Doral Chenoweth, the Grumpy Gourmet, reviews Michael Rosen's
book, Cooking from the Heart, 100 Great American Chefs.
Julia Child gave us an ink version of unfamiliar foods, unheard of ingredients and left us with a polished cuisine well beyond our culinary abilities.
Julia is a chef, but not a restaurant chef.
Before Julia in my formal trade education there was Auguste Escoffier, a French chef who could write about cooking up and until around the mid 1930's. In the mid-1970's a few American restaurant chefs toyed with the idea of putting down recipes and selling them in book form. In the 1980's the market for chef-driven cookbooks exploded.
We called them star chefs.
When I wrote my first restaurant reviews in 1960 in Columbus, Ohio - The Columbus Star - I never thought about writing about the chefs.
It wasn't until around 1980 that I felt it important to make inquiries as to the chef's training, his culinary achievements, his awards, his personal recipe development.
As I became more and more caught up in telling my readers about chef backgrounds, the more I heard from restaurant owners. Scores of times I have been told that I was “making a star out of the chef.” Translated, that meant the chef realized he or she was worth more than minimum wage.
In the 1980's chefs started becoming owners. Chef-proprietor was the claim to ownership. People started going to restaurants where the culinary stars held forth. I am attracted to restaurants where the stars are in the kitchen. I go to any movie starring Clint Eastwood. I go to restaurants outside of Columbus for the same reason. I go to Charlie Trotter in Chicago because the owner is the star. Once in Chicago to participate in a two-day reviewing clinic, I managed to have dinner there three nights in a row.
Why would I drive from Washington, D. C., 75 miles west to a hamlet named Washington, Virginia, to have dinner at the Inn at Little Washington? Chef-proprietor there is the star chef, Patrick O'Connell.
In Dallas, Stephan Pyles is my target chef. He's owned three restaurants over two decades. All have been like magnets. My other Dallas star is Dean Fearing at the Mansion on Turtle Creek.
All of the above have written cookbooks.
Michael Rosen has chosen well - oh, I may disagree with a half dozen of his choices. But that is part of the read with his 100 anointments.
My best measurement of Cooking from the Heart is in his selection of two noted star chefs in my Columbus, Ohio.
Rosen included Hubert Seifert, chef-proprietor of Spagio, a casual destination serving his spa-type cuisine; and Bruce Hildreth, chef-proprietor of Tapatio, a casual spot that pioneered Cuban-Caribbean-rim fare in the heart of red meat country.
Both Spagio and Tapatio always have been on my Top 10 list of favorites in The Columbus Dispatch.
Both chefs, Seifert and Hildreth, write their personal stories in Rosen's tome. Vignettes in the first person took me into their homes and lives beyond their familiar kitchens.
In all of chef-driven cookbooks in my library, the dust jacket blurbs are my favorite but short reads.
Rosen's collections give the reader recipes, but best of the reads are the first person sketches and Rosen's highlighted text boxes about the 100 restaurants.
If you approach cookbooks as I do, Rosen will have multiplied your pleasure 100 times.
by Doral Chenoweth
AVAILABLE: www.broadwaybooks.com, $29.95.