Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book Review: a platter of figs and other recipes

Cookbooks inspire me. The inspiration they provide me with is not just to cook but almost more importantly inspiration for life. A good cookbook has the ability to take the reader on a voyage that affects you intellectually, spiritually and philosophically. a platter of figs and other recipes is one of these and is one of my favourites. Chef and author David Tanis artfully illustrates seasonal, simple and skillful cooking. The book is about the pure pleasure of eating, supporting local producers and maintaining a sustainable kitchen.

Tanis has an enviable lifestyle. Six months of the year he is head chef of Alice Water’s iconic
Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California. The remaining six months are spent in Paris preparing meals in a tiny galley kitchen in his 17th century apartment. Here Tanis plays host to a private dining club whimsically known as Aux Chiens Lunatiques for a dozen or so guests. His kitchen is ill equipped but proof that if you pay attention to detail, do it slowly and respect the inherent goodness of ingredients you can cook anywhere, anytime with whatever equipment happens to be at hand.

a platter of figs is divided into four seasons comprised of 24 menus - six for each season and illustrated with photographs that remind me of home. And that’s exactly where Tanis wants you to be. No fussy food here. Imagine the luxury of lingering over a fabulous meal with no waiters moving you along to accommodate a second seating. Where you start with the clean crispness of raw fennel and olive oil; followed by a steaming plate of spaghetti alio e olio with a just ripe pear and Parmigiano Reggiano for dessert. A simply perfect autumn meal.

Tanis will transport you to the exact moment and location of inspiration. Each of his menus are prefaced with a story about the ingredients, who he ate with or why he was there or how he found it. Menu fourteen: in Catalonia. First time eating anchovy sandwiches alone in a bar in Barcelona after sitting in the rafters for a performance of the Maurice Bejart Ballet. In Menu twenty two Feeling Italian part III tells us how his stylish great Aunt Sally, a sophisticate from Cleveland who “gloried in an elegance many women in our town of Dayton lacked” was renowned for her spaghetti soirees. Aunt Sally would invite hoards of guests who had to wait while she cooked one pound of pasta at a time in one pot. Tanis promised her he would never cook more than one pound of pasta at a time and he proclaims that he never did. "Though Aunt Sally gave me a cooking lesson I never forgot, I cannot remember her cooking for me" concludes Tanis!

a platter of figs is charming and disarming in its simplicity but don’t be fooled. This is the work of an artist. Don’t be temped to elaborate but do emulate. Take your time. Learn about the food you cook and eat. Cook with simply charming inspiration. You and those your cook for will be deliciously delighted.

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