Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Big-name chefs sell home cooking

Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant empire spans the globe. Todd English has won four James Beard Foundation awards. Ferran Adria deploys advanced chemistry in turning meat to foam and salt to air. Heston Blumenthal poaches desserts in liquid nitrogen.

But what do they really want you to know about them? They're regular guys, ordinary cooks, too. Just like you.

"The book is simple cuisine," Mr. Adria says of his cookbook, The Family Meal, whose recipes are theoretically designed to take 45 minutes or less. "Any average cook can carry these recipes off."

Of course, Mr. Adria's definition of "average" is someone qualified to apprentice at El Bulli, his now-closed mecca of molecular gastronomy in Spain.

But never mind. The Family Meal is just one of this season's chef-driven cookbooks targeting weeknight meals and simple family food. French Laundry chef Thomas Keller kicked the genre into high gear with his Ad Hoc at Home two years ago, but celebrity chefs are out in force this fall, with personalities from Mr. Adria to Mario Batali to John Besh offering their take on comfort foods like mac and cheese, buttermilk pancakes, fried chicken, and homey roasts.

"There have always been books from chefs geared toward home cooks, but there have been a lot more as of late," says Renee Schettler Rossi, an editor at online food site Leite's Culinaria.

People have returned to the stove with the waning economy, Ms. Schettler Rossi says, and they're back with better access to ingredients than in years past, a greater awareness of celebrity chefs bred by 24-hour food television, and a real need for new ideas. "Home cooks have to put dinner on the table night after night, so in a sense it's a perfect marriage," she says.

But as with any marriage, home cooks will have to find the right partner. Boston-based English targets novice and busy cooks with a photo-filled format in Cooking in Every Day English. Ground sumac and cippolini onions are the wackiest ingredients in any given recipe, and kid-friendly dishes like butternut macaroni and cheese mean fewer complaints at dinner.

In My Family Table, New Orleans chef Besh emphasizes using what you have on hand in dishes such as "risotto of almost anything" and "creamy any vegetable soup." His advice on planning ahead -- a roast on Sunday becomes sloppy Joes or Vietnamese noodles on Tuesday -- aims at harried families.

The "family" of Mr. Adria's book is his restaurant family, and the meals are those developed to feed his staff. With directions like "clean and gut the fish" and "just before dessert, blowtorch the sugar on the creme catalane," these are not your mid-week meals. Ditto for Mr. Blumenthal's mushroom jelly with mushroom cream or his fish pie with sea foam topping in Heston Blumenthal at Home, which you might attempt on a dare, or perhaps as a blogging stunt.

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