Show-off cooking at its best
By Doug Mosley
Michael Chiarello probably lives that life we all dream to have after we win the lottery. He lives in Napa Valley where he has very popular restaurants and his own vineyard. He competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and made it to the finals, has a Food Network show, and earned chef of the year awards from the Culinary Institute of America and Food & Wine magazine. There’s not much that separates him and the world’s most interesting man.
Somehow around all this he has managed to write nine cookbooks. Two were themed to his restaurants, Bottega and Tra Vigne, and three others were written about oils and vinegars as featured ingredients. The other three were about casual cooking and entertaining and that probably brought him around to his most recent release, Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors ($35, Chronicle Books, 224 pp.).
Most readers will see this book as a representation of the Napa lifestyle, focusing on fresh ingredients and rustic cooking methods. Readers of the National Barbecue News will likely see this book as a sort of outdoor cooking Olympics with the different apparatus and styles that are covered in these pages: a grill, hearth, iron cross, plancha, rotisserie, fire pit, roasting box (i.e., La Caja China) and in coals and embers. Each of these are complemented with great full-color pictures, recipes and plenty of resource information. It’s so well done that it’s practically like this book is daring you.
Chiarello offers so much more to go with the cooking methods. I really like how he put together the sections on the outdoor and indoor cooking pantries as well as covered the necessary equipment in just enough detail.
This book is show-off cooking at its best (and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all). If you’re looking to bask in the ooohs and aaahs of appreciative guests or set the bar way higher in your neighborhood outdoor cooking culture, this is definitely the book for you.
So along the lines of live fire, it seems like every spring I’ve been able to tell you about great books that cover building your own wood-fired ovens in your backyard. There have been some excellent ones that I hope those of you in the DIY crowd have used for inspiration to make this addition on your own. Or if you’re like me, you look through one of these books and then approach someone who knows what they’re doing with a box of tools and point to the one you’d like to have built for you. Either way, these bring a huge show-and-tell factor to your next casual gathering.
Surprisingly, none of you took me to task for offering up a book that gives you ideas on how to use one of these. The reason was pretty simple – I’d not come across such a book. Until now, that is, when I have to recommend to you From the Wood-Fired Oven: New and Traditional Techniques for Cooking and Baking with Fire, by Richard Miscovich ($44.95, Chelsea Green Publishing, 326 pp.).
This is practically a text book on cooking with a wood-fired oven. It covers the topic in amazing detail and likely stands as a definitive reference. It opens with construction of wood-fired ovens, but the book is mainly focused on cooking with them, particularly how to most efficiently use the oven’s energy to turn out great dishes. Whether you’re baking or roasting, there is plenty of information here to guide you through the process. If you already have a wood-fired oven, this book is the owner’s manual that you need.
While most of what I cover in this space are cookbooks, I’ve always really enjoyed books that don’t focus primarily on recipes but rather tell the history and stories of barbecue. There are so many excellent ones available that cover various regions and now there is one that features a state with a deep background in ‘cue, A History of South Carolina Barbecue by Lake E. High, Jr., ($19.99, American Palate, 174 pp.).
These sorts of books are generally as good as the research that goes into them and in this one, the author has definitely performed the work. He patiently wades through all the origins of barbecue theories, works through the ensuing development and spread through the southern U.S. and eventually arrives at barbecue in social and retail settings. And then he does something that will especially popular with readers of this publication – he covers competition barbecue in excellent detail. All in all, it’s a well-done book and a must-have for every barbecue history buff.
Let’s close out this month with two really cool books from that venerable Jeopardy! category, potent potables. One is about whiskey and the other is about wine, and the both approach their topics with the goal of bringing your subject knowledge from confused pretender to confidently informed in a pretty easy way.
Let’s start by admitting that discussing whiskey and wine can be a bit like talking about art: everyone knows enough about it to know what their favorites are but then there’s always some know-it-all inserting themselves into the conversation to tell you why you’re wrong. I completely understand why many folks literally just sidestep the discussion because they don’t want to come off looking dumb. But there’s no need for that because these topics don’t have to be difficult at all, plus you don’t have to read some encyclopedic volume to bring yourself up to speed.
We’ll start with the book on whiskey, Drink More Whiskey: Everything You Need to Know About Your New Favorite Drink by Daniel Yaffe ($19.95, Chronicle Books, 176 pp.).The first thing that comes to mind about this book is how enjoyably readable it is, almost as if you and the author were having a conversation at a bar stool. It’s one thing to write in this style, it’s another to do so and not come off so casual that it gets bogged down in colloquialisms and jargon. He delivers plenty of information in this straightforward manner that you’ll find easy to absorb.
Yaffe briskly runs through his chapters, covering the specific whiskey regions (U.S., Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Japan) and finishing with a catch-all section covering the rest of the world. He also devotes an entire chapter to the rising popularity of unaged spirits (more widely known as white dog). In all, it’s a well-done piece that packs a bunch into 176 pages.
In the same easy manner that Drink More Whiskey covered its topic, Hello, Wine: The Most Essential Things You Need to Know About Wine, by Melanie Wagner ($24.95, Chronicle Books, 228 pp.) goes over the intricacies of wine. But this book isn’t a cookie cutter of the other; rather, it is presents itself more graphically in a way that is to the best a subject that can be as complex as wine. What I really loved about this book is how it tackled its topic without taking itself too seriously – some parts of this book are just downright funny!
There are a lot of books on wine that seem to operate under the same formula – growing grapes to winemaking to world regions – but Hello, Wine takes a completely different swing at this, opening with a fact-filled introduction and following that with a fun chapter dispelling common wine myths. The following chapters cover production, evaluating what’s in a glass of wine and then one that compares old world and new world wine. After a brief rundown on the grape varieties, it’s on to interesting sections that cover the social aspects of wine – buying, serving, pairing with food and enjoying with others.
Whether your personal preference be whiskey or wine, either or both of these are great selections. Buy them today and find out pretty quickly how smart you can be when it comes to what you have in your glass.
Back to Top