I am a book lover. I read at least a few week, all different genres, and I have since I was a child. Escapism and education all rolled into one tidy package, what's not to love? The best books have personality. They are not always the most well written, with the strongest storyline or the most informative with clear illustrations or vivid photography. The best books speak to us on some level, reaching out and pulling us into their pages so that we are compelled to finish them, drawn back again and again to reread them, and live in our memories long after we put them down. They can be fiction or essays, cookbooks or business tomes. They can be any kind of book at all as long as they are written with passion and care and with that special, indefinable something that makes the words leap off the page and into our brains. This new Tuesday feature is about finding cookbooks that fit into that category. Some of them will be more compelling than others, some of them will be more beautiful or more homespun, but all of them will have something wonderful to offer or we wouldn't bother to mention them. Cookbooks are always there for us. There are ones we treasure for the stories or for the techniques, others for their insight into worlds beyond ours or the nuts and bolts of how food works, some we love for the amazing photography or simple inspirations. Each book is its own treasure and will appeal to different types of cooks and readers. All of them are worth mentioning and seeking out. FIfty-two books may seem like a lot, until you consider the sheer number of cookbooks published every year. In that light they are a drop in the bucket, especially if we don't confine ourselves to the recently published. Of course this has been an amazing year for cookbooks and we'll stay in the present crop of books for a while yet. This week we're going to Kansas City to read Blue Stem, a new collaborative cookbook by Colby Garrelts and Megan Garrelts with Bonjwing Lee.
We actually received our copy as a gift from Bonjwing. Since it was already on our TBR list it was a welcome one. Of course giving us a book doesn't automatically mean we will like it or write about it. There has to be more and from the very first pages of this one there was. Blue Stem straddles the line between restaurant cookbook and kitchen primer in a very good way. At a glance it resembles the genre of chef cookbooks, with pictures of plated dishes and ingredients, lifestyle photography in and out of the restaurant and...a quick glance doesn't do justice to this book. And as you're flipping pages you realize that the photography is telling its own story in a very cohesive way. Those plated dishes have combinations that you may not have seen before, the technical pictures look alive and the people are vibrant, seemingly caught in a passing moment of life. You go back to the beginning, turning the pages more slowly this time, absorbing the feel of the book, and then you begin to read. The next thing you know an hour has gone by and you're wondering whether or not you can plan plan a trip to Kansas City to see if this place really exists.
The recipes are both whimsical and practical. They are clearly written with doneness cues and variations that will allow you to make them your own, a trait we love. Reading them will make you a better cook. More importantly they are personal. There is a clear point of view behind each one and as you read them you begin to understand the perspective behind them. It's not easy to make food that appeals to a wide audience and still remains true to your own taste. The biggest difference between restaurant recipes and home cooking is the attention to detail. Those myriad small steps that take your food to the next level. This book makes you feel like you could make all these recipes if you wanted to, but why would you got to the trouble if you're lucky enough to live in their home town? It makes you want to visit the restaurant and experience that world. For those of us too far away, we can comfort ourselves in the kitchen with their recipes. For chefs and restaurant people this book reminds us why we do what we do.
The authors of this book: Colby Garrelts, Megan Garrelts and Bonjwing Lee have generously offered us one copy of the book to give away. To enter to win please leave a comment telling us about your favorite hometown restaurant. Other comments are welcome but will not be entered in the drawing. One entry per person please. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Please include an email in your profile so we can contact you for a mailing address. Winner must have a mailing address in the continental United States. The winner will be picked randomly on Friday, November 18, 2001 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Brian, our winner has been notified via email. Thanks for all your comments and stories. Now we have a new list of restaurants to try on our travels.