In an act of post-modernist, self-reflexive irony, Phaidon, famous for publishing very serious cookbooks, has published a not entirely serious cookbook and called it A Very Serious Cookbook. And although there is plenty of wit and humour, A Very Serious Cookbook is no joke.
The authors are two young chefs who run acclaimed New York restaurants the Michelin-starred Contra and its wine bar sibling Wildair. The pair have serious CVs: Fabián von Hauske is formerly of Noma and Fäviken, and Jeremiah Stone worked for Giovanni Passerini in Paris and helped Ignacio Mattos open Isa in Brooklyn.
The 85 recipes in the book are no laughing matter, either. Stone and von Hauske embody the ‘bistronomy’ movement of fine cuisine served in relaxed surroundings, and they incorporate many of the tropes of modern progressive cooking when it comes to mashing up culinary traditions. Hence, the appearance of Basque-style pickled piparras peppers accompanying a coulotte steak, alongside Japanese shishito peppers and umeboshi butter.
Recipe titles look like they’ve been scrawled on the page with a black Sharpie; there’s a ‘recipe’ for Stone’s secret XO sauce that lacks quantities and a proper method; and an entire chapter called ‘Never’ dedicated to dishes that have either never appeared on their menus or ‘did once and never again’. There’s plenty of New York attitude: a list of ‘things that are important to know about the dessert recipes’ includes ‘No fruit sorbets. Ever’ (von Hauske, who worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, prefers granita made with very little sugar) and a claim that ‘people treat microgreens like s**t’.
Underpinning the comedic aspects of the book is the urge for honesty, with the relatively short story of Contra and Wildair told warts and all: the personal tensions between the two chefs and a stinging review are both included. Distinctive and engaging, the book will be particularly inspiring to chefs who are planning to, or simply day-dreaming about, opening their first restaurant.
A Very Serious Cookbook, by Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske (Phaidon, £35)