The Organic Gourmet

by Tracy Kett

Published by Robert Rose

192 pages, 1998

ISBN: 1-896503-83-7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tin Fish Gourmet

by Barbara-jo McIntosh

Published by Raincoast Books

164 pages, 1998

ISBN: 1-55192-158-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild Food Gourmet

by Anne Gardon

Published by Firefly Books

174 pages, 1998

ISBN: 1-55209-242-9

 

 

 

 

 

Galloping Gourmets

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards

 

All of us define the word gourmet in different ways. A vegetarian's vision of a gourmet feast will not include venison and certainly not veal. Likewise, someone who is a cordon bleu chef will most likely not dream of tofu or granola.

Not surprisingly, then, the word gourmet means different things to different people. The fact that different cookbook authors published under different imprints will interpret the word differently is a logical extension.

***


The Organic Gourmet is the result of a ten year old Ontario festival. Knives and Forks is the signature event of the Feast of Fields. As Tracey Kett, editor of The Organic Gourmet writes in the introduction:

While the event is intended to be a leisurely, sumptuous experience, the underlying theme of Feast of Fields is the connection between those who grow our food and those who eat it, and the interdependency of all living things.

In many ways, the same can be said of the book that has resulted as a culmination of many of the best meals presented at the festival throughout its decade-long history. Another carry-over from the festival is the way that the foods included in the book are meant to be served and eaten:

You may notice that some of these recipes have another thing in common -- the way the dish is presented. One of the unique features of Feast of Fields is that the food is created to be eaten by hand, which eliminates unnecessary paper places and other disposable items. Chefs have ingeniously served their fare wrapped in crepes and lettuce leaves, nestled in vegetable cups and tomatoes, layered on top of croquettes and cornbread and even offered on cedar planks or pieces of slate.

In addition to the 100-odd recipes included in the book, there are a couple of very good sections on organic food: what it is, why it's better and where to get it; including organic food organizations, some retail outlets and even a whole page of Web sites.

Recipe chapters are broken into logical segments: so that there is a chapter on Appetizers, another on Soups, one for Condiments and so on. Predictably in a book that says Organic on the cover, meat does not play a central role. However, it is given more than a casual inclusion and recipes for Pork Burgers with Warm Potato Salad Wrapped in Bibb Lettuce and Blackened Leg of Lamb with Apricot Ginger Mint Sauce co-exist beside a meat-influenced risotto recipe that advise that it can be made suitable for vegetarian palettes by leaving the meat out.

Vegetarians will, however, find enough in this book to make it worthwhile to just ignore the meaty bits. While there may be a nod to meat eaters, the same can not be said for the vegetarian recipes: in this regard The Organic Gourmet really shines. The chapter on vegetarian entrees includes 12 organic main course meals like Vegetable Tagine and Pecan Burger and Three-Onion Marmalade, however vegetarian gems are laced throughout the work including the chapters on meat, seafood and poultry where non-desired items can be left out.

Recipes have been adapted for the home kitchen, but without -- says editor Kett -- compromising the integrity of the original dish. Instructions are clear and easy-to-follow and -- besides tracking down all of those gourmet ingredients -- can be made with things that are not difficult to find in most communities.

Each recipe includes a comment either from the chef who created the dish or about one or more of the ingredients in the recipe. For example, the recipe for Cold Zucchini Soup with Lemon Balm lets us know that, among other things:

Lemon Balm is a perennial herb native to southern Europe and is a member of the mint family. The upper side of its leaves are downy and, when crushed, emit an aromatic, citrusy scent.

An illustration screen behind each one of these instructive boxes makes the comment a little difficult to read: but it's a worthwhile struggle as most of the comments are interesting and useful.

An interesting book with many tempting recipes, The Organic Gourmet will add be especially useful to those interested in organic and/or vegetarian food.

***


In some ways Tin Fish Gourmet is the antithesis of The Organic Gourmet. Where the latter uses only fresh ingredients grown by purists to be enjoyed by same, Tin Fish Gourmet celebrates -- you guessed it -- canned fish. But -- oh! -- it does it beautifully.

If you're thinking stodgy tuna fish casserole with a Corn Flake topping, forget it. Tin Fish Gourmet is, in all ways, a stylish and even elegant book.

Tuna does get a leg in, however, with a chapter all its own: one that even includes a few tuna casseroles, though they are unlike anything your mother is likely to have made. The Yam, Red Pepper and Tuna Casserole, for instance, puts a whole new spin on the concept, as does the Tuna and Rice Casserole.

There is more, of course, to tinned fish than tuna and McIntosh has addressed all aspects. There are chapters on Anchovies, Caviar, Clams, Crabmeat, Oysters, Salmon, Sardines and Shrimp -- as well as the inevitable tuna. Recipes include Anchovy and Chick Pea Pizza, Creamy Garlic and Clam Chowder, Crab Risotto, Oyster and Artichoke Stew and more. In all, 72 recipes make up the offerings of this Tin Fish Gourmet.

While the recipes are as straightforward and simple to follow as can be imagined, they almost take a back seat to the design. Of the three gourmet books included here Tin Fish Gourmet easily walks away with the 90s design prize. The book is clean, clear and well laid out and the classic fish label illustrations used throughout the work add much to the elegant and finished feel. Almost every recipe includes a little infobyte that adds much to the experience of this book. For example, on the page for a recipe for Clam and Fontina Pizza we learn that:


While all clams are born and mature as males, some change into females part way through life, giving a while new meaning to mid-life crisis!

Author Barbara-jo McIntosh is well known is foody circles in Vancouver and deserves the wider recognition that Tin Fish Gourmet is already bringing. A former restaurateur, she is the owner of Barbara-jo's Books to Cooks, a bookstore that specializes in cookbooks in Vancouver's Yaletown district.

Tin Fish Gourmet is a fun book, but for some it's a book that's been a long-time coming. One that takes canned fish out of the horror food memories some of us have brought with us to adulthood and re-creates economical and easily found tinned fish into something worthy of serving our pickiest friends and family members.

***

The Wild Food Gourmet brings yet another take on the whole gourmet approach: this one also unique. As the title proclaims, The Wild Food Gourmet brings us recipes that include things you can find in the wild. If, of course, you know where to look.

Author Anne Gardon is an author, photographer and journalist who lives in the country outside Montreal. She is a popular food critic and restaurant columnist. Originally published in French as La Cuisine des Champs in 1994, the Firefly Edition is a flawless translation of the original text.

While this is a gorgeous and well produced book, there is one obvious drawback: things I find in the wilds near my home might be quite different from what you find near yours. The Wild Food Gourmet might be considered -- for this reason -- to be a pretty regional book. If however, you cook at a high enough level to understand what hard to find thing can be replaced for something more easy to come by you might still be okay if you live in England or Japan, where some of the ingredients might be difficult to find in the wild, if at all.

For example, a recipe for Cattail Pollen Soufflé would not be possible in an area where cattails don't grow. And I can't imagine what you might use instead of cattails, because I don't know what else is quite like them. Still, it makes for interesting self talk just thinking about it and the gorgeous color photos throughout the book -- all taken by the author -- make perusing the book a mouth-watering endeavor.

In most cases, the wild foods specified in the recipes could be replaced with something more domestic -- for example, most wild mushroom recipes would work as well with mushrooms easily found at your local market. In fact, suggestions for this sort of replacement are suggested in many instances, as in the recipe for Chantrelles Ramekins that includes a suggestion for replacing the chantrelles with bacon bits, artichoke hearts or cheese, if necessary or desired.

But it is the adventure of cooking from what nature provides that Gardon brings us most vividly. From the introduction:

... my foray into Mother Nature's larder really started when I took up backpacking. I would disappear into the woods for days on end, loaded with cameras, binoculars, nature books and little room for food. Turning to my hostess seemed the logical solution. So I added more books to my load -- among them Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons -- and started harvesting and eating wild edibles. Much to my surprise, what I had considered "survival food" turned out to be delicious.

This genuine passion for food both wild andd domestic translates well in The Wild Food Gourmet. Gardon's chapters bring us through the wild food possibilities from Wild Greens and Flowers, to Wild Mushrooms, Berries and other Fruits, Cold Drinks and Liqueurs, Herbal Teas, Jellies and Butters, and finally Vinegars.

Throughout Gardon's work, the photos are the stars. Her recipes are beautifully illustrated with color photographs, but also photographs of ingredients in their natural state enhance both the book's aesthetic appeal as well as its value as a tool for gathering wild foods that may be unfamiliar. | November 1998

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.