Sam Fox is a restaurateur. Michael Stebner is an executive chef and of course Andrew Weil is a legendary health guru with international tastes and a surprising expertise in the kitchen. What they've done together aside from writing this book is found and operate True Food Kitchens, a growing chain of restaurants where the emphasis is on food that is (as in the subtitle of this book) "Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure."
What this means can be discerned by going over the recipes in the book. This is not a vegan or even a vegetarian cuisine. This is an international cuisine fit for an epicurean flexitarian! The emphasis is on the fresh, bold, and organic with little meat, some chicken and a bit more fish. Many of the recipes are inspired by Weil's concept of the "Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid." There's a color photo of the "pyramid" in all its glory on page 46--no words, just the foods themselves. At the apex is chocolate (!) followed by red wine, food supplements, spices like ginger and chiles, and foods like fish, beans, avocados, mushrooms, veggies and fruits, etc. (You can see the labeled pyramid at Dr. Weil's website.) At the base of the pyramid which represents foods that should form the bulk of our diet are the veggies and fruits.
Weil says that he used the Mediterranean diet as a template in his design of the pyramid. He explains that these foods and not the highly processed foods found in the stores and in most restaurants lead to less inflammation in the body and to a healthy life style. The cuisine (I'd call it an international cuisine based on healthy food choices), Weil writes, "includes fewer foods of animal origin, except for fish and high-quality dairy products like yogurt and natural cheeses." (p. 47)
Yes, this is the middle way of moderation between veganism and bacon-corn syrup gluttony (if you will). Vegetarians are not going to be thrilled and vegans are going to be offended. But there are recipes for vegans dishes (e.g., Butternut Squash-Apple Soup with a cashew base on page 97) in contrast to, well, the recipe for a "Bison Umami Burger" on page 140.
Dr. Weil doesn't eat beef but believes that bison is a healthy substitute. I would say, perhaps--at least for now until and if it becomes popular, and then the food producers will make it as unhealthy as commercially produced beef. There's a recipe for the (vegan) "Umami Sauce" on page 236. Key ingredients are tamari, nutritional yeast and garlic.
I am writing this before dinner and wow are the recipes making me hungry! This is the perfect cook book for me since I've long followed a similar diet and much prefer cooking at home with my choice of ingredients done my way to going out to eat. But compared to the authors of this book I'm just a chef's helper with a limited range. Weil, Fox and Stebner demonstrate a deep and abiding knowledge about and love for food. We're all foodies under the skin, but some like Weil are really in another league. I've read and reviewed several of Dr. Weil's books, always favorably and always with some reservations. I'll skip the reservations here (since they are few and insignificant) and just say that I am amazed at Weil's understanding of food and his vast experience. He has clearly spent a good portion of his life experiencing food, thinking about food, eating food and cooking food! (And yes I thought he was doing yoga.)
The book begins with an Introduction that is an interesting conversation about food and the restaurant business among Weil, Fox and Stebner. Next comes "The True Food Pantry," a list and description of somewhat unusual but characteristic ingredients, such as agave nectar, chiles, flax meal, tahini, etc. Then come the recipes in chapters entitled, "Breakfast," "Appetizers," "Salads," and so on to "Desserts" and "drinks." There are mini essays on such things as "True Whole Grains" (page 21) and chapter intros written by Weil or Stebner. The recipes are also introduced and/or commented upon by either Weil or Stebner identified by their initials.
The book is beautifully designed and edited, full of easy to read bits of information about food and diet. The full color photos of the foods are gorgeously mouth-watering.
--Well, okay, one reservation: this cuisine requires not just a love of food but the time and energy to go to good markets on almost a daily basis and to keep on hand (and fresh!) a number of specialty ingredients. I'm thinking of the pickled cucumbers, the umami sauce, the dashi sauce (requiring, e.g., kombu and bonito flakes) and a variety of chiles and of course fresh fruits and vegetables. The only way you can achieve this is to really immerse yourself in food and to love what you're doing. But I think the reward is well worth the effort because not only will you be eating healthier, you will find that you can eat reasonable amounts delicious food with relish, and because you have spent that extra energy shopping and cooking, you will have help in keeping a healthy weight.
Favorite substitution: Kalamata olives for anchovies in the Vegetarian Caesar Dressing on page 233.
Favorite tip: When toasting nuts realize that they are still cooking after being removed from the heat source. So as a general rule, "once you can smell the nuts, they are done." (p. 243) I learned this the hard way with sesame seeds and foraged Digger Pine nuts.
In a nutshell, this is now easily my favorite cook book.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)"
After a while a 'yet another' book authored by one or more partners in a restaurant can begin to grate. Unless you are a devotee of that particular establishment you start to question the purpose of the book. Of course, a chef at the top of his or her game, renowned for innovation or a particular speciality can still manage to pull a rabbit out of the literary-culinary hat, but for those lower down the 'food chain'?
It is unfortunate that this book brought these thoughts to a head. Here you get the considered wisdom of a partner and a chef behind 'True Food' (a U.S. restaurant that promotes its mission statement that every dish served must not only be delicious, but it must promote the diner's wellbeing) as well as a restauranteur. The end result is a fairly hefty tome that is well-illustrated and designed (in the interests of clarity it should be declared that only an electronic version of the book was made available for review).
The book begins with a fairly lengthy (too lengthy?) introduction that took the form of a written discussion between the authors. This reviewer is not so sure that this really works. Then it is onto a look into the 'True Food' pantry, to explain some of the exotic ingredients used within the recipes such as coconut milk to the reader. Exotic? Then the recipes begin.
Visually and superficially there is nothing to complain about. A relatively good design, wonderful photographs and a formulaic pathway throughout the book. But the overall 'feeling' or 'packaging' of this book is just not gelling with this reviewer. When you come to the recipes things are acceptable and all the core bits and pieces you would expect to find are here. A brief introduction, ingredients list, coherent and understandable instructions and great photographs. An interesting selection of recipes and then bang. Something seems to jam the gears. A boulder on the road. For example, you are happily skimming through breakfast recipes and then comes a mini lecture "Avoiding sugar, fat and salt crutches." Why there? Don't know. Valid? Possibly but why not stick all the evangelism and possible finger-waving to its own section if it is really necessary...
This reviewer cannot put his finger on what is exactly wrong with this book. It is more a feeling. There is a lack of soul. Now that can sound ludicrous as if you just look at the recipes things aren't bad. But the identity and inner soul of the book appear to be confused, not so defined. It isn't, or shouldn't be, a cultural thing either. There isn't anything to criticise production-wise either. All the important boxes are ticked and many things would receive five YUMs (photographs, general layout, etc). But just still the soul is missing. Perhaps this is more enhanced as the book appears to give the impression of being just MORE than a collection of recipes. Here is a premium product but it just is not fully delivering. It is not firing on all cylinders. It is just, so, maddening.
If this book just focussed on the recipes and ignored the various philosophies, mini lectures and general outpourings of gush it would be a good four or possibly even a five YUM (star) book, even at its current price point. Yet when you consider the entire book it just does not feel right. You would be highly recommended to look at this in a bookstore to see if you identify with any awkwardness and can work around it. That is about the best we can say. It would have been easier if the production side had let the book down, or if the recipes needed a boost in some areas. Does 'all heart but no soul" make sense?