GIFT BOOKS FOR THE SEASON
by John Mariani
REMEMBERING JEAN BANCHET
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
East 12th Osteria
by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
LIVIO FELLUGA PIONEERS WHITE WINES OF ITALY
by John Mariani
GIFT BOOKS FOR THE SEASON
by John Mariani
DANIEL: MY FRENCH CUISINE by Daniel Boulud (Grand Central, $60)--Master chef has written several fine cookbooks and one memoir, but this is easily his best and most revealing, with an essay by Bill Buford. The home cook may not want to attempt many of the dishes without the help of a brigade of staff, but the recipes are more fascinating for their rigor and how they are distinguished from so much that passes for sleight-of-hand cookery these days. Most fascinating of all are those ancienne recipes that Boulud attempts to recreate, only to find that his predecessors were extraordinarily adept at turning out dishes like coulibiac, canard à la presse, and turbot soufflé for which Boulud had to puzzle out the secrets of success with such dishes. And he did have the help of an entire brigade.
THE NEW CALIFORNIA WINE by Jon
Bonné ( Tenspeed, $35)--The unsmiling face of
author Jon Bonné of the cover of this splendidly
researched "guide to the producers and wines behind a
revolution in taste" lets you know this is not just
another paean to the mutual admiration society that so
often causes marketing to trump the truth. It's
hard work out there in the vineyards, if only to keep
all the players straight. Bonné's enormous
respect for pioneering figures in California is not
without pointed criticisms and he is very good at
separating fact from myth and hype from a good story. He
differentiates between the old timers and new money, the
effects of the global market on decisions made in the
winery rather than the vineyard. Bonné
knows his terroir and the people who work within
it. His remarks on styles of wines are critical to
understanding what is happening in California at a
THE CALIFORNIA FOOD REVOLUTION by Joyce Goldstein
with Dore Brown (U. of California, $34.95)--Lively
history told by someone who was part of it always makes
for the most engaging books, and award-winning
restaurateur and author Joyce Goldstein certainly
qualifies as one in the vanguard of a culinary
revolution no one saw coming in America--and certainly
not in California--that transformed the way
Americans eat. This is a story of eccentrics,
hard-nosed business people, manic egos, and the
open-mindedness of young people willing to go against
established traditions--if only to annoy their
parents--and to come up with something new, fresh, and
healthful. The book is full of personalities that
include Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower, Caroline Bates,
Darrell Corti, Thomas Keller, and so many others who
have enriched our lives with good taste and a boundless
youthful energy that made everything possible.
FAVORITE BURGUNDIES by Clive Coates (U. of
California, $60)--Clive Coates, a Master of Wine, does
not turn out breezy memoirs; neither does he treat his
subjects in the base vernacular that passes for wine
commentary these days. His acumen is unchallenged,
not least on the subject of Burgundy, his thoughtfulness
provocative, and his opinions on individual wines as
close to definitive as subjectivity can ever be. You can
skip the reams of wine notes--the usual piling on of
adjectives like "concentrated," "profound," "clumsy,"
"closed"--and read with far more pleasure his in-depth
essays on regions and the commentaries of vintners he
has known for many, many years. Coates trods those
vineyards, sniffs the air, tastes the grapes, and does
much more than just blow through barrel samples at the
wineries. If you want to understand the issues
whirling through Burgundy right now, Coates is the man
to alert you first and foremost.
IN MEAT WE TRUST by Maureen Ogle
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28)-- I'm not sure what the
cover line "An unexpected history of Carnivore America"
is supposed to mean, but no book on the subject has been
more thorough or up to date in its assemblage of data
set within a narrative that shows how American became so
happily a nation of meat eaters. It is a story of
vast territories in the west tamed by individuals and of
the conglomerates that later took them over, not always
with any degree of fairness. American
technological genius is demonstrated throughout,
explaining the movement, slaughter and distribution of
American meat to market has been so amazingly
streamlined for maximum economy and low prices. The
battles between agronomists, farmers, academics, and
politicians makes, if not engrossing reading, highly
informative history. The book is a bit of a grind,
but then so is the U.S. meat industry.
NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY by Norman
van Aken (Taylor, $24.95)--In a more personalized
way, Norman van Aken has told the story of American
cuisine's evolution as a chef's "culinary odyssey,"
charting how so many of the most innovative chefs of the
past forty years started out as short order cooks who
fell into the profession by accident and stayed on to
create a revolution, in this case the so-called "New
Floridian Cuisine," with colleagues like Robin Haas,
Doug Rodriguez, and Mark Militello, utilizing the best
so-often neglected ingredients of the South to craft
dishes that were unlike any others from around the
U.S. It is a rollicking story, full of near-misses
and worthwhile achievements, and van Aken tells it with
THE SARDINIAN COOKBOOK by
Viktorija Todorovska (Agate, $22.95)--Sardinia is
a large Mediterranean island largely forgotten in the
discussion of Italy's food culture, so this cookbook is
long overdue. To a great extent Sardinian food is
of peasant origins without as many cross-cultural
influences as had Italy's mainland, and, being an
island, Sardinia maintained an independent streak that
has maintained the traditions of its food, not least in
the dialectical names for it, like pane carasau, malloreddus,
seadas and lampazu,
with lavish use of bottarga. The island's use of
couscous is widespread and its breads emblematic.
The recipes here, with excellent headnotes, are easy to
work with. The author runs a cooking school and has
followed up her widely praised The Puglian Cookbook with
this well-illustrated volume.
GLUTEN-FREE BREAD by Ellen Brown
(Running Press, $23)--"No one eating my recipes
should ever say, `Not bad for gluten-free," writes the
ever ebullient Ellen Brown, who, as far as I know does
not maintain a gluten-free diet, nor do I. So my
interest in the book was as much about how she could
pull it off as it was about how broad and deep the
subject really is and, for many people, how serious. So
many of the recipes here are mouthwatering whatever your
lifestyle--millet buckwheat bread, muesli bread,
parmesan shallot rounds, lavash, and so many more.
The breads look just as good in photographs as they
sound, right down to the last page on maple walnut
breakfast rolls. What's not to love?
FROM THE HEART by John Besh (Andrews
McNeel, $40)--The subtitle here is "My Favorite Lessons
Leaned Along the Way," and charts how his cuisine has
been formed by attending to those epiphany moments
culled from his mentors, many of them from the South of
France, whose influences you can see and taste in the
140 recipes here, like fava bean and tomato ragôut
mussel and Swiss chard soup; a "proper bouillabaisse";
and sea bass Provençal, any of which might fit
into his New Orleans repertoire at his restaurants
there. The evocative illustrations and photos are
exceptional, so much so that you may want to Xerox the
recipes and keep the book free of sauce stains.
. And lest I forget. . .
And the Dumbest
Cookbook of the Year is . . .
Eat & Ink: Recipes, Stories, Tattoos by Birk O'Halloran and Daniel Luke Holton (Adams, $30)--One might think this is a parody of contemporary foodie hipsterism but in fact this nonsensical paean to chefs who have lotsa tattoos will cost you thirty bucks to read about the zen of tattooism as related, in some weird way, to cooking good food. Except that none of the inked chefs have anything interesting to say about the subject, like Franco Palmieri who says, "I'm just in love with the squirrel lifestyle." There are some good recipes here, but seeing chubby chefs pulling back their sleeves to show off their arms covered with skulls and astrological signs is not the most delectable way to sell food.
The passing away of Jean Banchet this week at the age of 72 was the loss of an master chef whose eminence in the 1970s and 1980s was of such brightness that his restaurant, Le Français—30 miles from Chicago in Wheeling, Illinois—was more than once called the finest in America.
I knew Jean pretty well, having often been astounded by the lavish excellence of his cooking and presentations at a time when French restaurants in the USA had become stultified in both cuisine and service. His cooking was among my first introductions to the glory of haute cuisine, no matter what the cost. And you got what you paid for, which back then was about $75 per person, with wine from a dauntingly rich list, among which were some of the new impressive bottlings then coming out of California .
Banchet, born in Roanne, worked alongside many of the masters of the burgeoning “la nouvelle cuisine” in the late 1960s, including Paul Bocuse, but he saw that America had an immensely enticing culinary future and so relocated in 1968 to become chef of a Playboy resort in Wisconsin, then to open Le Français in 1973, bringing an extravagant style of cooking and service rooted in the innovative ideas of chefs like Bocuse, Roger Vergé, the Troisgros brothers, Alain Chapel, and other young men who had graduated from older kitchens where no one ever knew the name of the chef, who, working within an environment of strict class structures, maintained French classicism and ignored any thought of changing them in any way.
La nouvelle cuisine was heralded as breaking away from all that, but in fact, it only updated the basics of French haute cuisine, which always began with the sauces. The new chefs added to the repertoire by incorporating new ingredients, shortening cooking times and making plate presentations—usually on exquisite Villeroy & Boch china—colorful and dramatic, with swirls and patterns of sauce drawn and dripped on the plates. La nouvelle cuisine was often credited with lightening French cuisine, which was principally an alternative menu at Michel Guérard’s spa Les Prés d’Eugènie, but in fact most nouvelle recipes were awash in very rich beurre blanc, foie gras, and pastry cream.
Banchet took to this style with gusto, and, with his
impressive Van Dyke beard and uncommonly tanned face, he
strode the dining room with a charismatic bonhomie,
urging patrons—many of whom flew into Chicago just to
dine at Le Français—to try something they’d never
Everything at Le Français was over-the-top—the décor, the heavy silverware, the silver carts, and the swooping wait staff in tuxedos. Banchet loved the limelight and sharing his good fortune with his French colleagues. I remember a gargantuan meal he held in honor of Paul Bocuse and his chefs, who had flown to the U.S. for the dinner, arriving from Paris with no time to unwind before getting on a bus to Wheeling, arriving an hour later to flutes of Champagne and a recording of “La Marsellaise.”
The printed menu had 12 courses on it, one seemingly
richer than the last, and each table was set with a
molded chocolate figure of Bocuse. Things got
underway late, and by the third course the French were
drooping, Bocuse was rubbing his eyes to stay awake, and
the evening threatened to collapse into a drowsy
seeing the tilt of things, immediately cancelled four or
five courses and, to great applause, brought the evening
to a close around midnight.
Banchet went on to open and close restaurants in Atlanta and one in Florida, but none had the cachet of Le Français, which closed, under different ownership, in 2007. But even if still around, its cuisine and style would be considered hopelessly out of synch with the gimmicks of molecular cuisine that now get the hype in Chicago. Yet if Le Français were still around and the ebullient Jean Banchet there to lend his indomitable spirit to it, many might still consider it one of the greatest and certainly grandest restaurants in America.
NEW YORK CORNER
traditional lines between an Italian trattoria, osteria
and ristorante have
become blurred over the past decade. A trattoria
used to mean a casual, family-owned, home-style place to
eat regional food; an osteria was originally a wine
tavern, and a ristorante was a more upscale dining
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Pioneer of Pinot Grigio Takes a
You can thank Livio Felluga of Friuli for
two things: one, for bringing pinot grigio to the
attention of the American public, and, two, for
unleashing a tsunami of bad pinot grigio on the
Alte 2011—Pale green gold, very distinctive
nose, aromas of roses, that
is very identifiable as Felluga, clean
with fine acid balance.
Terre Alte 2009—More
velvety, smoother, with a synergy of terroir elements. Bottle with a
screwcap for USA and UK.
Alte 2008—Not as much complexity as 2009, a
little pepper, quite dry, but the fruit is bright and
makes this ideal with seafood and cheeses.
Alte 2006—Very round, voluptuous showing
remarkable longevity, suggesting all Felluga whites
should be saved for a year or two for true
Abbazia di Rosazzo 2011—Unusual, unique flavor unlike any other Italian white wine, with lots of spice from malvasia, ribolla gialla, more fruit, a blend of friulano, sauvignon blanc, pinot bianco.
HANDS FREE WHILE DRIVING TOO!
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
last week's Virtual
Gourmet I recalled that a scene (left) from the
film "Kramer Vs Kramer" was filmed at Yellow Fingers
in NYC. I am informed by an eagle-eyed reader
that the scene was actually shot at JG Melon (right),
where a photo from the movie still hangs.
In last week's Virtual Gourmet I recalled that a scene (left) from the film "Kramer Vs Kramer" was filmed at Yellow Fingers in NYC. I am informed by an eagle-eyed reader that the scene was actually shot at JG Melon (right), where a photo from the movie still hangs.
❖❖❖FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linked to four excellent travel sites:
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." THIS WEEK:
Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).
An engaging, interactive
wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four
Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com;
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET
NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John
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