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"[The books of] Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page...are the best place to experience the cult of the New American chef."
–NICHOLAS LEMANN, The New Yorker
"A groundbreaking work filled with expert teaching and an abundance of mouthwatering recipes."
–MICHAEL ROMANO, Chef-partner, Union Square Cafe
"Dornenburg and Page collaborate successfully once more.... [a] thorough...guide to the values, tastes, and methods that form each cuisine."
"An invaluable reference."
–PATRICK O’CONNELL, Chef-owner, The Inn at Little Washington
"Preparing good food is an act of love, which comes through on every page of The New American Chef."
–DR. ROBERT MULLER, Retired Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize nominee
"This glorious work literally sings with the excitement of what is our own culinary make-up: diversity, passion, exuberance, intrigue, and spice."
–CHARLIE TROTTER, Chef-owner, Charlie Trotter’s
"Learning to think like the ’dream team’ of culinary authorities featured in this brilliant book will inspire and guide you to juggle global ingredients and techniques so you can cook, and create, like a maestro."
–MICHAEL GELB, New York Times bestselling author, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci
A Japanese meal is a
communion with nature.
-HIROKO SHIMBO, AUTHOR, THE JAPANESE KITCHEN
WHILE "SEASONALITY" IS a mantra for chefs the world over-a determination to cook
with only those ingredients seasonally available in the market-the Japanese elevate the
idea to a whole new level. They make it a point to celebrate the seasons not only with
the cuisine itself, but throughout every aspect of the environment in which a meal is
served. This is reflected in everything from the materials and colors of the plates, bowls,
and other serving dishes to the fabrics of the placemats and napkins to the flowers on
the table to the artwork on the walls.
No other people go to such extremes to ensure that their food as well as their surroundings
are in harmony with the seasons. Every Japanese meal alludes to the natural
world. (Even take-out sushi features a plastic cut-out of grass, separating the pickled ginger
from the sushi!) To the Japanese, the dining experienceshould be not mere
sustenance, but an aesthetic encounter that nourishes all the senses.
"Japanese food is very sensuous," confirms Hiroko Shimbo. "The seasons in Japan
are very distinct, so we're very aware of the changing of the seasons and take care to
'mirror' that in both the food and the environment."
Every sense is to be pleased-never startled or jarred. Appealing visuals create an
environment that is welcoming to guests, and food is made attractive through careful
presentation. The subtle use of scents provides further scintillation. Finally, the taste of
the food is pleasing to the taste buds, while its array of textures and temperatures provides
a variety of tactile experiences-from mouth-meltingly soft to chewy to
crunchy-the sounds of which can hold their own enjoyment.
Influences on Japanese Cuisine
THE RITUALS OF JAPANESE CUISINE derive from those of the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu),
which itself evolved from the Chinese tea code. In fifteenth-century Japan, the Zen
Buddhist tea ceremony was perfected, detailing exact specifications for everything from
the proper utensils to be used for preparing and serving the tea to the importance of
including a natural component, such as a single blossom, on which to meditate. Its characteristic
spirit, as suggested by the four Zen principles-harmony, respect, purity, and
tranquility-permeates Japanese cuisine today.
The fact that Japan is a relatively small, mountainous country made up of small
islands (four main islands plus thousands of smaller islands) has also had a marked impact
on its cuisine. Notably, it lacks the often-distinctive regional variations observed in other
countries, and its mostly coastal terrain explains the predominance of seafood. In addition,
as only 15 percent of Japanese land is farmable, historically there has been a scarce
supply of food available to feed its population. Instead, Japan has managed to make
the pragmatic necessity of small portions of food aesthetically desirable. By focusing on
exquisite ingredients and presentations, Japanese cuisine has converted this limitation
into a compelling and meaningful aesthetic that expresses an almost-reverential attitude
In individual dishes, the essence of each ingredient, as opposed to a blend of flavors,
is emphasized. "Variety and interest in a Japanese dinner are achieved through
serving an array of many different dishes," explains Hiroko Shimbo. "It is important to
keep the flavors separate, which is why we use so many dishes. Each flavor plays a role
in the meal."
The design of the Japanese bento box (a lunch or picnic box featuring individual
compartments) is a ubiquitous example of these intentions. Each compartment in these
lacquered wooden boxes contains a different food item with a unique presentation. The
foods range from raw to cooked, including such items as sushi, blanched vegetables,
steamed dumplings, grilled teriyaki, and crispy tempura.
Food is meant not only to be enjoyed on the palate, but also to be appreciated on
the plate. Dishes are presented with larger pieces of food ("mountains") to the back and
smaller pieces ("water") to the front. With sushi, the Japanese serve pickled ginger and
wasabi arranged in mounds whose shapes echo the country's mountainous and hilly terrain.
Vegetables are carved into shapes from nature, such as leaves and flowers.
Garnishes, too, may be chosen not necessarily to complement the food but to accent the
season, and might include, for example, actual tree leaves.
Even a small amount of a particular food can take on large significance. "When you
eat a ten-course Japanese meal, a single pickled vegetable can provide a note of drama,"
says Mark Miller. "The drama comes from the pickle being so intense and the rest of the
meal being so pure. That level of subtlety often escapes non-Japanese people, so they
are not always able to fully appreciate a Japanese meal."
Bringing Nature Indoors
THERE ARE MANY WAYS in which nature is reflected indoors for the comfort and enjoyment
of guests. "For example, we always take into account the weather in selecting a
dish's preparation method and the temperature at which it's served," Hiroko Shimbo
explains. "During the cold months, more hot dishes are served. In the summer, the main
course will often be served cold-though not ice-cold, because that would cause the
dish's flavor to suffer."
While Westerners are more likely to seek to conquer nature, the Japanese seek
contact with nature-and to express their reverence for it. "We work hard to bring the
seasons into our home and kitchen as a way of showing appreciation," says Shimbo.
"Every season, my mother would change everything from the carpets to the art on the
walls. Even the chair and floor cushions would be changed: In the warm months, they
would be white and blue linen, while in the colder months, they would be dark red and
"My mother also had four sets of dishes, whose patterns related to the four seasons,"
Shimbo recalls. "Now I own multiple sets of dishes as well. My spring dishes are ceramic
with cherry blossoms, and the summer dishes are white, blue, and clear glass. My
autumn dishes are earth-colored, and the winter dishes are even darker than those."
Masa Takayama of Ginza Sushi-Ko in New York uses his entire restaurant as a canvas
on which to celebrate the seasons. "Atmosphere is very important to me, and I'm
involved in every aspect of creating it at Ginza Sushi-Ko," says Takayama. "I visit the
flower market every morning, and that can be a real inspiration. Recently, I constructed
large bamboo stems connecting both walls, then cut holes in them and filled them with
water to make little pools. In the spring, I use tiny cherry blossoms. I want to express to
the customer that it is springtime, so they should wake up!"
After being shown to one of his restaurant's nine seats, a customer is taken further
into Takayama's expression of the seasons. He is as serious about his presentations as he
is about the food, paying careful attention to the plate chosen for serving each dish. "I
am always thinking about flavor and visual contrast, combined with my own feeling
about what is 'right,'" Takayama explains. "I even design my own plates and then have
an artist make them for me. I know one who is very talented and can make anything that
I come up with.
"My plate choices depend on the season," he says, echoing Hiroko Shimbo. "In
winter, I like using brown or clay, which are earthy colors. In the summer, when diners
are hot, I will get them to think cool by making 'ice dishes'-literally, dishes carved from
ice. I'll also use more white or turquoise plates, since I consider those to be summer colors.
I'll even change the cups used for sake: in summer, I will take a piece of bamboo,
cut a hole in it, and freeze it, then fill it with sake!
"I also like to play the plate's color, depth, width, and texture off the fish I'm serving.
For example, toro is a little pink, so I like to serve it on a dark green dish. I like to
wrap sea urchin around shrimp, and for that I prefer a brown dish. Hamo is a white fish,
so it needs a colored plate; I may pair it with a red or sour plum color, then add a little
broth to make it softer. If I am starting with caviar, I like to use a crystal plate.
"I don't have an artistic background," Takayama points out. "I just like combining
visuals and featuring contrasts on my plates and in my restaurant. Some chefs don't
care; they just slice the fish and put it on the plate. Not me. This is my own creation. Art
and food are the same to me."
Pillars of Japanese Cuisine
MANY THINK OF PRISTINE FISH so perfect that it should be eaten raw as the star of
Japanese cuisine. Yet rice is every bit its equal in importance. To a great extent, what
make the fish, rice, and other ingredients that define Japanese cuisine shine so brightly
are a handful of other key flavor enhancers-including dashi, mirin, miso, sake, and
shoyu (soy sauce). These ingredients add depth of flavor while ensuring subtlety in
Unlike cooks in other parts of the world, the Japanese use few spices; their seasoning
is very delicate and refined. Although wasabi and mustard are used as
condiments, they are relatively minor players. As contradictory as it sounds, the
Japanese focus on adding layers of subtlety to their dishes.
Rice is a critical part of Japan's self-identity. It has been the staple grain for centuries and
at one time was a sign of wealth. During the Middle Ages, real estate values were given
in koku, a volume of rice, and samurai continued to be paid in koku even after cash
Rice is eaten in its whole-grain form, but it is also widely consumed as flour, sake,
and vinegar. "New rice," fresh from the fall harvest, is considered the best, and the
source of each year's best new rice is hotly debated. For whole-grain rice, the short-grain
varieties are often preferred because they are quite moist when cooked, remaining
firm yet sticky enough to be picked up easily with chopsticks. Masa Takayama,
however, prefers koda, which he considers "the perfect long-grain rice." Except for
glutinous rice, which is steamed, Japanese rice is usually boiled. It may be served plain
(gohan or meshi); cooked with something else, such as beans or chestnuts (takikomi-gohan);
mixed with other things after cooking (maze-gohan); made into a gruel (okayu);
or vinegared for use with sushi (sushi-meshi).
"The bottom line is that to master Japanese cooking, you have to know how to
cook rice," asserts Kaz Okochi, chef-owner of Kaz Sushi Bistro in Washington, D.C. "In
America, rice is a side dish. In Japan, it is the dish. A good bowl of rice is very important.
As a professional cook, I wash rice before cooking it. The rice comes out nicer that way,
although it takes away some of the nutrients. The most important thing about cooking
rice is the amount of water you use. Every bag of rice cooks differently, so you need to
be aware of this, and to taste and adjust.
"Freshly harvested rice from the fall cooks differently from older rice," he explains.
"A bag of the harvest rice will have a sticker on it indicating that it is from the 'new crop.'
With new-crop rice, you cut back on the water. Later in the year, as the rice dries out,
you increase the amount of water. After one bite, we know how to adjust it, which is
something that comes from experience. You must realize that growing up in Japan, we
eat rice 365 days a year. I would compare it to working with bread. Once [Washington,
D.C., chef] Roberto Donna was pointing out the subtleties of good and bad bread to
me, but I couldn't tell the difference because I didn't grow up eating bread."
Understanding the nuances of rice doesn't come naturally to most Americans
either," says Mark Miller. "Americans don't respect rice. In Japan, rice has a milling date
and, by law, can only be sold for a certain period of time, then must be removed from
the shelves. In America, we have been eating stale rice all our lives."
A good way to get a sense of the Japanese palate is to make a dashi
broth or some miso soup.
In Japan, dashi, a fish-flavored broth made primarily from dried bonito (a type of tuna)
and kombu, a seaweed, is the equivalent of stock in the Western kitchen. In American
restaurant cooking, chicken stock is most commonly used. However, as the Japanese diet
relies far more on fish, fish stock is more appropriate to the Japanese marriage of flavors.
In Japanese tradition, the soup course reveals how well a cook has made dashi, the
key component for all the dishes that will follow. Aside from its use as a stock, dashi is
also used in many other ways, such as to poach vegetables. "When you order vegetables
in a restaurant, they will be cooked in a light dashi broth with a little soy sauce," says
Kaz Okochi. "They would never be poached in just water. Dashi is good for poaching
vegetables because the vegetables will absorb its flavor. Spinach is commonly eaten in
Japan, and it is great poached in dashi with a dash of soy. Dashi is very delicate and very
Mirin is a sweet golden-brown wine made from rice, used exclusively for cooking. "It is
a source of sweetness that is more refined than sugar," explains Hiroko Shimbo. "We
use mirin in almost every food preparation, so the body is satisfied and doesn't crave
"Mirin is the most important ingredient for a marinade," she continues. "It is used
in teriyaki and for basting eel, and it makes for a rich, glossy sauce. It is important to get
authentic, not synthetic, mirin, so be sure to check the label."
Miso is a soybean paste that has a texture similar to creamy peanut butter. It is made
from fermented soybeans combined with one of three different bases-barley, rice, or
wheat-and a special yeast. There are many types to choose from, and they range in flavor
and color intensity. Darker misos have been fermented longer and tend to be saltier
and more robust-flavored, while lighter misos are less salty and more delicately flavored.
Miso is not an ingredient that needs to be replaced often, as it will keep in the refrigerator
for up to a year after opening.
"Miso, which was developed in the seventeenth century as a preservative, is a
source of salt, but it has more amino acids," explains Hiroko Shimbo. "It is very versatile,
and used in soups, dressings, marinades, and sauces. There are two basic types of miso,
light and dark, with light used most often for soups and dark for marinades. A good dark
miso should be fermented for at least a year, and some are aged for up to three years.
Excerpted from The New American Chef
by Andrew Dornenburg Karen Page
Copyright © 2003 by Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Introduction MEET THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF.
Japan CELEBRATING THE SEASONS THROUGH ALL THE SENSES.
While seasonality is a popular culinary touchstone throughout the world, the Japanese take their celebration of the seasons beyond the selection of produce in the market to the consideration of the flowers on the table, the types of bowls and plates used for serving the food, and the linens that dress the table. Seasonality is observed in every aspect of their lives—from the fabric of their clothing to the art on their walls.
Italy PROCURING THE BEST INGREDIENTS.
The word “recipe” in Italian means “to procure”—and indeed, the most important aspect of good food in Italy starts with selecting the right ingredients. Learning to be as discriminating as an Italian chef will hold you in good stead when selecting ingredients from any part of the world.
Spain LETTING INGREDIENTS TASTE OF WHAT THEY ARE.
While many countries are capable of serving and appreciating unadorned food, nowhere but in Spain is th is taken to such an extreme. The classic dishes of Spain are the simplest ones that let the natural flavors of the ingredients shine through. It is the only country whose regions are actually named after dishes: stews, roasts, rice, and fried foods.
France WESTERN TECHNIQUES AND SAVOIR FAIRE.
The French contributed a codification of recipes and techniques to professional cooking, which is why most American cooking schools teach French technique. These techniques are timeless and consistent, and mastering the classics will give your cooking a solid foundation upon which to build.
China EASTERN TECHNIQUES AND A YIN-YANG BALANCE.
The underlying philosophy of Chinese cuisine is rooted in the concept of yin-yang: a constant balance. Balance in Chinese cuisine is raised to an art form, both within a single dish, as well as among dishes on a menu. Understanding the concept of yin-yang and how to apply it to your cooking—in any vernacular—will make you a better chef.
India THE MASTERFUL USE OF SPICES.
No other cuisine is as well known for spices as Indian. India consumes more spices per capita than any other nation on earth. From subtle to powerful Indian spicing is a force to be reckoned with—whether flavoring meats in the North or vegetarian dishes in the South—as well as a skill to be mastered.
Mexico WHERE CHILES REIGN SUPREME.
While chiles are an important part of cuisines elsewhere in the world, in Mexico they play the starring role: as a flavoring agent, as a condiment, as a vegetable, and more. Dish for dish, Mexicans manage to coax more flavor out of fresh and dried chiles than any other cooks on earth—indeed, Mexico’s very cuisine would not be the same without them.
Thailand BALANCING STRONG FLAVORS AND AROMATICS.
While in other countries a dish might first be appreciated with the eyes, in Thailand it is first appreciated through its scintillating aromas. No other cuisine employs aromatics as effectively as does Thai, and the intense sensory experience continues with the first bite, when the salty, sour, fiery, and sweet flavors begin their dance on the palate.
Vietnam ENCOURAGING TACTILE AND TASTEFUL INTERACTION.
While the mark of culinary perfection elsewhere is the absence of salt and pepper on the table, in Vietnam, dishes are frequently served with a dizzying array of condiments—whether sauces, sprouts, and herbs for a dish of pho to lettuce leaves and a bowl of dipping sauce accompanying a plate of hot spring rolls. It is the diner’s own seasoning and preparation that completes the dish and the experience.
Morocco FEASTING IN COMFORT WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS.
All countries have their celebrations and festivals, but in Morocco, feasting is a way of life. Their mealtime rituals—from hand-washing to lounging on cushions and pillows—all underscore the importance they place on their sensual enjoyment of food.
DISTINGUISHED CULINARY EXPERTS.
Posted December 24, 2003
The New American Chef did for me what The Joy of Cooking did for my grandmother. It gave me the confidence to try new things, entertain and create a palate of taste and color in my kitchen. I am not a chef or even much of a cook and I am able to follow the recipes and suggestions on presentation. I have given this book to everyone as a gift. It will transform your lifeWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2003
I bought this book after seeing the authors on television a few weeks ago and one of them demonstrated the dish 'Murghi Masala Tikka' (Chicken Tikka in Green Spices), which is on p. 266. It looked so delicious (and so easy) that I bought the book to try it myself. What a great dish! It's the first Indian dish I ever cooked and now I'm hooked. I'm happy that I have another 100 recipes to try in 'The New American Chef'! What I love about it is that I can learn about 10 different cuisines that I might not cook all the time (e.g. Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.) but have always been curious about. I feel like it's not an overwhelming amount of information, just what I need to get me started. Plus, the book is great to read. There are lots of stories that really draw you in to wanting to learn even more. I am planning to buy my first Indian cookbook next! I really recommend this book to people who cook at home who might want to try something a little different and more flavorful but want to be in good hands. It could be called 'Ethnic Cooking 101' but it's much more interesting and there's much more to read than just a simple guide.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 16, 2003
I've always loved eating ethnic cuisines, but I've been too intimidated to try to cook them much at home. This book 'The New American Chef' has changed all that. It gives clear overviews of 10 of my favorite cuisines, along with instructions of how to cook like a chef native to that country. I've found it to be such an eye-opener to think like a native, whether selecting which ingredients to cook with (e.g. ITALY: Choose cheeses and olive oils and wines, for example, from the same region of Italy) or how to work with flavors (e.g. THAILAND: Work with flavors and aromatics to achieve a balance of sweet, sour, salty and hot flavors within a single dish, as well as on a menu). I want to try every single recipe in this book!! It has changed the way I think about cooking, and is making me much more willing to experiment than I've ever been before. This book is ideal for people like me who don't have the time to read an entire book on any one style of food but are happy to read an entire chapter that gives important highlights of what you need to know when you're cooking that cuisine.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 8, 2003
I am finally happy to have a book that reflects the way I cook...Mexican one night, Italian the next, etc. This single book is like having 10 cookbooks in one! I like learning to think like a Japanese chef about how to reflect the season in my cooking and in the dining room, and how to think like an Italian chef about selecting ingredients, and how to think like a Spanish chef about letting the flavors of those ingredients shine through. Plus the recipes are great, and they're all from America's best chefs and cookbook authors like Paula Wolfert, Rick Bayless, Lynn Rossetto Kasper, Mario Batali, and more.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.