Cookbooks used to be written for those who loved to cook or for those who needed to cook. Today’s food-centric culture has added breadth and depth to the genre. Food lovers and home cooks look to chefs not just for instruction, but for inspiration. “Harvest to Heat, Cooking with America’s Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans” by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer goes one step beyond, showcasing the local farmers, ranchers and artisans who serve as muse to those esteemed chefs. The result is a celebration of the symbiotic relationship between farmers and chefs and the masterpieces created by their combined efforts.
The book is thoughtfully constructed and photographed, keeping true to its mission in both content and design. The chefs are highlighted in their recipes, the farmers in their stories and the food in their photographs, all of which bring readers closer to the food we love.
The weathered gray cover evokes barn wood and provides a fitting backdrop for a before and after photo of heirloom tomatoes nestled in a swath of white cheesecloth inside a well-worn colander; to their right, a strip of white parchment holds those same tomatoes, now caramelized and enveloped in a golden brown galette. All of Estrine’s beautiful food photographs are shot against nearly monochromatic backgrounds of grayed barn wood, gray linen or gray walls, giving vibrancy and brilliance to the purples of eggplants and figs, the reds of beets and tomatoes and the greens of freshly picked mint and arugula. Turning to a photograph of yellow zucchini flowers, their delicate green veins just able to grasp the crab stuffing that gently pillows from their fringed edges, I can see, feel and nearly taste their delicacy.
The list of participating farmers and chefs appears at the very beginning of the book on a fold out that must be opened not once, but three times, as if to announce: “What we have here can scarcely be contained between the book’s covers.” And in fact, more than 55 exceptional chefs from regions around the country, including Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Barbara Lynch, Eric Ripert, Bill Taibe, Charlie Trotter and Jean-Georges Vongerichten are featured. Their recipes range from the manageable Blue Cheese Tartine to the ambitious Crab-stuffed Zucchini Flowers with Black Truffles, and cover the full menu from starters through desserts.
While most of the 100 recipes require a spring, summer or fall harvest, I first read the cookbook in winter and found plenty of recipes that whet my appetite such as Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine, Duck Meatballs with Pomegranate-Orange Glaze and Pureed Parsnips, and Lamb with Caramelized Fennel and Wild Mushrooms – are you hungry yet? It was the Oyster Chowder, and Heirloom Bean Soup with Lobster and Minestrone Vegetables that sent me to the Winter Farmers’ Market; then into the kitchen.
Kochendorfer was the original test kitchen director for Saveur magazine and currently styles recipes for Martha Stewart Living and The New York Times; the recipes demonstrate her skillful hand. Ingredient lists are clear and include quantities as well as measures, so you know that “8 garlic cloves minced” means “about ¼ cup.” Instructions are complete and written so they can be followed by more and less experienced home cooks. For example, a step in the Oyster Chowder recipe states, “Whisk in the flour, stirring constantly to make a smooth paste.” Then, adds the helpful: “Cook without browning it, 2 – 3 minutes.” Most recipes range from 5 – 7 steps to a complete dish and conclude with final plating instructions.
While the chowder was simmering, I got to know more about the men and women who grow, ranch, farm and produce the food we love to eat. All 61 farmers are featured in stories and photos that accompany each recipe. Some are accidental farmers like Tim Stark, who started growing tomatoes on the roof of his Brooklyn apartment building and finally had to buy a farm when demand got so great he needed more than the 3,000 he could grow there. Others, like Billy Link, who found that after the harvest, his family’s Louisiana rice fields were a perfect breeding ground for crawfish, were born into the trade. Regardless of their path to food supplier, their stories are inspirational and share a commitment to preserving our farmlands, practicing sustainability and providing their communities and their chefs with high quality, unadulterated food.
“Harvest to Heat” can be enjoyed as a cookbook, but it offers so much more. You will read it for the stories; peruse it for the photographs and appreciate it for bringing you closer to the food that sustains you.
“Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America’s Best Chefs, Farmers and Artisans” by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer is available at local bookstores and at Amazon, retailing for $26.40.