|By JULIETTE ROSSANT |
There seems to be a driving principle in cookbooks these days to get creative with organization. Out are traditional chapters or sections on meats, fish, or sweets. In are eclectic ways to underscore a chef's style.
Take Geoffrey Zakarian. He is chef of Town at the Chambers Hotel in Midtown and Country in the Carlton Hotel near Madison Square Park. He must have spent a great deal of time thinking up organizational priciples behind his cookbook Town/Country: 150 Recipes for Life Around the Table (Clarkson Potter 2006), written with David Gibbons.
Town/Country has a Table of Contents ordered into chapters, alphabetized by main ingredient. Thus, chapters read: Acorn Squash, Anchovies, Apples... Watermelon, Yoghurt, and Zucchini. (Come on! What did you expect from a guy whose last name starts with the letter "z"?)
Geoffrey chose the main ingredients by his guiding pricinple, which he calls the "Yummy Factor." Now, what does "Yummy Factor" mean to a chef? To Geoffrey, "yummy" is related to James Beard's taste memory:
It is about my most deeply felt connections to certain ingredients, and its also about a childlike delight and feeling of discovery which makes sense because, after all, I first experienced those sensations as a kid and they still return deliciously whenever I eat my favorite foods. (p. 8)A shorter way to say all this might be that Geoffrey has presented us with recipes for 65 main ingredients that he adores.
Within the recipe chapters is Geoffrey's concept about Pairings - salty versus sweet, crunchy versus smooth, etc.
A further, parallel concept is "Town" and "Country":
The two types of dining town and country are not so much opposites as two routes to the same destination. Country style is a natural extension of town style because man does not live by caviar alone; sometimes he must have a bowl of pasta. Just as "town" is somewhat formal and sophisticated yet unpretentious, so "country" is casual and relaxed yet never haphazard. (p. 10)Finally, Geoffrey also refers to his formative French training and his family background, Armenian and Polish.
With so much happening -- overlapping, crisscrossing, and enriching -- the results are strong recipes for seasonal ingredients. Whether going town or country, what counts is finding tempting ingredients in the market, a recipe to match, having fun in the kitchen trying to create it, and then eating the results.
Despite all these idiosyncratic organizational rules, the book works well. Pretend that it is Autumn. The maples are turning color, and you want to capture the flavor of the season acorn squash fits the bill. The town recipe is Acorn Squash, Serrano Ham, and Bufala Mozzarella (p.16), and the country recipe is Acorn Squash Pie with Anisette Cookie Crust (p. 18). You could make both! They are not simple recipes, but the steps are well described and could easily be followed by a cook, though not by a novice.
The play of sophistication and casual is clear in the two recipes for arugula with pasta. The town recipe is Arugla Cannelloni with Chanterelle Sauce (pp. 26-8) and the country is Ziti with Arugula Pesto and Crispy Prosciutto (pp. 29-31) with a handsome photograph of the dish by appropriately named Quentin Bacon. The country recipe is a fine family dish for a summer meal with contrasting textures of crispy and smooth, and the cannelloni recipe is rich and sophisticated. Geoffrey suggest substitutes for fresh chanterelles (a little soaked dried chanterelle mixed with more reasonably priced wild mushrooms), and he suggests using egg roll or wonton wrappers in place of fresh pasta dough.
How does Geoffrey approach rabbit (a Superchefblog favorite stumper)? His country recipe is a traditional red wine stew, Rabbit "Coq Au Vin" Style (p. 198-9), made with morels and pearl onions. The town recipe, Pappardelle with Rabbit Ragu (p. 196-7), is flavored with mascarpone and cardamom. Both stews enliven what is often very dry meat, though both recipes also have ingredients too rich to be rustic, so it is hard to say why one fits country and the other fits town.
A few of the ingredients like lamb and chicken get more than two recipes, with clever pairings of Butter-Basted Roasted Chicken (town) and Roasted Chicken with Herb Salad (country) (pp. 82-4) which both turn out succulent, rich birds prepared in slightly different ways.
Throughout the book, there are only glimpses of the rich tradition of the Armenian kitchen. Some wonderful ingredients are missing, like basturma, bulgur, and pomegranate syrup, as well as dishes ranging from the Levant with its Eastern Mediterrean shorelines to the Caucasus with its moutainous terrains. With Town/Country, Geoffrey has written a fine cookbook, but perhaps such missing ingredients and dishes indicate there is another cookbook up his sleeve -- anyone for Mountaintop/Waterside?
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