A Cookbook Holiday Wish List

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 02, 2009
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‘Poke’ is Chef Sam Choy’s new book

It’s not just Santa who’s making a list at this time of year. I live by them. You can keep your iPhones and BlackBerrys - just give me a good, ol’ legal pad and a pen and I’m ready to tackle the holidays.

I make lists from the minute I wake up during most of November and December; lists of deadlines for magazines, radio and newspapers, lists of articles written and those still in my head desperate to get out. I have lists of wines I need to buy for holiday meals, lists of ingredients for the kinds of pies and cakes I never make at any other time of the year and, naturally, lists of presents. I have lists of mailing deadlines to Scotland, Australia and Vietnam to make sure that packages for friends arrive on time (no, they never do), and I have a permanent list that I keep adding to of restaurant dishes that have been most memorable.

But the one list I look forward to compiling more than any other, and the one I do for fun and not solely to function, is my list of cookbooks. I love cookbooks. I read them like novels, pore over them for inspiration, linger over the loveliness of detail in both photography and detailed instruction, and marvel at the science that brings ingredients together.

All I really need for a perfect Christmas gift is a hot cup of tea a quiet corner and a bundle of books.

This year I’m hoping to spend a few hours with Thomas Keller learning how to make American classics like buttermilk fried chicken and potato hash with bacon and fried onions. I’m particularly keen to read Ad Hoc, as Keller’s culinary magic at The French Laundry is legendary, yet here he presents American comfort food. I’ll be happy, too, in the company of Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich or Ina Garten - all masters their own form of rustic, unpretentious nourishing dishes.

And there are a couple of local cookbooks on my list this year.

The first is Chai Chaowaseree’s Island Bistro Cookbook. A collection of 90 recipes from Singha Thai and Chai’s Island Bistro, the book is the picture-perfect recipe book you’d expect from a chef who has a great sense of presentation and a love of local ingredients. The chef, who’s just celebrated 20 years as a restaurateur, shares stories behind the recipes, and his love of Hawaii and its fresh food is apparent on every page.

And I’ve just seen a copy of Sam Choy’s new book, Poke. Part family album and part poke history, the book offers recipes, stories and is a travelogue of sorts. There are photos of Sam fishing in Alaska and with his sons off the Big Island, and there are poke recipes from Pitcairn Island and beyond. Guest chefs like Sam’s friend Emeril Lagasse, Alan Wong and Santa Miyoshi bring their own version of the dish Sam loves and promotes around the world.

The photos also give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the journey Choy has been on these past few years. Photos of him more than 150 pounds heavier are interspersed with recent photos of the slimmed-down fisherman and chef.

Poke makes a great gift, and you can catch Sam for a quick book-signing session at Tanioka’s Seafood and Catering this Saturday (Dec. 5) from 10 a.m. to noon.

I’d better add that date to my list of appointments.

Happy eating!

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