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Book Reviews

Great Food at Home

by Mark McEwan

Taste Buds and Molecules

by François Chartier

3 Chefs: The Kitchen Men

by Michael Bonacini, Massimo Capra, and Jason Parsons

The authors of 3 Chefs are all highly ­regarded toques. Michael Bonacini co-owns a slew of Toronto-area restaurants, including the top-rated Canoe and the family-friendly Oliver & Bonacini chain. Massimo Capra, owner of Mistura and Sopra, is one of Toronto’s best Italian chefs. Jason Parsons is executive chef at the Peller Estates Winery in ­Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The three also appear regularly on the television series CityLine. This book collects dozens of their ­recipes, new and from the show.

In terms of value and versatility, this is one of the best cookbooks published in Canada this season. The three chefs work in different but complementary styles that are very accessible to the home cook. Bonacini brings a continental flare, with recipes grounded in hearty bistro-style cookery. Capra, not surprisingly, contributes mainly Italian or Mediterranean-influenced recipes. Parsons steers more toward a New World vineyard style of cooking that emphasizes Canadian ingredients.

The recipes are all splendidly creative but not so esoteric as to alienate, showing how common ingredients can be inventively and tastefully combined. With enticing photography by Ian Garlick, 3 Chefs is the sort of book a home cook will happily return to again and again.

Mark McEwan is one of the most talented and highly regarded chefs in Canada. At restaurants such as Pronto, North 44°, Bymark, and One, he has been a leader in Toronto’s culinary community since the 1980s. In recent years, he has risen to national fame with his Food Network Canada show The Heat, and next year he will appear as head judge on the first season of Top Chef Canada.

With such a distinguished career, it is surprising that Great Food at Home is McEwan’s first cookbook. The volume is an exquisite offering, beautifully printed with dozens of gorgeous photographs by Rob Fiocca, Bill Milne, and James Tse.

The title, however, may be misleading. While the recipes here are indeed great, many of them are beyond the ambitions of the average home cook. Take, for example, Squab Two Ways with Chanterelle-Filled Cabbage Roll and Cauliflower Purée, which starts with the sobering instruction, “The day before cooking the squab, cut off the birds’ heads at the base of the neck.” For most people, that would be a non-starter, never mind that squab (baby pigeons) are not exactly the kind of thing one finds at Sobey’s.

Not all of the recipes are quite so complicated, but there are enough of them to suggest that this book would be more accurately titled Great Gourmet Food at Home. McEwan’s book certainly entices, but its complexity will leave many home cooks on the outside looking in.

With all this gourmet food, we must have some wine. A renowned sommelier in Quebec, François Chartier is virtually unknown in English Canada, even though his book Papilles et Molécules (Les Éditions La Presse) won the prize for Best Cookbook in the World at the highly prestigious Paris Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

For two decades, Chartier has been working to understand how the interaction of molecules released by food and wine into the olfactory system either enhances or diminishes our enjoyment of both. He identifies certain compounds that exist in wine varieties and suggests pairing those wines with dishes made from ingredients containing the same – or similar – molecules.

It is a fascinating and certainly innovative concept; however, Taste Buds and Molecules is so grossly overdesigned that the reader will face frustration just trying to follow Chartier’s text. The volume’s pages are chopped up by intrusive sidebars, bullet lists, and hand-drawn arrows and charts that look like they have been scribbled on chalk boards; it is very difficult to know which section of text follows which. 

Taste Buds and Molecules is at heart a guide book to pairing food and wine, and gussying it up with affected graphic design only hobbles it.