Top positive review
12 people found this helpful
on 3 October 2010
When I received this book I flipped through it and my first emotion was disappointment: it features only a few pictures, and the recipes didn't look as interesting and innovative as I'd hoped for a book about California cuisine, written by one of California's greatest chefs (and California can showcase quite a few of those). Instead, it includes many French-style preparations and "Californicated" southern Italian staple dishes, most of which I already have the recipes for, being a great fan of Italian cuisine.
That evening I had a chance to examine the book closer, and my initial disappointment quickly subsided. Judy Rodgers is a person with meticulous attention to detail, from explaining the cuts of meat best used for her stocks with regards to the flavor they produce, to describing the desired outcome of roasting (canned!) tomatoes in words which more than make up for the missing pictures of finished dishes. She doesn't go for the easy option of substituting ingredients not readily available widely with the "least worst of" those conveniently pre-packed on supermarket shelves, but instead goes through great effort to "recreate" the flavor of the original, and often very local, ingredient(s) at home. It's a bit of an effort for the home cook, and quite a few of her dishes are best left to prepare on weekends and holidays where one is likely to have more time for cooking, although many others are quick enough to prepare for a weekday supper. Great emphasis is put on the selection of the freshest, highest quality (organic) produce available from farmers' markets. To keep this short, this book is for the dedicated home cook who refuses to settle for second best; the one who doesn't sacrifice flavor and texture for convenience. (Judy's suggestion to reduce portion sizes rather than the amount of butter used to prepare a dish must be seen in this context, if the reader wants to remain objective and fair in this crazy world of worship for all products reduced in something.)
Cooking techniques are equally important to Judy Rodgers; some of those she uses at times are not traditional to a certain dish, and thus give it a new and exciting character without the need to add (often expensive) fairy dust. Judy encourages her readers to be creative and give dishes the occasional change of make-up: Even the most lovingly prepared dish can lose its appeal when served too often in the same manner; be inventive and feel free to use vegetables and pulses with a similar consistency for those in the ingredients list, if that's what you happen to have in your store cupboards and fridge/freezer. This is a "waste not, want not" chef, and suggestions are given what to do with, for example, braising liquids that are not served with the ready-cooked dish, or the meats used to make stocks.
Interesting to read for me was also Judy's story at the beginning of the book: It's an account of what made Judy Rodger's the chef she is now (and the Zuni Cafe the Zuni Cafe, I guess), and the road she traveled to get to this point. The "Notes" section that follows the recipe section could prove most important for many home cooks: Judy gives invaluable tips on how to select, store, and treat ingredients before and after cooking.
The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is a purchase that I will cherish; I feel that it will prove well worth the money spent on it. :-)