Joe Brown's Melange Cafe Cookbook

by Joe Brown

Published by Small Potatoes Press

120 pages, 2002

Buy it online




Catch A Rising (Food) Star

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


It's funny how you can sometimes spot a star before they've properly risen. It's that certain, indefinable something or, perhaps more accurately, combination of somethings, that causes you to sit back and pay attention. And it doesn't matter, in this star search mode, what discipline we're talking about: in a broad way, the same rules apply. That something extra, something special, je ne sais quoi that simply commands that you pay attention.

I love when I stumble across these stars in embryo form. It's exciting to watch them rise and, when it happens, you feel as though you've played a part in their success. You see, it makes you say, I told you. And now look at him.

I can't help but think that all of this will be true of Joe Brown, executive chef and owner of Cherry Hill, New Jersey's Melange Cafe. Poised on the brink of Emeril-like greatness, Brown has all the right stuff. He is personable, photographs well enough and, best of all, is completely passionate about the food he creates and shares with us with such easy confidence.

Joe Brown's Melange Cafe Cookbook is a good book with which to anchor Brown's launch from relative obscurity. Showcasing Brown's fusion of Louisiana and Italian cooking, this is food for foodies, described with great wit and charm and with a dazzling eye for getting right to the heart of things. A classic example of this is Brown's Tiramisu. Every recipe I've ever seen for this traditional Italian dessert is brow-wrinklingly complicated. Steps upon steps and description upon description. Brown's recipe is nothing like this. A short list of ingredients followed by three brief paragraphs describing the method. In Brown's hands -- and under his interpretation -- Tiramisu ceases to be mysterious for the amateur chef and becomes inviting.

Cioppino is a favorite of mine and another recipe that some cookbook authors seem to find necessary to grow to gargantuan proportions. Again, Brown's version is simplified to the point where, with some help with the chopping, a child could easily make it.

For his first book, Brown has opted for the traditional starters to finishes progression. I like that. From Party Foods -- including Crawfish Stuffed Wontons and Muffuletta Bruschetta -- to Appetizers and Salads -- Fried Cheese Grit Cakes and Crab Cake Salad top these for me -- to Soups and Stews -- Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Bisque and Lobster Gumbo are here, along with several others -- to One Pots and Pastas -- non-meat eaters will enjoy the Vegetable Jambalaya. The Plated Entrees chapter is the largest in the book and includes full meal deals like Smothered Chicken with Crawfish Mashed Potatoes, Tasso-Stuffed Pork Chops, Crawfish Potpie and Grilled Rib-Eye with Rosemary Jus. Then through a really tempting section on Desserts. The book is concluded with a section on Tidbits and Biscuits and, finally, a quite excellent index.

The design here is minimalist and modern and includes no food styling whatsoever. Joe Brown smiles at us from the cover, his gleaming kitchen behind him. Inside the book, the typography is simple and easy to read and the only photos are various black and white images -- printed in a sepia tone -- of Brown and various of his employees and customers and everyone -- including the author -- always looks as though they're having a very good time. And this is appropriate. This is right. You don't make your culinary mark combining two cuisines so much about the enjoyment of food without knowing a thing or two about that topic -- food enjoyment as artform -- yourself.

Joe Brown's Melange Cafe Cookbook is a keeper as, I suspect, is Joe Brown himself. Keep a sharp lookout for that name and, when he hits it big, remember who discovered him. | September 2002


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of Mad Money.