By now, I have no doubt you've scoured over the 'Best Cookbooks of 2011' lists from places like The New York Times, Huffington Post, Serious Eats and Bon Appetit. The latter was compiled by Don and Samantha Lindgren of Rabelais Books in Portland, who made this months installment of the 'O-Rama Project' possible. Through a genius coordination on the part of A. (who I have decided will be referred to as Professor A. from now on) and the endless generosity of Rabelais, the participants were given the ok to root around in a few boxes of advanced copies of cookbooks the store had received. For a former library tech who now works with food, this was a little bit of heaven. But, I have to admit, I almost didn't participate and it was at the prodding of Professor A. and Kate that made me decide to get my shit together. But, the title I actually chose, may surprise the hell out of you.
Did you gasp or sneer? C'mon be honest, because when I told a few people what I chose, I didn't know if they were disgusted or questioning my general sanity. I make absolutely no bones about picking out the paisley colored cookbook from Anne Burrell and Suzanne Lenzer. In fact, I'll do it one better by admitting that I actually like Anne Burrell, especially once I realized that, though she may also have spiky blonde hair, she's at least twice as knowledgeable as the other spiky haired person on the Food Network. And, she's actually a chef and not some vapid eyed droid that is seemingly there to model low cut v-neck sweaters.
Chef Burrell's resume is a pretty long and respected one, she is probably most recognized for her stint as Mario Batali's protege and sous chef from Iron Chef America. She's been on a slew of other shows, and was the most recent cast-off from "The Next Iron Chef." While, lesser known than Rachael or Sandra, I'm guessing that she could easily cook circles around the others from the FN sisterhood, all while wearing her knee length skirt, no less.
Her book has the usual suspects: favorite tools and pantry staples, as well as a guide to her lingo (fond="Crud"; "BTB"=bring to a boil) and a lovely forward by Mr. Batali. When you get to the heart of it her recipes are mostly, and understandably, Italian influenced and pretty decent. Without a doubt, they are definitely geared towards those looking to graduate from easier cookbooks, but aren't quite ready to put out a Thomas Keller level dish. There's a whole chapter on homemade pasta, one of her specialties and one which I would have enjoyed if I had a pasta maker, but the recipes can easily be made and adjusted to use dried. Her 'Piccolini'--or, as she calls them "My little nibbles"--recipes are some of the most interesting, especially the one for the Mortadella Mousse.
The recipes that I did make--one for braised short ribs, mac and cheese with bacon and 'cheeeeeesy' polenta (her added vowels, not mine)--were good, but no different than ones I had made previously. Solidifying, again, that this is not a book for someone who knows their way around kitchen.
Her teaching background definitely comes through from the beginning of the book. She stresses the importance of simply reading the recipe all the way through and the value of having your mise en place organized before one bit of food is cooked. She tries to condition the reader to think like a professional chef before they make any attempts to cook like one (or, in this case, a 'rock star') and organization is key in that. Her voice is a bit flighty and light, but enthusiastic, much like how she comes across on screen. But, I do have to say, I have never seen a cookbook with so many exclamation points in my life and I'm still not sure if I found it annoying or campy. Oh and every recipe ends with some weird one line like the one for the Mortadella Mousse: "It's a bologna cloud!" I wonder if she's easily distracted by shiny things.
So, this isn't for the Joel Robuchon set. In fact, the person you probably want to buy this for hasn't a clue as to who Joel Robuchon is. Let's be honest, "Cook Like a Rock Star" is not going to make any of the Top 10 lists this year, but if you have a friend or family member that wants to build up their skills, learn a few interesting recipes and doesn't mind the color pink, then this might just be the gift for them.