I enjoyed spending some time with Todd Schafer over the past few months while he oversaw the renovation of his restaurant, Abel Brown Southern Kitchen in Surrey Center.
One afternoon last month we were in the kitchen as I described a dish I had seen recently. He said “hang on a minute, that reminds me of something,” walked off and quickly returned with a big ‘ol honkin’ cookbook.
He set it down on the make table, squared it up and gazed at the cover a second before cracking it open. He slowly flipped through the well thumbed tome featuring beautifully photographed small plates that could have passed for contemporary art.
He was talking to himself the whole time while looking for the image he wanted to show me. “I love this book” “look at that!” “look at that!” “look at that!” “look at that!” “wow!” “my God!”.
I felt like I was having déjà vu all over again.
Last night I came across an article Todd wrote for the Metro Spirit a decade ago, and realized I had been in that exact situation before with him.
How interesting it is that he has a shelf in his office stuffed with thick hardcover cookbooks that he flips through regularly. I’m in a lot of kitchens and that is not something I ever see.
Oh, by the way, in a conversation this morning Todd said one to add to the list that he really likes is Happy in the Kitchen by Frenchman Michel Richard.
A used hardcover copy starts at $3.50 on Amazon.
Written by Todd Schafer
I was 13 when I discovered my love of cookbooks. My mother had quite a collection, and they varied from huge tomes like “The Joy of Cooking” and Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” to small, notebook-type cookbooks like “Tea Time at the Masters” and “Betty Crocker.”
“The Joy of Cooking” started me on my way to being a chef. It taught me about exotic ingredients, cuts of meat and all the differing cooking techniques, from braising to roasting. The art of French cooking was a complete mystery to me at that age. I had no experience with French food, my mother being either to busy or too confounded to cook Julia’s offerings, and it inspired me to discover all I could about French cuisine.
It sparked my imagination with words like poele, ris de veau and charcuterie. There was a whole other world of cooking out there, and I wanted to find out everything I could about it. The first cookbook I ever bought, at the age of 15, was by Escoffier, the father of modern French cooking. It was completely over my head, but I slogged through it and, in the years to come, especially while I was at the Culinary Institute of America, it proved an invaluable resource. “On Food and Cooking” by Harold Mcgee was required reading at the CIA, and it gave me the science behind cooking. I still refer to it to this day, even though it is somewhat dry and reads like stereo instructions.
“I still look to them for ideas and inspiration, whether I am cooking dinner at home for three, or at the restaurant during Masters for 2000.”Todd Schafer
Even after all these years, I am still inspired and excited by cookbooks. I still look to them for ideas and inspiration, whether I am cooking dinner at home for three, or at the restaurant during Masters for 2000. I have written countless menus in the last 20 years or so, and cookbooks help me every time. They provide me with ideas on which way to go with an ingredient or a technique that I previously hadn’t thought of.
My new favorite is “The Flavor Bible” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. It is a veritable encyclopedia of ingredient affinities. Does caviar go with cantaloupe? You bet it does, and you can find that paring in “The Flavor Bible.”
I don’t always go for books by famous chefs, but you can’t go wrong with anything by Thomas Keller or Charlie Trotter. I like to call it cookbook porn, because of its incredibly striking images that make you hungry instantly. These books are not for the novice cook because of the intricate techniques and ingredients used, but they help you imagine what food can become when it is at its highest form.
My favorite all time cookbook author is James Peterson, for his intricately detailed information on sauces, soups, fish and shellfish and his cuisine-specific book, “Glorious French Food.” For all things sweet, I have only one book to recommend: “Desserts” by Pierre Herme. The man is a genius. It is remarkable to me because it is just his “basics” pastry guide, yet everything in it is flawless.
For those of you with a love of cooking, cookbooks will be an invaluable resource of inspiration and guidance. They are the best way to discover your inner chef.
Todd Schafer is the owner and executive chef at Abel Brown’s Southern Kitchen in Surrey. The upscale oyster bar recently re-opened after an extensive remodel.
491 Highland Avenue/Surrey Center
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