Cooking the Books
by Judy Schultz
Ta-daah! The 2016 crop of cookbooks has arrived, while a stack of oldies-but-goodies demands re-reads.
Certain cookbooks are timeless, and so good they deserve a place in your collection, no matter if they’ve hit the backlists.
The Kitchen Diaries, I and II, by Nigel Slater. His books are generally better for reading than for cooking, but I wouldn’t be without him. Slater is an inspiration because he so loves his subject.
Neither would I be without My Paris Kitchen, and The Sweet Life in Paris, both by American chef David Lebovitz. His stories about living and cooking in Paris are entertaining and informative, and the recipes are better structured and more reliable than Slater’s.
Somehow, between 2005 and 2010, Australian chef Greg Malouf and his former wife, Lucy Malouf, managed to produce three wonderful books, each one crammed with good writing and splendid photography. Saha, a Chef’s Journey through Lebanon and Syria, is simply excellent. Find this book if you can; read it and weep for the lost culture of two beleaguered countries. Then there’s Turquoise, a Chef ’s Travels in Turkey; and Saraban, a Chef’s Journey through Persia. The Malouf’s travels throughout the Middle East are as important as their recipes, but you’ll enjoy both.
Hot off the press:
Nopi. The newest offering from London chef Yotam Ottolenghi is co-authored by Ramael Scully, his head chef at Nopi, yet another of Ottolenghi’s restaurants. Scully and Ottolenghi’s recipes are a tad exotic (think pomegranate molasses, zatar, sumac) but doable. Ottolenghi continues to lean heavily on Middle Eastern kitchens for inspiration, as he did with Jerusalem, Plenty, Plenty More and Ottolenghi. Together, their finely-tuned palates deliver multiple layers of flavour and texture.
Happy Cooking: Make Every Meal Count. Giada De Laurentis, the television chef from the Food Network, is back with nearly 200 recipes, plus helpful chatter about everything from hosting a simple potluck to packing a lunch, and how to pull off a formal dinner. De Laurentis is an accomplished multi-tasker (mother, restaurateur, television personality) who manages the tricky balance between what tastes good and what’s good for you.
Atelier Crenn — Metamorphosis of Taste. Chef Dominique Crenn is the first woman in North America to be awarded two Michelin stars for her restaurant, Atelier Crenn. Progressing from a French childhood to ownership of an über- successful dining spot in San Francisco, Crenn is militant about ingredients: fresh, local, organic, sustainable, or they don’t make the cut.
If you’re an armchair chef, the book is great fun to read, but for anyone who aspires to roll up sleeves and actually cook as she does, there’s fantasy involved. The bouillabaisse? Try it, I dare you. It’s a feat of patience, invention and expensive wishful thinking.
Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest, by Joe Ray and Blaine Wetzel is part cookbook, part journey around the San Juan Islands. I was lured into this book by the essays and lush, evocative photography in the first half, but Wetzel’s recipes are interesting, if not entirely practical.
The book details Wetzel’s ambitious labours to create a world-class restaurant, The Willows Inn, on an island in the San Juans.
Lummi Island is only accessible by a small ferry, yet a reservation is incredibly hard to get. If you go, a passel of local fishermen, farmers, foragers, hunters and gatherers will be involved in your dinner, at roughly US $175 per person.
Apparently it’s worth it. Award-winning journalist Joe Ray may not be the chef, but he’s a terrific writer, and his year of researching the mystique of Lummi Island has produced a gorgeous book.
Judy Schultz is a food and travel writer who cooks at least one recipe from every cookbook she buys.