4 out of 4 stars
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"...let's thank whoever produced that crappy bottle I bought many moons ago. It was the best twenty-nine dollars I ever pissed down the drain."
Jonathon Sawyer is a James Beard Award winner and Food and Wine Best New Chef. His first restaurant, the Greenhouse Tavern, was selected as a Bon Appétit Best New Restaurant. Sawyer has competed/been featured on Iron Chef America, Dinner: Impossible, Chopped Grill Masters, and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, among others. In House of Vinegar: The Power of Sour with Recipes, Sawyer shares his passion for the acidic flavor-enhancer and why he considers it the cornerstone of his cooking.
Both home cooks and professionals will appreciate Sawyer's definitive "Thirteen Commandments of Vinegar Making," as well as his humorous backstory involving the "crappy" store-bought bottle that first inspired him to prepare his own vinegar. The book includes detailed instructions for eleven vinegar varieties plus over eighty recipes for pickles, vinaigrettes, marinades, pan sauces, cocktails, and even desserts featuring the "power of sour." For those who aren't able to dine at the Greenhouse Tavern, preparing and savoring its featured recipes may be the next best thing.
As a Food Network fan, I jumped at the chance to review a book written by an award-winning chef, and I was not disappointed. I've seen a few of Sawyer's television appearances, and his writing style conveys the same passion and authenticity he exemplifies as a chef. I frequently use balsamic vinegar in recipes and have even tried my hand at infusing vinegar with herbs, but the concept of making vinegar from scratch is new to me. However, Sawyer's user-friendly instructions have me considering the idea. For readers who may question why anyone would want to make vinegar, Sawyer offers plenty of inspiration and insight.
The majority of the book is devoted to Sawyer's innovative vinegar-based recipes--prepare to get hungry as you read! However, I particularly like the informative tidbits and backstories Sawyer provides throughout the text. For example, as an introduction to the recipe, "Italian Salsa Verde," Sawyer shares what he refers to as his "come-to-Jesus moment" regarding the salsa. His evocative description of living in Rome with his uncle and dining on grilled fish accompanied by the herby concoction arouses the senses and is characteristic of his writing. On a personal note, as an organic gardener, I'm excited to try the recipe using fresh herbs from my garden. I also appreciate the diversity of tips and preferences Sawyer includes, from divulging the best dairy, meats, and oils to explaining the "Goldilocks zone" of balancing the right amount of vinegar.
Additionally, the book features entertaining cartoonish illustrations by M. Sweeney and is further enhanced by Peter Larson's artistic food photography. Anyone who has attempted to photograph food realizes it is an art unto itself. Larson is a master; the colloquialism, "food porn," comes to mind. Most of the beautiful photographs are arranged to accompany the corresponding text, but there are a few images prior to the chapters pertaining to equipment and desserts, that left me with questions. Is the substance pictured on Sawyer's hand a "vinegar mother?" Where can I find the recipe for that scrumptious-looking dessert? Therefore, my only suggestion for improvement is the inclusion of captions or corresponding text for clarification.
For its innovative content, beautiful photography, and flawless editing, I am pleased to rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend the book to both foodies and newbies--readers who love to cook and those who just appreciate good food. It will also appeal to fans of Food Network. However, this is not your momma's cookbook; it does include some profanity.
House of Vinegar
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