Little Bites: Duck Donuts opens in Upper St. Clair, Free Primanti’s, Ballpark night at Eleven
Two recently released cookbooks, "Daniel: My French Cuisine" by Daniel Boulud and "The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook" by Michael Anthony, Dorothy Kalins and Danny Meyer, provide a view into the kitchen culture of two of New York's iconic restaurants, with recipes as reminders of how captivating refined cooking can be.
Mr. Boulud, a chef and partner of eight New York restaurants as well as outposts in Miami, Toronto, London and elsewhere, offers advice on a range of topics, particularly one of the most important aspects of cooking: seasoning and spicing.
"Great chefs are maniacs about seasoning," he writes. "While there's no single rule one can follow, you can gauge a confident and precise chef from the way he seasons."
The aside features a dramatic photo of wild sumac, a fall blossom found locally that can lend a lemony flavor to a dish. He continues with an explanation of kitchen salt, with a preference for classic sel de mer from La Baleine.
"Never change the kind of salt that is being used in a kitchen or you will create terrible chaos," he writes. Even a cook who's just learned how to salt boiling water will appreciate this level of detail.
With dramatic photography throughout, the first section of the book features recipes from his restaurant, Daniel. They're divided into sections on appetizers, fish, meat and desserts, with sidebars on bread, stocks, cheese and wine, for example.
In the appetizer recipe for Spanish mackerel au vin blanc, Mr. Boulud notes it's a humble fish not often used in fine-dining restaurants. But it's a favorite of his at the sushi bar, so he displays its versatility through photos of preparation to finish.
A gorgeous, silvery clear-eyed fish is dissected on a cutting board, while across the page, pieces are poached, face down in a green-tinged, clarified broth with red onion, leeks and carrots. For the finished plating, three cylinders of mackerel tartar line a dish, topped with caviar and creme fraiche. They're next to a diamond of poached mackerel resting in carrot gelee, garnished with tarragon and micro greens. For a single recipe, it's a three-page journey.
But for many home cooks, the sections after restaurant recipes are more approachable, such as The Iconic Sessions in the second section with the wonderful Bill Buford.
Author of "Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as a Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany" (Vintage Books 2007), Mr. Buford writes a self-deprecating take on 18 days in Daniel's kitchen as "the last and least qualified member of a team of cooks who ... would produce over a dozen elaborate, technically flamboyant and historically evocative French dishes."
He's not the only one who's merely semi-literate in this kitchen. "My ignorance wasn't surprising. It was the ignorance of the others," he wrote. "This was surprising. I wasn't the one in trouble. We all were." No line cook or sous chef comes close to the skill of the master.
Mr. Buford proceeds to walk through 12 dishes, which include Jambon au Foin. He opens with a piece on Mr. Boulud's bio.
"The story so far: farm boy, restless, bored in school, a worry to the family, looking for meaning, wanting a mission, ready for his calling, finds purpose in a restaurant kitchen." He continues with an explanation about why such a refined chef features so much pork on his menus even though "Pig is not fancy." Jambon au Foin, by the way, translates to "leg in hay," or, in more familiar terms, a ham.
The imagery is terrific. "You can't look at this preparation, cracking open the crust, and being enveloped by smells of campfires and the grassy late-summer meadows, without thinking, Very clever, those country types," he wrote.
The Iconic Sessions by Mr. Buford may lend courage to home cooks for part three, Daniel at Home, a collection of straightforward recipes for home cooks. Sunday supper is the theme, with four regional menus, one from rustic Alsace, the second from the Normandy coast, the third an homage to Provence's vegetables, and the last inspired by his hometown of Lyon.
For home cooks who intend to actually cook from this book, this section is a good place to start, whether it's the loup de mer, also known as sea bass, with citrus salt, fennel and grape sauce vierge or the cocoa-dusted dark chocolate bombe.
The other guide, "The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook," offers instruction and cooking philosophy from chef Michael Anthony, the head of Mr. Meyer's restaurant since 2006. Gramercy Tavern opened in 1994, with Tom Colicchio as executive chef, who worked with owner Danny Meyer, a beacon for the hospitality industry with his book "Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business" (Harper Perennial 2008).
Mr. Meyer conceived Gramercy Tavern as a neighborhood place "that is so good people will come there from anywhere." It's part of his Union Square Hospitality Group, which also includes Shake Shack and The Modern. This is the first cookbook from the restaurant in its 20-year history, an illustration of how it has not just stayed relevant but resonant for New Yorkers and visitors, defining "unlabored sophistication," according to former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni.
Mr. Anthony's vision is articulated among recipes and sidebars about his kitchen as a form of culinary school, on staff family meals and through a handful of staff profiles.
This text is not as high-brow as "Daniel," as shown in photos of the Union Square green market as well as behind the bar and in the restaurant's kitchen. There are plenty of shots of beauty plates, like the duck breast confit with quinces as well as spaetzle with smoked kielbasa, with medallions that fan a mound of noodles and fresh herbs.
The book offers challenging recipes, although they're easier than the wizardry in "Daniel," such as a flavorful broth made from chicken wings that renders it a deep-red brown, or a bright grilled zucchini with corn salsa. Still, finessed technique and plating throughout the book draw admiration.
"Daniel: My French Cuisine" and "The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook" may not illustrate daily meals for the average reader, but between pages there's the opportunity for armchair travel, a respite from the long nights of a cold winter.
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.