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In defense of dessert

Chocolate creme brulee

Restaurant dessert menus have been on the decline for some time. Perhaps we can blame the trend on people cutting back on carbs or the demonizing of sugar. Or perhaps it is a by-product of the growing practice of restaurateurs eliminating pastry chefs and relying on a limited menu of pre-made desserts as a cost-saving measure. Chef Marco Canora is bucking this trend, and in an Esquire article he makes the case for having a pastry chef.

Canora, chef and co-owner of the James Beard Award-nominated Hearth in New York and Terroir wine bars throughout the city, is the author of Salt to Taste and the upcoming A Good Food Day. While noting that fewer than 40 percent of diners opt for dessert and that pastry departments are not revenue-generators for restaurants, he nonetheless thinks having a good dessert menu is important. "It's the beginning and the end that people remember most," he says. "That's why dessert matters. It's the final moment, that last bit of sweet."

Judging by the number of baking and dessert books in the past few Cookbook roundups, some people must still care about the final course, at least at home. How important is the dessert menu to you? Would you order dessert more frequently if the menus were more inticing?

Photo of Chocolate crème caramel from Martha Stewart Living Magazine by Dorie Greenspan


Chef Jason Atherton on cooking at home

Jason Atherton

Jason Atherton's pedigree is impressive: Gordon Ramsay's Maze, El Bulli, his own London restaurants, and outposts in Hong Kong and Singapore. While these establishments feature complex foods, the Michelin-starred chef has a simple philosophy when it comes to cooking at home. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Chef Atherton describes his views on seasonal food, what he considers essential ingredients, and how he uses his favorite cookbooks. 

Not surprisingly from the author of a book called Social Suppers, at home, the social aspects of cooking are important to Atherton. "You have to think about the logical reasons someone wants to go for dinner-it is to spend time with someone," he says. His philosophy is to keep things uncomplicated and not to stress over the food. Even though he is involved with food all day long, he enjoys coming home and cooking for his family. "I don't for a minute think it's a chore to get creative in the kitchen when I come home."

While he is an award-winning chef and cookbook author, sometimes Atherton draws on others for inspiration. "I use cookbooks a lot," he says. "Any chef who says they don't is a liar. When I am struggling for inspiration, reading one sparks off things. The one I use the most is El Celler de Can Roca. It is a beautiful book to read." Read more, including which ingredients he considers essential, at the  WSJ.

Literal chef's plates


Daniel Boulud's new Washington, DC restaurant, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, represents a homecoming of sorts. Boulud worked in DC when he first arrived in the U.S. thirty years ago. When it came time to decorate his new establishment, he enlisted his chef friends for an art project.

Over 100 chefs from across the U.S. to painted small plates in a manner representing famous artists. A wall at Boulud's establishment contains the renderings of culinary luminaries like Alice Waters, Dominique Ansel, April Bloomfield, Thomas Keller, and Grant Achatz. Some of the chefs reveal hidden artistic talent that they hadn't been able to express before.

"Although he commissioned the project himself, Boulud "was in awe of his colleagues' handiwork: "I couldn't believe some of them. They really spent time making sure these plates were going to be commemorative," he says." Continue reading, and see photos of several plates along with commentary from the chefs, at the NY Times website.

Photo by Darcie Boschee

Complete Diana Henry recipe index

Diana Henry

Attention Diana Henry fans - we're excited to announce that we've just completed indexing all of her recipes, 2,851 in total! This includes all of Diana's cookbooks from Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons to A Change of Appetite, every recipe in her Sunday Telegraph columns, every magazine recipe, and recipes found on her website. The Sunday Telegraph recipes are indexed as a blog that can be added to your Bookshelf. (Please note that the Sunday Telegraph only allows you to view 20 articles a month for free. To get more articles you must subscribe; it's £1.99 per month for unlimited web and phone access.)

Diana's cookbooks are popular with EYB members, and it's no wonder. Her first book, Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons, was shortlisted for a Glenfiddich Award for best cookbook. Her sixth book, Food From Plenty, was shortlisted for both the André Simon Award and the Guild of Food Writers Award for Cookbook of the Year. Her seventh book, Salt Sugar Smoke, was shortlisted for the Fortnum & Mason Award and The Guild of Food Writers Award for Cookbook of the Year. Fortnum & Mason named her Food Writer of the Year in 2013 and the Guild of Food Writers have named her Cookery Journalist of the Year twice.

If you're new to Diana's recipes and want to learn more, you can visit the EYB Forum, where several members have been cooking along with Diana Henry recipes. Many recipes also feature notes from those who've tried them. You can also read an excerpt from Diana's blog about the process involved in creating the cookbook - a must read for anyone who loves cookbooks.

Diana joins Mark BittmanRose Levy Beranbaum and Clotilde Dusoulier in having a complete recipe index on EYB.

Behind the scenes with a cookbook editor


Have you ever come across a cookbook that made you think "wow, someone was brave to take a chance on this book"? Then you'll love reading about cookbook editor Rux Martin of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She specializes in cookbooks, narrative nonfiction on food, and diet books, and has worked with storied authors like Dorie Greenspan, Mollie Katzen, Jacques Pépin, and Ruth Reichl. Martin has edited several best-selling cookbooks including Hello, Cupcake! and Around My French Table  as well as quirky tomes like The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert. Food writer Dianne Jacob provides an enlightening interview with Martin, where she dishes about about the cookbook market and trends, the importance of great photography, and how food blogging has changed the industry.

In addition to discussing trends in cookbooks (one of which is eclectic artwork), Martin provides advice for would-be authors. Prospective authors should realize that "there is a hugely shrinking space at all of the major retailers, that independent booksellers are still going out of business, that more cookbooks are being sold every day, and that in big box stores, they give less and less space to cookbooks." This means fierce competition as publishers fight over shrinking shelf space in bookstores.

When asked about what was new in the realm of recipe writing, Martin responded with an interesting perspective: "The world of the bloggers has perhaps resulted in more borrowing of recipes. In the past they would be considered stolen. You're supposed to be doing genuinely original work, giving full attribution as to how your recipe came into being. If you used a crust from so and so and a filling from so and so and put them together, and you say so, that's honest."

Read the full article to find out more, including how food bloggers have changed the cookbook industry.

Netflix announces The Chefs Table documentary series

Massimo Bottura   Francis Mallman

Food lovers are eager to learn about their favorite chefs' opinions, techniques, and paths to culinary success. Even if we don't have the opportunity to eat at their restaurants, for some chefs we can catch a glimpse of them through their cookbook writing. Soon Netflix will make it easier to discover what makes world-famous chefs tick with a documentary series set to debut next year in all markets where Netflix is available. The series will first focus on Massimo Bottura, founder of Modena's Ostera Fancescana and author of Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef (coming soon to a cookbook store near you). 

Other chefs to be profiled include Sweden's Magnus Nilsson, Ben Shrewry of Attica restaurant in Melbourne, Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York, Buenos Aires chef Francis Mallmann, and Niki Nakayama of N/Naka in Los Angeles. This is the first documentary series commission by Netflix, and director David Gelb (best known for the award-winning Jiro Dreams of Sushi) will be overseeing production.

Photos of Massimo Bottura and Francis Mallmann from the EYB Library

Groundbreaking women in food and drink

Influential women in foodThe number of women helming food-related companies and otherwise influencing the food industry has been growing steadily over the past few decades. Fortune magazine (in partnership with Food & Wine) takes a fascinating look at top 25 innovative women in food and drink.

While some of the women are well-known, others effect their influence from behind the scenes, like Liz Myslik, Executive VP for Brand Management of Fresca Foods Inc. That company "partners with natural food brands...to help them grow by handling the manufacturing and supply chain side of their businesses."

The list includes women in diverse roles, including women in food technology like Kellee James, CEO of Mercaris, maker of an online trading plaform used by the organic commodities market; and filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig, whose most recent effort is the film Fed Up. Nonprofit founders like Ruth Oniang'o of Rural Outreach Africa and public policy leaders like Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are also recognized.

The beverage industry is well-represented, with many winery owners and the co-founder of popular New Belgium Brewing all making the list. Naturally, several chefs and food television personalities feature prominently in the rankings. EYB members will recognize many of these women, such as Christina Tosi of Milk Bar fame; Kylie Kwong, who helms Sydney restaurant Billy Kwong, Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis, and Nancy Silverton, who recently won a James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef.

Oseland leaves Saveur

James OselandThis week brings another shakeup in food journalism as longtime Saveur editor-in-chief James Oseland announced he is leaving the magazine to start a new publication with publisher Rodale. There Oseland "will start a new magazine brand, transforming the 62-year-old Organic Gardening magazine into Organic Life. The new magazine is expected to include coverage of "food, garden, home and well-being," a Rodale spokeswoman said." The revamped magazine will debut next spring.

It will be a challenge to replace Oseland, 51. Under his direction, Saveur has garnered numerous accolades and over 25 awards, including several from the James Beard Foundation. Oseland is quite a multi-tasker: during his tenure at Saveur he has also served as a judge on Top Chef Masters, authored several Saveur cookbooks, and recently published his own book, A Fork in the Road

Oseland is the latest high-ranking executive to leave Saveur in the past six months. Previously senior editor Tejal Rao, copy chief Greg Robertson, and executive digital editor Helen Rosner have exited the company. 

The Splendid Table turns 20

The Splendid TableWhile some cooking programs have turned to high drama to attract bigger ratings, one show has remained rock steady for 20 years: NPR's The Splendid Table. Host Lynne Rossetto Kasper reminisces with Eater about the show, recalling the early episodes which featured luminaries like chefs Danny Meyer and Michael Romano of The Union Square Cafe, food scientist and cookbook author Shirley Corriher, and Julia Child, who appeared regularly on the early shows.

Kasper also discusses the changes that have happened over the past two decades. She feels there is now "more varied material on food. We were always tracking what was happening in the food world in the broadest sense. One of the great changes was that in the beginning, whenever we mentioned the word "sustainable" or "organic," we had to explain it. Today, you don't even have to think about explaining it."

The Spendid Table has certainly contributed to the broader U.S. interest in food today. Says Kasper: "We saw the changes. Some people have said we nudged some of those, or at least broadened the awareness of those changes in what we were doing. I consider that a great compliment." Congratulations to The Splendid Table and Lynne Rossetto Kasper on twenty years of great food radio.


Jacques Pépin on "reality" cooking shows

Jacques PepinTurn on any televised cooking program and you are likely to hear yelling--a lot of yelling. The drama drives ratings, but how much is what we are seeing like a real restaurant kitchen? If you ask Jacques Pépin, the answer is "not much." In a recent Daily Meal article, Pépin blasts this negative depiction of professional kitchens.

While he admits that sometimes the stress of service causes tempers to flare and results in the occasional verbal barrage, Pépin notes that this is usually temporary and that it often "ends in a friendly discussion over a glass of wine or a beer." Kitchens work best when there is order and dignity, and in these so-called reality shows "the confrontation and the bitter drama are not conducive to producing good food."

To add insult to injury, very little actual cooking is shown. We don't see "the process of combining ingredients together to create a dish...nor is the process of tasting, adding an ingredient, then tasting again and commenting ever shown." Pépin singles out Hell's Kitchen, noting that while the conflict depicted may be good for ratings, it is "unjust to dedicated cooks and unfair to the trade." He notes that if you were to visit the kitchen in a respected restaurant (citing restaurants run by Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, and Grant Achatz), you would see "a kitchen that is well organized, with a contented, dedicated, hard-working staff."

Do you agree with Chef Pépin or do you think he's being too hard on Gordon Ramsay and these shows?

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