This book is as beautiful as you would expect from a restaurant with four stars from the New York Times, three Michelin stars and five James Beard Awards. It is in a word, stunning. The recipes are layered and focused. There's no feeling that they simplified for the home cook*, on the contrary, they realized people were looking for the real deal. Restaurant recipes are not generally characterized by difficulty, rather they are about attention to detail the subtle layering of flavors and components that would be too laborious or time consuming for the average dinner at home. Restaurant meals, especially high end restaurant meals, are also punctuated by the beauty of ingredients that it is almost impossible for the home cook to easily source or justify paying for. We go to restaurants of this level to be indulged, to be pampered, to see and taste things that we wouldn't find anywhere else. The beauty of the modern restaurant/chef cookbook is that it allows us this same indulgence without ever leaving the comfort of our homes. We may not be able to afford a meal at Eleven Madison Park with good friends and a dizzying array of wines but we can all afford this glimpse into another world.
The photography is striking. While I understand the allure of artful blurring, I love that you can see each tiny detail from the faintly blushing hue of perfectly cooked meats to the tiny striation on the leaf of an herb. Chocolates are glazed to a mirror finish, precisely cut chives grace the top of seared foie gras and minced cucumber caviar is almost exactly the same size as the grains of couscous just to the side of it. According to the book jacket, the photographer, Francesco Tonelli, is an Italian Master Chef and it shows in his work. There is an appreciation for color and the beauty of the ingredients that runs throughout the book. The photography is a perfect match for the food.
The food is artful and yet when you read the recipes, the flavor combinations make perfect sense. You can see how things blend together and frankly they make me want to run out and make a reservation, although my bank account precludes that particular urge. It's the kind of of food that makes you want to be a better cook, that sends us back into the kitchen to try again to make that perfect dish. It's inspiring to see that someone is out there doing things so well. To see that balance of flavor and color and texture, food that reads as well as it looks. These days we read more about food than we actually go out to enjoy it, so cookbooks that read well are important to us.
*The only quibble we have is a small one, Alex quickly pointed out that there were no metric conversions or weights in the book, especially surprising considering Daniel Humm's Swiss background. But then most published cookbooks are aimed at a large market of home cooks. Given the complexity of the recipes it is understandable that the publisher would want to make them as accessible as possible. And truly, if that's the only caveat we have, the real question is what are you waiting for? Go and buy your copy now (we got ours from Amazon because you can't beat the price.) You won't regret it.
Because we found this book so inspiring we are going to give away one copy of Eleven Madison Park the Cookbook. To enter to win please leave a comment below describing your most indulgent restaurant experience. Only comments that actually do this will be entered to win. Please make sure that there is an email address where we can contact you and that you have a mailing address in the continental US to receive the book. The winner will be picked randomly and announced Friday morning (November 11, 2011) at 9am EST. One entry per person please.
This giveaway is now closed. Nomi, our winner, has been contacted via email. Thank you to everyone who entered. We enjoyed all of your stories.