What’s the USP? The Garden Chef explores the growing (pun intended) worldwide phenomenon of top chefs cultivating their own produce for their restaurants in on-site kitchen gardens. The book includes ‘recipes and stories from plant to plate’.
Who is the author? The book has been created from the contributions of chefs from 40 high-end restaurants around the globe which most notably include Simon Rogan from L’enclume in England, Ben Shewry from Attica in Melbourne, Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Michel and Cesar Troisgros from Trisgros in France. The introduction is by Jeremy Fox of Bridie G’s in Santa Monica who is also the author of the brilliant cookbook On Vegetables, also published by Phaidon and which is cookbookreview.blog five star-reviewed.
What does it look like? Expect a riot of raised beds, a plethora of polytunnels and a great deal of gathering in the fields. The accent is as much on ‘garden’ as it is ‘chef’. The majority of the 80 recipes are illustrated and the food does look great, but it’s rather overshadowed by all the greenery.
Is it good bedtime reading? The chef or chefs of each restaurant (some are run by duos including Michael and Iain Pennington at The Ethicurean just outside Bristol and Gaston Acurio and Juan David Ocampo of Astrid Y Gaston in Lima) are given a full page to espouse their horticultural and culinary philosophies, earning The Garden Chef space on your bedside table.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ve seen the Indiana Jones movies, right? Unless you cultivate your own incredibly vast and comprehensive kitchen garden, be prepared for an amazing adventure where you’ll raid the lost ark, discover the temple of doom and embark on the last crusade to track down sangre de toro potatoes, kalanchoe blossfeldiana and Mexican pepperleaf, among many, many other obscure ingredients that you definitely won’t find at your local Asda.
What’s the faff factor? These are recipes aimed fair and square at the professional chef community. There are dishes achievable for the home cook, but really they are not the main reason you would buy this book; it exists primarily to document and give a window into a particular aspect of the modern restaurant scene.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? If you are up for attempting them, the recipes are detailed enough to follow to successful completion.
How often will I cook from the book? That depends. How often are you in the mood for something like chef Ana Ros’s ‘Rabbit That Wants to be Mexican Chicken’ where you’ll need to wrap rabbit mousse in whole chicken skins and serve with rabbit sauce flavoured with star anise and chilli, roasted carrots, apricot gel, carrot top pesto and hibiscus flowers?
Killer recipes? Don’t get me wrong, the book is full of delicious things you’ll want to eat like The Quay’s Tennouji white turnip, blue swimmer crab and Jersey Wakefield cabbage with fermented cabbage juice and brown butter dressing, but you’ll probably want to go to the restaurant and try them rather than cook them yourself, even if that does mean flying half-way around the world. Doable recipes include white and green pizza from Roberta’s in Brooklyn and cream of vegetable soup from The Sportsman in Seasalter.
What will I love? If you’ve been looking for inspiration to create your own kitchen garden, be it for your restaurant or your home, then you couldn’t ask for a better book. There are even garden tips and the chefs favourite heritage varieties to give you a kick start, although if you want step by step guidance on how to actually get out there and do it you’ll need to look elsewhere.
What won’t I like? The decision has been taken not to include any images of the interior of any of the restaurants, which gives the book a feeling of incompleteness. This is partly understandable, given that the thrust of the book is on the chef’s activities outside their restaurants rather than in them. However, after reading the book, you might well be interested in planning a visit to one or more of the places included and wonder what you are letting yourself in for. Of course, you can google the restaurant’s website and reviews for images, but that’s sort of beside the point; you can google images of many of the restaurant’s gardens and dishes too if you are minded to.
Should I buy it? It’s a great book but may have niche appeal. If you are a keen gardener or aspire to be one, as well as a foodie, you will dig (pun intended) this book. If you want to know more about an influential trend that is helping to define to the current global high-end restaurant scene, this is also a must-read.
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars
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The Garden Chef: Recipes and Stories from Plant to Plate
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