Best of 2002









Dean & Deluca: The Food and Wine Cookbook by Jeff Morgan (Chronicle Books)

This was one of the most beautiful, most sinful, most elegantly produced cookbooks published in recent history. Rich, rich, rich in every thinkable way: the caloric content of the food discussed, the metalic ink used in the printing, the glorious food styling and photographs and the decadent and wonderful recipes combine to make Dean & Deluca: The Food and Wine Cookbook one of the most impressive cookbooks published in a long while. It's a perfect book that lacks for nothing. I can't think of highter praise. -- Linda Richards

Joe Brown's Melange Cafe Cookbook by Joe Brown (Small Potatoes Press)

In a publishing year that was stuffed full of big, glossy cookbooks, one of my favorites was the least showy of the bunch. Joe Brown is the executive chef and owner of Melange Cafe in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Melange Cafe Cookbook showcases Brown's fusion of Louisiana and Italian cooking. This is food for foodies, described with great wit and charm and with a dazzling eye for getting right to the heart of things. The design here is minimalist and modern and includes no food styling whatsoever. Joe Brown smiles at us from the cover, his gleaming kitchen behind him. Inside the book, the typography is simple and easy to read and the only photos are various black and white images -- printed in a sepia tone -- of Brown and various of his employees and customers and everyone -- including the author -- always looks as though they're having a very good time. Brown manages to hit just the right tone, bringing us his professional expertise combined with a very human touch that says: Look, you can do it. Now here's how it's done. -- Linda Richards

Modern Classics: Book 1 by Donna Hay (HarperCollins)

For several years, Australian food maven Donna Hay has been producing cookbooks that have been redefining the meaning of the word. All of Hay's books are studies in simplicity: clean lines, stark backgrounds, white serving dishes, cutting edge food photography. But these aren't just design statements: in every one of her books, Hay has managed to break even traditionally complicated recipes into simple steps. Modern Classics takes it all a step further by taking the food we know and love and reinterpreting it, for the modern palate and health awareness as well as in SuperHay simple style. Donna Hay seems to take pride in making it elegant and easy. -- Monica Stark

The Pleasures of Slow Food by Corby Kummer (Chronicle Books)

You hear the voices of the converted in The Pleasures of Slow Food. You hear them quite a lot. "Fast-food chains like McDonald's are a creation of the late twentieth century, and their charmless, plastic, bureaucratic worldview is rapidly becoming obsolete," writes Eric Schlosser in his foreword, though he isn't the only one to hold McDonald's up as the poster child for "fast food," and thus the spiritual opposite of the book's "slow food." Though I expected a book of stews and braised beef and anything else that takes a long time to cook or prepare, that is not the case or the point of The Pleasures of Slow Food. Slow food, when used in this way, refers to everything to do with the food -- from ingredients through to preparation, from planting to harvesting -- being done in traditional "slow" ways. Author Corby Kummer boils it down quite neatly: "Slow food is anything that uses ingredients carefully raised and tended and that tastes of where it's from." A long third of the book is given up to discussion of the slow food movement (there is one, and it's very organized with over 65,000 members worldwide) and interviews with artisans of slow food: vintners in France and Canada; orchard owners and shellfish harvesters in the US; cheese makers in Italy and Vermont. The remaining portions of the book are given over to recipes but though they are both good and diverse (and western in nature: coming entirely from Europe, the UK and the US) the recipes aren't really the point. The point is about lifestyles and attitude and a new way -- or more accurately, an old way -- of looking at the food we eat. -- Adrian Marks

With Bold Knife and Fork by M.F.K. Fisher (Counterpoint Press)

Since With Bold Knife and Fork was originally published in 1969, it probably has no business in this compilation. But how often am I going to get to call a work by M.F.K. Fisher -- who died in 1992 -- one of the best of the year? I adored this book and I adored being able to read it: this is one of the few Fisher books that had been out of print for some time. Typical of this author, with Bold Knife and Fork can only be called a cookbook if you stretch the definition. Recipes are included, but the real joy here is in the reading. The recipes are like punctuation, or perhaps seasoning: vivid examples of the thoughts she's sharing, sometimes insightful, sometimes touching, sometimes sharply irascible and often opinionated, but always interesting. -- Linda Richards

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