Aska by Fredrik Berselius

Aska

What’s the USP? Cutting edge, natural cooking from a leading New York chef.

Who’s the author? Two Michelin-starred, Swedish-born chef Fredrik Berselius of Aska restaurant that’s located in a Brooklyn back street under the shadow of the Willamsburg Bridge.

What does it look like? The book is a very desireable object with its textured black and gold cover, elegant design and stunning landscape,  portrait and food photography.

Is it good bedtime reading? In addition to the inspirational food, Berselius writes evocatively about his homeland of Sweden, his foraging trips to upstate New York and being a restaurateur and chef in Brooklyn.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Recipes tick all the modish ‘New Nordic’ boxes with ingedients like aged diary cow, birch, buttermilk, lingonberries and white currents, some of which may be tricky to track down for the home cook.

What’s the faff factor? Berselius has his own distinctive style. Some of the the most impactful presentations are the most simple, yet belie the numerous processes that go into their creation. Lamb Heart Burnt in Bedstraw appears to be a black disc on the plate but is in fact brunoise of fermented sunchoke, sunchoke emulsion and rendered lamb heart fat dusted with a powder of lamb heart that’s been cured, dried, grated, dry-fried, burnt with bedstraw, dry-fried and burnt a second time then blended and passed.

How often will I cook from the book? Techniques such as smoking, pickling and fermenting (along with a fair bit of foraging) mean that cooking from the book will require a fair amount of committment in terms of time, energy and organisation. Definately not the book to reach for when you come home late from work and need to rustle something up in 20 minutes.

Killer recipes? Lichen, caramelised cream, pine mushroom, spruce and chanterelle; grilled eel head on a branch; mackerel and black locust; sourdough, smoked hake and toasted milk.

What will I love? Berselius might be a resolutely urban chef saying, ‘I knew I wanted to be in New York. I fell in love with the city as soon as I set foot here’, but his cooking draws on formative experiences and memories from growing up in the suburbs of Stockholm and visiting his grandmother in the north of Sweden with its ‘reindeeer and white and black birch bark’ and summers spent among the ‘wheat, oat, rapeseed, grazing cows, and horses’ of the lowlands. Berselius’s achingly beautiful creations put nature right there on the plate in front of you. The food ranges from delicate (lenghts of pickled and compressed cucmber are artfully decorated pickled linden flowers) to red in tooth and claw (truffles made from pigs blood, butter and rose hip) but always seem to evoke some wild Nordic landscape.

What won’t I like? Some readers may find the book a little po-faced and over serious.

Should I buy it? Aska provides genuine insight into the mind of an exciting chef who is pushing the boundaries of his own creativity. As accomplished as Berselius obviously is, I get the feeling that there is much more to come from him. Roll on Aska book two.

Cuisine: Progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Aska
£39.95 Phaidon

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

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