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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
`A Great American Cook' by the `legendary' chef and restaurateur, Jonathan Waxman has been long awaited, at least by me, for about as long as I have been familiar with cookery books and more specifically the background of celebrity chef, Bobby Flay, who provides a blurb on the well-known fact that Waxman was `My number one mentor'. I call Waxman `legendary' because he comes from that pre-Emeril, pre-Food Network, pre-celebrity chef era of a scant 20 years ago, when the only chef one ever heard of was Wolfgang Puck, and the great culinary writer and editor, Ruth Reichl was predicting the end of celebrity chefs. Well, we all make mistakes! He is also `legendary' in that all the other members of this pre-Emeril club have produced at one or more important cookbooks. Wolfgang has numerous pedestrian efforts, and contemporary Jeremiah Tower (another Chez Panisse graduate) has produced at least two, one of which I consider one of the best chef cookbooks going.
Therefore, my expectations for Waxman's book were very, very high, as I would compare him to the best books from Tower, Zuni Café founder, Judy Rodgers, fellow Chez Panisse alum, Paul Bertoli, and especially the recent excellent works by Jacques Pepin (Chez Jacques) and Michel Richard (Happy in the Kitchen). It is most appropriate to compare it to `Chez Jacques' as both are written from the point of view of recipes the cooks make at home. At least that's what both of them say, and Jacques has a much easier time of sticking to that principle, as he has not headed a professional kitchen for many decades. When I opened Richard's and Pepin's books, I could tell this was something special almost immediately, as I can do with virtually all exceptional cookbooks. These excellent books simply don't mince words and get right down to talking about both facts and inspirations we have simply never seen elsewhere. I did not get that impression on reading through Waxman's 12 introductory pages, or even when I started reading the recipes. Virtually all the tips in `Edicts on Selecting Ingredients and Techniques' was old stuff we have all read in virtually every better cookbook written in the last 20 years.
But then, by the time I got to the third chapter, I started to appreciate two things about the recipes. First, although some originated in one of Waxman's commercial kitchens, virtually all of the recipes were relatively simple. Maybe not as simple as Jacques (who seems to be the master of effortless home cooking), but simple AND special, nonetheless. Second, I noticed that there were virtually no fancy ingredients being used, unless you count Waxman's strictures about not using frozen seafood, especially squid, for the recipes. Instead, Waxman draws from a relatively simple palate, where lots of popular ingredients find their way into many different recipes. The obvious ones are sweet peppers, asparagus, tuna, onion, tomatoes, mushrooms, corn, and shellfish. If one is a fan of any of these ingredients, then Waxman's book is a must, as he gives you enough to keep you happy for several seasons.
One can also see what it is about Waxman's style which may have had a big influence on Flay. While Waxman's primary influences were the California pantry and French cooking techniques, seen through the eyes of Alice Waters, he is clearly in love with southwestern ingredients and cooking styles. And yet, there is very little real grilling going on here. And, if you were adverse to southwestern cuisine, you would probably find these recipes may even change your mind.
Waxman's recipe writing style is very easy on the eyes and the mind (easy to follow, without being overly pedagogical). As dearly as I love Julia Child's recipes, Waxman's writing is far more fun to read and to execute for the experienced chef. He doesn't leave anything out. You will even find his imagery illuminating, as when he tells you to open a slit in a cooked chicken breast as if you were squeezing open a slit baked potato. Similarly, when he tells you how to prepare the perfect roast chicken, the instructions are far simpler than Jeremiah Tower's similar recipe. Finally, while the layout of the procedures is not overly fussy, it is very nicely organized with simple typesetting to distinguish one part of the recipe from another.
This book is worthy for any experienced cook who is not always pressed for time, and while just a bit light on the insights, it's a worthy book for those especially fond of the best chef's books cited above.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The recipes are very simple to prepare, and based on sound classical cooking principles. They are very light and elegant eating, even when incredibly rich dishes. Fantastic ideas for garnishes that elevate the entire meal from homey and delicious to elegant. You could eat dinner like this every night, yet experience a sophisticated palate. Try Venison Stew with Goat Cheese Johnnycakes--I served it at a dinner party and it was remarkably satisfying without leaving anyone full, incredible flavor from roasted serranos, and the best Johnnycake recipe I have tried (I substituted corn masa for the flour and added a little baking soda for more intense corn flavor); Asparagus with Oranges and Hazelnuts drew rave reviews, the Cara Cara oranges are a revelation, use blood oranges if you can't find Cara Cara; Crab and Avocado Sandwich is a spectacular lunch meal--so delicious and decadent in every mouthful, as are Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese and Caviar sandwiches; the Corn and Saffron soup is so pure and flavorful (use fresh frozen kernels if your cobs aren't fresh, but use the cobs to make the stock!). He has amazing recipes for potato skins and french fries, a recipe for baked eggplant that is simplicity yet utterly meltingly delicious, and makes grilling and butterflying a chicken seem easy as pie. This is a great book for simple, elegant, and satisfying home cooking.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I really like Jonathan Waxman. Those who have seen him on such shows as "Top Chef Masters" know that he has a refreshingly warm and engaging personality. He never seems to worry or hurry. He is highly respected by other chefs; his influence upon the younger generation of celebrity chefs is unmistakable. And he was a professional trombonist before pursuing his culinary career! For these reasons, I was eager to purchase this book and master many of its recipes.

The recipes Waxman provides in "A Great American Cook" are (in general) very well-written, methodical, and relatively simple to execute. In the end, however, a cookbook must be evaluated primarily for the flavor of its foods; and in my opinion, this book falls WAY short of the mark. It is, in fact, the antithesis of what I believe a great cookbook ought to be -- maximal effort with minimal results! Where I'd hoped to discover bold and appealing flavors, I was instead left with the bland and the uninviting. After many attempts to prove otherwise, I came to the conclusion that there was not a single recipe in this book that brought about as much flavor as much less time-consuming recipes I already possessed from other sources. In the end, I took "A Great American Book" to our local used book store and traded it in.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Well written and easy to read describes this volume. You almost feel entertained while gaining valuable knowledge from a master. Certainly a welcome addition to any cookbook collection, but it should remain not on a library shelf, but in your kitchen. To a self-educated cook such as myself, it is a wealth of knowledge.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Good book but not great. I found about 25% of the recipes inspiring. I found many of the recipes useful in preparing intersting meals but for challenging and truly innovative ideas I will look elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I started reading & tagging the best recipes ... but I gave-up: there are so many great recipes. He is truly an expert.
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on January 2, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Gave this to my brother for christmas, he loves Jonathan Waxman. I wouldnt recommend it for vegetarians; pretty much every recipe involves meat.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I love cooking and aspire to someday open a restaurant. This book has simple recipes with very sophisticated outcomes. I have only made a few things, but this is quickly becoming my favorite cookbook. Lots of pictures make each recipe very appealing.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit - I had never heard of Chef Waxman until the TV show Top Chef Masters. All the other competitors were constantly praising him for his dishes and presentation. More than one called him "Yoda" or "Mentor". I had to try his cookbook. Well, 3 strikes and you're out in my kitchen. I rate dishes from "Don't Bother" to "Company Quality". I may have to invent a new category - "Bland Beyond Belief." The shrimp, sautéed with leeks and roasted peanuts was no big deal, as was the brined pork loin with blueberries. The last straw was the Fettuccine with cremini mushrooms and onion marmalade. Even with the addition of heavy cream while the dish was on the dinner table failed to save it. The Chef obviously is great but not in producing a cookbook.
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on March 9, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
If you've seen him on Top Chef Masters, the recipes read just like he talks. The ones we've tried have come out great. Good recipes that are impressive to serve but pretty easy to make. Highly recommend!
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