The Organic Gourmet
by Tracy Kett
Published by Robert Rose
192 pages, 1998
Tin Fish Gourmet
by Barbara-jo McIntosh
Published by Raincoast Books
164 pages, 1998
The Wild Food Gourmet
by Anne Gardon
Published by Firefly Books
174 pages, 1998
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.