of fat! In honor of this, and of the fatty white stuff, McLagan wades through the subject, fat by fat, giving each incarnation a thorough treatment. An entire chapter is dedicated to butter, and the next to lard and other porky products. Poultry fat recipes (schmaltz included) are followed by a section dedicated to marrow and underappreciated lamb fat, and the book closes with dessert recipes using marrow and suet. McLagan brings home the bacon with a great holiday-appropriate book that will make any true “fat = flavor” aficionado a happy camper.
Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (Little, Brown and Company) $35.00
Brought to you by the award-winning duo that created Becoming a Chef and Culinary Artistry, The Flavor Bible is a comprehensive reference on the essence of flavors and flavor combinations. The third chapter is the meat of the book, comprised of “The Charts”: 600-plus entries about ingredients and regional cuisines (with lists of complementary flavors or typical ingredients). Each entry has its own list of characteristics, common flavor combinations, function, affinities, avoidances, and so on. This self-dubbed bible is meant to be just that: a philosophical and practical guide to cooking based on chef-inspired flavor combinations rather than regional ones. Blurbs from famed chefs regarding their fondness for particular flavors and lists of particular dishes are sprinkled throughout. As Culinary Artistry defined the classical combinations that chefs employ, The Flavor Bible reinvents these combinations and provides a jumping-off point for new flavor ventures.
Jose Garces with April White (Lake Isle Press) $38.00
Latin Evolution by Jose Garces, often called “the godfather of Nuevo Latino cuisine,” is a sophisticated, much needed cookbook in the culinary publishing world. As Garces simply states, “This recipe collection is a highly personal mix of my family history, culinary training and personal creativity.” It focuses on modern Spanish and Latin American cuisines with inventive recipes presented in a clear format, each with its own short historical introduction. The “Basics” chapter includes recipes for flavored oils, various confits and authentic sauces, among other things, called for in the preceding recipes. He also includes a glossary of regional ingredients with substitutions for the international audience. We’re glad to see our 2004 Philadelphia Rising Star is keeping up the good work, and spreading the gospel of modern Latin cuisine.
Eric Ripert and Christine Muhlke (Artisan)
On the Line is a colorful and entertaining in-depth look at almost everything about New York institution Le Bernardin. Chef Eric Ripert reveals details of all aspects of the restaurant: history, back-of-the-house operations, and A to Z planning of the dining experience. You’ll find a list of the 129 cardinal sins that waiters need to memorize and avoid, a daily time-line of Michael Laiskonis’s pastry department, and a play-by play of what goes on in the fish station during service. On the Line is a fun and out-of-the box look at the inner workings of one America’s most highly regarded restaurants, and is perfect for recent culinary grads or those in the industry curious about Ripert’s methods.
Thomas Keller (Artisan) $75.00
One small step for Thomas Keller…one great leap for sous vide. With Under Pressure, Keller has made a compelling—and very pretty!—case for the technique which continues to be misunderstood by chefs and diners across the country. A joint effort by Keller and acclaimed chefs Jonathan Benno, Corey Lee, and Sebastien Rouxel, Under Pressure details the whys and hows of sous vide (one of the preferred cooking methods at The French Laundry, Bouchon and Per Se) and charts a detailed list of foods that will and will not benefit from the technique. Not to mention Deborah Jones’ lush, high-contrast photographs of vacuum-packed foods, raw ingredient shots, and exquisitely plated dishes are high-art visions that stand alone. Keller’s thorough examination of sous vide cooking coupled with his status as an icon of American cuisine legitimizes this modern technique and makes this the definitive treatise on the subject.