Chefs offer talk, tips in Best of the Best
The late James Beard, hailed as the dean of American cooking, left a legacy that celebrates the nation’s rich melting pot cuisine as “one of the most fascinating culinary subjects of all.” And since its creation in 1986, the James Beard Foundation has nurtured the country’s most creative chefs.
A new book by Kit Wohl, The James Beard Foundation’s Best of the Best (Chronicle, $60), spotlights 21 outstanding culinary talents, including Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio.
Three renowned Chicago-based Beard Award winners — Charlie Trotter, Rick Bayless and Grant Achatz — also are highlighted.
Though the handsome volume would dress up any coffee table, its 240 pages contain a number of approachable recipes. In addition, readers will find behind-the-scenes snapshots of the high-energy chefs and insights on what makes them tick.
For instance, Wohl quotes Trotter, summing up the chef’s philosophy: “It’s important to try as hard as you can. At the same time, human failings are appealing and beautiful because you learn so much from them. If one knows nothing but success, one can become complacent.”
Mexican cooking authority Bayless, who operates Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, tells readers: “I tend to have a lot of focus, a lot of passion, when I’m doing something. Usually I work on one thing to the exclusion of everything else until I’m done.”
Alinea, classically trained Achatz’s avant-garde restaurant, blends dining with performance art. “We’re trying to break the monotony of not only food technique, presentation and preparation, but the emotional response that you have,” the chef is quoted.
These top chefs each contributed recipes, too.
Trotter offers an involved recipe for Squab Breast with French Breakfast Radish Confit, Black Sesame Puree and Annato Gastrique. Achatz serves up Hot Potato, Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Parmesan. And Bayless shares a recipe for Smoky Peanut Mole with Grilled Quail.
Though all three recipes are intriguing, their execution probably is best left to professionals.
Alfred Portale, 2006 Beard Award winner for his work as chef at Gotham Bar and Grill in New York, attributes his success to offering a menu that’s consistently “creative, fresh and contemporary” complemented by well-tuned service.
He presents a quite doable recipe for Beet Salad with Mango, Feta, Orange and Mint, which is a fine example of the style and philosophy his nearly 30-year-old restaurant embodies.