“Cooking From the Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way” by John Besh.
Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC.
$40, 308-page hardcover.
When New Orleans chef John Besh’s latest and much anticipated cookbook arrived, my first reaction was disappointment. Not with its writing or photographs — they are quite charming. Instead, I wondered if readers would want to make some of its European-influenced recipes or how they will find some ingredients; for example, sea snails, tripe, sardines, quince, nettles, dandelion greens, monkfish, duck livers and tongue.
On my first perusal, I had thought the new book’s 140 recipes weren’t as approachable as those in his first two cookbooks, “My New Orleans” and “My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking.” But, then I took a closer look at “Cooking From the Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way” and decided readers will love reading about the places and people who helped Besh on his journey to becoming an acclaimed chef and restaurateur.
Besides, there are plenty of easy-to-follow recipes in the book that should appeal to home cooks. And, Besh does suggest substitutions for some ingredients.
In the introduction, Besh says “Cooking From the Heart” tells “how cooking can go beyond mastering skills to become the passionate expression of a life; how I was forever changed by what I learned.” He says he hopes he will inspire others “to find the soul in the food they make.” Plus, he writes, “I certainly expect you to laugh at my follies and hope that they will keep you from making the same mistakes.”
He writes that the book is part nostalgic journey but also a means of clarifying the meaning of cooking for him.
He recalls spending a year working at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Germany’s Black Forest and how once he was back in New Orleans, he found his second mentor, Chris Kerageorgioou, who owned La Provence restaurant in Lacombe.
It was “Chef Chris” who sent Besh to Provence where the young New Orleans chef developed lasting friendships with a hotelier and a chef who continue to influence his cooking.
The book’s 11 chapters are beautifully illustrated with 375 original, full-color and archival photographs. Some chapters include instructional “cooking lessons” with step-by-step photographs that demonstrate cooking techniques, such as how to make rösti, basically a large pancake of grated potatoes; how to roast a whole fish; or make consommé, country päté and basic clafoutis.
Among the recipes are poached Arctic char; mâche salad with pumpkin oil vinaigrette; tomato and fresh cheese tartines; daube of beef Provençal; paella of mussels, shrimp, clams and squid; black or green olive tapenade; watercress soup; and Black Forest cake. The recipes don’t include nutritional breakdowns, but the book does offer plenty of cooking tips plus lists for resources, equivalents and metric conversions.
This is a cookbook that Besh’s fans will definitely want to put on their holiday “wish” list.
Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is email@example.com.
Serves 6-8. Recipe is from “Cooking from the Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way” by John Besh (Andrews McMeel Publishing). The New Orleans chef writes, “I’m so pleased by the presentation of this tian, where the shell of the squash becomes the baking and serving vessel that you bring to the table. If you don’t want to bother with the shell, you can bake the scooped out pumpkin and custard in a shallow casserole.”
1 (4-5) lb. sweet pumpkin or Kabocha squash
3 tbls. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 sprig fresh thyme
Dash of cayenne pepper
Dash of nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the top off the pumpkin, about 3 inches below the stem, and reserve to serve with the squash. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds. (You can roast the pumpkin seeds for a nice snack: toss the cleaned seeds in olive oil and a pinch of salt, spread on a baking pan, and roast in a 350 degree oven for 15–20 minutes, until golden brown.) Use a spoon to scrape out as much of the pumpkin as you can, leaving the shell intact. Chop the flesh.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the garlic and pumpkin flesh and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is tender, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme, cayenne, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the sautéed pumpkin back into the shell.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream and Parmesan and pour into the pumpkin shell. Place on a baking pan and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is set, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve right from the pumpkin while it’s still hot.