Chris Granger
Speaking Cajun: Donald Link's chicken and dumplings.
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Songs of Self

Jim Poris / December 2009

One part cookbook, one part memoir, this year's crop of chef-penned books carries the personality of each author, leaving no doubt about how he wound up in the kitchen and why he succeeded.

Cookbooks aren't so simple anymore. Some serve as scholarly treatises about a single subject—a country, a region, a province, a food group, or a single ingredient. Some push a dreamed-up lifestyle—wine country, cowboy, Tuscany or Provence, Southern, and on and on. Some, as many of last year's chef-penned cookbooks did, focus on culinary techniques and applications only a professional would truly appreciate. This year, chefs (with a co-writer/editor hovering over a shoulder for guidance and support) unleashed memoirs, book-length versions of Facebook entries that situate the chef/author within a distinct and colorful ethnic/cultural milieu. The process of telling their stories exposes their cooking; they are their recipes.

John Besh states it right up front on the first page of his first cookbook, My New Orleans: "This book is the story of a dreamy, starry-eyed boy brought up in the shadows of New Orleans…everything that I cook and eat, see and smell, reminds me of where I come from and more or less dictates where I'm going."

Ramen king David Chang, the Lenny Bruce of chefs, opens with this salvo in Momofuku: "Koreans are notorious noodle eaters. I am no exception." From there he digresses, with chapters devoted to being down and out in Ramenville, Japan, and how he concocted his effin' empire of hardcore, polyethnic eateries out of blood, sweat, and words your mother told you not to say.

And here's Greek stylist Michael Psilakis in How to Roast a Lamb: "Food has always been an integral part of my family life and of my culture… Nothing happened in our homes and in our lives—no one was born, no one died, no accomplishment was celebrated, and no occasion was marked—that didn't involve food and drink." From there flows the story of a first generation Greek-American—with dancing.

Besh emphatically didn't want to be forced by agents and publishers to turn his "five-year piece of work" into a standard "cookie-cutter" book. "Dorothy Kalins [the founding editor of Saveur, who exercised editorial oversight] and I shopped it door to door until we found a publisher [Andrews McMeel] who would give us artistic license to organize the book by various microseasons as opposed to appetizers through desserts. We had to find someone who shared my vision and was willing to take a risk. I think too many publishers take great works and compress them without taking into account the voice of the chef. The thing that makes this book unique is that while it's probably not as articulate as a work that's been scrubbed up, it does complete a vision of New Orleans, which has the only indigenous urban cuisine in America." Joining Besh, here some of the books that sing the song of myself:

My New Orleans, The Cookbook: 200 of My Favorite Recipes & Stories from My Hometown by John Besh (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO) • Oyster/artichoke soup • Crawfish boil en gelée • Oyster pan roast with turnips & apples • Crawfish agnolotti with morels • Green onion sausage & shrimp gravy (with oeufs au plat) • Stuffed artichokes with crabmeat & shrimp • Daube of rabbit with white asparagus & Champagne vinaigrette • Salt & pepper Louisiana soft-shell shrimp with sweet chile sauce • Crab & shrimp stuffed flounder • Louisiana blackfish with sweet corn & caviar • Caldo • Grilled corn on the cob with crab fat butter • Chanterelles, chicken & dumplings • Baked oysters with wild mushroom ragoût & aïoli • Black pepper-seared oysters with country ham & truffled spoon bread • Blake's duck/green onion/chicken sausage gumbo • Momma Rochelle's stuffed quail gumbo • Boneless roasted wood duck porchetta • Smoked pork shoulder with purple plum glaze • Pork cheek dumplings, ham hock pot liquor & mustard greens • Horseradish-rubbed standing Charolais rib roast • Père Roux cake • Cane syrup fig cake • Wild strawberry flambée over lemon ricotta–filled crêpes • Rice calas with blackberry filling.

Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook: A Celebration of Food, Family, and Traditions Chris and Idie Hastings (Running Press, Philadelphia) • Jim's oxtail soup • Shrimp gazpacho with lemon oil • Shrimp & corn fritters with chive aïoli • Deviled crab • Hot and Hot fish fry with fennel slaw, hush puppies & spicy rémoulade • Low country pirlou (stew) with clams, sausage, shrimp & Carolina Gold rice • Grilled cobia with Alligator Point clam vinaigrette • Smoked & grilled quail with winter vegetables & white barbecue sauce • Oven-roasted duck breast on crawfish risotto • Grilled veal liver steak with fennel mashed potatoes, onion rings & tamarind sauce • Dove breasts wrapped in Benton's bacon • Bobwhite quail, sausage & white bean cassoulet • Saffron rice pudding with Sauternes poached persimmons • Sweet potato fried pies with cinnamon ice cream.

How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking by Michael Psilakis (Little, Brown and Company, New York City) • Grilled watermelon & grilled manouri (cheese) • Octopus, salami & apples with anchovy vinaigrette • Grilled sardines with chopped salad & skordalia soup • Poached halibut with Cypriot shellfish salad, cucumber/yogurt broth & caviar • Psarokorizo: sea urchin tsatziki with crab & lobster risotto with yogurt & caviar • Fried calamari & whitebait with crispy chickpeas & lemon • Ouzo & orange braised snails • Whole grilled loup de mer • Grilled quails with sweet-and-sour charred onion & red wine glaze • Braised lamb tongue with white beans & mushrooms • Poached goat avgolemono • Stuffed peppers with beef & rice • Seftalia (small sausage from Cyprus) • Braised lamb pastitsio • Yogurt with candied quince & crushed Jordan almonds.

Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe (Clarkson Potter, New York City) • Cajun tasso • Smoked sausage & lima bean stew • Fried oyster & bacon sandwich • Cathy's shrimp/corn/tomato stew • Fried chicken livers with hot pepper glaze • Shrimp/eggplant dressing • Fried chicken/andouille gumbo • Chicken & dumplings • Boudin-stuffed turkey breast • Cast-iron hush puppies • Natchitoches meat pies • Crawfish boulettes • Peanut butter fudge • Chocolate bread pudding with Bourbon sauce.

Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste & Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking by Adam Perry Lang (Hyperion, New York City) • Asian pork meatball skewers • St. Louis–cut spare ribs layered with apricot flavors • "Get a book"bull; Chicken wings with coarsely ground spices • My competition thigh recipe • Corn griddle cakes • Artichokes basted with anchovy butter.

Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan (Crown Publishing, New York City) • Momofuku ramen • Kimchi stew, rice cakes & shredded pork • Fried chicken • Brussels sprouts, kimichi puree & bacon • Bacon dashi with potatoes & clams • Roasted mushroom salad, braised pistachios, pickled sunchokes & radishes bo ssäm (slow roasted pork butt with lettuce leaf wrappers, oysters, and Korean garnishes) • spicy pork sausage & rice cakes, Chinese broccoli & crispy shallots • Ko kimchi consommé, pork belly, oysters & napa cabbage • Roasted New Jersey diver scallop, kohlrabi puree & iwa nori • 48-hour short rib, braised daikon, pickled carrot & mustard seeds • Cereal milk custard, avocado puree, chocolate/hazelnut thing & caramelized cornflakes.

A choir of soloists:

  • Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller (Artisan, New York City)
  • The Amish Cook's Baking Book by Lovina Eicher with Kevin Williams (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO)
  • Antojitos: Festive and Flavorful Mexican Small Plates by Barbara Sibley and Margaritte Malfy with Mary Goodbody (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • The Barcelona Cookbook by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforz­heimer with Mary Goodbody (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO)
  • Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun with Food by Shannon Payette Seip and Kelly Parthen with Carisa Dixon (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO)
  • The Berghoff Café Cookbook by Carlyn Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO)
  • The Blackberry Farm Cookbook: Four Seasons of Great Food and the Good Life by Sam Beall (Clarkson Potter, New York City)
  • Burger Bar: Build Your Own Ultimate Burger by Hubert Keller with Penelope Wisner (Wiley, Hoboken, NJ)
  • Canyon Ranch: Nourish by Scott Uehlein and Canyon Ranch (Viking Studio, New York City)
  • Chocolate Bliss: Sensuous Recipes, Spa Treatments, and Other Divine Indulgences by Susie Norris (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • The City Tavern Cookbook: Recipes from the Birthplace of American Cuisine by Walter Staib with Paul Bauer (Running Press, Philadelphia)
  • The Cocktail Primer by Eben Klemm (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
  • The Complete Tassajara Cookbook: Recipes, Techniques, and Reflections from the Famed Zen Kitchen by Edward Espe Brown (Shambhala Publications, Boston)
  • Cooking the Cowboy Way: Recipes Inspired by Campfires, Chuck Wagons, and Ranch Kitchens by Grady Spears with June Naylor (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO)
  • The Craft of Baking: Cakes, Cookies, & Other Sweets by Karen DeMasco (Crown Publishing, New York City)
  • Dam Good Sweet by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel (Taunton Press, Newtown, CT)
  • Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann (HarperCollins Publishers, New York City)
  • The English Breakfast by A.A. Gill (Rizzoli International, New York City)
  • FARMfood by Daniel Orr (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN)
  • French Feasts: 299 Traditional Recipes for Family Meals & Gatherings by Stephane Reynaud (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York City)
  • The Grand Central Baking Book by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Desserts and Pastries by Alain Ducasse and Frederic Robert (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York City)
  • Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • Jasper's Kitchen Cookbook: Italian Recipes and Memories from Kansas City's Legendary Restaurant by Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO)
  • La Maison du Chocolat: Timeless Classics with a Twist by Gilles Marchal (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York City)
  • Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Alfred A. Knopf, New York City)
  • Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louisa Shafia (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • Michael Symon's Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen by Michael Symon with Michael Ruhlman (Clarkson Potter, New York City)
  • Mix Shake Stir: Recipes from Danny Meyer's Acclaimed New York City Restaurants by Danny Meyer (Hachette Book Group, New York City)
  • Mother's Best: Comfort Food That Takes You Home Again by Lisa Schroeder and Danielle Centoni (Taunton Press, Newton, CT)
  • My Bread by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste (W.W. Norton & Company, New York City)
  • My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO)
  • New American Table by Marcus Samuelsson with Heidi Sacko Walters (Wiley, Hoboken, NJ)
  • New Classic Family Dinners by Mark Peel with Martha Rose Shulman (Wiley, Hoboken, NJ)
  • New French Recipes by Eric Kayser with Yaïr Yosefi (Rizzoli International, New York City)
  • The New Taste of Chocolate: Revised by Maricel E. Presilla (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • Notes on Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft by Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich (RCR Creative Press, New York City)
  • Pasta Sfoglia: From Our Table to Yours, More Than 100 Fresh, Seasonal Pasta Dishes by Ron and Colleen Suhanosky with Susan Simon (Wiley, Hoboken, NJ)
  • Pastry Queen Parties by Rebecca Rather with Alison Oresman (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • Pastry: Savory & Sweet by Michel Roux (Wiley, Hoboken, NJ)
  • Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition by Gerald Hiri­goyen with Lisa Weiss (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • The ¡Salpicón! Cookbook: Contemporary Mexican Cuisine by Priscilla Satkoff with Vincent Satkoff (Chronicle Books, San Francisco)
  • Salt to Taste: The Keys to Confident, Delicious Cooking by Marco Canora with Catherine Young (Rodale, Emmaus, PA)
  • The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO)
  • Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann (Artisan, New York City)
  • Small Bites, Big Taste: Innovative Recipes for Entertaining by Rainer Zinngrebe with Rodrigo Torres Contreras (Marshall Cavendish, Tarrytown, NY)
  • Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition by Barbara Lynch (Houghton Mifflin, New York City)
  • Tacos: 75 Authentic and Inspired Recipes by Mark Miller (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • Takashi's Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi with Harris Salat (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA)
  • 'Wichcraft by Tom Colicchio with Sisha Ortuzar (Clarkson Potter, New York City)