This year the Sprouts will feature two categories: a People's Choice Award and a Judges' Choice Award. With all the wonderful and well-deserving books that were published in 2009, it was difficult to narrow down our top 10 books.
Vote for your favourite nominee by following this link to our 2009 Sprouts Awards voting page. Voting closes on February 15 and the Sprouts will be awarded at a festive ceremony in April.
We present to you, the ten nominees of the 2009 Sprouts Awards:
How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis (Little, Brown & Company)
Tender by Nigel Slater (HarperCollins)
The Tastes of Sonora Resort by Matthew Stowe (Sonora Resort)
Araxi by James Walt (D&M)
Momofuku by David Chang (Clarkson Potter)
The Paley's Place Cookbook by Vitaly Paley and Kimberly Paley with Robert Reynolds (Ten Speed Press)
From Nature to Plate by Tom Kitchin (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
C Food by Robert Clark and Harry Kambolis (Whitecap)
Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller (Artisan)
French Taste by Laura Calder (HarperCollins)
We've included a brief review of each of our nominated books for you to peruse.
How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis
It has become a popular trend in the world of coobooks to combine recipes with personal anecdotes and memoirs. Not every book pulls this off successfuly, but Michael Psilakis' How To Roast a Lamb does it both beautifully and appropriately. It is quite fitting that a cookbook which honours traditional Greek cooking and culinary customs takes a sidetrip into nostalgia, honouring the family memories that have coloured Psilakis' culinary evolution. Peppered with sepia-toned photographs from his youth and complemented with many stories that tribute the memory of his father's garden and cooking, How To Roast a Lamb is chock full of classic Greek fare that embraces a modern approach. Open Goat Moussaka, Stuffed Peppers with Beef and Rice, Braised Lamb Pastitsio are hearty, savoury dishes prepared with a light touch and presented gorgeously. Yogurt with Candied Quince and Crushed Jordan Almonds and Feta-stuffed Figs are a couple examples of smaller dishes, or mezes, that balance the main affairs. Very helpful sections on menu planning for Big-Party Cooking, sourcing Greek ingredients, and preparing your own confits make Psilakis' book both an extremely practical cooking guide as well as a very pleasant memoir to get lost in as you explore new recipes.
The Tastes of Sonora Resort by Matthew Stowe
This restaurant cookbook is one of those rare breeds that defies the limitation of its paper form and somehow manages to make the reader feel as though they’ve been phsycially transported to the luxurious Sonora Resort and been fed its delicious, gorgeous food. Photographer Darren Bernaerdt must be applauded for matching the sterling artistry of Chef Matthew Stowe’s jaw-dropping talent with pitch-perfect images. The deep, shining lush purple of the ahi tuna on page 165! The crisp oranges and verdant lime-greens of the Summer Vegetable Tasting Plate! Every single photograph has been elegantly poised and shot at the moment of perfection —Bernaerdt deserves a standing ovation.
Of course, it is what the photos capture that makes this book so worth having. Chef Stowe’s genius comes across in his recipes that transform homey, humble foods and flavour combinations into truly brilliant and beautiful masterpieces. Lobster Mac n’ Cheese with creamy orzo and truffle foam personify this sleight of hand. One dessert, simply called Peanut Butter and Jelly, is another example. Using the classically soul-satisfying combination, Chef Stowe pairs rich peanut butter cookie with port wine-poached grapes, brioche ice cream, and port wine gelee. Utter magic.
Try a few recipes from this book —or just lose yourself in the photographs for a while— and you will feel as though you’ve escaped for a moment to beautiful Sonora.
Momofuku by David Chang
Gritty, ballsy, slapdash, and dirty. This is how the boys of Momofuku roll. The book is sprinkled liberally with dry humour and a hefty chunk of nouns are preceded with ‘f**king’ as an all-encompassing, multi-purpose adjective. But this honesty and straightforwardness is exactly what makes Momofuku’s recipes an experience in pure genius. Their perfect play of texture, flavour, and experience presented in a no-frills, take-us-as-we-are manner characterize this explosively successful New York noodle bar.
What started out as a dive (which seriously looked as though it would dive-bomb in to failure), has become a phenomenal success. Momofuku the book, tells this story with humility, humour, and verve (from a couple of very foul mouths) while at the same time sharing the restaurant’s most sought-after recipes —the ones that wouldn’t die even when the cooks tried to kill them.
The recipes range from low-maintenance to long-term commitment endeavours that are well worth the time. What they have in common is an innate sense of combination, a clever display of technique, and a sense that these cooks relish in granting themselves freedom to colour well outside the lines. Deep fried apple pie with miso caramel sauce and sour cream ice cream, for example.
The Paley’s Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Pacific Northwest by Vitaly Paley and Kimberly Paley with Robert Reynolds
The fresh tang of goat’s cheese, buttery softness of pie crust, and the verdant green pulp of summer herb pesto —here is just one example of how the Paley’s Place recipes manage to marry traditional French technique with Pacific Northwest terroir, resulting in page after page of mouth-watering meals that beg to be tried. But this book is so much more than its recipes. Vitaly and Kimberly have earned the accolades and awards their restaurant wins with training in New York, France, and many, many hours spent tasting, experimenting, and pushing the boundaries of their skills. Spicing their repertoire is a from-the-gut motto Kimberly shares early on: “if you like it, drink it” she tells us about choosing wine. This belief explains how the Paley’s recipes unfailingly hit the sweet spot; they simply keep trying until they’ve got it just right.
The cookbook is both a generous sharing of their most delicious achievements and a collection of short and sweet stories that are exactly the kind of thing you want to hear a chef and sommelier tell you. The instructions for Vitaly’s Crisp Pan-Fried Lamb’s Tongue with Spicy Saffron Aioli, for example, are preceeded with a story of Vitaly’s memories of eating tongue spiced in Spain, or alongside pickles in Brooklyn, and how from these taste memories, a vision came to him of how to brine, fry, and serve tongue to perfection. A chat with George who provides their greens conveys how deeply they believe in Oregon soil (and in George, himself, who is one of those genius farmers whose vegetables appear to burst with purity).
Interwoven through the stories and recipes are hints of a harmonious, beautiful marriage between the Paley’s. With many years of serious training and teeth-cutting under their belts, it was a leap of faith for this couple to pack up and move from New York city to Oregon to open their elegantly rustic bistro in Portland. We should be very glad they have been so brave; their restaurant is now considered one of the country’s best and this cookbook has the mark of a young classic that will be inspiring chefs for many years to come.
From Nature to Plate: Seasonal Recipes from the Kitchin by Tom Kitchin
“From nature to plate is my motto, and it sums up a great part of my life. Nature is life; life is food.” This opening quote sets the tone for Kitchin’s extraordinary book. What follows are recipes that sing the praises of rich soil, the beauty of a courgette flower, the pristine freshness of razor clams. Kitchin’s cooking is pure poetry; a devout respect for nature colours each recipe, while a spot-on palette and an eye for presentation completes the masterpiece. Cooking seasonally with local organics has become commonplace (and rightfully so), but Kitchin takes it to the level of an art form in this book.
Pan-fried Calf’s Liver with Chicory and Blood Oranges; Spiced Aubergine with Scottish Smoked Salmon; Plums and Barley Pudding are a few tastes of the recipes that Kitchin shares. Each page is a testament to selecting pristine produce and knowing your butcher or fishmonger. Kitchin has a lot of tricks up his sleeve (having trained under some of the best and most demanding chefs) and he shares them generously here; each page has a tip to help make your representation of the recipe at home turn out beautifully.
The recipes are prefaced with the story on how he went “to hell and back” during his years in training (and nearly threw in the towel once or twice) offering a refreshing glimpse into the painstaking training young chefs go through. It is well worth the read; sprinkled with early gastronomical memories, it completes the picture of Kitchin’s culinary philosophy.
Araxi: Seasonal Recipes from the Celebrated Whistler Restaurant by James Walt
With accolades from the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal included on the covers, the Araxi cookbook impresses even before one opens it. Take a look inside and you won’t be disappointed. Chef James Walt has been attracting some heavyweight international attention with his imaginative, yet earthy creations. Daily visits to local farms create the constantly evolving menu; the consistency is in not being afraid to veer off the beaten path to experiment with a new ingredient so long as its speaks for its season and terroir. We are told: “The mandate at Araxi is to handle foods gently and enhance their natural flavours, so the ingredients are the stars.”
Recipes like Scallop Tartare with Avocado-Citrus Salad and Fried Ginger or Ricotta Gnocchi with Toasted Hazelnuts and Sage, or Summer Berry Pavlova with Lavender Cream capture the essence of a season by showcasing the best of what’s fresh in BC. While they sound complex, each recipe is clearly explained making it an easy book to follow. Wine pairings are suggested and tips (freshly press any fruit juices needed for a recipe, pair the floral accents of fresh apricots with BC hazelnuts) make this book an indispensable guide for preparing local gastronomic masterpieces spiked with je ne sais quois.
C Food by Robert Clark and Harry Kambolis
“This is not a conventional cookbook. It is not a series of menus or of seasons, but of photos. These conceptual photos inspired the recipes; it was through the lens of the camera that the dishes emerged.” With this introduction, C Food welcomes the reader to flip through its pages almost like a visitor would stroll through the halls of an art gallery. The book is a testament to the beauty of seafood; ruby red roe, salmon so fresh it glistens, oysters with a pearly shine.
And it does not leave out other realms as well; the wine lollipops on page 114 glow like cherry red Christmas bulbs, and the crème fraiche sorbet with perserved limes gleams like fresh snow. The recipes are included as well, but is a more a book that delights in the art of food than in the creating of it. And of course, being from C Restaurant, it is very much about choosing sustainable seafood and being aware that how we cook, how we eat, and how we source our ingredients has a terrific effect on our ecosystem. C’s role in upping the ante for Vancouver’s reputation as an eco-minded gastronomical force is addressed in the introduction; be sure to read it. And, on a lighter note, you absolutely cannot miss Andrew Morrison’s hilarious foreword which provides a bit of comedy (an amuse bouche if you will), before the fine art of the rest of the book unfolds.
Ad Hoc at Home: Family Style Recipes by Thomas Keller
Ad Hoc At Home is perhaps best described by this quote from chef de cuisine Dave Cruz: "Often cookbooks talk about bringing restaurant techniques and style to home cooking. Ad Hoc is a reflection of the reverse — applying home cooking to a restaurant — and the result is really good home cooking for everyone." Based on recipes from the “casual” California eatery, the book is infused with the sense of taking the time to prepare a beautiful meal to be shared with friends and family.
Keller’s approach is high on attention to detail; though the dishes in Ad Hoc are casual compared to those found in French Laundry or Under Pressure, they are still time-consuming and labour-intensive. And for good reason; the results are lip-smackingly rewarding. The buttermilk fried-chicken has been raved about on cooking forums online, and readers and reviewers have also loved the fig-stuffed roast pork loin, red onion cranberry marmalade, and the chocolate shortbread cookies with mint chocolate ice cream. It is one of those cookbooks where every single recipe sounds delicious, inventive, and thoughtful, and the instructions are so carefully detailed so that you can get the exact same results as they do at Ad Hoc in California. Don’t miss your chance to cook for your family from this stellar book.
French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating by Laura Calder
Laura Calder’s latest cookbook, French Taste, is aptly named. Here we are given just a taste of French cooking; enough that the French philosophy of eating is beautifully explained and conveyed through the choice of recipes, menu plans, and essays in this lovely book (be sure to take the time to read these; Laura’s personal anecdotes are genuinely charming and provide some useful tips).
Cookbooks that approach French cuisine are often either deeply complex and traditional, or somewhat trite and patronizing in their attempt to impart French ideas without getting their hands too deeply into technique. Calder provides a bridge for those who know they want to eat more elegantly, cook with more skill, and host with conviviality, but are new to this sphere. Stories on how to shop the market, choose cheeses, and luxuriate in full-fat cream paint the background in this snapshot of French cookery. The recipes shine in the foreground: olive oil and red grape cake; lobster, grapefruit, and avocado salad dressed with almond, hazelnut, or walnut oil; potatoes cooked in duck fat; nougat glace. Calder’s recipes float nicely between complex and simple, aiming to bring home cooks into a new sphere of culinary thinking, and giving them just a taste of the depths of French cookery.
If all the authors of all the cookbooks in Barbara-jo’s book shop held a big party and I was somehow invited, it is Nigel Slater and a glass of wine who I would most want to keep company with. All of his cookbooks have the immediate effect of sweeping me off my feet and making me forget where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. In his latest book, Tender, theses effects are tenfold and accompanied by a steady stream of extremely lovely thoughts rolling through my head, such as: “I’m going to make hot chocolate pudding and sit by the fire tonight” or “I’m going to plant a garden in my backyard and wake up in the early morning to ghostly fox prints in the fresh snow.”
And I know I’m not the only one with this long-distance crush on Slater and his books because I work at Barbara Jo’s and I’ve seen that goofy expression on many a customer’s face while flipping through Tender, and I’ve even been the recipient of some serious gushing from folks as they bring his new book up to the counter, explaining that they just must have it. I know. I understand completely. It’s romance, it’s poetry, it’s extremely delicious and comforting and slightly offbeat recipes all in one. It’s the kind of book that makes you fall in love with food, gardens, words, and of course, Nigel Slater.
Books reviewed by Katie Zdybel