Chef

Book review: Heritage

COVER.Heritage - HIGH RES

I feel as though I have been searching for this book my entire life. See, I’ve had a full-on obsession with Southern cuisine as far back as I can remember. It is my favourite food. I am drawn by the cuisine’s hallowed traditions and unique cooking styles. And in this book, I have discovered someone that shares my love of one of the greatest cuisines of the world.

James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock is an emissary of Southern food and culture. He is best known for his work in Charleston, SC, where he is the executive chef and partner of restaurants McCrady’s and Husk.

Heritage is his very first cookbook and offers a mix of traditional and contemporary recipes in chapters such as “The Garden” and “The Pasture.”  The recipes (e.g., butter-bean chowchow; pork belly with herb faro, pickled elderberries, chanterelles, and sumac; buttermilk pie with cornmeal crust) range from simple to sophisticated. Pork rinds, for example, are cooked sous-vide and dehydrated before being deep fried.

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The Extraordinarily Magnificent Life of a Master Chef

No Experience Necessary is Chef Norman Van Aken’s joyride of a memoir. In it, he spans twenty-plus years and nearly as many jobs–including the fateful job advertised in the local paper for a short-order cook: “no experience necessary.”

This book is the story of a young man wandering the country searching for his true purpose in life. It’s also a tell-all travelogue about the wild world of food services, cooking and what it really means to be a “chef.” Though most of the stories alternate between North Shore Chicago and other parts of Illinois to Key West and southern Florida, there are also stops in Hawaii, Kansas, California, Colorado, New York and all the roads a hitchhiker can take in between.

After landing on the shores of Key West, Van Aken faced hurricanes and economic downturns. From a graveyard-shift grunt at an all-night barbecue joint to a James Beard-award finalist for best restaurant in America, Van Aken put his heart, soul and natural talent, and ever-expanding experience into every venture–and helped transform the American culinary landscape along the way.

Long considered a culinary renegade and a pioneering chef, Van Aken is an American original who chopped and charred, sweated and seared his way to cooking stardom with no formal training. He is known as “the founding father of New World Cuisine,” a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors. He is also known internationally for introducing the concept of “Fusion” to the culinary world.

In the irreverent tradition of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and populated by a rogues’ gallery of colourful characters–including movie stars, legendary musicians, and culinary giants Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter–No Experience Necessary offers a personal, highly entertaining under-the-tablecloth view of the high stakes world of American cuisine told with wit, insight and great affection by a natural storyteller.

No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken (Taylor Trade Publishing) is available at amazon.ca or amazon.com.

Norman Van Aken: No Experience Necessary
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The World is your Cornmeal Crusted Oyster with Mango Vinaigrette and Red Chile Horseradish

He has held nearly every marker of success by which today’s popular chefs are measured with umpteen restaurants, cookbooks and TV shows. His charisma and single-minded devotion to the art of southwestern cuisine have led to his enduring presence in our food obsessed culture. Yup, I’m talking about Chef Bobby Flay.

Beneath Bobby’s amiable “Every-guy” demeanor is a trained chef with talents of staggering proportions and make-your-head-spin skills. I’ve yet to have the opportunity to visit Chef Flay’s Mesa Grill but I’ve been lucky enough to cook my way though the cookbook. His recipes are accessible yet challenging. At a recent dinner I hosted, I served his Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with Mango Vinaigrette and Red Chile Horseradish. The saltiness of the oysters combined with the crunch of the cornmeal, blended with the sweetness of the mangoes and tang of the horseradish made for a dish that was dance-on-your-tongue pleasurable yet showed remarkable subtlety and depth.

To note that Bobby’s cuisine has had a profound effect on me is not mere hyperbole. I’ve been a dedicated fanboy since the beginning (Remember Hot off the Grill with Bobby Flay? I do). His well-worn cookbooks adorn my shelves and I turn to them ofttimes to WOW my guests. He’s had an unshakable influence on my cooking.

Although I have never met him, he lives in my world through his recipes. They awaken in me a mix of curiosity and willpower and push me to attempt dishes that I’ve never dreamed of doing before. His recipes make my dinner parties hugely triumphant and the kudos I receive from my guests are in large part due to his shrewd vision and creative abilities. He epitomizes the very ideals that I espouse to attain in my cooking. Delectable, artful, comforting and soul satisfying food.

I frequently invoke his spirit while preparing for a dinner and feel as if I am one of his kitchen underlings, striving to do his dishes, and in turn him, justice. It’s a little weird, I know, but there is some inexplicable and subconscious comfort in knowing that Bobby is always by my side. Even if it’s only in print!

Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with Mango Vinaigrette and Red Chile Horseradish

Boobs, Whipped Cream and Sage Business Advice: Steve DiFillippo’s new book "It’s All About the Guest"


“Boobs slathered in whipped cream are great, but money is better. If you want to do well in your business, you should think the same way.” –Steve DiFillippo, It’s All About the Guest.

I love this guy. I’ve yet to meet him, but I am already quite fond of him. How could that be? It’s All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life, the Davio’s Way is no less all about the reader than it is about the guest, and I came away from the book feeling confident that he and I could be bona fide old chums.

DiFillippo is a great raconteur. In the book, his “character” leaps off the page, and you can’t help but cheer for his obsession with food and admiration for people. You are left with the sense of a man who has given himself totally to this world and who has an insatiable appetite for life.

He’s an all-in type of guy, one who shows reverence and a profound commitment to his family, friends, guests and his people. He’s inextricably bound to his upbringing. “Warm and comforting memories,” he calls them. In the book, he recounts how he grew up in the kitchens of his mother and his aunts—both Portuguese and Italian. From his Nana (grandmother) he learned that food mattered, and how it was prepared mattered. “I’m not sure where I’d be today if it wasn’t for Nana.” From his dad, he learned that it was all about having good people in your life. “You can’t get anywhere without them. And you have to treat them right. Then watch, they treat you right.” It’s clear that both his dad and Nana have had a profound effect on how he runs his business and conducts his life.

DiFillippo’s instincts and deepest beliefs are on full display in his book. His narrative shifts as he recounts the highs and the lows from childhood fat-camp, to coffee clerk, to head chef, to a multimillion dollar brand. Part The Art of the Deal, part Kitchen Confidential, with cherished recipes and practical wisdom thrown in for good measure, It’s All About the Guest is a story-driven, passionate chronicle of what it takes to triumph in the restaurant business.

But, this isn’t just a story about how to make it in business. It’s All About the Guest is a tale of DiFillippo’s personal, passionate pursuit to own and operate a successful restaurant, a quest that began when he was a young boy growing up in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. It’s a story of lessons learned along the way, and it provides a recipe for success for young entrepreneurs.

DiFillippo is a model of what it means to be focused and doggedly determined. “If you want to thrive for decades, you can never let up. Not even when a topless server flings whipped cream in your face.” Well put Steve, well put.

It’s All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life, the Davio’s Way” by Steve Fillippo is available at Amazon.com and Chapters.Indigo.ca.

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