We’ve seen a bumper crop in food publishing. Pat Nourse picks the 10 best books of the year for your stocking-stuffing convenience.
Dec 01, 2013 1:00pm
We've seen a bumper crop in food publishing. Pat Nourse picks the 10 best books of the year for your stocking-stuffing convenience.
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Heston Blumenthal (Bloomsbury, $199, hbk) It's the big book for Christmas, this. Whether you're talking dimensions, detail, cost or just plain weight, this baby has heft. Made up in large part by the research Heston Blumenthal did into old English cooking to design the menu for his London restaurant, Dinner, its 400-plus pages encompass only 28-odd actual dishes, starting with the "rice and flesh" of 1390 and concluding with 1892's mock-turtle soup, but it covers them to the nth degree. The tipsy cake section, for instance, covers everything from the Victorian mania for pineapples and the British obsession with hothouse gardening to the 1845 abolition of the glass tax. The photography is good, but of particular note are the illustrations by Dave McKean. Cookability: 2/10. Readability: 8/10. Pictures: 8/10. Go-to dish: quaking pudding.
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Recipes for a Good Time
Elvis Abrahanowicz & Ben Milgate (Murdoch Books, $59.95, hbk) Or, as we like to call it, "Ben and Elvis: Beyond the Brylcreem". Here, two of Sydney's best-liked and hardest-working chefs take us behind the scenes at their acclaimed restaurants, Bodega and Porteño, but also into their lifestyle, from bars to barbecuing, cars to music to picnics. The recipes are good, the stories even better, everything informed by a sense that this is stuff these guys have lived inside and out. How can we say no to any cookbook that features not only watermelons filled with punch, but also a "pineapple princess" stuck with everything from cheese and gherkins to quail's eggs and palm hearts ("plastic swords are a no-go")? Cookability: 7/10. Readability: 9/10. Pictures: 8/10. Go-to dish: raw fish on toast.
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Anissa Helou (HarperCollins, $35, hbk) Rich as the Middle-Eastern dining scene we have in Australia is, it can sometimes seem a bit like we see the same dishes over and over in restaurants. This makes the diversity of Levant all the more refreshing. As Anissa Helou shares memories of her childhood in Beirut and the discoveries she has made visiting the souks of Tehran, Damascus and Amman over many decades, she presents a richer picture of life in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Palestine, both at the table and away from it. Couscous sandwiches and eggplant cooked in pomegranate juice are just the beginning. Cookability: 9/10. Readability: 8/10. Pictures: 0/10 (no pictures). Go-to dish: Aleppo-style omelette sandwiches.
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Alex Atala (Phaidon, $59.95, hbk) What better guide to the contemporary cooking of Brazil than the charming Alex Atala, and what better showcase than his lauded São Paolo restaurant, D.O.M.? The surprise here is not how many dishes are rendered unreachable by their ingredients (though plenty call for pitanga juice, jabuticaba and saúva ants) but rather how many can be managed readily on this side of the Pacific. Cured tenderloin with cocoa and baby pork ribs with lime are high on our list. Having said that, the recipe for ants and pineapple might just be the funniest thing to have appeared in a cookbook this year: "Place a piece of pineapple on top of a serving dish and top with an ant. Serve immediately." Cookability: 7/10. Readability: 7/10. Pictures: 7/10. Go-to dish: heart-of-palm fettuccine carbonara.
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The Agrarian Kitchen
Rodney Dunn (Lantern, $59.99, hbk) Full disclosure: Rodney Dunn is awesome. And he's a member of the _GT_ family, having been a food editor before decamping to Tassie to open The Agrarian Kitchen with his wife Séverine in 2007. The book is very true to the cooking school's ethos, organised by season, focused on produce and photographed beautifully by Dunn's friend and (Garagistes chef) Luke Burgess. Dunn is an avowed fan of the Chez Panisse books, especially those co-authored by Paul Bertolli, and there's a similar mixture of freshness and detail-orientiation in his own work. Whether you're looking at a three-ingredient recipe for damson gin or the more highfalutin' likes of guinea fowl cooked in clay, there's a clear sense that everything in the book is there because Dunn has tried it and it works. Cookability: 9/10. Readability: 8/10. Pictures: 10/10. Go-to dish: buttermilk blueberry scones with honey butter.
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Vietnamese Home Cooking
Charles Phan (Jacqui Small, $59.99, hbk) Charles Phan is best known as the chef and owner of The Slanted Door, the San Francisco establishment that's perhaps the highest-profile Vietnamese restaurant in the US. In this book, though, he's very much in cook-at-home mode, and strikes a balance between authenticity and approachability that's impressive. Asides such as "nobody wants to fry at home, but everyone likes to eat fried food" make it clear that he's on the everyday cook's wavelength, and you want to jump straight in with the likes of clams with crisp pork belly and Thai basil, or pork claypot with young coconut juice, or rachet the challenge up a notch with Hue rice dumplings. Cookability: 8/10. Readability: 7/10. Pictures: 7/10. Go-to dish: rice crêpes with pork and mushrooms.
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Daniel Patterson (Phaidon, $59.95, hbk) Daniel Patterson, musician and cook, plant-whisperer and dreamer, is one of the chefs leading Californian cooking well beyond its figs-on-a-plate roots without betraying its heritage. This is very much a restaurant book, and more one for the pros or readers interested in the bigger picture rather than finding a way to feed the kids on Tuesday night (and having the measurements split off from the recipes doesn't help). Patterson's much-imitated beet rose dessert is in these pages, alongside other modern classics from his San Francisco restaurant Coi, but there's much more here than recipes. There's personality, a way of thinking and looking at the world, and a lot of Patterson's person. He details his failures here as well as what he counts as his successes. It's captivating in its honesty and generosity. Cookability: 3/10. Readability: 8/10. Pictures: 7/10. Go-to dish: popcorn grits.
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The Breakfast Bible
Seb Emina & Malcolm Eggs (Bloomsbury, $30, hbk) Born from the perhaps not entirely serious London Review of Breakfasts website, the Bible investigates the most important meal of the day with impressive vigour, calling on everyone from Winnie the Pooh to John the Apostle along the way. Its focus is very much on the British breakfast tradition (though churros get a look in, as does congee), but narrow as that field may be, it's mined to great depth, whether it's the subject of breakfast in bed or class at the breakfast table. The art of reading tea leaves gets a chapter, as do the breakfast habits of the late Hunter S Thompson ("All of which should be dealt with outside... preferably stone naked"). Cookability: 7/10. Readability: 9/10. Pictures: 5/10. Go-to dish: the full English.
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A Work in Progress
René Redzepi (Phaidon, $75, hbk) "Success is a marvellous thing, but it can also be dangerous and limiting." So begins the journal in which chef René Redzepi records his push to get back in the groove and recover his creative mojo after his Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, was named the best restaurant in the world in 2010. A Work in Progress is an odd beast, split into three volumes: the journal ("I had flashes of horror when I thought about the f-king cream sauce"), the recipes ("top with dots of dulse oil and position in the hay nest") and a booklet of candid snapshots taken by Redzepi ("'I give up', the lamb said, 'go ahead, take my brain'."). Unsettling, inspiring and revealing in all the right ways. Cookability: 2/10. Readability: 7/10. Pictures: 8/10. Go-to dish: bone-marrow fudge.
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Ivan Orkin (Ten Speed Press, $55, hbk) The title tells you everything, in a sense: there's not much more to the book than the story of New Yorker Ivan Orkin and noodle soup. But what a story: the detail on Orkin's mission to make his mark on the Japanese ramen scene is deep, rich and at times even wrenching. Dedicating a whole book of recipes to what amounts essentially to one dish is unusual, to say the least, but in breaking down every element, from the rendering of the fats to the making of the katsuobushi salt, Orkin and co-author Chris Ying present a rewarding picture of this most obsessed-over of soups. Of particular note are the recipes for leftover menma, dashi and chashu (get a load of the pork belly Cubano). Cookability: 6/10. Readability: 10/10. Pictures: 7/10. Go-to dish: four-cheese mazemen.