When my copy of Great Chefs Cook Vegan by Linda Long arrived in the mail, at first I didn't know what to do with it. Does this hardcover book belong on my coffee table, or alongside my large collection of cookbooks? Surely, this handsome book doesn't belong anywhere near my kitchen, where it would likely suffer from unintentional splatters and spills.
Linda Long's photographs dazzle, blurring the line between food and art seamlessly. I know of no other vegan cookbook that features the sheer abundance of gorgeous color photography, as every recipe gets its own photograph. I spent two days looking at the photographs and reading the essays by the great chefs before deciding what to make first.
The chefs were asked to present their very best and most inventive vegan recipes -- taking into account presentation, flavor, texture, and the health-giving properties of plant-based food. The results are a dream come true.
Each featured chef has a biography page that precedes the recipes. Accompanied by Long's portraits, these are engaging reads on chefs who have trained at some of the world's best culinary schools, then gone on to acclaimed restaurants, earning the top awards in the field. One may ask: Isn't it all at least slightly intimidating? Thankfully, the well-written and instructive recipes smooth out the complexity suggested by the photographs; and the chefs' stellar backgrounds certainly don't make these dishes off-limits to the cook who needs guidance. Although the recipes do presume the reader will have some interest or experience in the kitchen, I found the instructions easy to follow, and I am by no means a talented chef.
The first recipe I decided to make -- mainly because the photo is so striking -- was David Burke's Vegetable Carousel Torte with Pommes Soufflés Filled With Peas. The torte comprises layered fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes, with a sumptuous basil oil. As with every recipe, there are instructions with how to plate and serve the dish. We like this recipe so much, we've reprinted it in Priscilla Feral's new cookbook, The Best of Vegan Cooking.
Chef Joseph Huber's Chocolate Stuffed Michigan French Toast with Rice Krispies served with Peach-Strawberry Compote is probably the longest titled recipe I've ever encountered -- or attempted to make. But, as you might have guessed, this is the final word in French toast, the best I've ever eaten. The recipe calls for making your own bread, but I purchased a fresh loaf of bakery bread and left it out overnight to dry slightly.
The dish is layered, with two slices of toast stuck together by a melted chocolate sauce, then topped with a fruit compote and maple syrup; the Rice Krispies are used as both stuffing and coating, giving the French toast an unexpected texture and bite. This recipe also appears in The Best of Vegan Cooking. Despite the title, the recipe is actually fairly easy and straightforward.
Also easy is the Curried Cauliflower With Currants and Pine Nuts by Chef Cat Cora. The combination of sweet currants with the pungent curried cauliflower is mouth-watering. I consider myself a major cauliflower fan, and this recipe offers a delicious new way to appreciate this nutritious and versatile vegetable. It tasted even better a day after preparation, once the flavors had time to meld.
The Summer Vegetable Pilaf With Carolina Gold Rice by Chef Anne Quatrano is delightful and another dish that's easy to prepare. Seasoned with marjoram, garlic, onion, and sherry vinegar, the vegetables and rice come to life with nuanced flavor. The butter beans make the dish filling. It's a perfect side dish to any meal, or a light meal all unto itself.
There are so many dishes that I want to try: Cat Cora's Kiwi Parfait made my mouth water just looking at it; and just try uttering the name of Charlie Trotter's Warm Venezuelan Chocolate Cake with Merlot-Infused Cherries, Lemon Bergamot, and Chocolate Gelato without an autonomic mouth-watering response. Then there's Dan Barber's Cauliflower Steak with Quinoa, which sounds (and looks) so inventive and lovely... the list is endless.
Great Chefs Cook Vegan is not your everyday, go-to cookbook -- and that's precisely what makes this tome special, completely out of the ordinary. These recipes are the work of artists who've considered the minute details and properties of food. Linda Long has produced a masterpiece.