The following is a my review of this new cookbook that appears in today's edition of the Bloomington, Indiana, Herald-Times newspaper. (Bloomington is the location of the author, Chef Daniel Orr's restaurant, FARMbloomington.) I've been cooking from an advance copy for the last 6 weeks, and I absolutely am loving this book. I'd love to do this as COTM next summer when we're all looking for fresh ways to use the wonderful local produce that's around.
Just published, “FARMfood, green living with chef daniel orr,” disproves the old adage that “there is nothing new under the sun.” This book is sure to have cookbook authors across the country crying into their crêpe batter and gnashing their knives in envy.
There is so much that is innovative about “FARMfood” that it’s hard to know how to begin analyzing it, but since most people buy cookbooks for the recipes, that’s as good a place as any to start.
The more than 250 recipes in this book reflect Orr’s professional training and experience, but also his travels around the world and exposure to different cuisines. Many chefs are adept at incorporating the spices and herbs of other lands into their cooking, but the author goes a giant step further: he takes these seasonings and combines them in mind-blowing, palate-pleasing fashion.
The recipe for Moroccan Stewed Vegetables with Raisins and Spices, included here, is a great example of Orr’s deft hand with unlikely flavor combinations. Although keen home cooks probably have most of the following items in their spice cupboards, none would think to combine them in one dish: ginger, cinnamon, annatto seed, pomegranate powder, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, star anise, cloves, mace, nutmeg, bay leaves, mustard seeds, cardamom seeds, turmeric, white pepper, dried orange peel, and dried chilies.
The result is a summer symphony of vegetable perfection, with the herbs and spices highlighting, but in no way masking, the flavors of the season’s best produce. (The recipes for Orr’s spice blends are in the book. For cooks who would rather avoid all of the grinding involved, the blends can be purchased at FARMbloomington and online at www.farm-bloomington.com.)
Unlike some celebrity chef cookbooks, “FARMfood” does not exhibit a depraved indifference to human health. Missing are recipes calling for indiscriminate amounts of cream and butter. Indeed, many of the recipes are simply superbly seasoned collections of good-for-you ingredients, a large number of which will appeal to vegetarians and vegans. (Although there’s plenty here for serious carnivores, as well.)
While the recipes are exceptional, Orr has produced a book that pushes the boundaries of the definition of “cookbook.” He has created a work that is part autobiography, photo-essay, natural history, and gardening guide.
The author is also responsible for the beautiful photography. This is real food, shot without the hocus-pocus of modern food styling. There aren’t any varnished pork chops, or shaving cream standing in for whipped cream here, simply pictures of food that the reader will want to eat.
Daniel Orr may have become a world-renowned chef, but his Indiana roots show on almost every page. Since he grew up here, he knows where the wild mushrooms grow, what to do with foraged ramps and fiddlehead ferns, and what crops grow best for the home gardener in this part of the country. He offers tips for gardening, repelling deer (!) and attracting butterflies.
As if all this weren’t enough, “FARMfood” is more than the sum of its parts, for in a sense it is both a seduction and a love story.
While some big-name food writers try to harangue their readers into eating locally, seasonally, and sustainably (think Alice Waters), Orr’s book seduces the reader into wanting to eat this way. From photographs of chickens out on pasture to photos of fresh produce at area farmers’ markets, to the close-up of a sliced heirloom tomato salad, the author offers reason after reason to eat what comes from the land around us.
Which brings us to the love story. While the recipes are accessible to cooks in any part of the country, “FARMfood” is a paean to the beauty and the bounty of southern Indiana. A European reading this book would likely assume that this part of the U.S. is the food capital of the country. (Eat your heart out, Napa valley.)
Seasoned with spices borrowed from abroad, “FARMfood” is nonetheless a quintessentially American product: brash and bold, it is a homegrown tour du force. If it does not win the 2010 James Beard Award in the American Cooking category, this food columnist will eat her (well-seasoned) hat.
Note: Signed copies of “FARMfood” are available at FARMbloomington. The book should be showing up in local bookstores this week.