Screamingly Good Food

by Karen Barnaby

Whitecap Books

1997, 216 pages


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The first time I encountered Karen Barnaby's food was at Vancouver's Fish House in Stanley Park where she has been executive chef for several years. I am a foodie and I like to eat in good restaurants and am lucky to be able to do so fairly frequently. However, all of those nice meals didn't prepare me for the delivery of my cioppino. When I saw it, I didn't want to eat it. Seriously. I wanted to take a picture. It was perhaps the most beautiful meal I've ever consumed. The good news was, it tasted every bit as fabulous as it looked.

After dinner, working on dessert, the chef was making her rounds of the restaurant: stopping by the occasional table to pass a word with her supplicants. I had to tell her how much I'd enjoyed her creation and how beautiful I thought it had been. She inclined her head graciously, smiled, nodded and thanked me. Friendly but aloof, as befitted the goddess of her domain. The accolades, of course, par for a course of successfully created and consumed meals.

So I had this aloof chef goddess in mind before I saw Screamingly Good Food. You know: the one pictured above. Shocking pink and with a picture of Barnaby grinning maniacally and holding up something that looks both yummy and sinful. I had expected yet another professional chef's sermon from the kitchen with a lot of complicated (even snotty) instructions not meant for us little people. Screamingly Good Food isn't like that. Nor, I suspect, is Barnaby. The happy cover is the first hint. But there are plenty more inside.

Not everyone reads the "About the Author" section often stuck into books. But read this one: it sheds light on who Karen Barnaby is. In this case, someone entirely less intimidating than the perfect chef I encountered. She talks briefly about her lifelong passion for food: one that didn't start in Paris:

I read my mother's cookbooks avidly and tried different things -- I fondly remember a meatloaf roulade with a cheddar cheese filling. My sister Jennifer had brought a friend home for dinner who was totally intimidated by this meatloaf creation. She looked miserable when confronted with it on her plate, and I could tell that she thought we were all pretty weird because of the strange food we were eating. I thought it was a triumph of high cuisine.

This is, I think, the reason that this book works so well. Barnaby is a chef of merit and reputation. She is classically trained and the food she serves as a professional is, perhaps, world class. So she brings these seasoned professional elements with her to her books. But she started out cooking in a North American household, in a North American kitchen with North American foods. In short, her roots are similar to mine and maybe to yours. And through those roots she understands the needs and desires of her audience. They are her, after all, looking back.

The book is organized around seasons and seasonal feasts. The seasons are real, but the feasts are mostly fictitious: born of Barnaby's sense of food and fun. For example, A Small Feast for the Twelfth Day of Rain.

"What do you do when you can't stand the dreariness anymore? Why, you cook something, of course, for yourself and a select, special few. This is the time when comfort food really comes into play."

And so we're treated to Braised Savoy Cabbage with Meatballs, Semolina Gnocchi Casserole, Sausages with Polenta and Porcini Mushrooms, Chicken Stew in the Style of Fish Soup, Chocolate and Honey Mousse and other warming comfort foods.

Or, in the fall section, one of my personal favorites: A Small Feast For the First Day of Sweater. A time when Chicken Stew with Dumplings, Mashed Potatoes and Carrots followed by a Butterscotch Pudding wouldn't be entirely out of place.

Screamingly Good Food is a happy book with lots of tempting recipes with easy to follow instructions. An excellent book for chefs at all levels of ability.


Review by Linda Richards