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Book Review: Chez Panisse Café Cookbook

Chez anisse Cafe CookbookHere is a cookbook that elevates fresh ingredients to a new level. Chez Panisse Café Cookbook, like the other cookbooks written by Alice Waters, focuses on foods that are locally grown, certifiably organic, and sustainably grown and harvested. Providing both simple and complex recipes, this cookbook offers 140 recipes featured at Chez Panisse Café located in Berkeley, California where the Mediterranean based menu changes seasonally to ensure the freshest possible ingredients.

The recipes are organized by ingredients; vegetables, eggs and cheese, fish and shellfish beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and sweets. Each chapter begins with a description of the local sources for the ingredients which give the reader a sense of the values the author places on the procurement of fresh produce. You learn why eggs from free-ranging flocks are better than those from egg factories and that feeding pigs milk and hazelnuts improves their flavor. Some basic recipes are included such as how to produce the perfect hard-cooked egg, basic fish sock, and pizza dough. More intriguing recipes include wild nettle frittata, artichoke mashed potatoes, and Meyer lemon relish. If you are daring you might want to try the recipes for head cheese or home cured pancetta. Hamburgers take on a whole new taste when prepared with lovage while baked marinated goat cheese enlivens a garden lettuce salad. And each recipe begins with information about it such as cooking tips, complementary foods to serve with it.

The recipes are enticing and the ingredients are daunting unless you live in Northern California where most are grown all year long. There lies the hitch; many of the recipes have at least one ingredient that the average reader can not get at all, let alone fresh. The book, however, is a good read because of all the information provided in the introductions to the chapters and recipes. From this material the reader can learn a lot about the ingredients, techniques of cooking, and pairing of foods. Water’s approach to food and cooking is refreshing and can serve as an inspiration to any cook living anywhere.