Room for Dessert by Will Goldfarb

room-for-dessert-2d.jpg

What is it? Will Goldfarb has worked in the kitchens of Ferran Adria, Tetsuya Wakuda, Paul Liebrandt, and Morimoto. He is one of the top pastry chefs working today and is featured in the fourth series of acclaimed Netflix series Chef’s Table. In his first book, he shares 40 recipes, plus additional basics like sorbets, gelatos and mousses, from his acclaimed Room4Dessert restaurant in Bali.

What’s the USP? Along with the highly complex and bizarrely-named recipes called things like ‘Footsteps, or Burbur Injin’ (black rice pudding), each with their own obscure and sometimes almost unintelligible introduction, the book contains an extended biographical section and ‘The Lab of Ideas’ that provides an insight into Goldfarb’s unique creative process.

What does it look like? The modern, often minimalist desserts are all illustrated with overhead photographs which do some of the less visually impactful creations like Pom Pom Yeah: The Horse Thief (a take on Mont Blanc) no favours at all and makes you wonder what Violet de Meuron (frozen horchata with a dramatic purple hibiscus and onion skin ‘veil’) would look like from another angle.

Is it good bedtime reading? Let’s put it this way, there’s plenty to read, but whether or not you should be looking at it before trying to go to sleep is another matter. Goldfarb has a fascinating life story to tell but does so in such an oblique manner that he sacrifices clear narrative substance for a ‘clever’ turn of phrase and an odd pseudo-poetic style (not dissimilar to that employed by Sean Penn in his much-derided recent novel Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff),  that your frustration with the many gaps in the story might well keep you up at night. Best stick with the latest Laura Lippman.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Not at all, as long as you’re in Bali. Otherwise, see how you go asking for lontar nectar, fresh moringa leaves or snake fruit at your local Nisa (this is unfair, many of the recipes don’t include exotic ingredients and you should be able to source most of what you need with some diligent online shopping).

What’s the faff factor? This is a book by a progressive, experimental professional pastry chef written for his peers. What do you reckon it’s likely to be?

How often will I cook from the book? Determined hobbyist cooks who want to one-up their nerdy friends or intimidate their dinner party guests with their dazzling pastry skills will be all over this like a rash. Mere mortals will simply admire from the safety of their sofas.

Killer recipes? It’s difficult to say. Is Plat du Jour’s combination of yoghurt sorbet, coffee anglaise, grilled aubergine puree, vermouth gel, white chocolate and ginger ‘Toblerone’ and brioche, soaked in milk and blonde coconut nectar and cooked French toast-style, a winner? Who knows until you’ve made it and eaten it.

What will I love? You will have never read a cookbook quite like it.

What won’t I like? You will have never read a cookbook quite like it.

Should I buy it? If you are a professional pastry chef working at the cutting edge of cuisine, fill your boots. Others should approach with caution unless strongly attracted to whimsy and folderol.

Cuisine: Modernist desserts
Suitable for: Modernist pastry chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 (or 5 if you’re a modernist pastry chef)

Buy this book
Room for Dessert
£39.95, Phaidon

Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman

Smitten Kitchen Everyday

What is it? Five years on from her debut book, this is the second outing for New York-based dating-turned-food blogger extraordinaire Deb Perelman of New York Times profiled smittenkitchen.com with over 100 recipes for ‘real people with busy lives’.

What does it look like? What is it about American-published cookbooks that makes them just so damn desirable? I’m not an uber font-nerd but the Minion typeface used here (originally developed by Adobe for Macs in 1990 according to a note at the back of the book) is particularly attractive and clean looking. At over 300 pages, the book has a certain authoritative weight and the glossy paper makes the 127 full-colour photographs pop.

Is it good bedtime reading?  Set aside that Grisham, the generous recipe introductions include plenty of culinary-related personal anecdotes and opinion, as well as cookery lore and background to the recipes themselves, making it a nighttime page-turner par excellence.

Killer recipes? Charred corn succotash with lime and crispy shallots; pea tortellini in parmesan broth; Manhattan-style clams with fregola; winter squash flatbread with hummus and za’atat;  ricotta blini with honey, orange and sea salt; raspberry hazelnut brioche bostock; chewy oatmeal raisin chocolate chip mega-cookies.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Despite an almost encyclopedic approach to global cuisine, you should have no trouble finding the vast majority of ingredients in a good supermarket.

What’s the faff factor? Make no mistake, this is ‘proper’ cooking and many of the recipes have several elements that need to be brought together at the point of serving, but with a little planning and organisation, they should be stress-free.

How often will I cook from the book? Every day (duh!).

What will I love? This is an American book, but, God bless them, they’ve included gram or millilitre equivalents for cup measures which rockets the book to the top of the usability charts for UK readers (other US publishers please take note). The guide for special menus at the back of the book that highlights vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and diary-free recipes (of which there are many) is particularly thoughtful.

What won’t I like? Me, if I find out you don’t love this book as much as I do.

Should I buy it? Only if you like cooking delicious food. Otherwise, give it a miss.

Cuisine: American/International
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 5 Stars

Buy this book
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
£25, Square Peg

Cook from this book
Crispy tofu and broccoli with sesame peanut pesto
Smoky sheet pan chicken with cauliflower

Think Like A Chef by Tom Colicchio

think like a chef

“God, my feet are killing me”, “If that commis messes up again he’s out the door”, “Wow, who’s the new waitress”. Just some of the thoughts that probably pass through the mind of your average chef on any given day. Happily, Think Like A Chef, the first cook book published by Top Chef judge and former head honcho at New York’s Gramercy Tavern, has it’s mind on slightly higher things.

First comes some basic techniques like roasting, and in particular, braising. Then Colicchio focuses in on three of his favourite ingredients: tomatoes, mushrooms and artichokes, demonstrating how they can be used as building blocks to simple or complex dishes.Chef Tom would like to “help you trust your instincts” and “free you from the feeling that you must follow a recipe”. The book is based on Colicchio’s cooking classes and as a result has a slightly unusual format.

Next, a chapter is devoted to a number of recipes based around a trilogy of ingredients, and illustrates how the application of various methods and techniques can produce a variety of results. Further chapters on components and favourites round out the “course”.

Colicchio is, suprise suprise, of Italian extraction. His food is influenced by his early home life, so pasta features heavily. However, his professional career has seen him working alongside such diverse talents as Alfred Portale of the Gotham Bar and Grill, Thomas Keller and Michel Bras. Colicchio has taken a little from each to create his own style.

Photography is as stunning as you would expect, and looks particularly attractive on the high grade glossy paper used for the book. The design is clear and uncluttered, with an understated use of colour which gives the whole thing a very classy feel. The book is very well written, with easily followed instructions and recipes. Key recipes from the book include Braised Fresh Pork Belly, Seared Tuna with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette and Fennel Salad and Artichoke Ravioli with Artichokes, Peas and Asparagus. The book also contains some wonderful condiments like corn relish and balsamic onion marmalade.

The unusual approach makes a welcome change from the bog standard recipe a page formula but most importantly, Colicchios passion for food and his desire to educate come through loud and clear, which makes for a highly entertaining read.

Think Like A Chef is useful not only for it’s excellent recipes, but also as a reference work for fundamental cooking techniques like stock and sauce making as well as the definitive method for braising meat fish and vegetables. Essential for all dedicated cooks.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Beginners, confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Think Like a Chef
Tom Colicchio 
£16.99 Crown Publications 

Chiltern Firehouse: The Cookbook by Andre Balazs and Nuno Mendes

Chiltern Firehouse

Chiltern Firehouse opened in Marylebone in early 2014 in a blaze of publicity and quickly became the hottest restaurant in the city (that’s enough bad puns for one review). Despite rave reviews (the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin said ‘the menu is touched with genius’) there was more media interest in which famous names owner and hotelier Andre Balazs (of Chateau Marmont, Hollywood fame) could attract than the dishes coming out of the open kitchen headed up by cult chef Nuno Mendes. This beautifully produced book, filled with thrilling recipes will help redress the balance.

If you’ve followed Lisbon-born Mendes’s career in the UK over the last decade from the molecular gastronomy-era Bacchus in Hoxton, through the influential Loft Project pop up to the critically acclaimed Viajante in Bethnal green, his appointment as head chef of an upscale American-style brasserie might have seemed leftfield. But reading the book’s frustratingly short autobiographical section (it comes to a sudden halt when Mendes arrives in London in 2004), you learn that the chef has worked not just for Ferran Adria and Jean George Vongerichten but at Wolfgang Puck’s big, busy Postrio in San Francisco and Mark Miller’s groundbreaking Southwestern cuisine restaurant Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, making him almost uniquely suited to the job.

He pays tribute to his mentors with dishes such as ‘Firehouse Caesar’, based on Miller’s recipe but with added crispy chicken skin, and a take on Puck’s herb gnocchi served with morels, peas, Parmesan cream and edible flowers. But mostly this is undiluted Mendes, filtering his Portuguese  heritage and travels to Spain, North and South America and Asia through his own very distinctive gastronomic lens in signature dishes such as the infamous crab doughnuts and visually arresting barley and oat risotto with courgettes, artichokes, spinach and herbs.

Recipes ricochet around the globe, from a Louisiana inspired Cajun Quail to Chinese-style lobster XO noodles and a Portuguese-Japanese fusion of grilled octopus with aubergine, daikon and mushrooms; a disparate-sounding collection but one unified by balanced and considered flavours, casual yet elegant presentation and simple good taste.

No attempt is made to hide the fact that Chiltern Firehouse is a glamorous destination; there’s an excellent chapter on the cocktails served in the fashionable bar and the many full page shots of the chic front of house team could have been ripped from the pages of Vogue. Yet there is true substance beyond all that style, enough to inspire and excite any experienced chef looking to expand their culinary horizons.

Cuisine: American/Portuguese
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Chiltern Firehouse
Andre Balazs and Nuno Mendes
£30, Preface

Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook

Gotham

You may be forgiven for thinking that the Gotham Bar and Grill was Bruce Wayne’s favourite place for steak. In fact, it’s a very successful restaurant in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Alfred Portale has been it’s chef for well over three decades, during which time he has won the coveted New York Times award of 3 stars. Every successful restaurant must have at least one cookery book to display in it’s lobby and sell to wide eyed tourists, and the Gotham is no exception .

The Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook is more than a souvenir for the travelling gastronome however. The book, with it’s 200 recipes and numerous sidebars containing information on techniques and ingredients provides a complete introduction to modern restaurant food.

The book is beautifully presented on high quality paper, with colour photographs throughout. All the food for the illustrations was prepared by Portale himself . Colour is also put to good use within the text, giving the book a distinctive and lively look.

Portale has an impeccable C V, with time spent working for Troisgros and Guerard. Unusually, he also studied flower arranging which has obviously had an influence on his style of presentation. His signature “Seafood Salad” would not look out of place on your mantelpiece.

Step by step photographic guides are included to demonstrate how these more complex presentations can be achieved. Alternative family style options are also included for those not disposed to attempt elaborate arrangements of food on plates.

Portales obvious passion for food and meticulous attention to detail is communicated throughout the book, despite being ghost written by Andrew Freidman. The extent of this passion is revealed when the reader is informed that about twenty different recipes for curry were tested before settling on the one finally included in the book.

Being an American publication, recipes refer to measurements in terms of cup”, and ingredients such as cilantro and fingerling potatoes. However, this does not prevent the book being highly desirable and very usable for Europeans, albeit with a little patience and care.

As well as the special occasion recipes, the book includes some excellent everyday dishes with a whole section dedicated to soups, snacks and sandwiches. The dessert section is comprehensive with “Warm Chocolate Cake with Toasted Almond Ice Cream” being particularly appealing.

The Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook will be of interested to those of us who enjoy reading collections of recipes as much as the latest Harry Potter. It constitutes a very good introduction to readers beginning to explore and develop their culinary skills, as well as providing lots to excite accomplished cooks wanting to serve something a little bit different at their next dinner party. A recommended purchase.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook
Alfred Portale
$45 Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group