Food. We all have to eat it. There’s no getting around that fact. So…if you begin by acknowledging that fact, then why not take the next logical step and try to enjoy it?
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I picked up oysters from the tide flats and ate them fried, with tartar sauce. That passion has never diminished..I also love them raw, and grilled.
THE POLO LOUNGE BURGER!
Then there is the simple pleasure of a good burger – in this case, the Polo Lounge bacon cheeseburger served at The Beverly Hills Hotel’s iconic restaurant.
THE FRENCH LAUNDRY!
Then there is this: the exquisite Snake River Farms “Calotte de Boeuf Grillee” from The French Laundry. No matter what kind of food you are craving, there is virtually nothing we can’t consume whenever we want to. I am lucky enough to live in an area wehre fresh produce is always on display, there are a wide range of restaurants – from fast to 3-star…and everything in between.
It is with this on my mind that I wanted to share more books about food – in this case, including a few that are cookbooks, which are, after all, about food as well as a written narrative. Let’s go!
The Omnivore’s Dilemma; A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan coined this iconic phrase while breaking down our current food system.
Here is what Publisher’s Weekly said: “Pollan examines what he calls “our national eating disorder” (the Atkins craze, the precipitous rise in obesity) in this remarkably clearheaded book. It’s a fascinating journey up and down the food chain, one that might change the way you read the label on a frozen dinner, dig into a steak or decide whether to buy organic eggs. You’ll certainly never look at a Chicken McNugget the same way again. Pollan approaches his mission not as an activist but as a naturalist: “The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world.”
You will learn fascinating, and disturbing, things about how meat is processed in our country, as well as the role that corn has in shaping our lives.
Pollan’s book is terrific on so many levels, especially as a “wake-up” call on what – and how – we consume every day. As one person noted online, “He believes that if we were once again aware of the source of our food – what it was, where it came from, how it traveled to reach us, and its true cost – we would see that we “eat by the grace of nature, not industry.”
Behold the first in a series of food autobiographies written by Ruth Reichl. Reichl is a food writer, and was the last editor-in-chief of the now shuttered Gourmet magazine. She has written a trilogy of critically acclaimed, best-selling memoirs: Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table, and Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. Her latest book is “Gourmet Today”, a 1,008 page cookbook containing over 1,000 recipes.
Here is the writeup of her first memoir on Amazon: “At an early age, Ruth Reichl discovered that “food could be a way of making sense of the world. . . . If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.” Her deliciously crafted memoir, Tender at the Bone, is the story of a life determined, enhanced, and defined in equal measure by a passion for food, unforgettable people, and the love of tales well told.
Reichl is a person who sincerely LOVES FOOD, and the Gourmet cookbooks are an encyclopedia of recipes, advice and insight. Her books are all terrifically well-written and passionate, and fun – a celebration of someone who celebrates food.
Alex and I first met Barbara at The Oak Knoll Inn, her bed-and-breakfast in Napa Valley. It has been voted one of the most romantic places in Northern California, and her’s why:
The Oak Knoll Inn is a great escape from reality – and with Shirlee and Vicki there to help you, it’s a friendly and fun environment. And no, I didn’t forget Barbara’s hilarious husband John, who will help you get reservations, tastings, cars…whatever you need.
We have stayed there for years, and we love it – and over time we became friends with Barbara, who is famous for her multi-course, chocolate-infused breakfasts. From chocolate tacos to baked eggs, her menus celebrate chocolate along with the freshest ingredients from her own garden, as well as from Napa Valley’s best purveyors.
Barbara’s Baked Eggs!
But the book is much more than just chocolate, or breakfast for that matter: it is a love letter to Napa valley, and to food. Every time I cook from this I think of Napa…
This book is a terrific behind-the-scenes look at America’s first sushi-chef training academy – mixed with the history of sushi. It’s fun, informative, and has a bit of docu-soap mixed in as well, as you meet the young chefs struggling to learn the japanese way to make sushi.
You get a real insightful but breezy history of sushi, and you get a terrific insider’s look at young chefs trying to master the art of sushi.
Corson also wrote “The Secret Life of Lobsters”, which I also read and enjoyed, but it had a more scientific angle to it…both are great!
A Return To Cooking by Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman.
This is a great mix of cookbook/travelogue/philisophical rumination: a four-part journey – in four different seasons – to four different locales to “cook the landscape” and “cook from the guts”. Filled with great recipes, philosophy and candor.
Eric Ripert, chef and part owner of New York’s Le Bernadin, discovered that as his chef star rose he drifted far, far away from cooking. “A Return to Cooking” is his response to this sorry predicament, the result of a self-imposed challenge: to gather together disparate souls–a painter (Valentino Cortazar), a writer (Michael Ruhlman, author of “The Making of a Chef” and “The Soul of a Chef”), photographers (Shimon and Tammar Rothstein), and a personal assistant (Andrea Glick, who would write and test the spontaneously created recipes)–and simply cook.
I’ve written about Ruhlman in part one of this post, since he did write the best book about becoming a chef ever written. Here, he captures Ripert’s food, his philosophy, and the voices of the other participants – and creates a cohesive journal of discovery – and it has a ton of great recipes as well!
And then there is Thomas Keller – America’s greatest Chef, a master of food who has 2 three-Michelin-starred restaurants – “The French Laundry” in Yountville, California and Per Se in New York City – plus his french bistro Bouchon, the Bouchon Bakery, and his casual restaurant Ad Hoc.
Thomas Keller has won multiple awards from the James Beard Foundation, notably the Best California Chef in 1996, and the Best Chef in America in 1997. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his accomplishments.
In 2005, he was awarded the three star rating in the inaugural Michelin Guide for New York for his restaurant Per Se, and in 2006, he was awarded three stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide to the Bay Area for The French Laundry. He is the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants.
“It’s All About Finesse” – that is what he wrote on Alex’s menu when we ate at The French Laundry in December. He is passionate about food, and it shows in all three of his massive cookbooks, beginning with his French Laundry Cookbook.
Amazon review: To eat at Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry, is to experience a peak culinary experience. In The French Laundry Cookbook, Keller articulates his passions and offers home cooks a means to duplicate the level of perfection that makes him one of the best chefs in the U.S. and, arguably, the world.
This cookbook provides 150 recipes exactly as they are used at Keller’s restaurant. It is also his culinary manifesto, in which he shares the unique creative processes that led him to invent Peas and Carrots–a succulent pillow of a lobster paired with pea shoots and creamy ginger-carrot sauce–and other high-wire culinary acts. It offers unimagined experiences, from extracting chlorophyll to use in coloring sauces to a recipe for chocolate cake accompanied by red beet ice cream and a walnut sauce. You are urged to follow Keller’s recipes precisely and also to view them as blueprints. To keep them alive, they must be infused with your own commitment to perfection and pleasure, as you define those terms.
Keller’s story, shared through the writing of Michael Ruhlman, shows how this chef was both born and made. After winning rave reviews when he was still in his 20s, it took a more experienced chef throwing a knife at him because he did not know how to truss a chicken to open his eyes to the importance of the discipline and techniques of classical French cooking. To acquire these fundamental skills, he apprenticed at eight of the finest restaurants in France.
Eating at The French Laundry is a culinary adventure that must be tried by anyone who loves food – you will be amazed at what the talented chefs come up with under Keller’s guidance.
There is also a Bouchon cookbook, also chock full of great french bistro dishes, all with a Thomas Keller twist or touch.
There are Bouchons now in New York , Beverly Hills and Las Vegas in addition to the original bistro in Yountville.
Finally, Keller opened Ad Hoc in Yountville as well, a casual place with terrific food served “family style.” Everyone at the table gets whatever is being served that night…
The Ad Hoc Cookbook is also full of Keller’s philosophy, passion for food, and great recipes, including the recipe for his legendary “Ad Hoc Fried Chicken.”
And if you want to give it a try, Williams Sonoma carries the Ad Hoc Fried Chicken making kit…I have done it twice and plan to do it again this weekend, and it’s pretty darn close to the real thing!
This just scratches the surface on Thomas Keller – i encourage you to seek out the cookbooks to discover the passion he has for food…
Let me know what you think!