March 22, 2013

Reads and Eats: Yes, Chef

We recently met with our book club for another fantastic meeting, sponsored by our friend's place of employment: her company regularly sends clients a list of suggested books and even provides copies.  Yes, Chef, a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson, was on the list, and she was able to grab a handful of books for our club.

I devoured the book in a weekend, totally enchanted by Chef Samuelsson's path from Ethiopia to Sweden to numerous European nations and finally here to America.  His incredible work ethic helped develop him into the youngest chef to ever receive a three-star rating from The New York Times. Reading this book taught me so much about the education process and hierarchy of chefs, but it also included numerous personal details about Marcus's own journey.

Unfortunately, the book didn't include any recipes, which we depend on for our potluck-style meetings. However, a quick Google search brought up a number of choices, so almost everyone in the group made a "Marcus recipe," as we called them.  Since he has such a diverse background, many of his recipes have mixed influences, which means lots of creativity!  I opted to follow this recipe for corn pancakes (with a Southwestern flavor profile- Marcus touts Chef Bobby Flay as an inspiration), paired with dill creme fraiche and smoked salmon (a nod to Sweden).  The crunchy green onion and whole corn kernels made a great textural contrast to the smooth lox. Interesting pairing, but quite delicious!

A went an even more traditional route with Swedish meatballs, which she complained were "so ugly!" compared to the rest of the dishes.  Honey in the meatballs as well as a spoonful of cranberries in the sauce (subbed for lingonberries) gave the meatballs a sweet element that was addicting. Paired with crunchy, salty "quick pickles"... I'd like to celebrate Christmas Swedish-style every day.

We always aim to make a variety of dishes, so this super amazing salad helped fill our plates with veggies.  Though the name implies "cool and crunchy" it should really be "hot and crunchy"- this salad really packs a punch!  Created with a Vietnamese inspiration, bok choy, cilantro, Thai basil (subbed mint which I highly recommend!), and some fresh jalapeno, this was definitely one of the best salads I've had in some time.  Shrimp was a better protein option than the chicken of the original recipe, really holding onto the spice rub and kicking up that heat factor another level (add peanuts too- this recipe inspires creativity!).

To round out the savory options, we had a chickpea and tomato "salad" that is much more like a stew and perfect for filling warm pitas alongside crunchy romaine, fresh parsley, and cucumber.  This dish had more of an Indian/African influence- I loved that we covered so many different cuisines and it really goes to show the breadth of Chef Samuelsson's cooking capacity.

I got a little overambitious with what I could fit in my pita, but it still tasted great- lots of lemon, a great match for the stewed tomatoes.

All of the food fueled us through a lengthy discussion of the book (and a number of side, tangential conversations), and we all went back for seconds.  This was one of my favorite books that we've read, and also one of the best assortments of food that we've produced!

Thankfully, we (sort of) saved room for dessert, which was an Emeril Lagasse-inspired chocolate pecan bourbon pie.  We initially planned to make dishes from the recipe collections of our favorite chefs (since the book is all about what it takes to be a great chef!), and I'm glad our resident baker didn't sway from her original selection.  She was gracious enough to share the recipe which I'm tempted to recreate- stay tuned!


Marcus refers often to Ruth Reichl, former food critic at The New York Times, which made a great transition to our next book selection- Mrs. Reichl's own memoirs, Garlic and Sapphires.  Looking forward to reading stories from another important part of the food industry.

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