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Book review: Cooking in Marfa by Virginia Lebermann and Rocky Barnette

23 April 2020 by
Book review: Cooking in Marfa by Virginia Lebermann and Rocky Barnette

Set in the Chihuahuan Desert, the Texan town of Marfa boasts a population of 2,000 and occupies just over one and half square miles.

Despite being 200 miles from the nearest commercial airport, its premier restaurant, the Capri, has featured in Vogue, The New York Times and Condé Nast Traveller, which included the converted army airfield hangar in a list of the 34 most beautiful restaurants in the world.

Marfa was first put on the map by its thriving arts scene, and Capri co-owner Virginia Lebermann initially intended it to be a cultural arts project, launching in 2007 with a gig by Sonic Youth. However, the arrival of Inn at Little Washington-trained chef Rocky Barnette in 2008 led to the Capri's rebirth as a restaurant focusing on the region's distinctive natural larder.

Barnette's cooking is the ultimate expression of contemporary Tex-Mex (a style that Lebermann says was created in Marfa in 1887 when Tula Borunda Gutierrez opened a restaurant using Mexican ingredients and "added to them to suit the taste of ranchers") incorporating ingredients grown or cultivated in the local region, including cacti, mesquite beans and desert flowers, as well as Mexican produce, such as dried grasshoppers (chapulines) from Oaxaca and huitlacoche, a black fungus that grows on corn.

Although many of the 80 recipes reflect the site-specific nature of the Capri's menu, it doesn't mean they are unachievable for UK-based chefs. You may have trouble finding fresh yucca blossoms, but online resources such as coolchile.co.uk offer almost everything you need for dishes such as masa pasta ravioli with cured egg yolks and bottarga or tostados al carbon, made with activated charcoal and served with razor clams and chorizo.

The story of the Capri and the people behind it (who are as extraordinary as the restaurant itself) makes for fascinating and inspiring reading. In his introduction, Daniel Humm calls the book, "a window into [Rocky and Virginia's] creativity and passion"; it's one that every curious chef will want to look through.

Cooking in Marfa, by Virginia Lebermann and Rocky Barnette (Phaidon, £35)

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