Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Review: Alice Waters, In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart

Are you shopping for a favorite 2010 graduate this weekend?  If so, I must recommend my latest favorite score from the library, Alice Waters' new book In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart.  I LOVE this book.  The husband and I usually like to gift the blossoming cooks in our lives with what we affectionately refer to as The Bible, aka The Joy of Cooking.  But with all due respect to that iconic classic, I think Green Kitchen may be giving it the bump on my gift list. 
Alice Waters is a leader in the slow and sustainable food movement.  Her work on the Edible Schoolyard project in Berkeley and her outspokenness on improving school lunches in general are inspirational.  I love her flair, her attitude and her food philosophy.  She's nothing short of an American food icon, and this book just totally encapsulates all that is great about her work and her way in the kitchen. The book is a result of a project called The Green Kitchen, which was basically a food expo at the Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco in 2008.  Chefs from all over the country taught basic cooking techniques and philosophies.  This book is Waters' interpretation of their recipes, complete with photos of the chefs from the event, and some fabulous extras like a Green Kitchen Manifesto and tips on how to stock a green pantry. 

In the Green Kitchen is an ideal primer cookbook for someone just out of school or just learning how to cook, as Waters really breaks down the basics (the pantry stocking info being a perfect example), and the book is organized in such way that even some advanced techniques (making homemade mayonnaise, fileting a fish) are accessible.  I adore the progression of the book, which starts with something as basic as washing lettuce and preparing a salad and moves on through eggs, bread, grains, meats, fish and some basic baking.  For someone in their first apartment, this book would walk them through how to make a basic, healthy dinner, and how to prepare some classic comfort foods for a great Sunday dinner with all the roommates.

This book isn't just for cooking newbies, though.  I consider the hub and myself to be somewhat seasoned in the kitchen, and I still have my eye on owning this book at some point.  The photography is gorgeous, and it is a perfect reference guide for the classic techniques that every home cook should know.  I'm dying to make everything from the Cherry Tomato and Tofu Salad, to the Dirty Rice, to a sinfully delicious situation she calls Grand Aioli, in which you take a page from Provençal tradition, make a massive batch of homemade garlic mayo, and provide steamed green beans, cauliflower and fingerling potatoes, boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots and even some poached seafood to dip in it until you are a greasy, happy mess, needing to be rolled away from the table and doused in Rosé until you regain consciousness.  Oh, yes.  That is so happening in this house this summer.

Some will say that this book is too advanced for beginners and too simple for serious home chefs.  I disagree.  This is a beautiful and important book with something for everyone, and I encourage you to give it to your favorite twenty-something ASAP.  And then make sure they invite you over for Potato Gratin.

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