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.

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

 

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 Spotify.com.

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.

The ingredients-driven recipes are divided by seasons (winter ideas include coq au vin with black trumpet mushrooms, and roasted Kabocha squash with dates and pepitas) and the 56-page cheese glossary is indispensable.

Locally, the folks behind Heavytable.com went to Kickstarter, raised a pile of cash ($21,995) and self-published “The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food” ($24.95) a quirky survey of chefs, restaurants, farmers, bartenders and dishes across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Reminiscent of pre-Internet zines, the soft-cover anthology surprises and delights through a pantheon of storytelling formats, including essays, rankings, illustrations, maps and graphic short stories, tackling subjects as diverse as a cheeseburger tour along St. Paul’s W. 7th St. and an appreciation of the unofficial Wisconsin state cocktail, the Old Fashioned. (Available at local bookstores and at heavytable.com.)

 

NYC and beyond

Two New York City restaurant cookbooks take center stage. One of Manhattan’s — and really, the nation’s — most celebrated food-and-drink emporiums is feted in “The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant Cookbook” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35), with authors Sandy Ingber and Roy Finamore steering tourists — sorry, readers — toward dozens of classic, All-American dishes, including clam chowder, oyster pan roasts, grilled sardine salad and more. The restaurant’s fascinating history is also given a thorough reckoning.

A Brooklyn-based phenomenon comes to life in the newly released “Roberta’s Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, $35).

Co-author Carlo Mirarchi — the restaurant’s chef — covers his vaunted pizza in mouthwatering detail before moving along to vegetables, pasta, seafood, a spectacular fried chicken and desserts, all translated into home cook-friendly formulas.

A trio of formidable, lavishly appointed titles appear to have been torn from Thomas Keller’s school of legacy-confirming coffee table tomes.

Manresa: An Edible Reflection” (Ten Speed Press, $50) glorifies the glorious work of Los Gatos, Calif., chef David Kinch across 328 gorgeous pages, thanks to the eye-grabbing work of photographer Eric Wolfinger.

Back in New York City, owner Danny Meyer and chef Michael Anthony document the birth and development of a true Manhattan classic in “The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, $50).

Both impress, but it’s hard not to bowled over the serene, sculptural minimalism of the cooking documented in each delicious page of “Daniel: My French Cuisine” (Grand Central Life & Style, $60). In your lifetime you may never prepare chef Daniel Boulud’s grouse farcie with poached quince and huckleberry, turbot soufflé or veal kidneys with black radishes, but this sumptuous, fascinating spread provides a living-vicariously portal into the rarefied world of one of the planet’s most vaunted culinary talents.

 

Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib

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