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Archive for Books

BOOK REVIEW: Life, On The Line

Life, On The Line, has a double meaning. Photo courtesy Gotham Books.


Uber-foodies know the name Grant Achatz (pronounced AK-its), the wunderkind chef whose brilliant career, laden with the top honors and awards,* almost came to a tragic end.

In 2007, the year after his Chicago restaurant, Alinea, was named the best in the country by Gourmet magazine, Achatz was diagnosed with Stage IV squamous cell carcinoma cancer of the tongue (there is no Stage V). The protocol to save his life was to remove his tongue and part of his jaw, which would have ended his ability to taste and to speak. He was 33 years old, one of the world’s great young chefs.

Fortunately for Achatz and his many friends and fans, his business partner, Nick Kokonas, found a clinical trial at the University of Chicago, which used chemotherapy and radiation instead of surgery. Treatment was gruesome but successful; the chef’s sense of taste, obliterated by the treatment, ultimately returned. The food-loving universe sends a million thanks to Kokonas and the doctors involved.

In October 2008, Achatz and Kokonas published Alinea, a hardcover coffee table book featuring more than 100 of the restaurant’s recipes (exquisite, but not for the beginner!).


In March 2011, the team’s second book, Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat, was published. It is now available in paperback and Kindle editions.

Life, On The Line

We received a review copy earlier this year, but it got fused into a pile of books waiting to be read (the pile is 44 inches high). Finally, with a rare day of free time (Independence Day, like most national holidays, is one of our book catch up days), we cracked it. We started reading in the morning, headed to a friend’s house, plopped onto a chaise longue and breezed through all 390 pages before we went to sleep—taking an hour or so to watch the fireworks and interact with other house guests.

Beautifully written (the voices of Achatz and Kokonas are virtually identical, leading us to guess that a professional writer iced the cake, as it were), we eagerly devoured chapter after chapter.

*Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs,” 2002; James Beard Foundation”s “Rising Star Chef Of The Year,” 2003; Gourmet magazine’s “Best Restaurant in America,” 2006; James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Chef,” 2007; Restaurant magazine’s “#1 Restaurant in North America” and “#7 Restaurant In The Word,” 2010.


Life, On The Line has a double meaning, detailing Achatz’s life as a chef on the kitchen line and his almost miraculous survival, when the cancer put his life on the line. Like many top chefs, he has a passion, energy and work ethic that seem almost unbelievable. There are many people who work ridiculously long hours, but few of those jobs require the combination of constant creativity, staff supervision and training, and pressure to produce perfection for five or six hours at the end of a long day—not to mention standing on your feet in a hot kitchen.

Young Grant, who grew up in the small town of St. Clair, Michigan, began his culinary career peeling vegetables and cracking eggs in his grandmother’s café—a family affair that included his mother and aunts. He notes, “I never got an Easy Bake oven or a play kitchen. I played every day at the Achatz Café….”

His parents then started their own successful restaurant, and by high school he had assumed weekly shifts at Achatz Depot—alongside his parents, uncles and cousins.


Grant Achatz receiving a 2009 James Beard Award, one of several different Beard Awards, for his Alinea cookbook. Photo courtesy James Beard Foundation.


From Student To Star

After high school, Achatz headed to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. He began a restaurant externship at Grand Rapids’ finest restaurant, starting at the lowest level: peeling vegetables and prepping ingredients for the meals, making soups and salad dressings. In a mere month, he was moved to the roast/grill station on the hot line—a fast-track promotion for the 19-year-old culinary student.

To fast-forward: Achatz then began as a commis, or prep cook (from the French word for assistant), at the celebrated French Laundry in Napa Valley. (Do you know the different positions in a professional kitchen?
Here they are, from top (chef de cuisine or executive chef) to bottom (kitchen assistant).

French Laundry was then regarded as the best restaurant in America (and remains a contender for top honors, depending on who’s creating the list). Achatz rose to sous-chef under mentor Thomas Keller before taking over the kitchen at Trio, outside of Chicago. One of his best customers was Nick Kokonas, who three years later bankrolled his next move: chef/co-owner of Alinea. Far more than serving as financier, Kokonas became the all-around business partner most entrepreneurs can only hope for.

The heart and soul of the book is Achatz’s journey from culinary school to top of the world at a very young age. No prima donna, he is Everychef. His path was similar to that of many gifted chefs, most of whom work fourteen hour, backbreaking days to create beautiful cuisine. Not every chef wins the accolades Achatz has and/or ends up owning a renowned restaurant, but most of them merit an A for effort. If you enjoy a great restaurant meal, Life, On The Line will give you a far greater appreciation of it.

Once Achatz and Kokonas begin to discuss a partnership, Achatz’s chapters alternate with those penned by Kokonas, who provides a perspective on restaurant development and management (not easy—another reason to more deeply appreciate that delicious meal).

The book comprises behind-the-scenes insights—general management and front of the house views from Kokonas, back of the house perspectives from Achatz. It’s a serious book, with one amusing section early on (amusing to us, frustrating to Chef Achatz):

The young culinary school graduate decides to leave his unhappy job at Charlie Trotter’s after eight weeks (read the Chapter 5 and you’ll see that writing well is the best revenge). Using his savings (“There aren’t a whole lot of ways to spend money in St. Clair or Grand Rapids….”), he embarks on what he believes will be an inspirational three-star restaurant tour of Europe, booking dinners at Les Crayères (average meal, condescending service), Georges Blanc (grey, overcooked squab and indifferent/insulting response from the chef and maitre ‘d) and Enoteca Pincchiori in Florence (good but not celestial). His best meal was at an unnamed family restaurant with superb home cooking, that happened to be on a bike route he took.

He returned to the U.S. and found his inspiration in California, with Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. To get the tryout, he wrote a letter a day for fourteen days, telling Chef Keller why he wanted the job. The rest is culinary history.

If you’ve never had Achatz’s food, by the middle of the book you’ll feel as if you had. It’s a delicious gastronomic experience.

Alinea: A New Train Of Thought

Alinea is an editor’s mark denoting the beginning of a new train of thought, exemplified by a new paragraph. It is more commonly known as the paragraph mark, less commonly as the pilcrow. The literal translation from Latin, a linea, means “off the line.”

There’s a double meaning: Alinea represents a new train of thought about food, and as a restaurant, the food comes “off the line.” The line is the section of the kitchen where the food is cooked.

You have to know, or know of, Achatz’s food to be in love with this book. Then, you can see, smell and taste every dish he describes.

We were fortunate enough to dine twice at Trio during his tenure, and then at Alinea. We love the total experience he creates: innovative, intellectual, breathtaking and exquisitely delicious food, presented in new ways, down to the custom-made serving pieces designed to showcase a particular dish. Why serve a slice of seared foie gras with rhubarb purée, when you can purée the foie gras, mold it into a thin, hollow cylinder and fill it with rhubarb foam?

The presentation comprises small tastes of many different courses (maybe 18, maybe 40), that push the envelope and create a memorable evening.

Molecular Gastronomy

We are cautioned by Kokonas not to refer to the cuisine as molecular gastronomy, which is perceived of by some of its finest practitioners as having overtones of gimickry and mad-scientist cooking. The U.K.’s Heston Blumenthal dislikes the term, believing it makes the cuisine sound “complicated” (it is!) and “elitist” (it is!).

Ferran Adrià, the Catalan chef, has referred to his cooking as deconstructivist (not exactly tasty-sounding!). Deconstruction is a method in which the elements of a classic dish appear in a different shape or form.† Hervé This, the “father of molecular gastronomy,” reintroduced the concept in 2004 as “culinary constructivism.”

According to Blumenthal, whose restaurant, The Fat Duck, has been named the best restaurant in the world more than once (for the past three years, the honor has gone to Noma in Copenhagen, helmed by chef/co-owner, René Redzepi, an El Bulli alumnus):

“The fashionable term ‘molecular gastronomy’ was introduced relatively recently, in 1992, to name a particular academic workshop for scientists and chefs on the basic food chemistry of traditional dishes. That workshop did not influence our approach, and the term ‘molecular gastronomy’ does not describe our cooking, or indeed any style of cooking….

“We may use modern thickeners, sugar substitutes, enzymes, liquid nitrogen, sous-vide, dehydration, and other nontraditional means, but these do not define our cooking. They are a few of the many tools that we are fortunate to have available as we strive to make delicious and stimulating dishes” (see the entire statement).

Some chefs prefer the term “culinary physics” and “experimental cuisine.” Anything is fine with us: Just tell us what it is!

Otherwise, we nominate “innovation cuisine,” given that this decade’s innovation can become the next decade’s mainstream. To decide for yourself, check out some of the techniques here. There are emulification, fragrant foams, vapors, gelification, spherification, reverse spherification, other reshaped liquids, fatty liquids transformed into powders and other concepts from food science.

Here’s a history of molecular gastronomy. You can also pick up a copy of Hervé This’s book, Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor.

As Kokonas wrote in an online article: “A trip to El Bulli restaurant in Roses, Spain under the direction of chef Ferran Adrià let Grant know that you could take classical technique, apply equal measures of whimsy, intelligence, creativity and technology, and transform the dining experience.”

Some of Achatz’s dishes (from Trio and Alinea):

  • Essence of Pizza, ultra-thin potato starch paper imbued with flavors of garlic powder, tomato powder, paprika and fennel pollen, along with congealed mozzarella fat, the size of a stamp.
  • Cumin Candied Corn, a losenge of savory corn panna cotta wrapped in cumin-flavored sugar film.
  • Wild Turbot With Hyacinth Vapor, the fish in a small bowl set in a larger one filled with fresh hyacinth flowers, over which boiling water is poured to create an aromatic environment (other dishes had environments created from burning cinnamon sticks or oak leaves).
  • Stock set up to resemble a sponge, imbued with flavors of the sea.
  • A micro-sandwich of passionfruit sponge between layers of dehydrated prosciutto.
  • If you’re inspired by this menu, book a trip to Alinea. It’s not an easy reservation to get, but the book tells us that January is the slow month.

    January is not Chicago’s kindest month, but the experience will be worth it. Try to rea the book first.

    †In a simple example, think of Eggplant Parmesan, deconstructed. Instead of the fried eggplant slices baked with mozzarella and tomato sauce, the eggplant is sautéed in olive oil and topped with ricotta and sauce. Instead of breaded slices, bread crumbs are used as a garnish.



    TIP OF THE DAY & BOOK: The Art Of Beef Cutting

    If you love beef, you can save money (and
    perhaps discover a new hobby) by butchering primal cuts. Photo courtesy Wiley.


    Our tip of the day is to beef lovers: savor the rib-eye cap (more about that below). You’ll learn about it in this new book on butchering beef at home. Of all members of THE NIBBLE team, we weren’t surprised when chef Johnny Gnall raised his hand at the opportunity to interview expert butcher Kari Underly and read her new book. Here is his review, along with his thumbs up for giving the book as a Father’s Day gift to a beef-besotted dad. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    Kari Underly has been cutting meat for over 30 years. Even with a grandmother, a grandfather, and a father who all worked as butchers, this is a significant accomplishment in a mostly male-dominated field.

    But Underly is the proof in the proverbial pudding (blood pudding, perhaps?) that there is no room for sexism around the butcher block. She completed a three-year apprenticeship at age 21 to become a journeyman meat cutter (well, perhaps the title is sexist).

    Since then, Underly has established herself time and again as an authority in all things meat, from marketing and merchandising to education; and now, publishing.


    Her new book, The Art of Beef Cutting: A Meat Professional’s Guide to Butchering and Merchandising, showcases just how extensive her knowledge and expertise are. The book includes, among other things, a step-by-step, photo-illustrated set of instructions for breaking down each primal cut in a side of beef.

    What that means, in layman’s terms, is that you could, theoretically, start with an entire steer, and with patience, care, and “The Art of Beef Cutting,” break it all down and turn every bit of it into dinner.

    In fact, some restaurant chefs do just that, butchering their own lamb, pig and steer. Certain parts of the book explore more advanced butchery, and the appendices are staggeringly thorough. It does, however, begin with the basics, including knife sharpening, tool selection and cutting technique. So it’s appropriate for butchery beginners, or home cooks with a curiosity they’d like to explore.


    I had an opportunity to speak with Underly about her book, and about beef in general. There are a number of things she shared that a home cook can do to save time and money when buying and preparing beef; and, of course, when cooking it. But you have to start at the beginning, and that means choosing the right cut.


    The two cuts that Underly came back to time and again for home cooks were top sirloin and chuck roast, extolling both their comparative value and their versatility.

  • Cuts from the chuck tend to be flavorful and well-marbled, and they’re great for braising, low and slow.
  • Sirloin is leaner, quite easy to cut, and arguably the most versatile cut on the cow; to quote Underly, “Go sirloin!”

    Underly at work. She’ll inspire you to unleash your inner butcher. Image courtesy Vimeo.


    Beyond these two subprimals (short for subprimal cuts), the one other cut that got Underly really excited was the ribeye cap, which she calls the best steak in the whole carcass. You could almost hear her mouth watering as she described grilling rib-eye cap steaks; and if there’s anyone to trust on such a suggestion, it’s Kari Underly.

    Once you’ve chosen your cut of beef, “The Art of Beef Cutting” can assist you in prepping it for dinner and getting it cooked to its highest potential.

  • Trussing: The book explores trussing (tying roasts with butchers twine to achieve even and optimal cooking), which Underly counsels is mastered only by repetition. “Don’t worry about making it pretty,” she advises.
  • Marinating: The book also has a chapter on marinades, and it highlights the often overlooked distinction between different kinds of marinating: for flavor versus for tenderizing.
  • Methods: Undery suggests ideal cooking methods to use for certain cuts of beef, and even drops hints on how to get perfect browning on your beef.

    Essentially, “The Art of Beef Cutting” is a kitchen-ready sidekick for anyone interested in getting a bit more familiar with his or her beef. There is no question in my mind that the more love you give it, the more the food benefits. Extending your knowledge and expertise with butchery will allow you to love your food that much more. Not to mention the fact that buying larger cuts and breaking them down yourself saves you money, and allows you greater versatility with how you cut and serve your beef.

    Underly’s last piece of advice to home cooks looking to up their butchery quotient? “Be adventurous.” This may be the perfect time to pick up your cleaver and get to know your beef a bit better.

    But first, pick up a copy of the the book.



    BOOK: I Love Corn

    If you love corn—and who doesn’t—pick up a copy of the new recipe book, I Love Corn, by Lisa Skye.

    Published just in time for corn season, Father’s Day and thank-you gifts for summer hosts, here are 50 of the most interesting corn recipes you’ll find in one compilation. We rarely get so excited when eyeballing recipes, and the photos are mouth-watering.

    The recipes were contributed from acclaimed chefs nationwide: both local celebrities and national names such as Hugh Acheson, Dan Barber, Michelle Bernstein, Daniel Boulud, Harold Dieterle and Martha Stewart.

    The recipes will keep you happy at breakfast, lunch and dinner. They cover every part of the meal: appetizers, soups, entrées and desserts. Here are just a few of the dishes that will delight you:


    Get a copy for everyone who loves corn. Photo courtesy Andrews McMeel Publishing.


    Corn “Seviche” In Corn Water, Corn Pudding with Bacon and Leeks, Fresh Corn Gazpacho, Fresh Corn Ice Cream, Jalapeño Corn Muffins, Popcorn Pudding with Salted Caramel Corn and Butterscotch Sauce, Roasted Corn and Goat Cheese Quiche and Sweet Corn Fritters.

    The book also includes tips for buying, storing, cooking and grilling fresh corn, and instructions for easily cutting kernels off the cob to make these wonderful recipes.

    A large portion of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to the Dougy Center, a national center that helps grieving children and families.

    Get your copy now.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Guerilla Cooking With ”The Flavor Bible”

    Our chef’s favorite new book, a great gift for sophisticate cooks (or those who want to be). Photo courtesy the authors.


    THE NIBBLE’s chef Johnny Gnall is very enthusiastic about a cooking book published in 2008. He refers regularly to The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. His review follows. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    Whenever my profession comes up in conversation, there is one question I get asked more than any other: “What is your favorite cuisine to cook at home?”

    The closest approximation I can offer is that I’m a champion of “guerilla cooking.”

    By this, I mean that I open the refrigerator and figure out my menu on the spot. Scanning the fridge for proteins and produce, thumbing through spices and jars in the pantry, I put together a meal that rarely fits neatly inside the label of any one cuisine.


    I suppose I love this kind of cooking so much because of my mom, the earliest and most ubiquitous influence on my identity as a cook. She was a working mother who often found herself at the end of the week with odds and ends in the fridge, limited time on her hands and five people to feed. Each and every time, she made the kind of dinners that had the neighborhood kids lining up for their turn to eat over.

    So it only makes sense that when I cook, I feel perfectly comfortable going in blind. One of the keys to success in such circumstances is knowing which products and flavors complement one another.

    The most effective way to gain such knowledge is experience. However, for those with less experience, The Flavor Bible is an invaluable book to help fill in the blanks. I bought my copy during culinary school on a classmate’s emphatic recommendation, and I will probably use it for the rest of my life.

    The Flavor Bible starts off with 30-plus pages on the nitty-gritty details of what exactly constitutes “flavor.” It begins by defining it in the equation, TASTE + MOUTHFEEL + AROMA + X-FACTOR = FLAVOR.

    The “X-factor” is anything perceived by our senses of sight, smell and taste, as well as emotional or mental reactions to the food. Each component of the equation is discussed in depth, even addressed philosophically at times; and is explored in as many contexts and from as many perspectives as you’re likely to come across.


    But all of this—the pontifications on flavor and the scientific breakdown of taste and aroma—is merely the introduction. The most valuable content of the cook lies in its other 350 or so pages: the flavor matchmaking charts.

    These charts contain a virtually all-inclusive list of ingredients, from meat to dairy to seafood to produce, from herbs and spices to oils and vinegars—even liquors and wines. Listed below each ingredient are any and all complementary ingredients, flavors, seasonings, and cooking methods.

    Even with a blinding headache, you can figure out exactly what goes best with whatever you happen to have on hand. You’ll also find recipes from notable chefs peppered throughout the charts, and simple dishes and meal ideas in the margins. Warm Frisée and Bacon Salad with Beet Carpaccio and Toasted Walnuts? Yes, please!


    Look in the fridge for ingredients: The Flavor Bible tells you what pairs best with what. Photo courtesy California Asparagus Commission.


    For those who want to start off in a general direction but keep things fast and loose, world cuisines are listed with their traditional and most popular ingredients and flavors for easy reference. Throwing a party for a Cuban friend whose family is in town? With The Flavor Bible, you know to fill your house with allspice, avocado, beans, beef, bell peppers, chicken, chocolate, citrus, cumin, garlic, lime, oregano, pineapple, plantains… you get the idea.

    So pick up a copy of The Flavor Bible. Then stride fearlessly to the refrigerator and swing the door open with confidence. No matter what you find starting back at you, rest assured you have the knowledge (and then some) to transform it into something delicious.

    And that’s a bible to swear on!



    BOOKS: Good Junk Food & Comfort Food

    A great read and a permanent reference book for everyone who wants to make better food choices and teach kids how to do the same. Get your copy now.


    Junk food is a pejorative term attributed to Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He first used it in 1972 to refer to food that is of minimal nutritional value (little protein, vitamins or minerals) and worse, typically high in fat, sugar and other empty calories. Some of the culprits include candy bars, potato chips and other salty snacks, soda, and many desserts.

    Could he have known that a substantial number of Americans—junk food lovers—would come to see the term as a positive? No doubt, if someone were to establish a chain called The Junk Food Food Court, the lines would be out the door. (Note that if you take this concept and run with it, you owe THE NIBBLE a royalty, which we will put to the service of healthier-eating awareness.)

    In his series of Eat This, Not That books, David Zinczenko has done a great boon to America by pointing out the horrors in our diet: the salty, sugary and fat-laden foods we consume. While we know they are not good for us, we never realized how bad they were until he garnered so much media attention.


    Two new books take on the topic of junk food, and both are worth putting on your bookshelf.


    The first book is Unjunk Your Junk Food: Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks, by Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer with Lisa Tsakos.

    The premise is that you don’t have to give up junk food to eat healthy; just make smarter choices.

    As such, the book features some 175 favorite brands of junk food, from candy and chocolate, to cookies and ice cream novelties, to chips and dips, to sodas and other beverages. It showcases the “bad food” on the left hand page, with the better alternative on the facing page.

    Equally as important, the book explains why, giving a detailed comparison that is both enlightening and interesting. In addition to the specific food comparisons, there are helpful overviews and glossaries: basic nutrition, bad ingredients to watch out for and things even a ten-year-old can understand and appreciate.

    In fact, we really like this book for both kids and adults. Instead of demanding change, it confers upon the reader a great understanding of the differences between good and bad ingredients, while providing a more-than-satisfactory alternative for each bad food.
    Even though we don’t eat much junk food, we were enlightened by:

  • The great tips for reading food labels and recognizing false claims.
  • The explanation of many ingredients—especially the polysyllabic ones that look like the chemicals they are.
  • The nutritious ingredients to look for and dangerous additives to avoid.


    While Unjunk Your Junk Food truly is about junk food, Vegan Junk Food, by Lane Gold, is misnamed. We’d call it Vegan Comfort Food. Perhaps because there were already a few titles that focus on vegan comfort food, the publisher wanted a point of differentiation. Instead, it’s a point of confusion. This is a vegan cookbook focusing on popular comfort foods.

    While we’re at it, we also don’t like the subtitle, “225 Sinful Snacks That Are Good For The Soul.” Again, there are some snacks (caramel popcorn, cookies) but the majority of the recipes are meal items, not snacks.

    We also don’t find it inviting to call food “sinful” or that other misused word, “decadent.” And we wager that no cleric would agree that sinful undertakings are “good for the soul.”


    A terrific book and a great gift for anyone who eats junk food. Get your copy now.

    While we use our editor’s pulpit to point out what others have missed, the good news is that the content of the book is quite appealing: chock-full of vegan recipes for every meal and snack of the day:

  • Muffins, scrambled tofu with biscuits and sausage gravy
  • Cheesesteak, corndog, meatball sub and mac and cheese
  • Asian and Mexican favorites—empanadas, fajitas, tacos, tofu eggplant tikka masala, wontons, etc.
  • Appetizers and dips, from jalapeño poppers to teriyaki kabobs
  • Cakes, candies, cookies and more
    It’s an inexpensive book ($11.17 on, so we can forgive the limited number of photos. Everyone knows what cheesecake, dip, fried rice and muffins look like.

    We recommend this book for every person/family who enjoys these foods, because eating vegan as often as you can is your contribution to saving the planet.* Not to mention all the cholesterol saved.
    *Animal manure is the number-one component of greenhouse gas (which produces climate change, a.k.a. global warming); raising animals depletes and pollutes water tables and a whole bunch more reasons we’ll cover on Earth Day.



    BOOKS: Funny Food, A Guarantee Of Fun Breakfasts

    Funny Food, by Bill & Claire Wurtzel. © 2012
    Welcome Enterprises, Inc.,


    In 1001 Arabian Nights, the cuckolded King Shahryar executes his faithless wife and proceeds to marry a new virgin every day, executing her the next morning before she has a chance to dishonor him.

    Eventually his vizier (minister), whose task it is to provide the brides, cannot find any more virgins. His daughter Scheherazade (shuh-HAIR-uh-ZOD) volunteers and is wed to the king.

    That night, the clever girl tells the king a fascinating tale, but does not finish the story. King Shahryar can’t execute her the next morning, since he wants to hear the end of it. The next evening, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins a new story…and so it goes for 1,001 nights.

    Three years and three children later, Queen Scheherazade has convinced her husband that she is his faithful wife. She keeps her head (and her three children—obviously more than storytelling went on). Hopefully they lived happily ever after.


    Funny Food: Another Daily Fascination

    Now it’s time to introduce another fascinating book, one which has very few words. But who needs words when the photographs tell the whole story?

    Funny Food: 365 Fun, Healthy, Silly, Creative Breakfasts, will fascinate a spouse or family as much as Scheherazade’s tales—and they get to eat the “story.”

    What fun to be married to an art director who plies his trade in the kitchen. For more than 50 years, Bill Wurtzel has taken everyday breakfast foods—bagels and other breads, cereal, cottage cheese, eggs, fruit, ham, pancakes, waffles and yogurt—and turned them into edible art for wife Claire and their daughters. There are animals, birds, cars, flowers, people, musical instruments, trees and more. Everything is nutritious and the designs turn old standbys into exciting food.

    And you can do it, too.

    It’s Really Easy

    There’s a two-page tip list of how to make your own creations, and two spreads that show the four simple steps to make a head and a train. Otherwise, there are no on-the-page instructions. The majority of the designs are easy to recreate—most are so easy that anyone old enough to do an art project can assemble this food art.

    In fact, the Wurtzels now give workshops for school children to promote healthy eating and fun. There’s a downloadable guide on the book’s website.

  • NIBBLE TIP #1: After the design is finished, warm the food in the microwave.
  • NIBBLE TIP #2: Get the whole family involved in designing their breakfast plates: Try a different design every weekend for breakfast or brunch.
    This is a wonderful book to inspire younger people to cook and a boost of creativity for experienced cooks who can see how to use fruits, vegetables and nuts to make everyday dishes shine.

    Get your copy.

    We can only hope that the Wurtzels are working on Funny Lunch.



    BOOK: Find The Best Rhubarb Recipes In “Rhubarb Renaissance”

    Our Nana made stewed rhubarb every spring: as a dessert served plain, with whipped cream or ice cream. Then, there were rhubarb tarts and pies, including strawberry-rhubarb. Rhubarb, sometimes called “the pie plant,” makes exquisite desserts.

    Since Nana stopped cooking, we rarely come across a rhubarb dish, even in locavore-based restaurants. We always see it in the store, and as time permits, make some stewed rhubarb.

    But, says Kim Ode, rhubarb has a place in appetizers, breads, salads, side dishes, entrées and more.

    She celebrates the vegetable in her new cookbook, Rhubarb Renaissance.

    Ms. Ode has crafted some 50 sophisticated recipes, savory and sweet, showcasing the vegetable:* Rhubarb Corn Fritters, Turkey Tenderloins with RhubarBQ Sauce, Spiced Couscous with Rhubarb and Figs and Chop-Chop Sweet and Sour Stir-Fry are a few examples.


    The new rhubarb cookbook, Rhubarb Renaissance. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society Press.


    Updating Nana’s strawberry-rhubarb pie, Ms. Ode presents Salted Caramel Rhubapple Pie and Zucchini-Rhubarb Bread.

    Nana would approve.

    In the U.S., rhubarb is one of the first food plants to be harvested each spring; April/May is the peak season, and it grows until September (rhubarb from the Southern Hemisphere is available in October/November).

    The new rhubarb cookbook is a great gift for people who like new and different ingredients—even though rhubarb has been cultivated for thousands of years in China, and grows wild on the banks of the Volga River in Russia.

    In fact, the name “rhubarb” is a combination of the Ancient Latin rha, which referred to the Volga River, and barbarum, foreign; rha barbarum evolved to the Medieval Latin reubarbarum in the 15th century.

    Take a bite of some rhubarb trivia.
    *Yes, rhubarb is a vegetable. It looks like celery, but the two plants come from different botanical families. The difference between fruits and vegetables.



    BOOK: Thinking About A Culinary Career?

    With all the media attention on superstar chefs, prime-time cooking shows and the evolved view of a gourmet chef from a behind-the-scenes craftsman to a lauded artist, many people dream of entering the culinary field.

    But as with everything else, behind the perceived glamor is a lot of grunt work.

    The authors of the new book, Culinary Careers For Dummies, provide the insights needed to enter and excel in the food service industry. Authors Michele Thomas, Annette Tomei and Tracey Biscontini shared these 10 insider tips:

    1. Be ready to start at the bottom. No matter how lofty your goals might be, be prepared to start at square one. Even celebrity chefs started there. Your first job may not be what you want (in fact, it might feel frustrating and difficult), but it will give you the chance to prove your skill and dedication. Remind yourself that while you’re “only” washing dishes and prepping salads, in a year or so you’ll be moving up the ranks. Take this opportunity to observe, to hone your skills and interests and to learn as much as you can.


    A welcome gift for anyone considering a culinary career. Photo courtesy Wiley & Sons.


    2. Take courses related to your interests. If you don’t want to complete a degree or certification, taking classes can help hone your skills and keep you abreast of industry trends and advances. Also consider non- food-related courses: A writing class might give you the skills you need to become a food writer, a chemistry course might help you to become a food scientist.

    3. Find a mentor in your field of interest. If you meet someone in your field who shows a willingness to befriend and help you, take advantage of this tremendous resource. A mentor might or might not work directly with you (these days, you might converse online from across the country), but he or she will have your best interests at heart and will give you honest advice to help you improve. Check chef-oriented websites and online professional groups, and don’t be shy about asking for advice.

    4. Work well with others. Forget the bad attitudes and behavior displayed on Hell’s Kitchen and other reality TV shows: It’s encouraged because it attracts higher ratings. Don’t underestimate the value of interacting efficiently and respectfully with others: An inability to work harmoniously as part of a team can stop your career in its tracks. Also keep in mind that while you may think you know what you’re doing, you need to remain open to constructive criticism.

    5. Make time to read. The culinary industry is far from static; on the contrary, it’s constantly changing. To remain cutting-edge and competitive, it’s important to stay abreast of current and rising trends. You don’t have to devote every spare moment to scouring industry magazines and journals, but it is a good idea to look through these types of publications—as well as credible blogs, cookbooks, and even the food section of the newspaper—on a regular basis.

    6. Choose a specialization. Just as with a college major, it’s important to select a specialization. Otherwise, you can drift from job to job with no clear goal in mind. This can be as simple as deciding whether you want to work with a specific cuisine, such as Italian food, or that you want to work with traditionally prepared foods as opposed to modern cuisine. Take extra courses, read the appropriate literature and perfect your skills before telling employers that you have a specialty. And as with a major, you can always switch.

    7. Learn to manage time skillfully. If you’re not already a good time manager, study up on good techniques. Time management is especially important in the food industry, since food can lose texture, temperature or taste easily if not timed perfectly.

    8. Be open to new ideas. You don’t need to incorporate every new product, idea, or technique into your work, but do consider those that come your way. If you don’t try new options, you’ll soon find yourself stuck in the past, losing your colleagues’ respect.

    9. Stay fit.
    At first glance, this industry might not seem like one that would require physical fitness. However, the reality is that you’ll probably be on your feet in a hot kitchen for 40 to 60 hours a week. And that’s not even taking into account all of the lifting, chopping, stirring, washing, etc. that needs to be done.

    10. Broaden your skill set. You may come across some great opportunities if you choose to specialize in a particular area of the culinary industry. But you may find even better jobs if you keep your eyes and ears open and continue to learn new skills. The more you can do, the more marketable you will be. For example, a company might want to hire a chef who’s a computer whiz, because that person can help design food-purchasing software.

    As a next step, anyone with a love of cooking—and dreams to turn it into a career—should get a copy of Culinary Careers For Dummies.

    And don’t be offended by the name, “For Dummies.” It has more pizzazz than “For Those Seeking Enlightenment.”



    BOOK REVIEW: The Cuisine Of Escoffier

    When looking for a copy of August Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire on, we found an elucidating customer review by Charlene Vickers of Winnepeg, Canada.

    The great Escoffier (1846-1935) was a was a French chef, restaurateur and culinary writer who updated and codified traditional French cooking techniques. In 1903, he published what instantly became the culinary bible. One hundred and eight years later, it is still the classic reference source for professional chefs.

    An abridged English-language version, The Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery: For Connoisseurs, Chefs, Epicures, Complete With 2973 Recipes, is half the cost of the original.

    Ms. Vickers responded to another customer’s complaints about this abridged edition with such depth, that we asked her permission to reprint her comments. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into culinary history.


    August Escoffier. Photo from The Gourmet’s Guide to London (1914) by Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. Photo in the public domain.


    “The Escoffier Cookbook,” writes Ms. Vickers, “is a heavily abridged American version of Auguste Escoffier’s 1903 book, “Guide Culinaire.” It is a fascinating look at the art of professional European cookery at the beginning of the 20th century.

    “However, to appreciate this book fully, it’s important to understand exactly for whom it was written. Escoffier’s original guide was never for a second intended for the home cook. Escoffier was a pioneer with respect to the education of professional chefs, and originally wrote this book for the use of those working in grand houses, in hotels, on ocean liners, and in restaurants, who might not have had access to contemporary recipes.

    “Accordingly, the original book does not attempt to teach basic cooking or food preparation techniques. The American translation does include some details on cooking utensils and techniques unfamiliar to the average American chef (such as poeleing,* worth the cost of the book alone, and the old French form of braising), but even in the translation it is assumed that the reader is a trained, experienced chef.

    *Editor’s Note: Braising calls for liquids to be added to the meat. Poeleing uses just butter and the meat’s own juices, with no added liquids.

    “The recipes themselves are clear and simple to follow, but represent only a small subset of French cooking of the early 20th century. An earlier reviewer mentioned that there was no recipe for onion soup. This is true, but it should be understood that onion soup would never have been accepted by the class of restaurant patron for whom Escoffier cooked.

    “Much of what has arrived on this side of the Atlantic as ”French cooking”—dishes such as pot-au-feu, onion soup, and steak frites—is distinctly middle-class fare, and consequently would have been rejected by the clientele of quality restaurants of the time as being unspeakably boorish. Escoffier personally enjoyed bourgeois cooking, but as an astute, intelligent businessman, he provided the haute cuisine his clients demanded.

    “One interesting difference between modern cooking and the cooking featured in this book is that Escoffier uses few spices, and indeed declaims on the foolishness of using large amounts of spices in meat dishes. This appears bizarre from our vantage point, but Escoffier had sound economic reasons for his proscriptions.

    “Most diners of the time grew up in the days before refrigeration, when old, deteriorating meat was heavily spiced to make it palatable. Fresh, unspiced meat was a sign of the highest quality. The association between strong spices and poor quality was powerful enough to survive long into the 20th century, as any reader of a 1950s American cookbook can attest.

    “As for the recipes themselves, I doubt that many of them could be prepared by the North American home cook. Most of us cannot afford (if we can even find) foie gras, truffles, or capons, and few have espagnole sauce or fish fumet available at all times. However, many recipes can be adapted for the modern cook—using cepes or porcini mushrooms instead of truffles, for instance—and those that can be prepared really are delicious.”

    Thanks so much, Ms. Vickers. If we ever get to Winnepeg, we would love to take you to dinner—although it sounds as if we might enjoy even better fare in your kitchen.



    BOOK: What You Should & Shouldn’t Make From Scratch

    When Jennifer Reese lost her job as a book editor for Entertainment Weekly, she looked for ways to economize. She began with the family’s food bill. Is it cheaper to buy or make your own bagels, cream cheese, jam, crackers, yogurt and granola, she wondered.

    She began a cost-benefit analysis on how much she might save by making from scratch six of the everyday foods she typically purchased from the supermarket and the bakery. Her initial experience gave way to Make The Bread, Buy The Butter, a delightful book with 120 recipes.

    The author priced everything down to the last grain of salt as well as the cost of the utilities (in her city, 32 cents per hour to run an electric oven, 9 cents per hour to melt on a gas burner, 14 cents per hour to boil water). She did not include the cost of her labor.


    You’ll laugh, you’ll ponder, you just might buy a goat. Photo courtesy Free Press.


    Ms. Reese found some cost efficiencies that were worth it, and some that weren’t. The bagel recipe she used—the best bagel she’s ever had—costs 15¢ per bagel. A Thomas’ bagel is 45¢; a fresh bagel from Noah’s in San Francisco is 75¢.

    Cream cheese, on the other hand, is something better bought—no matter what the savings. Home-made cream cheese just doesn’t approximate the thick brick we all know and love.

    This energetic woman not only made her own jerky and Worcestershire sauce, but she also raised chickens in her backyard and attempted to raise goats to make cheese. (They ended up as beloved pets but have contributed no milk.)

    You’ll chuckle at the adventures of this executive-turned-farmer as she lacto-ferments pickles on the kitchen counter, ripens cheese in the closet and tends to chickens, ducks, baby goats and a beehive in a suburban back yard. As for buying a pair of turkeys to join the menagerie in advance of Thanksgiving (to butcher and clean), “…the mountain of gore was chilling to behold…It felt more like cleaning up a crime scene.” The experience cost more than buying turkey at the supermarket—and the meat was much drier.

    Jennifer Reese will entertain you. She will inform you. She may even convince you to try your own hand at “make it or buy it.” And you just might want to get your own baby goat.

    Order a copy.

    Read Jennifer’s further adventures at



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