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"Sous Chef," an Homage to the Idiosyncratic Families Who Run the Best Restaurants

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Photo (c) UNGANO + AGRIODIMAS

Reading Michael Gibney's Sous Chef--a debut that plays at the outer bounds of memoir--may be the closest most of us will ever come to living a day as the second in command in a Michelin-starred New York City restaurant.

Written in the second person, it's intense, dramatic, and immediately devourable, but Gibney also turns out phrases to savor: this is kitchen writing on par with Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones & Butter. While Gibney doesn't challenge Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential characterization of kitchen folk as "wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths," he renders their efforts to beautifully prepare every plate they send out to satisfy the ravenous multitudes authentically noble, verging on heroic. 

We talked with Gibney about why he wrote it, how he created the characters, why he considers it a memoir, and which books he finds essential--plus a bit about his new restaurant, opening in Manhattan this summer.

Sous-Chef-Shadow On his storytelling mission

I’ve always been interested in writing, and I’d made attempts at other subjects. But when I found cooking as my subject, I realized that this was the story I had to tell, the one I knew best. For the past 15 years or so, I’ve been cooking, and it’s entrenched itself in my life. Even though people have been (at least over the past decade or so) really interested in what goes on in restaurants, it’s such a beautiful and intricate world, and it’s so dynamic that there’s much more to be added to the picture. I felt like this was the time to make my contribution.

My mission was to pay homage to the cooks, to the kitchen itself, to the calling. It’s not a story about me. It’s a story about all these people that do this every day. These people work hard in the service of others, an honorable undertaking. It’s a weird, idiosyncratic family of people, and there’s all the love and dysfunction of a family. We’re in it together. We’re here to help each other help the people in the dining room get the nourishment, the satisfaction, and the delight that they’re looking for as well. I want to let people know how beautiful that dynamic is.

On the “characters” that populate his story

The vast majority of the characters in this book are all actual, singular people I worked with, and many of the names are still the same. With each one, my task was to capture the best example of the fish cook and the meat cook and the entremetier, drawing from the people that I know. When it came to the chef, that was really difficult, because what “chef” means to me is an amalgamation of a lot of different people. So in order to stick the landing with the chef character, I borrowed the appearance of a particular guy and the résumé and backstory of another particular guy and the attitude of another guy--three people who are all very dear to me. The restaurant itself is primarily one place, with characteristics borrowed from others to make it as crisp a picture as possible.

On why he wrote a memoir in second person

I regard Sous Chef as a memoir, because this was my lived experience. It’s a sticky argument, but I’m not betraying the trust of the reader--this is just the reality of what it’s like. I wrote it in second person because the kitchen—not me—is the star of the show. I’m not trying to say, “Look at all my trials and tribulations. Look at what great food I made.” I’m saying, “Picture yourself in this role that I’ve lived. This is what a day will look like for you.”

On essential cookbooks and food writing

There are loads of amazing newer cookbooks out there, like Eleven Madison Park and To the Bone, the Paul Liebrandt that just came out.

French-LaundryBut you have to give credit to the godfather of these modern cookbooks: Thomas Keller, The French Laundry Cookbook. It changed the game for what we could expect from a cookbook in terms of the beauty of the food, treating the food with a tender touch in the pictures, and how in-depth the recipes are. But also the supplemental material, where Keller riffs on their philosophy at that restaurant and the reasons they did certain things. The French Laundry set a new tone for how we should be thinking about professional cooking in this country, and that was a really formative book in my life as a cook.

Then there's The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher. She’s the godmother of this kind of writing. She in her sort of Dorothy Parker way fuses light, beautiful language with really informative subject matter. She turned me on to nonfiction, especially food writing. Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras is another visual lodestar that changed my own plating game. And A Return to Cooking by Eric Ripert put me back in touch with how important it is to think not just that you’re a badass restaurant cook, but to remember what cooking is all about on a personal level, on a home level.

I really appreciate Daniel Boulud’s Letters to a Young Chef, and Marco Pierre White’s White Heat is another game-changer--he opens up and he’s like, “This is what I do. I’m not going to apologize for it, and I just try really hard.” There’s some naked vulnerability with that, accompanied by a power and audacity that I really appreciate.

The list really goes on. But I’d also have to include every Chez Panisse cookbook, where they explained, like, where they get the pig. Alice Waters started this whole awareness of where the pig is from, where the lettuce is from, what the earth is like that the carrots are plucked from.

We’d have to order in some lunch if you want to continue this conversation, but those are my essentials.

On his new restaurant, opening soon

It’s a fairly large space in Midtown, Manhattan, with a few different kitchens, not unlike a place called Eataly, Mario Batali’s place. The upstairs restaurant space will be my own, and I’m working with a team of two other people to open the entire space. It’s a large venue, and it’s been a long time coming. These things are slow moving, but we’re getting close, which feels great. We’re aiming and hoping for mid-summer.

Michael Gibney began working in restaurants at the age of sixteen and assumed his first sous chef position at twenty-two. He ascended to executive sous chef at Tavern on the Green, where he managed an eighty-person staff. Over the course of his career, he has had the opportunity to work alongside cooks and chefs from many of the nation’s best restaurants, including Alinea, Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Bouley, Ducasse, Corton, wd~50, and Momofuku. In addition to his experience in the food service industry, Gibney also holds a BFA in painting from Pratt Institute and an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

 

Amy Stewart's Cocktailian Tribute to Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things"

Sig-coverAmy Stewart's anecdotal guide to intoxicating plants, The Drunken Botanist, includes almost every family but moss, the lush creeper that's the object of Alma Whittaker's botanical affections in Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things.

But moss's mixological unsuitability didn't deter Stewart from concocting a signature cocktail in tribute to Gilbert's novel--an ideal drink for book clubs who've joined Alma in a state of intoxicated wonder at the natural world. Below, Stewart talks about her inspiration for a drink she readily admits is weird.

The Drunken Botanist and The Signature of All Things were both selected by Amazon's editors as two of the top 100 Best Books of 2013.

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Signature of All Things cocktailAmy Stewart: I ran into Elizabeth Gilbert at a party last spring where we swapped stories about botany for the better part of an hour. The woman was glowing—glowing!—with excitement over moss, weird botanical history, and obscure plant science, all of which figured into her newest work, The Signature of All Things.

I knew at that moment that Elizabeth would appreciate a deep green, mossy libation in a completely un-ironic way, and since I had just published The Drunken Botanist, I felt compelled to create the perfect botanical cocktail in celebration of her novel.

The rest of you are free to appreciate it in an ironic way. I'll admit that it's a weird-looking drink, but then again, moss is a weird-looking plant. This cocktail has been thoroughly taste-tested by a group of discerning drinkers and pronounced delightful. I only hope it is worthy of Alma Whittaker. Oh, and don't worry—no actual moss was harmed in the making of the drink.

The Signature of All Things Cocktail

1.5 oz. Odwalla Superfood, Naked Green Machine, or another fruity green juice

1 oz. Botanist Gin

.5 oz. St-Germain elderflower liqueur

1 dash orange bitters

Lemon wedge

2 oz. sparkling wine

Fern for garnish

Combine the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Squeeze the lemon wedge into the shaker, add ice, and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a fern or another unusual leaf.

(Note: Braken ferns can be toxic if eaten in large quantity. This garnish is not intended to be eaten.)

Savory Thanksgiving Side: Danielle’s Sweet Potato Gratin from "Ottolenghi"

Ottolenghi

We asked Yotam Ottolenghi (Plenty, Jerusalem) to share a recipe from the new American edition of his debut cookbook, Ottolenghi--something he considers a particularly smashing side dish at a holiday feast. He came back with a sweet potato gratin worhty of a face-off with the candied yams. Enjoy--and browse more of our editors' picks for the best cookbooks and more guides to Holiday Entertaining.

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This comforting dish was created by Danielle Postma, who is now back home in South Africa running her own blossoming food business, Moema’s. We would have loved to take some credit for Danielle’s success, but she actually had it all before coming to Ottolenghi. Danielle’s big personality and warmth make everybody fall in love with her in an instant. She has a natural gift for presentation and, like herself, her food constantly smiles.

This dish is simple but effective due to the way the potatoes are arranged in the baking dish. You can prepare everything a day in advance and have it ready in the fridge to just pop in the oven. The sage can be replaced with thyme, or you could use both. Make sure you choose orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (as opposed to the paler variety).

Serves 4 to 6

6 medium sweet potatoes (about 3¼ lb / 1.5 kg in total)

5 tbsp coarsely chopped sage, plus extra for garnish

6 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tsp coarse sea salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 cup / 250 ml heavy cream

1  Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Wash the sweet potatoes (do not peel them) and cut them into disks ¼ inch / 5 mm thick. A mandoline is best for this job but you could use a sharp knife.

2  In a bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a deep, medium-size ovenproof dish by taking tight packs of them and standing them up next to one another. They should fit together quite tightly so you get parallel lines of sweet potato slices (skins showing) along the length or width of the dish. Throw any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and pour the cream evenly over the potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes. The cream should have thickened by now. Stick a sharp knife in different places in the dish to make sure the potatoes are cooked. They should be totally soft.

3  Serve immediately, garnished with sage, or leave to cool down. In any case, bringing the potatoes to the table in the baking dish, after scraping the outside clean, will make a strong impact.

Yotam Ottolenghi is co-owner of four Ottolenghi restaurants, co-author of Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, and author of the weekly New Vegetarian column in the Guardian newspaper. He lives in London.

An Autumnal Treat: Roasted-Pumpkin Ice Cream Recipe from "Bountiful"

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Photographers and foodies Todd Porter and Diane Cu have a phenomenally popular blog, WhiteonRiceCouple.com, where they share their love of cooking seasonally with veggies and fruits from their lush Californian garden. Their first cookbook, Bountiful, boasts 100 recipes (90 never-before-seen) with a vegetable or fruit in a starring role. We especially love this ingenious roasted-pumpkin ice cream (with simple and complex variations), a supremely autumnal indulgence, either alone or with your favorite fall pie. --Mari

ROASTED-PUMPKIN ICE CREAM

MAKES ABOUT 1½ QUARTS (1.5 L)

It seems as if just a few years ago it was almost impossible to find pie pumpkins, even in October, but now we are seeing them everywhere. Yay! Roasting a pumpkin for puree is one of the most minimal-effort-for-maximum-gain-over-store-bought things you can do in the kitchen. Make sure to use pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins, not the jack-o’-lantern behemoths—those big boys don’t have the best taste or texture. If you are roasting a large heirloom pumpkin, cutting it in half and roasting it on an oiled sheet pan, cut side down, will shorten the cooking time.

1 small pie pumpkin (makes about 2 cups / 480ml puree)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¹⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves

¼ cup (55g) packed brown sugar

1 quart (1L) Vanilla Rum Ice Cream (see recipe below) or store bought vanilla ice cream

NOTE: There is a long way and a short way to make this ice cream. Go crazy and make your own vanilla rum ice cream, stirring the puree and spices into the ice cream just after you finish churning. Or for the short version, let a container of your favorite vanilla ice cream soften up, then stir in the pumpkin and spices.

1 Turn the oven to 375°F (190°C); you do not need to preheat.

2 Place the pumpkin on a sheet pan and roast for about 1 hour, until it feels soft when you press its sides. Remove it from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

3 Split the pumpkin open and remove all the seeds and stringy bits, then scrape out the flesh. Puree the flesh in a blender or food processor until smooth.

4 Stir the vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and brown sugar into the puree.

5 Allow the ice cream to soften and stir in the puree. You may either serve the soft ice cream immediately or allow it to harden up in the freezer before serving.

Boutiful-CoverVANILLA RUM ICE CREAM

MAKES ABOUT 1 QUART (1L)

1½ cups (360ml) heavy cream

1 cup (240ml) milk

½ cup (100g ) sugar

Pinch of kosher or sea salt

1 whole vanilla bean

5 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons dark rum

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: Ice cream machine

1 In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar, and salt. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the cream mixture, then add the bean pod as well.

2 Heat to a bare simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cover. Set aside for 30 minutes.

3 In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly whisk the cream mixture into the yolks, then pour everything back into the saucepan.

4 Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom as you stir. Cook until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spatula or wooden spoon, 1 to 2 minutes after reaching a bare simmer. Remove the vanilla bean pod.

5 Pour the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Place the container in an ice bath and stir the custard occasionally until it is cool, about 20 minutes.

6 Stir in the vanilla extract and rum. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

7 Freeze according to the ice cream machine directions. While churning the ice cream, place the container in which you will store the ice cream in the freezer to chill. Store the ice cream in the freezer until ready to serve.

Find more deliciously seasonal recipes in Todd Porter and Diane Cu's Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden.

Picking Tips for Aspiring Mushroom Hunters

The Mushroom HuntersAfter Jon Foro highlighted Langdon Cook's The Mushroom Hunters--which he called "a collection of delightful stories of a mycelial underground filled with eccentrics and obsessives who at first seem strange (and maybe even unsettling), but grow more charming by the page"--in our Big Fall Books Preview, our whole editorial team got an unusual invitation: Langdon was headed out to the south end of the Olympic Peninsula, hunting the first chanterelles of the season with two of the pro pickers profiled in his book. They'd be shadowed by a crew shooting a new PBS show called Food Forward. Would we like to come? This was like being asked if we wanted to step into the book for a day, to meet the characters and experience the hunt--an opportunity too rare to miss.

Meeting Doug and Jeff in real life was surreal and awesome. They were exactly as Lang had described them--maybe a little more charming due to the presence of a lady--and almost immediately they felt like friends. Once we got to the patch, Langdon and the guys got us picking on one side of the hill, while they filmed take after take for the intrepid PBS crew.

It was an epic day, culminating with Lang giving Doug and Jeff their own copies of the book. We felt privileged to be a part of it. A few days later, Doug sent Lang this review: "On commercial fishing boats, you're working all the time so your free time is precious. I've tossed a lot of books aside without finishing. This is a book I would have finished on the boat." Now that's high praise.

Here's what we learned from our day of picking with the pros.

What to Bring

Even when you've relished many a mushroom on the plate, it can feel risky to pick in the wild without a guide. If you can't go with seasoned pickers, get a pack-sized fungi guide for your region (in the Pacific Northwest, All That the Rain Promises and More has long been a go-to source) and note the tell-tale signs of any lookalikes you might encounter.

You'll need a knife--but a sharp one might not be the right choice. Jon has a small collection of folding pocket knives that uses for camping and backpacking, and he chose his sharpest. He would have been better off with a cheap steak knife, like Lang, Doug, and Jeff had. While his blade squeaked and struggled against the stems, they made quick, clean cuts. Also consider a sheath for your belt. It’s easy to imagine how stumbling on wet, bushy slopes with a naked blade could lead to a bad outcome.

You’ll need picking buckets--the 5-gallon kind, with a lid to keep out the rain. Lang had been vague, so Mari bought cute little ones. Luckily, they had an extra bucket to share, and Doug wiped it out well, giving us our first lesson: start clean.

And don't forget to pack a lunch.

What to Wear

Doug with One Basket of His BountyExpect to get (as Lang says) “walking-through-a-car-wash wet,” especially if you're heading into the epicenter of North America’s chanterelle harvest, on the fringe of the Olympic rainforest. We drove down from Seattle through a hope-we’re-still-on-the-road downpour, and even under the dense evergreen canopy, the deluge comes through in thick drips.

Lang and Mari were decked in head-to-toe in rain gear—and very comfortable for it. But the pros don’t prioritize comfort. Doug and Jeff showed up in jeans, cotton, and flannel, clothing apparently designed to soak up water and suck the heat from your flesh. Doug explained: Mushrooming, especially in the rain, is a dirty business. He uses his cotton hoodie to wipe the dirt and needles from mushroom caps (not to mention hands and knives) before he drops them in his bucket. Try that with a slick rain shell, and you'll be wanting cotton. Just bring a change of clothes for later.

Lace up some burly boots. One of our biggest surprises--even after reading about the wild terrain--was how consciously we had to focus on finding and keeping our footing. The second-growth Douglas fir forests favored by chanterelles have steep, uneven ridges and folds, and the spongy duff is so thick in places, you feel like your foot just punched through a snowdrift. Rain-slicked logs and blackberry vines can trip and roll you. Many of the professional pickers—including Doug—are former loggers, to whom navigating rough woods is second nature; others are Southeast Asian refugees who survived in jungles with far greater hazards (like armed militants) before turning their foraging skills to our fungi. Whatever your experience level, you’re going to need footwear with solid tread. Just take care not to stomp the chanties.

How to Get There

Lobster Mushroom Fruiting Through the Moss

Whether you’re following a tip or your own instincts for good fungi habitat, know you’ll have to go far beyond the main roads; the easy patches get trampled and picked out. If you’re going to make any kind of haul (for profit or fun), you’re going to have to go adventuring. One of the reasons so many loggers made the transition to mushroom picking is that they knew the prime spots through years of working the forests—and many of those patches are accessible only through logging roads and other ad hoc access points. Expect to drive through mud, around stumps, and over fallen trees and strapping saplings.

When you can’t drive any further without fear of rupturing a vital vehicular organ, wade into the woods. If you’re in the right kind of place, any footpath you stumble across will have been made by a mushroom hunter, or some other woodland animal. But once you start picking, the trail is largely irrelevant--just do your best to avoid trampling plants and fungi.

This is when it pays to know your trees and the mushrooms who love them. Each mushroom species has their preferred growing environments, and those often include symbiotic relationships with certain trees. Much of the Olympic Peninsula has been logged (and re-logged), and the inheritors of much of the land are Douglas firs—the perfect growing hosts for chanterelles. So while you're dog-earring your mushroom guidebook, bone up on your trees, too. Know your pines from your spruce, and what might be hiding underneath their respective needles.

How to Pick

Chanterelles Drying Off at HomeRecalling the buy-stand scenes in the book, we already knew that the pros pick clean. Dirt on a mushroom stays on a mushroom, especially in the gills. That puts you on the bad side of potential buyers, who are already professionally grumpy from their competitive, low-margin market. The first trick to picking clean is picking dry—rain will cause dirt and forest detritus to stick to your 'shrooms. If you can’t pick dry (and mushroom season often follows rain), try to lift each chanty out of the duff with minimal disturbance, and get it in the bucket under your lid.

You'll also want to pick fast. Honestly, it’s incredible that anyone could do this for a living. In the two hours or so we spent hunting chanties, we probably picked three pounds between us. At the $2 per pound we’d get at a buying station, we were better off eating them. Given the time and gas it takes to get to premium patches, a professional mushroom picker is already staring at a deficit. But in the same afternoon, Doug and Jeff managed to pick 60 pounds, even while being stopped and directed by the camera crew. Uninhibited, they might have pulled 200 pounds or more, which is both amazing and barely adequate, financially.

Another conundrum is picking for size vs. quality. While larger “flowers” obviously weigh more, the smaller “buttons” will fetch more at market. The guys seemed mildly impressed by the volume of buttons in our bucket, and we imagined that Jeremy Faber, founder of Foraged & Found Edibles and one of the primary characters in The Mushroom Hunters, would have graded them favorably.

When you get home, dry any damp fungi on newspaper or paper towels overnight, and whatever doesn’t fall off will be more easily brushed away.

What to Cook

Lang's Creamy Chanterelle PastaIf you’re not trying to pick for a living, here’s the real reason to go: mushrooms you pick yourself taste more delicious than anything you’ll find at the store. Chanterelles will last for a week in the fridge, but the aroma—a piney apricot—is most intoxicating that first night, so if you have everything ready to make Langdon Cook’s Creamy Chanterelle Pasta, it will likely be one of your life's great meals.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

4 slices (1/4 pound) thick, quality bacon, diced (or the equivalent of pancetta)

1 or 2 shallots, finely chopped

1 pound shaped pasta

1 pound fresh chanterelles (or the equivalent frozen)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pint heavy cream (or less)

4 ounces garden peas, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup grated Parmesan, with more for the table

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat and the diced bacon. Do not drain fat.

As bacon begins to crisp, add shallots and cook until tender, a few minutes. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Add chanterelles to skillet and cook several minutes, stirring occasionally, until they have released their water. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl, add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and half the cream. Place mixing bowl in warm oven. Slowly add remaining cream to skillet and simmer, continuing to stir occasionally while pasta cooks. When pasta is nearly done, add peas to chanterelle sauce.

Remove pasta from heat, drain, and pour into warmed mixing bowl. Mix in sauce along with grated Parmesan and serve immediately.

If you’re worried about all that cream and butter, open an extra bottle of red wine. Serves 4.

Langdon Cook writes about the fascinating characters who live at the intersection of food and nature. He's the author of Fat of the Land and The Mushroom Hunters, an Amazon Best Book of the Month pick. Follow him at his blog, Fat of the Land.

Great American Eats: Five Favorite Fall Cookbooks Out of New York

5pack-GAE-Map-140pxNo other region in America boasts such concentrated culinary genius as the Mid-Atlantic, dominated by New York's thriving food scene. This fall brings new cookbooks from acclaimed restaurants like The Gramercy Tavern and Daniel, plus a Chelsea Market Cookbook and an "autobiography" of Katz's Deli that no true New Yorker will want to miss. Brooklyn's delicious revolution continues with The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, 66 Square Feet, and Mast Brothers Chocolate. And upstate, Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell bring back classic desserts with their Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook. Browse five of our favorite fall cookbooks out of New York below, or see all our New York cookbook picks here.

”The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook by Michael Anthony

With nearly a decade and six James Beard Awards under its belt--including Michael Anthony's award for Best Chef: NYC--Gramercy Tavern's almost overdue for a cookbook--but this meaty volume is well worth the wait. Personal stories and 200 fabulous shots of the venue, its people, and its dishes capture the restaurant’s warm, festive atmosphere. But of course, you’re here for the food: 125 favorite recipes that give new life to American cuisine. Their aim: to inspire food lovers to “make memorable meals and bring the warmth of Gramercy into their homes.” Who can pass up that proposition? Read More
”The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Upstate in Sharon Springs, amid bountiful gardens and meadows, Manhattanites-turned-goat-farmers Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell have created their own brand of modern country—Beekman 1802, after their historic house. They’re famous for their goat’s milk soaps and cheese, but now we get to see how sweet their bloodlines really run with this collection of family desserts, “from Brent’s grandmother’s Fourth of July Fruitcake to Josh’s mother’s Hot Chocolate Dumplings,” each accompanied by a story. From rustic favorites to real show-stoppers, it feels both nostalgic and completely now. Perfect inspiration for holiday baking. Read More
Balaboosta Balaboosta by Einat Admony

"Long before I won Chopped or appeared on Throwdown with Bobby Flay, before there was cooking school, a husband, a better husband, and a couple of kids, before I ever imagined running three restaurants of my own in New York City, there were Friday afternoons with my mother." In the kitchen of her childhood, she learned the Yiddish balaboosta ("perfect housewife") style of cooking from the gut. Today, Admony sees a balaboosta as anyone "who lives life with gust, shuns fear, and relies on instinct over precision." Her collection of Persian recipes with New York attitude has grace and guts. Read More
66 Square Feet 66 Square Feet by Marie Viljoen

"I have always looked at what is growing at my feet to know where and when I am in the world. And then I have tried to eat it." On a tiny Brooklyn terrace, transplanted South African Marie Viljoen blogs about growing, cooking, and living a deliciously seasonal life. For her, New York is an "unfolding, edible calendar" that tells her when to forage maitake mushrooms in Green-Wood cemetery and pick serviceberries along the Hudson. Her lush, intimate prose welcomes you onto her terrace, hands you a generous glass of wine, and leads you through a succession of seasonal menus for shared feasts--"to look into someone's eyes, to see them, to share something good, something in common." Read More
Moosewood Restaurant Favorites Moosewood Restaurant Favorites by the Moosewood Collective

When Ithaca's Moosewood Restaurant opened in 1973, it focused on seasonal ingredients and traditional grain-based dishes, given a fresh spin. Between then and now, vegetarian cooking has gone mainstream, and foods that were rare--like yogurt, coconut milk, and fresh herbs--have become common. And the dozen cookbooks (with thousands of recipes) put out by the Moosewood Collective over the past forty years have undoubtedly helped manifest these vital changes. Moosewood Restaurant Favorites compiles their 250 most-requested recipes, from their Black Bean-Sweet Potato Burritos to Vegan Chocolate Cake. Read More.

See all our picks for great cookbooks out of New York.

Putting America's Home-Grown Cookbooks on the Map

GAE-Map-FinalIf you saw our Big Fall Books Preview, you might have noticed my pick, Provence, 1970, the story of the weeks that Julia and Paul Child, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones spent cooking, eating, and arguing in the South of France.

The Americans in this influential circle had long considered France their culinary homeland.

But by the time they went home to the States, something had shifted. They each returned with a desire and appreciation for a new home-grown food culture that embraced simpler preparations of locally sourced ingredients. This was also the same year Paul Aratow and Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkley. It was, arguably, the year modern American food culture was born.

Forty-plus years later, the trend toward embracing local food traditions and ingredients has gone mainstream. Pride in our own regions’ standout chefs, restaurants, and food bloggers has swelled.

Meanwhile, we’re seeing more innovation and cross-pollination than ever: foodies picking up ideas from across the country and the world via blogs and social media, and giving the dish their own spin.

Eaters are becoming more adventurous, as more exciting options become available to them. Some of us even plan vacations around visits to restaurants and bakeries--or wish we could.

As I happily drowned in this fall's flood of gorgeous, endlessly inspiring new cookbooks—many of them from renowned restaurants from New York to Napa, many with a strong regional flair--I got curious about the other American cookbooks I admired that weren’t assertively regional.

Where were they coming from? Which states had the most influential cookbook authors? Which classic regional cookbooks were inspiring a new generation of chefs and home cooks, rediscovering the canning, preserving, fermenting, and nose-to-tail cooking techniques that every American cook worth their salt used to know?

So I came up with a list of over 360 cookbooks. I started with my favorite recent and upcoming releases, the cookbooks from my collection that I love most, plus the books Amazon customers have rated and reviewed most favorably over the years. Then I added winners of awards like the James Beard and did additional research (largely in hometown newspapers) to supplement regions that seemed too light. And I added a few more suggestions from our Facebook fans. Together, they're all Great American Eats.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be highlighting the best (and best-selling) cookbooks from each region. Some parts of the country have much more prolific cookbook cultures that others, due to larger or wealthier populations or healthier restaurant scenes. Many of the books included here revel in the traditional cuisine of a given region, but you’ll also discover powerhouse chefs, home cooks, and bloggers drawing on the culinary of countries around the world--as Americans have always done--and influencing their regional food culture in ways you may not expect.

Channeling the spirit that Michael Pollan brought to Cooked, I hope looking at cookbooks this way will inspire the casual cooks and serial microwavers among you to buck the trend of cooking as spectator sport and play with the flavors from the tastemaking cooks in your community—or a place you've always wanted to visit. --Mari Malcolm

Anthony Bourdain on Why "Grand Forks" Kills Snark Dead

Grand-ForksIn our Yelp!-obsessed era, when everyone's a withering (or overzealous) food critic, it's darn refreshing to find the rare voices of civility among restaurant critics. For an astonishing 27 years, Marilyn Hagerty has covered the restaurants in her hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota, in a weekly column--including an Olive Garden review that incited snark, followed by an anti-snark backlash that catapulted her to the national stage.

In spring of 2012, Ecco Books invited the Amazon Books Editors to the East Village speakeasy PDT to meet a "special guest" who, to our immense delight, turned out to be Tony Bourdain.

Over Crif dogs and cocktails, we talked cookbooks, food lit and graphic novels, and he gave us a preview of his personal imprint, set to debut in 2013 with The Prophets of Smoked Meat.

The book that stood out most in my memory and notes was Hagerty's Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews. It's coming out at the end of August, and it's every bit as marvelous as imagined, even without hotdogs and cocktails.

To give you a taste, we share Bourdain's intro from the book.

Grand Forks will be available August 27, 2013.


An INTRODUCTION to Marilyn Hagerty's Grand Forks

by Anthony Bourdain

If you’re looking for the kind of rapturous food porn you’d find in a book by M.F.K. Fisher, or lusty descriptions of sizzling kidneys a la Liebling—or even the knife-edged criticism of an A.A. Gill or a Sam Sifton—you will not find it here.

The territory covered here is not New York or Paris or London or San Francisco. And Marilyn Hagerty is none of those people.

For 27 years, Marilyn Hagerty has been covering the restaurant scene in and around the city of Grand Forks, North Dakota, population 52,000. She also, it should be pointed out, writes a total of five columns a week, about history and local personalities and events, in addition to her writing about restaurants and food. As one might expect, she knows personally many of her subjects. Given the size of her territory, it is not unusual for her to write about the same restaurant two or more times in a single year. In short, she is writing about a community that she is very much a part of.

If you knew her name before picking up this book, it was probably because of her infamously guileless Olive Garden review which went viral, caused first a tidal wave of snarky derision--followed by an even stronger anti-snark backlash--followed by invitations to appear on Anderson Cooper and The TODAY Show, dinner at Le Bernardin, an appearance on Top Chef, an Al Neuharth Award, a publishing deal--a sudden and unexpected elevation to media darling.

Why was that?

What is it about the 86-year old Ms. Hagerty that inspired such attention and affection?

Why should you read this book?

Of the 7,000 pages of articles and reviews I read while assembling this collection, there is little of what one would call pyrotechnical prose. Ms. Hagerty’s choices of food are shockingly consistent: A “Clubhouse sandwich,” coleslaw, wild rice soup, salads assembled from a salad bar, baked potatoes. She is not what you’d call an adventurous diner, exploring the dark recesses of menus. Far from it. Of one lunch, she writes:

“There were signs saying the luncheon special was soup and a Denver sandwich for $2.25. In places where food service is limited, I tend to take the special. I wasn’t born yesterday.”

She is never mean—even when circumstances would clearly excuse a sharp elbow, a cruel remark. In fact, watching Marilyn struggle to find something nice to say about a place she clearly loathes is part of the fun. She is, unfailingly, a good neighbor and good citizen first—and entertainer second.

But what she HAS given us, over all these years, is a fascinating picture of dining in America, a gradual, cumulative overview of how we got from there... to here.

Grand Forks is NOT New York City. We forget that—until we read her earlier reviews and remember, some of us, when you’d find sloppy Joe, steak Diane, turkey noodle soup, three bean salad, red Jell-o in OUR neighborhoods. When the tuft of curly parsley and lemon wedge, or a leaf of lettuce and an orange segment, or three spears of asparagus fashioned into a wagon wheel, were state of the art garnishes. When you could order a half sandwich, a cup of soup. A pre-hipster world where lefse, potato dumplings and walleye were far more likely to appear on a menu than pork belly.

Reading these reviews, we can see, we can watch over the course of time, who makes it and who doesn’t. Which bold, undercapitalized pioneers survived—and who, no matter how ahead of their time, just couldn’t hang on until the neighborhood caught up. You will get to know the names of owners and chefs like Warren LeClerc, whose homey lunch restaurant, The Pantry, turned down the lights to become the sophisticated French restaurant Le Pantre by night. And Chef Nardane of Touch of Magic Ballroom who, in his 6,200-square foot ballroom, served cheesecakes inspired by Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor, and envisioned an exclusive private membership club with frequent celebrity entertainment. And Steve Novak of Beaver's Family Restaurant, who when Marilyn visited his establishment, spoke of reviving his beaver act, complete with costume, for birthday parties.

And you will understand why the opening of an Olive Garden might be earnestly anticipated as an exciting and much welcome event.

Ms. Hagerty is not naïve about her work, her newfound fame, or the world. She has travelled widely in her life.

In person, she has a flinty, dry, very sharp sense of humor. She misses nothing. I would not want to play poker with her for money.

This is a straightforward account of what people have been eating—still ARE eating—in much of America. As related by a kind, good-hearted reporter looking to pass along as much useful information as she can—while hurting no one.

Anyone who comes away from this work anything less than charmed by Ms. Hagerty—and the places and characters she describes—has a heart of stone.

This book kills snark dead. --Anthony Bourdain

Photos from the Era of "Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr
— A Big Fall Books Preview Selection

Provence_jacket At this past spring's BookExpo, Clarkson Potter gave me a preview of their exceptionally beautiful and inventive cookbooks for fall. Luke Barr's Provence, 1970 stood out: they rarely publish food lit or bios, so it was already special, but they clearly adored this book, and when they explained its story and origins, the hairs on my arms stood on end. I felt like I was being handed a long-lost diary that promised access to what had to be one of the most fascinating, consequential moments in American culinary history (which, yes, happened in France).

Over the long last weeks of 1970, the era’s true tastemakers--Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones, among others--found themselves gathered in Southern France, where they cooked, feasted, and talked deep into the night, arguing about technique and taste until loyalties were redrawn and opinions reinvented. Decades later, Luke Barr, M.F.K. Fisher’s grand-nephew, discovered journals and letters recording conversations and details of their dynamics, and he set about recreating this time of improbably wonderful convergence. He succeeds with elegance and gusto.

At our request, Barr has selected photos--from the Schlesinger Library at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute--to give you a preview of the marvelous world of this book. You won't actually find these photos in the book, but when they arrived, I thought "Yes--this is exactly how I imagined these people, in that place," a testament to the evocative quality of Barr's prose. I also realized that I felt genuine gratitude for these people, the visionaries who believed so deeply that Americans could eat just as well as, or better than, the French that they spawned a movement of simply delicious food and cooking. When prepackaged food fails to satisfy our soul (or even our bodies), they keep calling us to the table, imploring us to cook and enjoy great meals with friends. And amid our own feasting, talking, arguing, and laughter, we can almost feel the Provençal sun warming our backs.  

Provence, 1970 will be available October 22, 2013.

 

 

 


 

M.F.K. Fisher at Last House, in Sonoma County, California. The house was built during her trip to Provence in the fall and winter of 1970. “I’m about to make a real break in my life,” she wrote in a letter to a friend just before she left, as she contemplated the future.

MFK Fisher at Last House

Continue reading "Photos from the Era of "Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr

— A Big Fall Books Preview Selection
" »

The Part-Time Vegan: Mark Bittman Talks VB6

Omni-VB6 As a long-time food writer for the New York Times and the author of several best-selling cookbooks--including the essential How to Cook Everything--Mark Bittman is all about food. So when mounting weight and health issues prompted doctor's advice that should consider a vegan diet, he said (somewhat incredulously), "Come on. You know what I do for a living."

But as he thought about it, he came to a career-friendly solution: If he was good most of the time, maybe he could be a little less good part of the time and still reap the benefits of a healthful diet. He called his plan VB6, or Vegan Before Six. In short: eat good foods from waking until 6:00 p.m. (or as good as you can get/abide), then do whatever you want after. And through four years of living the "Flexitarian" lifestyle--during which he lost 35 pounds and gained the attendant rewards of a plant-based diet--he realized he had a book on his hands. The result was VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health ... for Good.

Omni-Plum2Bittman stopped by the Amazon offices for a chat with Senior Editor Mari Malcolm and our guest  Makini Howell, a Seattle restaurat eur and the author of Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle's Plum Bistro, her new book from Sasquatch Press. Even though he was coming to the end of a long book tour, he thoughtfully commented on the challenges of part-time veganism (and how it's changed his non-vegan hours), the wider implications of industrialized farming, and the despair of engineering a no-regrets meal at a typical airport restaurant.

Watch the interview:

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