Six lo­cal picks that go well be­yond the recipes

Montreal Gazette - - CITY - ss­[email protected]­

Few pas­times are more al­lur­ing to me than finding my­self lost in a book, car­ried into an­other world on the wings of an en­gross­ing story, lyri­cal lan­guage or evoca­tive im­ages. I read more fic­tion than non-fic­tion but count books about food, cook­ing and en­ter­tain­ing among my favourites. I read them for com­fort, for in­spi­ra­tion, for es­cape. The late, great writer Lau­rie Col­win said she liked to read cook­books like nov­els. So do I: they make ex­cel­lent bed­time read­ing. Some peo­ple say they find cook­books un­nec­es­sary be­cause so many recipes can be found on­line. It’s true that there are ex­cel­lent web­sites, fine food and en­ter­tain­ing blogs. But there are also plenty of medi­ocre ones. And not ev­ery­one can tell them apart. Cook­book authors pro­vide more than recipes: they’re cu­ra­tors, who de­velop and test and, in turn, share the recipes they like best. Cook­books make won­der­ful presents be­cause, re­ally, you’re giv­ing some­one the gift of in­spi­ra­tion. How great is that? With that in mind, here’s a roundup of new cook­books I think are ter­rific. I have lim­ited my choices to books with Mon­treal con­nec­tions and have omit­ted from the list two new books I have al­ready writ­ten about and rec­om­mend highly: Josée di Sta­sio’s sub­lime À la soupe (Flam­mar­ion Québec), avail­able in French only for now, and Joe Beef: Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse — An­other Cook­book of Sorts (Pen­guin Ran­dom House Canada), by Mered­ith Erickson, David McMil­lan and Frédéric Morin, pub­lished in English and French editions. Mon­tréal l’hiver (Les Édi­tions Car­di­nal), by Mon­treal food writer, writ­ing teacher and artist Su­san Se­me­nak, is a cook­book about what we want to eat in win­ter — and then some. It fea­tures in­ven­tive, ac­ces­si­ble recipes for ev­ery­thing from lemon chicken stew with ar­ti­chokes and olives, to a rus­tic veg­etable tart, pasta al forno with tomato sauce and meat­balls, and roasted cau­li­flower and brown rice with green god­dess sauce, along with all kinds of other foods to keep us sated through the cold weather. But it is also a moody med­i­ta­tion on win­ter. Se­me­nak, who was a long­time Mon­treal Gazette staffer, draws on her re­port­ing skills to de­scribe ev­ery­thing from the ge­om­e­try of a snowflake to the ways in which Mon­treal­ers per­ceive win­ter — the way they see and hear and feel and smell it. The book is avail­able only in French for now, but to any­one who lives in a cli­mate in which win­ter is as deeply ex­pe­ri­enced, their im­pres­sions seem to tran­scend lan­guage. Cindy Boyce’s food pho­tog­ra­phy is at once sharp and art­ful, and her shots of Mon­treal in win­ter are dreamy and evoca­tive. The book is a treat for any­one who loves Mon­treal, from near or from far. Trois fois par jour — Desserts (Les Édi­tions Car­di­nal), by Mar­ilou and Alexan­dre Cham­pagne, is the third cook­book by the Mon­treal co-cre­ators of the pop­u­lar Trois fois par jour food blog; the brand now en­com­passes a lifestyle mag­a­zine and an on­line bou­tique. The for­mat is the same as that used in the first two books, which sold more than 300,000 copies in French and English: stel­lar pho­tos by Cham­pagne, lovely styling and recipes by Mar­ilou ap­proach­able enough for be­gin­ners, all bound to­gether in a cof­fee ta­ble-wor­thy hard­cover vol­ume. I can’t get the recipe for cho­co­late mousse cake on a hazel­nut pra­line crust out of my mind. The ti­tle of Un­com­pli­cated: Tak­ing the Stress Out of Home Cook­ing (Pen­guin Ran­dom House) says it all. Au­thor and Mon­treal na­tive Claire Tansey says her goal is to em­power peo­ple to cook food that is health­ful, sim­ple and quick to pre­pare, and de­li­cious. Her recipes are in­deed un­com­pli­cated — think grilled chili-lime shrimp, saucy pot roast and spicy peanut and lime noo­dles with chicken — and there are re­ally help­ful sec­tions on un­com­pli­cated shop­ping and un­com­pli­cated din­ner par­ties. Tansey, who grew up in Sen­neville, ap­pren­ticed at an Ot­tawa restau­rant when she was start­ing out and cooked in Hal­i­fax be­fore mov­ing to Toronto, where she was food di­rec­tor at Chate­laine mag­a­zine for years. She then de­cided to strike out on her own as a recipe de­vel­oper, culi­nary teacher and food writer.

From con­gee to kedgeree by way of pastéis de nata, Pe­tits dé­je­uners au­tour du monde (Édi­tions Les 400 coups) pro­vides 72 recipes from 32 coun­tries on six con­ti­nents. One recipe from each coun­try is ac­com­pa­nied by an ar­rest­ing photo of a child seated be­fore a plate of food, sur­rounded by food and dolls or games. Very arty. The pretty lit­tle hard­cover vol­ume, from a Que­bec pub­lish­ing house spe­cial­iz­ing in chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, is a trans­la­tion by Marie-An­drée Dufresne from the 2016 book Lit­tle Ta­bles: Break­fasts From Around the World, writ­ten, styled and pho­tographed by tal­ented New Zealand-based food pho­tog­ra­pher Vanessa Lewis. A fine gift for a child or a fam­ily, this book is less about the recipes than it is about en­cour­ag­ing read­ers to make an oc­ca­sion of a meal. When Anne Fortin and Ém­i­lie Vil­leneuve’s slim and el­e­gant new book Rol­lande Des­bois: la gas­tronomie en her­itage (Les Édi­tions de l’homme) crossed my desk, I won­dered whether its ap­peal would be too lim­ited for the gen­eral reader. I was wrong. The book is about food, but it is also about love and about a woman finding a place for her­self. And it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney. Des­bois, born in Mon­treal in 1927, has had a long and il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer as a gas­tron­omy jour­nal­ist and teacher, and she was an in­flu­encer way be­fore so­cial me­dia was a gleam in some­one’s eye. A pi­o­neer on our gas­tron­omy scene, she has been dubbed Que­bec’s Ju­lia Child. The book is a fas­ci­nat­ing ac­count of a peri­patetic life, the story of a woman who picked up with five chil­dren and moved from Mon­treal to Lon­don be­cause of her hus­band’s work, then back to Canada, then to France and back to Mon­treal again. All the while, she was carv­ing out a niche for her­self in the gas­tron­omy world, learn­ing, teach­ing and writ­ing. Des­bois holds many hon­ours, in­clud­ing the Or­der of Canada, and the book com­bines her per­sonal story with recipes. Each chap­ter of her life is il­lus­trated with recipes from that pe­riod — ones that are re­flec­tive of a par­tic­u­lar time and place. The book fea­tures pref­aces from three heavy hit­ters in Que­bec’s food world: Josée di Sta­sio, Nor­mand Laprise and Chris­tine La­marche. In the epi­logue, the two authors de­scribe the pro­found in­flu­ence Des­bois has had on their own lives. Queer Eye: Love Your­self, Love Your Life (Clark­son Pot­ter/Pub­lish­ers) is not, strictly speak­ing, a cook­book. It’s more a mo­ti­va­tional/in­spi­ra­tional work — but couldn’t most of us use a bit of both? Be­sides, An­toni Porowski, one of the five men in­volved in the Net­flix re­boot Queer Eye, spent his child­hood in Mon­treal. The show’s premise is that he and four oth­ers ad­vise peo­ple in need of lifestyle makeovers; Porowski is the food and wine spe­cial­ist. The oth­ers on the show are in­te­rior de­signer Bobby Berk, cul­ture ex­pert Karamo Brown, fash­ion de­signer Tan France and groom­ing con­sul­tant Jonathan Van Ness. The book fea­tures a good sec­tion on en­ter­tain­ing, each of the five con­trib­utes a recipe, and Porowski is es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing on the sub­ject of cook­ing and food. “When you start cook­ing and pre­pare some­thing ev­ery day, you re­al­ize that you be­come knowl­edge­able in the kitchen pretty quickly. It feels amaz­ing to say, ‘I can make that!’ and to feed some­one you love,” he writes. “Feed­ing some­one else is a ser­vice. It’s the ul­ti­mate act of love and care you can pass on to an­other per­son.”


In ad­di­tion to its in­ven­tive, ac­ces­si­ble recipes, Su­san Se­me­nak’s Mon­tréal l’hiver is a med­i­ta­tion on win­ter, fea­tur­ing evoca­tive im­ages such as this view from the Mount Royal look­out.


Heavy hit­ters in Que­bec’s food world pay trib­ute to Rol­lande Des­bois (pic­tured in 2009).


“When you start cook­ing … you re­al­ize that you be­come knowl­edge­able in the kitchen pretty quickly,” An­toni Porowski writes in Queer Eye: Love Your­self, Love Your Life.

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