Welcome Books, $45.00, 320 pages
I am always a bit averse to reviewing cookbooks written by restaurant chefs/owners. They seem to forget they are writing to home cooks. Mercifully, in Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food, author Lucy Lean took care not to fall into this category. In fact, this book is excellent, something like watching Food Network as millions do with no interest in getting into their kitchens. This is a serious book for foodies and average home cooks alike. Even if you don’t intend to test any of the recipes, this book reads like watching “Iron Chef” – very entertaining. The author interviewed some hundred chefs and asked them for their comfort food recipes. She introduces each recipe with a page about the chef and the recipe, and her excellent writing is a pleasure to read, not just scan. Quarter- to full-page gorgeous photos of the chef, the dish, and a shot or two in the kitchen fill the space between the texts.
Yes, many recipes are for dedicated cooks; however, many others (tomato soup, baked beans, chicken soup) any home cook can reproduce. Very few recipes will make you hunt for special ingredients, but some will keep you in the kitchen for hours working on three separate preparations before assembling (e.g., the pulled pork sandwich). Though from many chefs, all recipes are uniform, re-written by the author, and easy to follow with step-by-step instructions. A brief useful “Chef’s Tips” follows many recipes, along with sidebars giving historic recipes, mostly from the 19th century. Many chefs based their comfort foods on these, updating, testing, and retesting them to make them easy to use for today’s home cooks. For example, when the old recipe calls for “1 large cup yeast,” the chef interpreted this as one cup of sourdough starter.
Even though this is a coffee table and anytime-reading book, many home cooks can attempt the easier, simpler recipes. But you better leave some for the truly serious cooks, like the “Spiced Corn Broth with Scallops, Noodles and Herbs,” having 20 ingredients (based on a recipe that had six ingredients). Many of the illustrations showing the finished dish are attainable by a home cook, but having professional training helps to reproduce others (Grilled Flatiron Steak with Truffled Creamed Spinach and Pickled Onion Rings). The nine chapters include everything from breakfast/brunch recipes through desserts. Chances are you will find an updated version of your own comfort food somewhere in there. The index is also very good, cross-referenced, and listing all the chefs’ establishments. This serious cookbook benefits any cook or foodie.