The era of celebrity chefs has its rewards. We get to see them perform in stadium-size venues and on the small screen. We can buy their signature knives and saute pans. And now, in addition to lining our kitchen shelves with recipe collections from their restaurants, we can learn how to make what they feed each other.
Two new cookbooks highlight the world of staff meals, wherein those who make, serve and work through dinner every night do the same for themselves, together, as a family.
That explains at least half the title of “The Family Meal: Home Cooking With Ferran Adria” (Phaidon; $29.95). Although Adria, the author and modern master of avant-garde cuisine, refers to this food as “ordinary,” plenty of the book’s three-course menus and ingredient combinations will be foreign to American home cooks and their families.
The Spanish chef shares recommendations for essential elements of pantry, fridge and freezer, and he has provided almost 100 recipes that are scaled in servings for 2, 6, 20 and 75. (Whew. That’s a lot of testing.) You’d expect him to create something different from the usual recipe directions, and he has. Captions surprinted on step-by-step photos take the place of 1-2-3 directions; some of those captions are not particularly in-depth, so I’d say that not all the recipes are built with an unskilled home cook in mind.
What “Family Meals” does particularly well is expose veins of shiny ore, in the form of Adria kitchen secrets — even though it’s unlikely I’ll try them all. As soon as the freezer fairy comes to make room, I will be making “second stock,” which is the result of cooking the strained solids from a first cooking of stock in enough water to create another round. The second stock is then used as the liquid base the next time you make a stock. You could understand how that might appeal to waste-not types and how the practice would add flavor.
“Off the Menu: Staff Meals From America’s Top Restaurants,” by Marissa Guggiana (Welcome Books; $40), takes a standard approach in presenting its 108 recipes. Along with a one-page introduction from each of the chefs at more than 50 restaurants, the author includes their answers to an “Escoffier Questionnaire.”
Guggiana characterizes staff meals as “last night’s leftovers, turned into a feast,” but these recipes start from scratch and are, on the whole, uncomplicated. They come with wine-pairing suggestions, and a reader does not feel compelled to re-create any menus as presented. The fare reflects the melting pot of hands found in American restaurant kitchens: Thai, Vietnamese, Salvadoran, Moroccan, Italian, Cajun and more.
No Adria-quality secrets are divulged, but there are tidbits to treasure. More than one chef gives a nod to David Thompson’s “Thai Street Food” (Ten Speed Press), the critically acclaimed yet below-the-radar cookbook of 2010. Two restaurants from the greater Washington area are included: the District’s Tabard Inn and Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen. Spike Gjerde, who heads the kitchen at the latter, reveals that Joseph Poupon of Patisserie Poupon in the District and Baltimore is the chef he admires most.
And in the everything’s-better-with-bacon mode, it’s no surprise that almost one-quarter of the book’s recipes involve some kind of pork, whether it’s meatballs (Hatfield’s in Los Angeles); scrambled eggs (Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, N.Y.) or, yes, cookies (Abattoir in Atlanta).