Forgive my “just the facts, ma’am” approach to photography, but I have been enjoying paging through these two cookbooks.
On the left, we have the just-released “Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook” by Chris and Idie Hastings with Katherine Cobbs (Running Press, $35). The Hastingses, who are married, run this great Birmingham restaurant, which is just up the street from its more famous neighbor, Highlands Bar & Grill.
While Highlands does a fine job of marrying Southern ingredients and sensibility to country French cooking, Hot and Hot does likewise with California. Chef Chris Hastings’ food has the ingredient-driven seasonality, easy warmth and Italian sensibility of a good meal in the Bay Area. Whenever I’m in Birmingham, I have the dilemma of which restaurant to visit and usually end up going to both. I love eating at the dining bar and, in summer, I can never resist the tomato salad, which is a lusciously stacked-up business with field peas, corn, basil and a crisp rasher of bacon seesawing on the top.
The cookbook has the recipe for tomato salad, along with a number of others that guests may or may not recognize from the restaurant. One section looks at Idie Hastings’ Italian-American holiday traditions, presented in a way that still communicates the unique sense of place at Hot and Hot. The breaded fried shrimp has fresh thyme, parsely and pecorino romano in the breading, and lots of grated lemon zest in the cocktail sauce.
It’s a beautiful, full-color cookbook — really one of the best chef’s cookbooks I’ve seen in years.
Believe me, as a former cookbook judge for the James Beard Foundation awards, I’ve seen a lot of chef’s cookbooks. In fact, I was going through a stack of books I had judged the other day when I came across the book on the right in the picture above.
Called “Eve: Contemporary Cuisine, Methode Traditionelle” (Huron River Press, $35), it is the cookbook penned by a contestant in the current season of “Top Chef,” Eve Aronoff.
I remember being impressed by the book when I judged it two years ago for the way it communicated Aronoff’s vision. As a chef, she gravitates toward the sweet, spicy and warm flavors of India, the Middle East and North Africa. But her cooking technique is grounded in the classical French training she received as a student at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris.
A bit more than the simple Midwestern gal she played on “Top Chef” Aronoff is a graduate of prestigious Brandeis University and a avid oenophile working toward her Master of Wine. She is also a fine writer who paints a picture of the day-to-day operation of eponymous restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
As a chef, she seems quite fond of mixing sweet and savory — bread service, for instance, come with compound butters flavored with everything from smoked salmon to guava. And I find her curry cream sauce odd and intriguing: lots of spices, lots of hot stuff, a hefty spoonful of brown sugar and then a finish of parmesan and provolone cheese. I’m tempted to make it just to see if it works.