As I wrote last week, we three all love our cookbooks. We shared our daughter’s favorite cookbooks last week. I have my favorites to share tomorrow, and our favorite gluten-free cookbooks on Monday. But today, it’s Danny’s turn.
Danny’s a chef. (You know that. He’s the reason this website is called Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, of course.) And chefs look at cookbooks differently than the rest of us do.
I can tell when Danny loves a cookbook. He brings it into the bed with us. Even when I have read too many pages of my novel, and I finally have to turn off the lamp with a sigh because I’m so tired, he’s still sitting in bed, turning pages and softly groaning with anticipation. He studies. He opens his mouth and turns his head to the side and says, “Holy sh-t! How did they do that?” And he starts taking notes on the side, coming up with his own ideas inspired by flavor combinations and ingredients he has been seeing. Then he turns the page.
What Danny doesn’t do is prop open a cookbook on the kitchen counter and begin following a recipe exactly. I’ve never seen him follow a recipe exactly. The one time I asked him to do this use the same ingredients as the ones on the page, follow the instructions as written I walked into the kitchen after putting baby Lu to sleep and found him tearing at his hair. He looked at me and said, “Can I please just make this stew the way I’d make it?” He just can’t do it.
The chefs I know don’t follow recipes, for the most part. They grow jazzed at the idea of fermented cucumbers or an unfamiliar cut of beef or smoked duck fat with maple syrup drippings or the idea of playing with quail again. One chef reading another chef’s cookbook is like they’re standing in a kitchen together, talking shop and chopping ingredients for the next dishes.
Many times, I’ll see people complaining in reviews in a cookbook created by a chef. “This book is too complicated. Too many unfamiliar ingredients. It’s just too…cheffy.” Yep. Those are the only books that interest Danny, really.
Here are his favorite cookbooks of 2013.
Danny spent a long time looking at The Scarpetta Cookbook. Every once in awhile, I’d hear, “How the hell did he do that?” Scott Conant has five Scarpetta restaurants across the country. “Clearly, he knows what he’s doing,” as Danny said. “This food, it’s really thoughtful. Man, I just couldn’t stop looking at this book.”
The recipes he read to me, the ones we’re making in the next two weeks? Crispy fried artichokes with lemon yogurt and basil. Beef carpaccio on parmesan crackers. Sausage-stuffed fried olives.
“I think his food is really innovative and the ingredients were pretty much spot-on perfect.”
Roberta’s Cookbook doesn’t look like any other cookbook. This pizza-and-more place in Bushwick, Brooklyn is grubby and hip, filled with young guys tattooed on both arms pushing pizzas into wood-fired ovens. It’s irreverent in look and dead serious about its food.
“It’s deliciousness,” Danny said. “It’s a pizza cookbook, just good food.” The book is filled with all the varieties of wood-fired-oven pizzas they make at Roberta’s. Danny especially liked the Cheesus Christ (mozzarella, taleggio, black pepper).
Listen, this whole book is filled with gluten. But we’ve been working with their pizza dough made with sourdough starter recipe as a starting point for our latest pizza dough, and it’s great. Plus, there’s a fabulous recipe for fresh mozzarella we’ll be trying soon.
One of the better meals we have ever shared was over a table filled with dishes at Pok Pok in Portland. Even Lucy nibbled and kept reaching for more. (She was just over one year old. We were so excited by the flavors and textures that we hadn’t realized until it was over: she had just eaten peanuts and she didn’t have an allergic reaction. She wasn’t allergic to peanuts!) We have been talking about that meal for four years. So we were both beyond excited when Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand arrived at our door.
When I asked to Danny to describe this book, he looked at me longingly and made groany noises. “If you can’t make it to Portland, you can make it at home. It’s worth it.” While the restaurant Pok Pok meal we ate was sort of pan-Asian, the book is all Thai dishes. We’re going to be making Som Tom Thai, Thai cucumber salad, and steamed whole fish with soy sauce, ginger, and vegetables as soon as Christmas is done.
Meanwhile, Danny is still flipping through the pages on this one.
“We love to play with food. In fact, we love it so much that we’ve made careers out of it. When we cooked professionally, we started experimenting in our free time, teaching ourselves new approaches and embracing innovation to make food taste better. We eventually made the jump to opening our own business and now consult with restaurants and companies big and small to help them solve kitchen conundrums and think more creatively about cooking.
Danny and I are both pretty big fans of Aki Kamozowa and Alexander Talbot, authors of Maximum Flavor: Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook. These are truly chef’s chefs. They’re not interested in creating recipes that take less than 20 minutes and feed a family of four for less than $10. They truly want to play with their food, testing and re-testing the best way to make roasted nuts until they are ridiculously full of flavor. “I seriously want to hang out with these two,” Danny said after looking through this book. I want to make their sourdough coffee cake, gluten-free. They also play with gluten-free flours and include two very good gluten-free flour mixes in the book. You have to love chefs that take gluten-free flours seriously in their play.
There’s really no saying how much Danny and I both respect Danny Meyer, the owner of Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park, Blue Smoke, Maialino, and several other restaurants in New York City. He is the master of service and hospitality and every single time we have eaten in one of his restaurants, we have left astonished. (May I tell you that the folks at these restaurants have always, always fed me safely, as well as deliciously.?)
If you can’t eat at one of Danny Meyer’s restaurants, but you’d like to cook some of the food his chefs eat, try Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home.
As Danny tells me, staff meals vary. “Sometimes, staff meals can be one of the biggest pains in the ass for a cook. Depending on the night and how much prep they have to do, or what’s available for them, sometimes they have to cobble something together. But sometimes it’s a great chance to play. Especially if you are the new guy. You’re nervous. You know it’s the staff judging you for how you cook. You want to do a damned good job.” Every one of the meals in Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home looks as though the cook was having an especially good night cooking staff meal.
Who wouldn’t want chilled carrot soup with frizzled ginger, lentil salad with summer squash and dried cherries, mashed sweet potatoes with vanilla and marscapone, brisket with red-eye gravy?
Of all the cheffy books Danny loves, this one is probably the most approachable for the home cook.
We were lucky enough to meet Jessica Applestone, one of the authors of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More, at the Hudson Valley potluck we held in September. She brought lamb meatballs with a spicy harissa yogurt sauce. Lucy is still talking about those meatballs. Jessica and her husband started Fleishers, an incredible old-style butcher’s shop with grass-fed and organic meats. We only wish we could shop there on a regular basis.
As Danny said, “This is a great book. It walks you through all the cuts and what you can use them for, clearly. It’s just a fabulous book for anyone who wants to know how to buy, cook, and eat good meat.”
Oh, Hank Shaw. You made my husband drool with Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild almost more than any other one we’ve had in the house. He looked up at me one day, marking the page he had been reading with his finger, leered at me, and said, “Smoked duck fat drippings with maple syrup.” Danny knows how to talk to me.
“It’s a book full of duck, goose, duck fat, and goose fat. You might not think there are enough recipes for duck and goose to fill an entire cookbook but Hank did it. And did it well. What more is there to say?”
Hank knows what he’s doing.
We’re having duck for Christmas.
“Oh, I love this book. Any book that has a recipe for duck nuggets is amazing.”
Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird is a cookbook from the restaurant of the same name in Portland. It’s unrepentantly cheffy, unafraid of any and every meat. (Lamb belly BLT, anyone? Rabbit and eel terrine? Elk tongue stroganoff?) This book keeps drawing Danny back in. It’s just so much itself.
All you really need to know is how the book is structured. There’s a chapter on lettuces and such, tongue, fat liver (that’s foie gras), little birds, rabbits, little fish, large fish, pork, horns and antlers, lamb, veg, and choc, tart, and profit. For the lady who once wrote a negative review of our cookbook because we had so many meat dishes besides chicken and beef in our book, you really don’t want to buy Le Pigeon. But if you’re not afraid of real food, this is the book for you.
As British chef Fergus Henderson wrote in his blurb for the book, “Not many books have got my juices going as much as Le Pigeon’s. It’s a proper joy.” Danny says he couldn’t put it any better.
This book, In The Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods, has taken up a prominent position on our cookbook shelf. Danny still loves Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book, published many years ago. That book is so dog-eared and stained that it’s almost falling apart. But quietly, he has moved that to a bottom shelf. This charcuterie book from the good folks at the Fatted Calf is Danny’s new bible.
“Oof. What do I say? That book is execution at its finest, just like that restaurant. Michael Anthony’s food is clean, approachable, yet very sophisticated. The photographs make me want to cook everything. How are they doing that?”
The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook is truly one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have ever seen.
The book is organized by season, which is how chefs think. New produce at the farmers’ market excites Danny more than almost anything I’ve seen. So we’re cooking out of the winter section of this cookbook lately: ruby red shrimp with white beans and kale salsa verde, squash and endive salad with maple vinaigrette, country terrine, and the chocolate-covered toffee with pumpkin seeds and sea salt.
Danny cooked briefly at Gramercy Tavern when he lived in New York. He loved that place, as a cook there and now as a diner. I love eating in that restaurant. It has been around forever, and it could easily rest on its laurels and draw on the customers based on its history. But chef Michael Anthony in particular keeps the menu seasonal and unbelievably exciting. He is truly a master.
Finally, I don’t think Danny can even put words into how he feels about Manresa: An Edible Reflection.
“This book is revolutionary. That book takes books like The French Laundry, Jean-George’s books, and Charlie Trotter’s food and takes it all to the next level. It is phenomenal. Just phenomenal.”
Of all the cheffy books on the list, this one is the most cheffy. And watching Danny read it, be astonished by it, and be inspired it, I can safely say it will be inspiring Danny for years, if not decades to come.
There’s not much more you can ask from a book.
These cookbooks have truly changed our cooking life this year.
(And Danny would like me to remind you that our book, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, was written by a chef and a home cook, together.)
We’d like to give away a copy of Hank Shaw’s book, Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild. Leave a comment about the chef cookbook that has most inspired your cooking.