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4.7 out of 5 stars
My New Orleans: The Cookbook
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84 of 85 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon September 25, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
My cookbook collection is now easily swelling towards and maybe even above 400 now. Out of all of them it is fun every now and then to reflect on say, the Top 25. This new offering from Besh makes that list, possibly even climbing into the coveted Top 10. Requirements, you ask? Must be unique, well thought out, with specific viewpoint of cooking expressed and followed through, good layout, writing, photos, and oh, yes: great recipe collection!

Besh meets this criteria well. What this reviewer really enjoys is the fine prose which speaks of his heart and passion for New Orleans cooking which he has grown up with and matured and developed. His wanting to be sustaining restaurants is an extension and promotion as he has entered into ventures raising his own pigs, helping local suppliers provide what is needed by such gourmet chefs, e.g. great story on the Creole Tomato Supplier. The format is large and photos are wonderful, with small historical B&W vingettes scattered throughout. This makes for great kitchen usage, as it stays open from its size and well chosen luxurious paper stock. This is not your coffee table type cookbook intended, but get it in the kitchen and put it to work.

I sometimes enter gourmet phases and stay there for awhile, e.g. my Crepes phase, or my Tapas phase of late, or an ingredient phase such as my fascination with Pears. This offering from the Big Easy has certainly propelled me on a New Orleans phase, which not even Emeril's fine offerings has. First B.E. venture was Crabmeat and Frog Etouffee (with Lou. frog legs flown in fresh), a Grilled Watermelon, Tomato and Goat Cheese Salad; Smoked Pork Shoulder with Purple Plum Glaze; then polished off with wonderful but Old-Fashioned Blackberry Double-Crusted Blackberry Pie. Guests were in high praise mode after this!

His organization is by ingredient/season pairing, along with celebrations such as Mardi Gras or Thanksgiving or Reveillion. Over 200 recipes in this collection along with Sources recommendations and great sidebars throughout. This is fine, large effort which will reward the cook looking to get in soul of one of New Orleans finest dedicated to preserving and extending its fine cuisine to us. For Besh of almost Iron Chef status: he has given us Iron Chef quality cookbook to battle with in our own foodie competitions and home dining environs.

A must have in all the many offerings that our hitting the streets.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Believe it or not, this is only my second cookbook -- the first being Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques that I purchased ten years ago. I was inspired earlier this year by my first trip to New Orleans, where I had the most amazing grits I have every tasted at a restaurant of his called Lüke (the secret is mascarpone, as is revealed in this cookbook). I've cooked six or seven recipes out of this book since it arrived two weeks ago, and they are all tasty and easy to follow. Truthfully the details about making roux (I'm from California, we don't have roux here!) were quite useful, and I've now been able to incorporate roux into several of my own creations, with great success. The anecdotes and stories are quite entertaining and fun to read: my only criticism being that they are too engaging and they distract me from actually cooking!

You can tell that a lot of time went into preparing these recipes, as Chef John Besh always addresses substitutions for ingredients that may not be easily available locally; the recipes hold up well to making your own substitutions: substituted in stone ground whole wheat flour in many of the recipes I made, and when I cooked the corn bread recipe, instead of corn meal I used McEwen and Sons stone ground blue grits that I had soaked in half and half (I ran out of milk) to soften them up before baking (if you're like me, you'll be trying finding ways to finish up those 10 lbs of grits you had to purchase online in order to get free shipping...) in hindsight I probably should have ordered grits and corn meal rather than one bag of blue and one bag of yellow grits to see which ones taste better (!). The recipes are also quite varied, even including recipes for matzo crackers and matzo ball soup -- now I know what to make next time I am invited to a sader. I should note that if you are vegan, you will have a hard time with these recipes as 95% of them require some sort of meat or dairy, as I discovered when I ran out of meat, milk, cream and half and half in my refrigerator last week.

The book itself is also gorgeously done with full color photos. This is a book that would look great on display on your coffee table -- it's actually so beautiful that I try and keep the book away from the kitchen. However for me, the most valuable part of this cookbook is the exposure to a whole new set of spices and flavors, unlike anything my (asian) palette has ever tasted (and there is quite a diversity of excellent food here in San Francisco). "My New Orleans" does not disappoint! Now off I go with my (newly acquired) file powder to make my first chicken and sausage gumbo. (I know it is probably considered blasphemy, as I will probably have to substitute in short grain rice... but I get the feeling John Besh would approve).
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Oh what an incredible book! I have never been to New Orleans and now it is the only place I want to be. Some chefs capture the essence of a cuisine - Chef Besh does that and also manages to capture the essence of a city, a culture, a community, a way of life. Is it possible that I have lived without making or tasting Strawberry Ravioli with Meyer Lemons and Pistachios? Can my life be complete without Silver Queen Corn, Orzo, and Crabmeat Macque Choux? Of course the answer is no. Forget Julie and Julia - it's me and John Besh. I want to cook every recipe.

Chef Besh's passion for what he calls "roots and rituals" comes across loud and clear on every page. Funny how love, as an ingredient, makes everything taste even better.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Beautiful! As a native New Orleanian, I have been waiting for someone to capture the wonderful energy that is happening in our city. Most cookbooks on the region are tacky and stuck in tradition. Thank you Andrews McNeal Publishing for seeing the beauty and potential in this city and for hiring such a talented design crew to art direct, photograph (Ditte Isager, the perfect photographer to pick for this assignment by the way) and capture such an amazing place. It is great to see our food, our personalities, our recipes, new and old, portrayed in a such an accurate, artful and inspiring way. This does our city proud! The food styling, the light, the words, and the recipes, the smells, and the textures will make you glisten like the light after an afternoon rain in South Louisiana.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
My family is from New Orleans. I tell this to people often because that city is an amazing part of who I am despite the fact that I was born in New Jersey. Both of my parents were born and raised there and over 90% of our very large extended family still calls New Orleans home. This book is an amazing journey into the heart and soul of the city I love through food. What is most interesting to me is the authentic, first person voice that Besh provides... he is not only teaching you how to cook his favorite recipes, but he is showing you how to inject N.O. cuisine into your own kitchen classics. Taking the time to explain stocks, sauces and flavors common to N.O. cuisine, allows you to prepare these sauces and seasonings ahead of time. This gives you the freedom to try pairing your own homemade fare (poultry, seafood, beef, etc) with a N.O. sauce for a surprising new dish all your own. Another thing I love about the book is the fact that it doesn't try to "dumb down" the classics by making them something they're not. You're not going to find him skimping on the butter, bacon fat, lard or any other unhealthy ingredients. He encourages you to find the best quality possible, and from there you are on your own to hit the gym and work it off! Finally, the stories behind the food are what made this experience truly magical for me. He talks about places and things that I heard about or saw as a child and he speaks of them fondly, as if they truly shaped who he is today. John Besh is an outstanding chef (love his restaurant Besh Steak in Harrah's by the way); and this cookbook is as good as it gets! Enjoy, read, cook, eat and come to love Our New Orleans!
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Love shrimp? Crayfish? Crab? Oysters? Gumbo? Fresh strawberries?

Well, here is your new Bible of a cookbook: 200 recipes, French by nature, New Orleans by nurture.

Like the Bible, it's weighty: 5.2 pounds. Like the Bible, it's a story of generations: A boy grows up in rural Louisiana, learns the lessons of his people and tries to keep them alive for his children. And, like the Bible, 'My New Orleans: The Cookbook' is serious at its core --- John Besh was not lacking in a sense of mission before Katrina, but he came out of it with a sense of stewardship for his beloved city and its traditional cuisine.

Who is John Besh? The owner and executive chef at Restaurant August (twice named one of America's restaurants by the now sadly-defunct Gourmet Magazine) and owner of three more restaurants in New Orleans. Honored by Food & Wine. Winner of the James Beard award for Best Chef in the Southeast. And, just as important: son, husband, father of four.

Oh, and a reserve in the Marines. He had to leave cooking school in order to lead troops in the first Gulf War. "My teachers sent me Food & Wine," he recalls. "My platoon was the only one in the Marine Corps reading food magazines at the front."

In short, a very appealing guy.

And, with the help of Dorothy Kalins, the founding editor of Saveur, a very organized guy. He briskly shares the story of his family, and then, like Julia Child and Marcella Hazan, he lays out some general principles: Use everything (peelings and shells and bones), accept substitute ingredients, don't overcook. He shows you how to make the basics: roux, stock, rice, corn bread. Then it's on to crayfish and shrimp --- and who knew there were so many ways to cook them?

Small things make a difference for Besh. Cooking red beans and rice? Save bacon fat and add it. Biscuits? They're better if you use European-style high-fat butter.

And the range of recipes! Strawberry Ravioli with Meyer Lemons and Pistachios. Creole Matzo Ball Soup. A killer Jambalaya (of course). Soft-shelled Shrimp with Sweet Chili Sauce. Pumpkin Soup with Crabmeat. And --- because Besh really does use everything --- Crispy Pigs' Feet.

Our culture is always under attack from those who'd like to mass-market anything special. John Besh, bless him, goes the other direction. Clearly, he wouldn't mind a national presence, but his heart is with the locals. Buy from the farmer and the fisherman, cook like your ancestors (with a bit of training in France for accent), defend the city you love --- that's the Besh way.

There's a lot of heart in this book, the way there is in Louisiana music. You'll find the heart in the exceptional photography; you'll wish you were in Besh's family. You'll find it in the stories of Besh's friends, mentors and suppliers. But, mostly, you'll find it in the recipes.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I attended a book signing with John Besh and enjoyed his presentation very much and bought the book. He grew up near New Orleans and has the kind of recipes I remember from my youth there -- in most cases. He and the sous chef from his restaurant, Autumn, were serving Shrimp Creole from the recipe in the book. It was fabulous but not identical to the one I grew up on, actually better. He had learned from some of his Vietnamese students to add a little lemon grass to it and wow, was that good! I liked his okra recipes and many other old creole recipes that just don't turn up in cookbooks very often. I paid the full price for this book -- which doesn't bother me too much since the proceeds go to charity. The Amazon price is a very good one.
If you care about creole cooking this is an excellent book and my impression of John Besh was that he was a humble and down-to-earth person. I like the man and the book, and no I never knew him until I accidentally attended his book signing.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I received this book and literally read through the whole thing before cooking anything. I found the authors narratives at the beginning of each chapter enhanced the way that I looked at the recipes that followed. I am impressed with his love for not only cooking but in really understanding and caring for the items that go into what he makes.

The chapters are set up around the annual celebrations of life and, while I liked the overall format, it does make is slightly difficult to recall where in the book a specific recipe would be. A minor complaint on an overall great book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I am an Orleanean who left to join the military in 1944 and still have family in the city. My ancestors arrived from Acadia and settled in NOLA after marrying in Belle Rose Plantation.
Chef Besh definitely knows his Crescent City cooking business. I particularly enjoyed his comments about Creole/Cajun/New Orleans food being "spicy" but not necessarily "hot" since many believe it cannot be any of these unless it is burning hot. Paul Prudhom seems to have taught the rest of the country that is how it should be. I grew up eating gumbo, shrimp creole, Cubayon and other good Louisiana foods where the trio and much bay leaf, thyme and other spices were used. The hot sauce was on the table but was not a necessity.
Chef Besh has provided much good detail and the fact that he stresses one shoulld be a little adventurous is what I have always done myself. He shows a recipe but quickly says that you can vary if you like and it may work!. I have tried half a dozen of his recipes and they all work just as he says they will work. His book ties in with the seasons celebrated in the city very nicely.
But Oh how I wish I were once again in my favorite city. I am an 83 year old retired 26 year navy veteran of WWII, Viet Nam and Korea that loves to cook and eat good food. I can strongly recomment this book and chef Besh's TV programs to anyone wanting to know how to cook the New Orleans way. Let the good times Roll!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I bought this because of the Chef who wrote it. It is a real cook book, with wonderful recipes in it for real cooks. We have loved everything I have made out of this book. The surprising thing for me was the love of New Orleans that Chef Besh communicates in each page of the book. This book can be used as a coffee table book with all the wonderful photos and side stories in it. A trip to New Orleans was never high up on our spots to visit - - and now our family is planning this years vacation trip to New Orleans. I can't wait to go and experience this place for myself. This book is more than a cookbook, it is a love story written by a hometown boy!
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