Check out every essential new cookbook to snap up in 2016.
My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen
Running Press, October 2016
Though there are dishes like the excellent, nourishing kichadi grits, the word 'fusion' isn't used once.
Asha Gomez's fried chicken and waffles taught Atlanta a lesson. The iconic dish is one that Southerners are proud of, and when the Kerala-born chef put it on her menu, many diners were surprised to learn that people ate fried chicken in India, too. Gomez's version champions the best of both cuisines, with Kerala-style fried chicken over Carolina-inspired rice waffles, all tied together with a syrup spiced with cumin, coriander, and crushed red pepper flakes. It mixed cultures by showcasing their similarities, and it succeeded, putting Gomez on the culinary map.
Gomez made her name as the chef/owner of Atlanta's Cardamom Hill, a fine dining establishment focused on the coastal South Indian food that Gomez's home state, Kerala, is known for. Think beef croquettes and fish curries, not saag paneer and chicken tikka (due to colonization and port city influences, many residents, including Gomez, are Christian, for instance). Cardamom Hill's menu also incorporated, subtly and not, ingredients from her adopted home in Georgia, giving rise to the prevalent narrative of the chef's professional life: South by South cooking, merging the flavors and techniques of Southern India with the American South.
This is the chef's first book, and in it she takes Keralan recipes — from her restaurant menus, her family, and other inspirations — and uses them to highlight the worldview with which she cooks. It's a perspective drawn from her life today in globally inspired Atlanta, with its "complex cultural crosswind," and from living previously in port cities where, as Gomez writes, "the intermingling of foods and cooking techniques constantly changes as ships arrive and depart."
Cardamom Hill closed after the Atlanta chef opened her culinary event venue the Third Space, followed quickly by daytime cafe Spice to Table, which she calls an "Indian patisserie" — an airy cafe serving hot chai, baked goods, and beautifully presented meals for breakfast and lunch. The cookbook is both a distillation and an expansion of these projects; it gives non-locals a feel for Gomez at work but encapsulates her home life, cultural traditions, and global perspective as well.
Gomez is all about storytelling: Diners at Spice to Table get the histories behind the dishes, which range from the spice trade to Gomez's upbringing in India and her path to the kitchen here in the U.S. (before opening Cardamom Hill, she owned a spa in Atlanta). That same depth of history and personal connection appears on the pages of My Two Souths.
And note: The word "fusion" isn't used once. Though there are dishes like the excellent, nourishing kichadi grits, in which Gomez blends an Indian comfort food staple with a Lowcountry one, the adapting of cooking styles and flavors feels natural in the chef's hands — and this confidence came through when I tested the recipe at home, too. It's her perspective that makes all the difference — there's no exoticizing of any culture's food here. Gomez's thoughtful approach to ingredients and dishes from all over is refreshing in a world where most "ethnic" cuisines are still written about as though they're being discovered for the first time. —Sonia Chopra
Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking
Naomi Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar
Ten Speed, September 2016
Individual recipes might swing between hyper-specificity and casual trust-your-gut exhortations.
Ever since Naomi Pomeroy opened her restaurant Beast in Portland, Oregon, the chef has been associated with a certain level of swagger. Part of that is due to Beast's unflinchingly unconventional concept, unchanged since 2007: The restaurant offers just one multi-course menu each evening, which Pomeroy and her team plate and serve in full view of diners seated at communal tables. It's like attending a dinner party where the hostess is firmly in control. Pomeroy's confidence with pork belly, foie gras, and lamb — coupled with the restaurant's name — immediately gave the restaurant a reputation as a meat-lover's haven, suggesting a certain bravado emanating from the butcher's block.
But that narrative ignores the real highlights of meals at Beast. Yes, hunks of meat abound (and yes, the soundtrack is killer), but Pomeroy's talent reveals itself most in the details that balance each dish: the bacon-brioche croutons garnishing a delicate velouté, the herbaceous oil drizzled on seared albacore, a bright herb salad atop braised pork loin. Like many high-caliber chefs, Pomeroy's savvy derives from a sophisticated approach to flavor, not simply serving up a showy cut of meat.
Pomeroy's first book, Taste and Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking, brings those particulars to the forefront. It's not a restaurant cookbook exactly; like Beast, its vision is uniquely Pomeroy's. As the title suggests, the book's goal is to pass along the "building blocks" with which full meals can be built. The crash course in technique starts with her list of essential sauces (from hazelnut romesco to demi-glace), then moves to a diverse mix of traditional and updated starters, vegetables, and mains (such as lacquered duck confit, a two-day process), and concludes with a pantry section featuring "secret weapons" like fried garlic chips and Champagne-poached apricots.
Like many high-caliber chefs, Pomeroy's savvy derives from a sophisticated approach to flavor, not simply serving up a showy cut of meat.
The recurring theme for Pomeroy, a self-taught chef, is that balance is key. She reminds the reader to taste and adjust, to find harmony between acid and salt. Individual recipes might swing between hyper-specificity and casual trust-your-gut exhortations. For example, the recipe for parsley sauce verte insists the herbs must be hand-chopped to "preserve [their] integrity" (a laborious process), only to be tempered by a casual endnote saying, "I can't think of much I wouldn't put it in." She's right. That sauce verte is flexible enough to pair well with everything on one dinner plate: green salad, potatoes, and roast chicken. (Speaking of trusting your gut, multiple recipes were too heavy on the olive oil for my palate; I often left some out, adjusting toward the end as necessary, to find the best balance as Pomeroy herself would suggest.)
The fastidiousness of many recipes doesn't make Taste and Technique a weekday-friendly book. The chilled tomato-cucumber soup recipe required two hours of prep in my small kitchen, including delicately peeling skins off cherry tomatoes and straining pureed cucumber to utilize only its juice. If many of Pomeroy's recipes require a lavish investment of time, luxurious touches appear on some ingredient lists as well. A pantry recipe for lemon zest requires fennel pollen ($10 for one-half ounce, on Amazon); that aforementioned tomato soup is garnished by crushed Marcona almonds ($20 a pound at my local grocer).
With that in mind, less experienced cooks (myself included) would do well applying their own versions of balance to Taste and Technique: Tackling the sauces and pantry sections would allow a time-strapped cook to apply the fruits of those labors to all kinds of dishes, thus adding something new to mealtime standards. And that approach ultimately remains true to Pomeroy's approach of tweaking the particulars to elevate the everyday. For the novice, it's that knowledge, not access to a killer butcher's block, that infuses home cooking with a bit of swagger. —Erin DeJesus
The Adventures of Fat Rice
Abe Conlon, Adrienne Lo and Hugh Amano
Ten Speed, October 2016
Eating in the restaurant's always-packed dining room feels like a house party that pulls you into the moment and the fun.
Arroz gordo, whose name translates from the Portuguese as "fat rice," is as much a historic record as it a celebratory dish. Presented in a large pan and designed to serve a crowd, the creation traditionally includes several meats and a flurry of garnishes blanketing a bed of rice. The extravagant version that chefs Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo serve at their sensational Chicago restaurant, also called Fat Rice, packs in Chinese char siu pork and tea eggs, Portuguese smoked sausage and olives, curried chicken thighs, and Malaysian chile prawns, all sitting atop jasmine rice crisped on the bottom of the clay pot like a skillfully rendered paella.
The creation embodies the singular, prismatic cuisine of Macau, the 12-square-mile jut of land on the South China Sea that was occupied by Portugal for over 300 years. (Since 1999 it has been a special administrative region of China.) When the Portuguese settled in Macau, they brought not only culinary traditions from their homeland, but influences from the many lands they'd previously colonized, including Africa, Brazil, South India, and Malaysia. That combination resulted in dishes like empada de peixe (a fish pie that includes cheese, olives, cumin, and a sweetened crust) and porco bafassa (pork shoulder seasoned with turmeric, garlic, and Portuguese white wine) that reflect centuries of multilayered colonial history.
When Conlon and Lo visited Macau in 2011, they became transfixed with the food, partly because its unique mix echoed their combined heritages (Conlon is Portuguese-American; Lo is Chinese-American). As the pair readied to open Fat Rice the following year, Macanese emerged as the emblematic cuisine. Their restaurant embodies the spirit of their namesake dish: Eating in the always-packed dining room, surrounded by fetchingly mismatched woods, feels like a house party that pulls you into the moment. Conlon and Lo have been in expansion mode this summer, opening a bakery and a cocktail lounge on the same block, but the restaurant remains focused on Macau's cuisine and its spice-route influences.
The cookbook — written with Hugh Amano, Fat Rice's opening sous chef — captures the exuberance of eating at the restaurant and reveling in Conlon and Lo's fascination with Macau. Fans of Fat Rice will find recipes for many of the menu's staple dishes, including po kok gai (chicken in coconut curry with potato and chorizo), greens stir-fried with green papaya and mackerel chutney, pork braised with tamarind, and of course the arroz gordo. The recipes are unapologetic in their complexity: Many require sauces or other additions that are undertakings all their own. A vegetable curry I tested, for example, included preparing a separate 14-ingredient coconut-milk-based sauce and called for homemade shrimp paste that takes three months to ferment. (Though a jarred store-bought substitute I found didn't include ingredients like brandy and bay leaves like the authors used, the dish still came out beautifully nuanced.)
Fortunately, the instructions are presented in vivid, conversational detail, including wok techniques illustrated in the form of comic book panels. Along with the book's visual pop, the evocative introduction and recipe headnotes full of history and stories makes this a cookbook worth owning as a compelling read. —Bill Addison
Other Notable Books
Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking
It seems like Jessica Koslow found out how to summarize the way so many reviews and stories described her instant classic of a Los Angeles restaurant, Sqirl: "Everything I Want to Eat." Known for its comically large and entirely luxurious ricotta and jam toasts and of-the-moment grain bowls, Sqirl's recipes are sorted by theme and ingredient in this cookbook. Want to make almond hazelnut milk? Check. Want to make an Instagram-worthy sorrel-pesto rice bowl? Check. Want to cash in on that California feeling? Check, check, and check. Read Eater's full review here. —HD
The Del Posto Cookbook
Grand Central Life & Style
Eater's restaurant editor recently called Del Posto "America's high church of pasta," and its chef, Mark Ladner, a wizard who can take a familiar dish like linguini alla scampi and transform it into something magical, "a watchmaker who disassembled a Timex, and somehow rebuilt it into a Rolex." The New York restaurant has been the jewel in the Batali/Bastianich empire since it opened over 10 years ago, and now there’s a cookbook to celebrate that fact. The publishers have taken care to emphasize that this book is truly intended for ambitious home cooks — that Ladner's recipes, while undoubtedly sophisticated, have been presented here for non-professional readers. (Fingers are crossed nationwide that Ladner will share the recipe for his iconic 100 Layer Lasagne). Bonus: The Del Posto Cookbook aims to distinguish itself in a crowded restaurant book landscape by featuring wine recommendations, too. —HD
Poole's: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner
Raleigh's empire builder extraordinaire Ashley Christensen makes her cookbook debut, fittingly, with a chronicle of her very first restaurant, the acclaimed Poole's Diner. Expect recipes for gussied up Southern favorites and diner staples, whether pimento cheese, macaroni "au gratin," or for the gorgeous cover dish of watermelon, avocado, goat cheese, basil, and a sweet onion vinaigrette. Southern food lovers and restaurant obsessives alike will be eagerly awaiting this one. For more, here's Eater's full review of the cookbook. —HD
El Celler De Can Roca
Joan Roca, Josep Roca, Jordi Roca
Grub Street Cookery
The chef team known colloquially as the Roca brothers — Joan, Josep, and Jordi — think big. El Celler de Can Roca, the team’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Girona, Spain, is famous for elaborate dishes like "caramelized olives" — which arrive to the table still hanging from a tiny tree. The restaurant boasts more than 60,000 bottles in its wine cellar; it has put on an elaborate 12-act "opera" (which became subject of an arty 2014 documentary); and its first-ever cookbook El Celler de Can Roca, released last year, weighed in at more than 11 pounds. But for its first English language release, dubbed the "Redux" version of the original cookbook, it will get a minor downgrade, featuring only 400 pages and 240 recipes. Among them: instructions for dishes like "oyster and soil," which uses an evaporation flask to create a soil distillate to pour over the oyster, and a dessert playfully called "anarchy." —ED
Eataly: Contemporary Italian Cooking
This is not another Mario Batali or Lidia Bastianich cookbook. Although the publishing heavyweights (along with Bastianich’s son, Joe) are famously partners in Eataly — an Italian emporium featuring marketplaces, restaurants, and food shops under one branded roof — this second Eataly cookbook doesn’t bear any of their very famous names (for that, head to the 2014 book How to Eataly). Eataly: Contemporary Italian, out this October, is all about the Eataly point of view and nothing else: fresh ingredients, light dishes, and a DIY ethos. The book promises 300 recipes manageable for the home cook, from a saffron crouton-dotted pumpkin soup to amberjack carpaccio. —ED
Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day
Chef-ruler of Oxford, Mississippi, John Currence is here to make the case for breakfast. With recipes from the restaurant that gives this book its title, Big Bad Breakfast offers a vision of mornings spent with Southern heavyweights like oyster pot pie and banana-pecan coffee cake. If you love Eater's Breakfast Week, biscuits, the idea of cinnamon rolls baked with sausage filling, and/or restaurant cookbooks that actually seem cookable, this one's for you. —HD
Dinner at the Long Table
Andrew Tarlow, Anna Dunn
Ten Speed Press
Inasmuch as there is an identifiable Brooklyn aesthetic, so too is there a progenitor. Consider Andrew Tarlow, the owner and operator of a family of Williamsburg properties that includes Diner, Marlow & Sons, Reynard, and the entire Wythe Hotel. He creates casual but impossibly hip settings with better-than-needed food and always some sort of next-level element: a menu scrawled effortlessly on a butcher paper-covered table, beautifully tiled floors, an in-house butchery program. With this debut cookbook, Tarlow and co-author Anna Dunn bring that aesthetic to home cooks, offering up recipes in the context of seasonally inflected menus for gatherings big and small. In other words: Here is a guide to creating the fantasy dinner party of your wildest Brooklyn dreams. —HD
The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem
Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Beloved New York City chef Marcus Samuelsson strikes again with The Red Rooster Cookbook. The chef — who has four other cookbooks, plus a memoir, to his name — presents recipes from his dynamic Harlem restaurant, each reflecting the unique cultural influences of both the place and the man, like Ethiopian spice-crusted lamb and brown butter biscuits. Along with recipes, the book offers essays and vintage photos of Harlem scenes gone by. —HD
Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food from an American Kitchen
Katie Button is the chef behind the acclaimed restaurant Cúrate — the unlikely Spanish tapas destination in Asheville, NC. This is her debut cookbook, which aims to present Spanish recipes for the American cook, paying special attention to incorporating American ingredients. Restaurant nerds will appreciate the foreword from the legendary Ferran Adrià. —HD
The London Cookbook: Recipes from the Restaurants, Cafes, and Hole-in-the-Wall Gems of a Modern City
Food writer Aleksandra Crapanzano, recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s MFK Award for Distinguished Writing, sure has been around the block — her words have appeared in the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, Marie Claire, and Travel & Leisure. Her latest venture has taken her to Ten Speed Press, where she’s captured what she calls the "soul" of one of the most diverse food landscapes in the world — London — for The London Cookbook. More than 100 recipes are laid out in the book, featuring renowned restaurants ranging from corner spots to fine dining establishments. Crapanzano promises to deliver an experience for experts of London’s gastronomic scene as well as travelers new to the city. —ZK
Best known for Breads Bakery in New York and Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv, Uri Scheft makes the most of the hybrid vigor of Israeli baking in this book that covers everything from challah to jachnun. His own creative twists on classics — Nutella-filled babka — and forays into his Scandinavian baking roots and European training make this a great book for experimenting with a wide array of flavors and techniques. Sweets haters will also delight in the wide variety of inventive savory baked goods. —MM
Virgilio Martínez, Nicholas Gill
Another beauty from Phaidon, Central is the cookbook chronicling the restaurant of the same name in Peru. Both the book and the restaurant are the work of chef Virgilio Martínez, who has made a name for himself with his debut cookbook Lima and with his restaurant's 2013 debut on the World's 50 Best list. Collectors of trophy meals and trophy cookbooks will want this one. —HD
Lead image: Helen Rosner