Three New Books Put Classic Chefs in the Spotlight | Cooking & Food Reviews

Jacques Pépin offers easy everyday meals, Alex Guarnaschelli re-creates classic dishes, and John Birdsall explores the life of James Beard.

redstarBirdsall, John. The Man Who Ate Too Much: The Life of James Beard. Norton. Oct. 2020. 496p. ISBN 9780393635713. $35. BIOG/COOKING
After winning the James Beard Award for his essay "America, Your Food Is So Gay," Birdsall wondered how James Beard (1903-85) rose to become the beloved "dean of American food." This engaging biography sheds insight, and describes Beard’s complicated life. Though Robert Clark’s James Beard: A Biography revealed aspects of Beard’s private life, Birdsall examines it more closely, placing it into historical context by recounting the oppression gay men faced at the time. Ever fearful of being outed, Beard habitually destroyed personal mementos, but Birdsall used published material and private letters, conducted personal interviews, scoured Beard’s appointment books (complete with menu notes), and examined photographs to write this vivid, detailed biography. The well-balanced narrative describes both high points in Beard’s life, such as his groundbreaking TV cooking show in 1946, as well as less celebratory topics, including his sometimes-ruthless ambition; battles with weight, loneliness, and depression; and MeToo moments. VERDICT Highly recommended, this book offers new insight into Beard’s life and time. It also helps another generation of foodies appreciate how Beard shaped American cuisine and helps all of us better understand the struggles LGBQT people faced in the mid-20th century.—Bonnie Poquette, Milwaukee

Guarnaschelli, Alex. Cook with Me: 150 Recipes for the Home Cook. Clarkson Potter. Oct. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9780593135082. $35. COOKING
Many of us know Guarnaschelli from her appearances on the Food Network, where she is either dazzling with her own skills or egging on competitors. The downside to being a famous chef, though, is making dishes that are accessible for those of us at home, using our own kitchen equipment. Her latest after The Home Cook is subtitled "150 recipes for the home cook"—and that is exactly what readers will get. The book covers all the usual areas: appetizers, soups, entrées, desserts, drinks, even breakfast, but the focus is primarily on main dishes such as roasted chicken pot pie, chickpea and celery salad, and orange pound cake. Similar to her previous books, the meals feature an Italian influence, but there is plenty of comfort food too. Beautiful, vivid photographs will help home chefs visualize each meal. Recipes are well laid out and organized; none are too "chefy," and each comes with a nice headnote providing context about the origins of the dish. VERDICT This will be in high demand, owing not only to name recognition, but also for the depth and range of the delicious recipes included throughout.—Susan Hurst, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH

redstarPépin, Jacques. Jacques Pépin Quick & Simple. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9780358352556. $35. COOKING
The newest cookbook from Pepin, Quick & Simple, is full of recipes that are exactly such. In his infinite cooking wisdom, Pepin states up front that he wants to simplify cooking and shares pointers for efficient and accessible home cooking, including suggestions for a well-stocked pantry. The book is organized by course; to encourage those limited on time, he attempts to make his recipes more accessible by calling for ingredients like store-bought puff pastry or a bag of frozen vegetables. Though he’s known for French cooking, recipes featured here are comprehensive in scope and include dishes from salsa to borscht, crispy wonton wafers to zucchini flan, to name a few. Some recipes are new twists on old classics, like black bean hummus with smoked oysters and sour cream or blue cheese tortilla croque-monsieur. Not all of the meals are accompanied by photos, but in true warm Pepin fashion, the recipe introductions include gentle instructions or encouragements to help users enjoy the process and feel relaxed in the kitchen. VERDICT A comprehensive collection of everyday recipes that will encourage anyone who is short on time, but still interested in cooking fabulous food at home.—Sara Jurek, Children’s English Lib., Stuttgart, Germany

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