Books Issue 2017: Open up

A worthwhile quartet of new reads from three chefs and one wine writer.

click to enlarge From Moto: The Cookbook, an edible menu from chef Homaro Cantu. - Photography © 2017 by Amy Stallard
Photography © 2017 by Amy Stallard
From Moto: The Cookbook, an edible menu from chef Homaro Cantu.

The “world’s greatest chef,” Ferran Adrià, changed contemporary cuisine. He unshackled modern chefs from centuries of Old World technique, questioning the why and what if of great food, and launched a period of breathless discovery in global kitchens. Two new cookbooks from America’s foremost culinary alchemists unlock the secrets of their avant-garde dishes.

click to enlarge Duck prosciutto with nori peanut butter and pickled carrot brioche from Dufresne's book. - Eric Medsker
Eric Medsker
Duck prosciutto with nori peanut butter and pickled carrot brioche from Dufresne's book.

Homaro Cantu’s Moto: The Cookbook (Little, Brown and Company, $50) and Wylie Dufresne’s WD~50: The Cookbook (HarperCollins, $75) are both pioneering volumes peeking behind the curtain and shining light on many previously secret techniques that push the boundaries of taste and texture.

Cantu, often homeless as a youth, was saved by discovering science and cooking. He became a protégé of Chicago’s legendary Charlie Trotter. Like many chefs, Cantu was obsessive and worked long hours. He didn’t “just want to make you dinner. He wanted to change the world.” Sadly, driven souls often have hidden demons. Like the perfectionist French chef Bernard Loiseau, he took his own life without explanation. We can’t get inside the mind of what seems to outside observers like a senseless act, but we may rejoice that Cantu’s completed cookbook has now been published.

It celebrates 10 years of Moto, his renowned Michelin-starred restaurant, through the 10 most original dishes from each year. I’ll never forget visiting in 2006, ordering from — and then being instructed to eat — the menu. Cantu was cautious about keeping his innovations under wraps, lest other chefs steal his ideas. Some techniques, such as edible inkjet printing and use of Class IV CO2 lasers, are out of the realm for home chefs in any case. But other modernist techniques like sous-vide immersion circulators and pressurized gas canister foams are now available to the adventurous ones.

The collection of recipes draws upon Cantu’s penchant for whimsy such as KFC ice cream, a fennel Slurpee or glazed doughnut soup. How about a margarita made with chorizo-infused tequila? The book itself is striking, and features evocative photographs by Amy Stallard that capture Moto's quirky vibe.

Wylie Dufresne is still with us, though he closed WD~50 in 2014 when real estate developers “razed his building to make way for luxury condominiums.” It turns out that his success at revitalizing NYC’s Lower East Side came back to bite him after 12 years. Luckily for us, Dufresne documented his wild, free-spirited ride as one of the country’s groundbreaking chefs.

This handsome book — in an egg yolk-colored slipcase — has a bold look with expressive photos from Eric Medsker that capture the “urban geometry” of Dufresne’s iconic dishes. There’s a revery on deep-fried mayo, the secret to deconstructed eggs Benedict (freeze pop sleeves), and the genesis of flavored glassine papers and meat glue. These are modernist techniques, but they’re not sci-fi; I can’t wait to make the root beer chews. This is an essential work of culinary memorabilia.

click to enlarge Champagne by Peter Liem emphasizes terrior. - Photography copyright 2017 by Gentl and Hyers
Photography copyright 2017 by Gentl and Hyers
Champagne by Peter Liem emphasizes terrior.

Peter Liem’s striking volume, Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region (Ten Speed Press, $80), calls upon his unparalleled experience as one of the few international wine writers based in the region. It’s a box set that includes a separate drawer housing a wonderful series of seven maps by French publisher Louis Larmat. The original series of beautifully drawn cartography was a run of 150 copies published in 1944. That initial release was of maps folded into an oversize, unbound portfolio. What’s before me are reproductions of the original prints and remain the most “detailed vineyard maps of the Champagne region that are publicly available.”

These alone are worth the price of the book. I wish I had a larger home to frame them all to hang in my Champagne salon. Sadly, I have to limit their use for reference. But they’re an invaluable resource nonetheless — and a companion to Liem’s pithy text, which emphasizes the importance of terrior in the production of Champagne. (If you’re not familiar with the concept, see my Drink More Wine column.)

Liem argues that the 21st century has seen a shift from the primacy of cellar practices to a focus on Champagne’s vineyards. He covers history, techniques and favorite producers, but the heart of the book examines seven regions to answer what gives each wine its identity. Why does it taste the way it does and what is the winemaker trying to express? It’s a fascinating read for bubble aficionados.

click to enlarge Sour oranges for Van Aken's classic mojo. - From Norman Van Aken’s Florida Kitchen, by Norman Van Aken. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University Press of Florida.
From Norman Van Aken’s Florida Kitchen, by Norman Van Aken. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University Press of Florida.
Sour oranges for Van Aken's classic mojo.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Norman Van Aken — whom Anthony Bourdain calls “the big dog of Florida cooking” — has a new book focused on his Florida Kitchen (University Press of Florida, $28). Van Aken’s breezy writing style gently guides you through 11 chapters, covering every category you need to know.

His easy-to-follow recipes unlock the secrets of what he refers to as the power of Florida foodways. It’s based on a philosophy that “flavors don’t go out of fashion — they evolve.” As such, there’s everything from soups (Chowder, the Red One... Like Sailors Make) to a series of brunch dishes built on classic sour orange mojo influenced by our Latino neighbors.

Van Aken was an early champion of drawing upon multiple world gastronomic cultures in his 1988 book, On Fusion Cooking. In this read, he’s got a Peru-Japan mashup (Nikkei) and the intriguing combo of bacon-speckled hush puppies, chicken liver butter and Asian spice syrup. You get the idea.

Integrated into the recipes are brief paeans to New World cuisine and those a-ha moments that shape his food, like using Mexican Coke (which uses cane sugar instead of corn syrup) to braise collard greens. The book concludes with inventive cocktails, as well as nearly 50 relishes, salsas and sauces to put a big smile on your face.

About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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