Chef-driven cookbooks: a delicious adventure

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 11, 2013 - 3:31 PM

From food trucks to the upper echelons of haute cuisine, chef-driven cookbooks take readers on a delicious adventure.


Wine books for the holidays in Minneapolis Thursday, December 5, 2013. ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE)


This year’s bumper crop of chef- and restaurant-focused cookbooks — among the largest and most varied in recently memory — are destined to find their way onto holiday wish lists.

Chef memoirs often make for compelling reading (witness last year’s James Beard award-winning “Yes, Chef” by Marcus Samuelsson), and 2013 offers a few doozies.

In “L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food” (Ecco Books, $29.99), Roy Choi of Los Angeles takes the cookbook-as-autobiography approach and runs with it, illuminating the back story behind his role as the godfather of the nation’s contemporary food truck movement in conversational prose that’s nearly as colorful as the tattoos that blanket his arms.

With his “Cooking From the Heart” (Andrews McMeel, $40), noted New Orleans chef John Besh takes readers on a travelogue through time, returning to the places — Provence, Germany’s Münster Valley — that shaped his cooking. Besh generously shares recipes (the various fish soups, consommés and stews, explained and illustrated with supreme care, are a major highlight) and life lessons, along with plenty of travel magazine-worthy photographs.

Anyone who has traveled to Milwaukee and reveled in a dinner at the serene and scrupulous Sanford will also enjoy a whirl through “Good Stock: Life on a Low Simmer” (Agate, $35). Founder and former owner Sanford D’Amato — he grew up above the family grocery store that later became the home of his restaurant — doles out equal parts remembrances and recipes. After 13 years of weekly columns in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sanford has proved that he can write as well as cook.


Regional flavors

Chefs across the country who might not command Food Network-level national profiles but maintain Mount Olympus-like addresses in their hometowns are the source of a number of readable titles.

Anne Quatrano, the indefatigable force behind Atlanta’s remarkable Bacchanalia and Star Provisions, guides readers through the seasons — and through her refined Southern palate — in the gorgeous “Summerland: Recipes for Celebrating With Southern Hospitality” (Random House, $39.95), named for the Quatrano family farm that supplies her kitchens with much of their produce.

Even if readers make the grievous error of not tackling even one of Quatrano’s 100-plus recipes, the book is worth the price for Brian Woodcock’s evocative photography.

Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes From My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some” (Andrews McMeel, $40) finds another Southern chef making a cookbook debut. This time it’s John Currence, whose 21-year old City Grocery restaurant is the culinary epicenter of the college town of Oxford, Miss. Currence deftly weaves 130 recipes through 10 chapters divided by technique, from roasting/braising to muddling/stirring.

In what might be a cookbook first, Currence pairs each recipe with a song; all are available at

Gabriel Rucker, the James Beard award darling of Portland, Ore. — he was 2011’s Rising Star Chef of the Year, and 2013’s Best Chef: Northwest — takes readers inside his gloriously idiosyncratic PDX restaurant in “Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird” (Ten Speed Press, $40).

Recipes for lamb tongue fries and pig’s foot-watermelon salad might not be universally appealing, but into every life a little Le Pigeon Caesar salad or apple-Cheddar crostata should fall.

Meanwhile, about 3 miles to the southeast, another much-lauded Portland chef is opening up his fascinating, fragrant world to home cooks.

This time it’s Andy Ricker, and the restaurant — and cookbook — is “Pok Pok” (Ten Speed Press, $35). An ideal blend of bedside reading chattiness and kitchen inspiration, the book brims with nearly 100 recipes that run the Thai Street food gamut, off-the-beaten-path edition. The recipe for Ike’s Vietnamese Fish-Sauce Wings — chicken wings so powerfully delicious that my Portland taxi driver included them as a part of his spiel — reason enough to buy the book.

Those who have conferred essential kitchen library status on 2005’s “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” will be delighted to learn that author and chef Suzanne Goin has followed up with “The A.O.C. Cookbook” (Knopf, $35), a guide to her wildly popular Los Angeles small-plates haven.

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