I'm a huge fan of the WS cookbooks, a huge fan. Taught me how to cook. But after reading this latest entry in Authentic Cuisines of the World, I'm starting to feel some nagging vibrations from my BS-meter.
Granted, I'm no culinary expert or professional, but one of the most recognizable trends of the past few decades (and all due props to WS for its influential part in the grand scheme)--has been a back-to-the land approach originating our of San Francisco (WS-HQ) called, quite appropriately, "California Cuisine". California Cuisine traded in the fancy-schmoopy cuts of meat and elaborately prepared sauces we'd learned from French cooking in favor of the Tuscan approach--fresh in season produce, simply prepared to display the inherent deliciousness of the source ingredients. And California cuisine is delicious, and fresh, and utilized (with some degree of artful ingredient combination) in most contemporary restuarants. This is why restaurant menu entries now make a point of telling you the origin and species of every tomato and leaf in the dish. Out with pretentious cooking techniques, in with plain old tasty ingredients, in season and arranged simply--who can argue with that?
Well--anyone who enjoyed food from NYC before 1980...or French food...or the local cuisine of New Orleans, or London...which happens to represent about 1/2 of the Cuisines of the World Williams-Sonoma has claimed to "cover" in separate books in which it really just applies the California Cuisine standard to a couple indigenous novelties. Case in point-- I picked up their New York book and was expecting some fittingly gritty and greasy New York-style food. You know, pizzas and other Italian fare, bagels, Jewish and kosher recipes, sushi, Vietnamese, etc. We're talking about the Big Apple here--the hub of the world! I'm pretty sure that the pulse of New York's culinary heart was beating long before California Cuisine became the latest fad.
So, if you're like me, you'll be rolling your eyes by the 5th time this book trots out the same "Little known fact--New Yorkers just LOVE quality, seasonal ingredients! Like the ones found in this dish, 'Broccoli Rabe with Roasted Garlic'!" The "Truffled Waldorf Salad" is exactly what more of this book should have been like--after all, who needs another recipe for the original version? Instead, the Table of Contents reads like an organic peat farmer got ahold of it "Heirloom Tomato Tarts with Goat Cheese", "Maple Caramelized Vegetables", etc. Harlem gets a nod with one dish, and it's Sweet Potato Pie. I don't know about that one.
I'm not trying to completely bash this book--you'll notice the four-star rating. It's a great, pretty cookbook; the recipes are inventive, attractive, delicious, and comprehensively pictured in big color photographs. If your main priority is authenticity, on the other hand, you'd better look elsewhere. You could probably walk up to Central Park bum and get a better list of 40 essential New York recipes. If you like the idea behind this series but aren't particular about the subject, Florence, Rome, Paris, and London fare much better on both fronts.