A Place At The Table, a cookbook review

“A Place At The Table”, a new cookbook edited by Rick Kinsel and Gabrielle Langholtz, is a compilation of recipes from 40 beloved chefs across the US who are all immigrants.  The contributing chefs range from Dominique Crenn (France) to Marcus Samuelsson (Ethiopia/Sweden) to Michael Solomonov (Israel). The subtitle is “New American recipes from the nation’s top foreign-born chefs,” but I feel like it’s not descriptive enough.  Some of the recipes are fusion types, and some are recipes taken from cultural heritage. And then, there is a smattering of recipes that are just high end restaurant cooking.

There are no chapters.  The book is simply divided up by chefs.

The photos are beautiful, and it looks like every recipe has a photo.  However, there is a caveat… Not all photos exactly match the written recipe.  The most obvious culprit of this was the pegao norteño (a Chifa lamb dumpling dish by Carlos Delgado).  The photo is of the restaurant version, made obvious by the large flecks of gold leaf garnishing the dish.  

Overall, the recipes themselves sound enticing.  I think my only real critique is that not all the recipes are home friendly for me.  I know some homecooks like the occasional large project, but I don’t like fussy recipes with an ingredient list the size of the entire page (*cough*geoduck tartelette*cough*dominique crenn*cough*).  Nor do I want to look for ingredients that are hard to come by.  I live in a city, and I go to several supermarkets and ethnic markets pretty easily but if I have to go online to shop for an ingredient, I lose interest very quickly.  For example, I cannot make the smoked honey yogurt with whey snow and white grape syrup recipe because I have never seen smoked honey for sale in my area.

Luckily, there are still other recipes that appeal to me.  The ones I am most curious about are:

  • Shrimp and okra pancakes and charred scallion dipping sauce
  • Soy- and sugarcane-glazed grilled pork chops and tomato-peach salad
  • Winter melon soup
  • Banana bibingka (I almost made this… but didn’t only because I’ve had too many sweets lately)
  • Coffee-braised brisket
  • Banana layer cake with vanilla cream and candied walnuts
  • Hand-torn noodles with cumin lamb
  • Pancake stack cake

 

In the end, I opted to make Nite Yun’s coconut milk marinated pork.  It’s pretty straightforward – you marinate thin slices of pork loin in coconut milk, brown sugar, garlic, fish sauce, and black pepper.  However, it does need some pre-planning because the instructions tell you to marinate for 4-24 hours. Then, you cook up in a grill pan for a couple of minutes per side.

My attempt looked nothing like the photo.  I’m pretty sure the photo version cooked the pork on a real grill which I don’t have.  To be fair, I used a regular pan and not a grill pan, but I had trouble getting the pork to really brown because there was just too much moisture on the surface.  No pan was really going to fix that.  (Note, I did try to remove as much of the marinade as possible.)

The first photos I took looked a bit terrible (so I’m not posting them) but I originally served the pork with some of the leftover mushroom rice I made from my last post. Honestly?  I was a little underwhelmed. I sliced the pork as thinly as I could by hand, because the instructions indicated thinly sliced pork no further specifics. My recommendation now is to not go less than a quarter of an inch.  I might even suggest half an inch slices, just to reduce the likelihood of overcooking.  

Sizes of slices aside, I couldn’t taste the marinade in the meat that well even though I had the pork marinating in the fridge for about 16 hours.  4-24 hours seems completely unnecessary to me. But the marinade itself is fantastic. I didn’t have the heart to throw it out, so I boiled it for a few minutes to make it safe for consumption and kept it as a sauce.

The photo below that I will share is the second serving of the recipe, dressed with the leftover cooked marinade and served with plain cabbage.  (You can scroll the photo over to see the book photo.)  I loved this version! I’m thinking that next time I’ll cook the pork (probably in the oven to pinkness), then separately take the other ingredients and serve as a sauce.  

So, this book… hard to review because it’s a compilation.  I can’t really judge the book on one recipe but I’m not a “cook the book” type of person either.  I’m recommending this book to foodies who want to sample recipes from critically acclaimed chefs, cooks looking for creative inspiration, and people who want to learn more about the chefs featured (there’s a nice little bio page for each chef).  If you’re someone who identifies as a functional cook, check the book out from the library before deciding you want your own copy.  

Will I cook from this book again?  Definitely.  Will it be in the immediate future?  Probably not.  Take that as you will.

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Prestel for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 24, 2019. 

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