Being the food maniac that I am I tend to read, and re-read, my favorite cookbooks over and over like I would with a favorite novel. Seriously. I’ve got problems, I know. But a good, well thought out cookbook deserves our attention. It breeds a familiarity too when recipes can seem daunting and complicated. While I can’t say this book is for beginners it is definitely something to behold. The variety of ingredients and sheer volume of this encyclopedic book can be intimidating but this is no ordinary cookbook. The authors had a lofty goal in mind when they dreamed up the concept so why shouldn’t I spend hours poring over it then?
Brought to us by the incredibly talented team of Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park and Nomad fame, this is a genuine, unique take on what a cookbook is, or should be. Rather than breaking chapters up by the standard “starters, mains, desserts” formula they took on a mammoth task by asking one simple question: What is NY cuisine? Seems simple enough on the surface to answer a question like that right? But if you think about it for a moment you can see that there is no easy answer to that question. NY has been a cultural melting pot for a few centuries now and there are world influences in every facet of the city, none more than the world of cuisine. With all of the Asian fusion, sushi, French, Italian, Greek, Russian and South American influences throughout NY , to name but a few, it is hard to say “Alright, tonight I am eating some classic NY food.”
When you start to grasp the enormity of the project that Humm and Guidara took on you can’t help but see how much of a labor of love this book is. They basically visited dozens of NY state farms and took an in depth look at the best of the best of as many local products as they could. From that produce they would develop a few recipes with one of those ingredients as the highlight. You following me so far? Let me give you an idea. For the Apple chapter they visit a NY apple farm, give a brief description of the farm and then present 3 recipes. the chapters are set up alphabetically so if you are looking for something specific it is easy enough to get to it quickly.
While they do state that they designed this book with the home cook in mind some of the recipes can seem like quite the challenge to pull off. This is where the familiarity I mentioned earlier can help. Any time I’ve tried a recipe from this I’ve read it word for word at least 10 times before I attempt to execute it. You might also end up stuck missing a few ingredients from time to time but one of the best aspect of this book is that they provide an email address to write to them if you have any questions. As it turned out I had a question the first time I tried a recipe, wrote to them and they wrote me back within a day! So, while many of the recipes might seem tough to pull off and call for some tricky techniques and/or ingredients there is no excuse not to try them. You’ve got the chefs from one of highest rated restaurants in the world at your disposal people! For a food maniac like me that is the equivalent of a teenager having Katy Perry’s personal email address. Don’t worry though. I haven’t started stalking them or anything. I’m keeping it purely food related for now.
Living in the Montreal area, this book gives me the urge to drive all over NY state and hit some of these places up. A big city like NY can feel pretty faceless at times what with so many people and the hectic pace of life. A book like this brings back a sense of community that so many big cities seem to be losing more and more. This put faces and names to the produce you are buying and the food that you are preparing. It makes you want to take a day trip on a Saturday to get to know a local farmer and make a kick ass meal from the fruits(or vegetable!) of their labor. Aiding immensely in the brilliant concept of the book is the breathtaking photography provided by Francesco Tonelli. Simply put the images in this book are a work of art all on their own. They bring a warmth and level of intimacy that is unparalleled amongst most cookbooks.
You’ve all been following me long enough now to know I have two young kids at home and this may not be a book I go to several times a week for dinner ideas but so far each dish I’ve produced from here have been delicious beyond my expectations and not as complicated as they might appear to be. So if you feel like you’ve got some decent skills and are ready to cook like a 3 star Michelin chef then get this book. If you like to entertain and cook for friends and family then get this book. You will blow people away.
I feel like I’ve made it sound like every recipe in here will take days to make and having you in a crying heap, covered in flour and grease by the end but that really isn’t the case. This last image here is a Delmonico Steak that I was able to bust out on a week night with minimal prep time and it was freaking fantastic. Steak is dead simple and with a simple addition of this herb infused butter you can elevate a basic steak into a masterpiece.
I’ve now got a cookbook collection bordering on the ridiculous and this honestly may be the best one yet. The entire book from the idea behind it to the process of visiting all of the farms to the quality of recipes and the beauty of the images, this is a complete work of art.