`My Last Supper' by photographer, Melanie Dunea is a culinary tabletop book for browsing while waiting for the host of the evening to bring out the coffee and brandy / sherry / cordials. It is graced by an introduction by the culinary journalist ombudsman, Anthony Bourdain, who adds some cachet to the book's premise by stating that the `game' of relating one's preferred last meal is a common recreation in the kitchens and after hours back rooms of restaurants around the world for decades, if not centuries.
It is important to note that the principal author's primary vocation is photography, because the photographs of the forty-nine chefs / culinary professionals who participated in this project are by far the most interesting offering in this volume. Each pic is decorated by the chefs' answers to the same five questions. These are `What would be your last meal on earth?', `What would be the setting for the meals?', `What would you drink with your meal?', `Who would be your dining companions?', and `Who would prepare the meals?'. The answer to the second question contributes much to the setting for the chef's photograph, although I suspect that the chefs themselves had much to say regarding their pose and backdrop. I am quite impressed by the fact that the photographer and her team have been able to corral 32 people out of the 49 whom I recognize by both name and visage. In fact, I have reviewed books written by over 25 (over half) of the principals. The selection is so good, it's interesting to note the very few famous chefs who are not captured, such as Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and Alice Waters. On the other hand, we do get such luminaries as Ferran Adria, Jamie Oliver, Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, Nobu, Rick Bayless, and Thomas Keller. And, every last one of the contributors is major, very serious working chefs, even though Bourdain, Jacques Pepin, Tyler Florence, and Lydia Bastianich are best known for work outside the kitchen.
The first thing I find remarkable is how few of the participants thought outside the box of the five questions. The only two were Guy Savoy, who agreed to a portrait, but refused answers to the questions and, amazingly, Tyler Florence of various Food Network shows. Even odder is as original as Florence' answers are, his picture is probably the least interesting and least artistically composed.
While I always enjoy Bourdain's writing, I suspect some of his perceptions about the answers are a bit forced. On the other hand, his photographic portrait is easily one of the most interesting. Part of Bourdain's misstatement may be the observation that most chefs pick very ordinary meals. I find this true of only about half the choices. While very few of the meals involve difficult dishes, most do use relatively expensive ingredients such as caviar, foie gras, truffles, Kobe beef, and Toro tuna. In fact, it's remarkable that across all these chefs with such diverse backgrounds, that me most common wish is for raw fish in some form or another.
Each chef contributes one or two recipes printed at the back of the book. I find this one of the at least two annoying ways in which the book is organized. Why not put the recipe together with the section in which it is mentioned. The second annoyance is that the chefs' restaurant affiliations are presented in the very back of the book, taking up four oversized pages with information which would easily fit on half a page. And, for those chefs whose venue I do not know, I would have preferred this information up front, instead of being put into a filler section whose primary function seems to be to add a few more pages to this padded book.
It is also interesting to tabulate the musical interests, which are generally pretty ordinary. Very few pick Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven. By my very informal count, the favorite performer seems to be The Rolling Stones!
Another little parlor game with the book may be to find the two chefs of whom there are at least two different pictures. One is very easy, as they appear on facing pages. The second answer needs some digging.
In the end, this book's primary value is as I stated at the top. An entertainment for foodie dinner guests. If you have none of these, this pricy volume may be just a bit too dear for the average cookbook collector. If you are a foodie who simply must have every interesting book published on celebrity chefs, then you must have this one, and it will entertain you for an evening. If you are on a budget, ask for it as a present or check it out in the library.
Needless to say, almost all the recipes are interesting, but $40 is a lot to pay for 50 recipes, which are not organized in a useful way. Odds are, you already own many books by the most interesting chef / writers such as Batali, Bourdain, Oliver, Bayless, Boulud, Keller, Pepin, Silverton, and so on. And, if you don't, and you are interested in these recipes, you are better off getting the books with many more recipes in them.
This book has much which is clever and entertaining, but it has little permanent value.