It's unlikely that a Top Chef champion is going to show up in your kitchen to whip up oil poached shrimp and soba noodles, but if you have Stephanie Izard's cookbook, Girl in the Kitchen, and an hour, that can be your dinner. The alternative is making your way to Chicago to eat at Izard's hot restaurant, Girl and the Goat.
Chefs are rock stars these days, and restaurants are tourist attractions. One of the most exciting elements of travel is eating the food of another region, but travel is expensive. A cookbook from a faraway restaurant is an easy and effective way of bringing a destination to you.
New cookbook releases of the past couple months have been heavy on the celebrity chef. Some of them are bringing their restaurant food to your house. Some of them are offering their take on home cooking. And some of them are just showing off.
It seems every chef known by the food obsessed released a book in the past couple of months. Today, we offer highlights from the season, with a look at what to expect from the book and who would appreciate it.
And if it isn't for you, cookbooks fit pretty neatly under the tree.
Unless you want to spring for a plane ticket.
The book for someone who has watched every season of "Top Chef"
Girl in the Kitchen: How a Top Chef Cooks, Thinks, Shops, Eats & Drinks
By Stephanie Izard Chronicle Books, 256 pages, $29.95
Fans of Stephanie Izard who are aware of her only as the winner of the fourth season of the competitive cooking show on Bravo are missing the best part of her story. She parlayed that win into a new restaurant in Chicago, Girl and the Goat, which has been buzzworthy since it opened in 2010. The book has more than 80 recipes, which translate her simple plates of interesting combinations to the home kitchen.
The book is strewn with tips on shopping, drink pairing and dish development. It's great information, though sometimes all the pieces make it difficult to concentrate on the dish at hand. Every bit of information in there is worth the effort it might take to find it.
The book for someone who wants dessert, but maybe not until tomorrow
Momofuku Milk Bar
By Christina Tosi Crown Publishing, 256 pages, $35
When having dessert at one of the Momofuku restaurants in New York City, it seems deceptively simple. Even without many elements, there are a million flavors. How do they do that? The answer is in this book. And it's actually pretty obvious.
They aren't simple at all.
The fun here is that classic flavors are replicated, reimagined and combined into desserts that are at the same time familiar and thoroughly unique. The book is composed of recipes for elements of desserts. Then a recipe for an actual dessert is mostly a list of the previous recipes — sometimes two, sometimes seven — combined in some way to delicious effect. Nothing is hard, few things are uncomplicated, everything is worth it.
The book for someone who knows the favorite chef of celebrity chefs
Rustic Italian Food
By Marc Vetri Ten Speed Press, 304 pages, $35
Philadelphia's Marc Vetri will unapologetically teach you the way Italian food has been made for centuries, but in doing so will apply modern sensibilities that make his food the favorite of chefs around the country. His book doesn't just show how to make old-school meatballs, but if you want to go all the way, you can learn to make the bread that will go in them. Another chapter is devoted to sausages and cured meats.
Not sure about making your own pasta? Start with the spinach and ricotta gnudi. They're simple and as sexy as they sound, assuming you know that the "g" is silent.
The book for someone who plates exclusively with tweezers
Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook
By Daniel Humm Little, Brown & Co., 384 pages, $50
Eleven Madison Park won the James Beard Award for best restaurant in the country this year. Its food is beautiful and sophisticated to a degree that isn't replicable at home. Or is it? Reading some of the recipes here, you might think you can tackle it. Or you might just sit back and stare longingly at the beautiful photos. And they are beautiful.
The book for someone who wants to make the pizza the stars eat
The Mozza Cookbook: Recipes from Los Angeles's Favorite Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
By Nancy Silverton Knopf Doubleday, 368 pages, $35
The Mozzas in Los Angeles — Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza — are A-list hangouts, and pizza is the game here. Nancy Silverton is one of the country's most decorated bakers, and if you aspire to make pizza at home, you'd do well to start with her recipe for dough. The chapter on pizza then goes directly into a 20-point list of the do's and don'ts of piemaking.
The book for someone who cooks by the calendar
Molto Batali: Simple Family Meals From My Home to Yours
By Mario Batali HarperCollins, 336 pages, $29.99
It's sort of hard to believe every cookbook isn't arranged in this way. Instead of separating the book into chapters based on meat, vegetable, dessert, etc., Mario Batali breaks his latest down into 12 chapters, one based on what we should be cooking each month of the year. Each month gets some combination of an antipasto, pasta, entree, side and dessert that makes sense that month from traditional and seasonal points of view. And each month includes a five-dish menu that would be suitable for a family meal.
The polpettona ripiena — stuffed meatloaf — looks like a dish to try immediately. But it's on the March menu. Don't want to jump the gun.
The book for someone who wants to know the reason behind the rules
Twenty: 20 Techniques, 200 Recipes, A Cook's Manifesto
By Michael Ruhlman Chronicle Books, 368 pages, $40
Michael Ruhlman is not a chef, but his books are likely to turn his readers into them. His new book concentrates on techniques — 20 of them— over recipes. The thinking is that after mastering the 20 basic concepts, you'll see ingredients, relate them to techniques and won't need recipes. This is not minimalist instruction, though. The book is weighty, with in-depth instruction and excellent, detailed photography to move you from step to step.
The book for recent devotees of the Food Network who actually like to cook
Cook Like a Rock Star: 125 Recipes, Lessons, and Culinary Secrets
By Anne Burrell Crown Publishing, 256 pages, $27.99
Before the Food Network changed its format to one in which every show either has people trying to outstack premade cakes for the chance at a $10,000 prize or features a doyenne spouting catch phrases and trying to outsimple the show before it, there were cooking shows. Shows where real chefs got in front of the camera and showed the audience how to make a dish, with all the whys and the hows.
Somehow, Anne Burrell managed to sneak into the current lineup with that old-school premise. Her book reflects her supersized personality. The recipes are mostly slight twists on classics. And don't skip reading the glossary at the beginning of the book so you are ready when asked to "BTB, RTS." (Bring to boil, reduce to simmer.)
The book for someone who wants a challenge, and a payoff
Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes
By Jean-Georges Vongerichten Crown Publishing, 256 pages, $40
Jean-Georges built a global empire on a high-end fusion of French and Asian. That gets simplified here, without compromising flavors and intricate presentation. And there are distinct challenges. It is what Jean-Georges would make at home, so there are some not-to-be-found-at-the-megamart ingredients and advanced techniques, but nothing that a high-level home cook can't tackle.
The book for someone who wants to upscale down-home
My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking
By John Besh Andrews McMeel, 272 pages, $35
John Besh runs some of the most notable restaurants in New Orleans, and he celebrated those in his first book. But he calls this, his second book, "a passionate plea for home cooking." The organization is unique, with chapters including breakfast, brunch, cast iron cookery, barbecue, frying and goose(?!). It's easy to imagine starting a day with Besh's poached eggs and satsuma hollandaise over crab cakes, and ending it with his chicken fricassee.
Jim Webster can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746.