Primavera’s fine recipe for spaghetti carbonara incorporates the culinary reasoning behind their recipe. Try it once, and with the insight it gives you, you’ll never again wind up with either raw or scrambled egg in the dish.
Chance’s Bistro’s recipe for Mussels and Clams looks like a keeper — I love the first step of briefly roasting the tomatoes with herbs and garlic to dry them (very cheffy). Their blender-started rendition of tortilla soup cuts right to the chase, an easy method that saves hours of time and probably preserves the fresh-tomato flavors better than more laborious preparations, precisely what you want when your garden (or farmers’ market) tomatoes are burgeoning.
And Peohe’s discloses how to make their sublime Halibut Mai’a with Frangelico, a favorite dish that you can easily cook at home.
Not every chef was able to turn out perfect recipes for this book, and the book needs a stronger editorial hand to make it easier to use. Pretty food photography doesn’t compensate for what I can only call lax editing; worse yet, as in that souvlaki recipe, rigid considerations of book-makeup sometimes seem to outweigh common sense: You can’t sacrifice nine possibly lifesaving words in a recipe for the sake of a pretty picture or a rigid formula for layout.
Chefs Press doesn’t work like a traditional publishing company. Most book companies offer the writer an advance against royalties, a lump sum typically paid half upon signing the book contract and half upon manuscript delivery. (The company is gambling that there will be royalties because the writer gets to keep the advance.) Here, instead, the publisher invites the chef/writers to become publishing partners. That is, the chef must make a firm commitment to buy a substantial number of copies of the book at half-off to sell in his or her restaurant, and/or to his friends and relatives, or at his garage sale in a few months… (The writer does get 50 percent of the list price for the copies she sells and royalties on outside sales.) The book company takes charge of design, production, printing, and marketing, and they seem to have a staff food photographer to shoot all the dishes and make them look pretty.
But here’s where a few quibbles come in: there doesn’t seem to be much editorial intervention in any aspect of the book — not the general text and not the recipes. Reading the restaurant introductions in Top Tables, I found a few glaring grammatical errors. And reading through the recipes, I noticed that each restaurant’s chef seemed free to make up his or her own recipe format. Most were okay, but several violated a basic rule: in standard American recipe-writing, all ingredients are listed in the order in which the cook handles them — not by importance or cost or bulk. Even if the recipe calls for, say, a skinned wild gazelle and a pound of peacock’s tongues — if the first thing the cook touches is an onion, that should start the ingredient list.
Finally, a cookbook editor checks that every ingredient mentioned ends up being used and that every ingredient mentioned in the dish is listed at the start. In Bistro d’Asia’s Orange Shrimp recipe, the shrimp in the ingredient list turns into chicken in the instructions. (This restaurant has some of the easiest recipes but least trustworthy directions and measurements. Three pounds of beef to serve four in Mongolian Beef? A whole cup of heavy oyster sauce in a dressing for Siamese lettuce wraps for four? I doubt it.)
Some ingredients need more explanation. For example, we learn that “tamarind sauce” for glazing a salmon is available at Whole Foods and Amazon — but what exactly does this term mean? Is it the thick, viscous, intensely sour tamarind purée that comes in jars from India? Or some new commercial product? The “resources” section of the book doesn’t specify. In addition, several recipes call for sauces for which there are no recipes. I can overlook the call for chocolate sauce, but when it comes to Vigilucci’s requirement for marinara sauce or Costa Azul’s call for ranchero sauce, do they really mean just any old supermarket brand? Will Vigilucci’s dish taste the same with Ragu?
In addition, some two-column recipe layouts are wacky and confusing, running left to right across the columns, instead of the classic format of straight down in column one, then start again running straight down in column two. (Made me dizzy. Magical realism recipes?) Forget the pretty pictures and spiffy layout — the book needs more editorial attention to the words that convey the vital information about how to cook these dishes.
I’m quibbling only because I want to help Chefs Press get off on the right foot. I think a local cookbook publisher is a great idea. All the people involved are publishing pros — but, unfortunately, not cookbook publishing pros until now, so they still have much to learn.
For the launch of this book, they’re working with the Coronado Chamber of Commerce and Coronado restaurants to create a monthlong dining event in Coronado. Top Tables Restaurant Month will be held during June and will offer diners an opportunity to eat at selected Top Tables locations at a discount if they purchase a copy of the book at one of the restaurants or at the shops on the property of the Hotel Del.
The hot food-science news of last week, reported by Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times, is that the President’s Council on Cancer came out and said we’ve got too many damned industrial and agricultural chemicals in our lives and our foods, few of them tested for human safety, and that this is probably a factor in many cancers. The American Cancer Society, a more conservative and seemingly industry-friendly group, came back and basically said, “There, there, don’t you worry your pretty little heads, just stop smoking and you’ll be fine.” (The ACS still hasn’t even seriously considered the issue of gasoline fumes, which are vastly more ubiquitous.)