As I settle into a seat en route home on the 1 train, I pull a small round of bread wrapped in a black napkin from my dangerously over-sized purse.
It was once the bed to a very lovely crudo – acidic and laced with dill – made by Einat Admony’s kitchen. I’d scraped the crudo off with my teeth and abandoned the bread, because the half corned beef on rye I’d eaten for lunch was still with me, a cruel reminder of what happens when your digesting organs haven’t dealt with wheat in a very long while.
The sandwich was from Katz’s. And yes, it was worth it.
As soon as I’d gotten to the train, I’d started flipping through the book we’d been toasting (though I’d not been toasting) at the restaurant of the same name: Balaboosta.
Recipes are the least of my concern in cookbooks, since I can’t eat a large amount of the ingredients incorporated into them anyway. Somehow I’ve managed to keep that a secret from 90% of the chefs I’ve worked with. I masterfully dissect their menus and pick at their plates or suffer the consequences silently the rare times I don’t.
So, I open this book.
First: I like the size, the shape, the weight, the color on the cover.
I check: Artisan published it. Yes.
Quentin Bacon photographed it. Brent had relayed the significance earlier by naming Quentin “the JJ Goode of cookbook photography”, knowing how I admire JJ’s ability to capture voices.
Joel Chasnoff turned words into stories. Okay, let’s see what he can do with the first sentence that I give so much weight:
Long before I won Chopped or appeared on Throwdown with Bobby Flay, before there was cooking school, a husband, a better husband, and a couple of kids, before I ever imagined running three restaurants of my own in New York City, there were Friday afternoons with my mother.
Damn. He nailed it.
I like the font – the size, the variety, the color.
I like the progression of the story – it sounds like Einat, yes. Her warmth, her competence, her confidence, her balaboosta-ness. It makes me want to be a guest at her table. And though I am no chef in my own, it makes me want to welcome her to mine.
The chapter titles are funny, witty, warm. The recipes are introduced with 4-5 sentences, peppered with humor.
The ingredients are in bold font, their preparation bulleted.
Each page is edged in a patterned border, each chapter varied in color.
The photos are bright, simple, helpful, rich.
I flip, and flip, and can find no fault, which I never particularly look for but – in the quiet of my own mind – often see and concede.
Each chapter has it’s own identity. Each introduction is a secret, a confession, and and invitation. Absent is the clutter and noise I abhor as someone who likes to give a story or a photo or a recipe my fullest attention.
It makes me want to cook food for those I love, even if I cannot eat it: Red Velvet Gnocci (page 61); Malabi with Orange Brandy Sauce (page 199); Sunchoke Soup with Crispy Chestnuts (page 238). It makes me want to cook food I can: Spicy Chicken Tagine (page 29); Beef Tartare with Harissa (page 117); Hamin (page 185). Now I can make her hummus (page 262) and harissa (page 272), too.
By the time my train makes it to 157th street I’ve read most of the chapter introductions, many of the recipes, dog-eared pages, and jotted down these words. I bought this book, and I will keep it, and I will read it, and I will cook from it.
Get it. Devour it.