My Kitchen Library: Farm-to-table-to-books
June 24, 2021
In recent years the term farm-to-table has been overused and even parodied. As a server at some high-end farm-to-table restaurants in Seattle, there were some moments I felt as though I was living in an episode of Portlandia. However, at its core, the movement to encourage the consumption of local seasonal foods is one dear to my heart. My culinary journey has led me to seek out relationships with the makers, farmers, and producers of the ingredients I use. The more I have honored the regional foods available and paid attention to the seasons, the better my cooking has become.
The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters
At a time when the American diet was heavily made up of processed foods and canned vegetables, Alice Waters was a trailblazer in the establishment of California cuisine and the modern farm-to-table food movement. From her kitchen garden to her groundbreaking restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkley, California, Waters set out to teach us the value of eating locally sourced, in-season ingredients.
In The Art of Simple Food, first published in 2007, Waters begins by clearly defining her principles for good cooking, which include eating locally and sustainably, shopping at farmers' markets, planting a garden, as well as the virtues of cooking and eating together. From there, she presents a series of recipes divided by techniques, such as "Slow Cooking," "Over the Coals," and "Out of the Frying Pan." Her recipes are simple, approachable, and easy to follow. In addition, she shows how a few quality ingredients can bring out the best in each other.
This is a book that I return to time and time again for advice on a range of techniques. She encourages her readers to develop their intuition in the kitchen by experimenting, tasting, and always being fully present in the moment of cooking. Some of my favorites in the book include her simple roast chicken, white beans with rosemary, and perfect tart crust.
In 2013 she published a sequel The Art of Simple Food II, in which she expands on the value of growing your own kitchen garden. Recipes in this book are divided by vegetables from her garden, with advice for growing and tips on preserving. Again her simple elevated cooking is easy to follow and gives one great confidence in the kitchen. As we have expanded our kitchen garden, I can feel the influence of this personal culinary hero as I harvest a basket of veggies and herbs for that evening's meal.
Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, by Joshua McFadden
Joshua McFadden is part of a new generation of chefs building and expanding on the gastronomic values established by Alice Waters and others in the organic food movement. From an initial stint in film school, he ended up at a culinary school in Portland, Oregon. His thirst for culinary experience found him working at some of the most prominent high-end restaurants in cities across the country. Then, seeking to have more of a connection to where his ingredients came from, he landed at a farm in rural Maine, working the land with the farmers during the day and hosting special farm dinners in the evening. This was where his true calling was found.
In Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, McFadden shows his deep understanding and admiration for the process of growing food. As the name suggests, the book has recipes divided into six growing seasons: Spring, Early Summer, Midsummer, Late Summer, Fall, and Winter. There are gorgeous recipes grouped by the bounty that is ready to be harvested in each seasonal section. For example, there are seven recipes alone for celery in the early summer section, which many of my readers might recall is one of my favorite overlooked vegetables. At a family gathering recently, I made his Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds, and Parmigiano. Bright, crisp, and lively, it was a huge hit.
Published in 2017, this well-designed book, full of beautiful photographs, showcases creative ways to prepare glorious vegetables at their peak. There are side dishes, main courses, and even desserts. While the recipes place the focus on vegetables, they are not all vegetarian. Meat is used sparingly and intentionally to enhance the flavors of the produce, not the other way around. Flipping through this book is a joy and inspires me as I anticipate all the beautiful things growing in our garden over the coming months.