As digital imaging has advanced, cookbooks have become overwhelmed with images rather than recipes or essays. Because of this, they have been relegated to the task of eye candy—becoming the kinds of things we flip through in the kitchen aimlessly like magazines when we are bored.
Yet to do this with Jeremiah Tower’s new cookbook “Flavors of Taste,” would surely be a waste. While Tower has included many colorful images of sumptuous dishes and ingredients, to simply flip through his book would be to miss out on the countless stories of heritage and discovery that accompany each set of instructions.
All of the personal essays featured throughout the book are a testament to Tower’s posh upbringing, rebellious youth, and streamlined career. The recipes themselves are equally rich with earnest anecdotes about his travels as they are with butter. A flurry of stories about work at famed Berkeley restaurant “Chez Panisse” with Alice Waters as well as his later work at his own flashy San Francisco restaurant “Stars” are peppered across the pages.
As Tower himself acknowledges, the recipes are a testament to his peripatetic lifestyle and the conglomeration of cuisines he has encountered and experimented with—particularly those French and Californian flavors. The recipes themselves prove to be a mix of the most basic but delicious comfort foods and more complex regional favorites. The first chapter begins with a simple rib roast and an individual sized pizza, but then quickly heats up with a rich, complicated yet timeless bouillabaisse and a sea urchin soufflé. Essentials like eggs get ramped up in a recipe for the most luscious and creamy French-style scramble topped with shaved black truffle.
Classics like steak au poivre are accompanied by hearty side dish recommendations. Each of these is carefully selected. The fries that accompany the steak are not simply potatoes, they are the perfect 3/8 inch French fries cooked in rendered beef kidney suet. There are also more unusual ingredients like the black chile paste which Tower makes in his home in Yucatan.
The beauty of the recipes is that they are both simplistic and effectively communicated, always imbedded with the intermittent tip or trick. A fallen soufflé can be scooped into a buttered gratin dish topped with cream and briefly broiled to become your grandmother’s pudding. Tower tackles even more difficult ground by giving the low down on intimidating ingredients such as black truffles, allowing for his more advanced recipes to become less daunting for the average cook.
Tower digs into family recipes and history for inspiration, pulling from delicate menus sourced from relatives aboard the Titanic and menus from glamourous hotels like the Ritz-Carlton in London, which his grandfather frequented in the early 20th century. There are also records of Tower’s favorite meals over the years and across the world, including an exquisite plate of sirloin of lamb in New South Wales and Kobe beef Shabu-shabu in Japan which served as inspiration for his own restaurant.
Even Tower’s descriptions of these meals are enough to excite the palate. Sometimes they even border on the poetical. A bowl of truffle soup is not simply a grey colored pot of cream—it is a puree the “color of a Paris winter sky threatening to storm.” Complicated cooking techniques are broken down and explained in the most erudite but simple manner—in fact, Tower’s attention to detail presents a book that almost borders on an encyclopedia.
With its crisp recipes, decadence, and copious amounts of research, “Flavors of Taste” will ensure both success in the kitchen and satisfaction to those eating their way through its recipes. It will also provide much needed inspiration and color on those afternoons and nights when you want to simply treat yourself with the finest flavors. If you can, go ahead and pour yourself an ice cold tulip of champagne—Jeremiah Tower would approve.
—Staff writer Aline G. Damas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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