When I first heard about a cookbook from Stewart Woodman, former and future chef at Heidi’s, plus onetime Alain Ducasse protegé, internet scribe at shefzilla.com, I was dubious: Another book of restaurant food for home cooks? I know airing this thought in public puts my foodie credentials in jeopardy, but I really question whether anyone makes ceviche at home for the kids.
However, once I got Shefzilla: Conquering Haute Cuisine at Home I realized it wasn’t a restaurant-food book at all, it was the book that evolved after Heidi’s burned to the ground, and Woodman was ejected for the first time in his life into the regular old kitchen in his house—and had to put nightly dinner on his table for his family, including two young sons. How does a fine dining superstar cook when he’s at home? The answer is in this book, and it’s pretty interesting: He kind of cooks like a fine dining superstar stuck for the first time in a civilian kitchen, which is a very interesting way of cooking.
How you’d cook if you were a fine dining superstar stuck at home:
1) You wouldn’t be limited by the standard spice cupboard, and would use unexpected flavor notes to turn basic dishes into surprises, by, say, sauteing boiled potatoes in a bit of butter and ground juniper, or adding a few coffee beans to parsnip soup, or adding dried orange zest to salmon salad.
2) You’d put a couple extra steps into super-basic dishes, like mashed potatoes, so that they’re real attention-getters: Chivey potato purée uses heavy cream, sour cream, chives, and truffle salt to make it more than you’d serve at home (but not any more difficult than the standard mashed potatoes); a kohlrabi salad gets both lemon and lime juice.
3) You’d have no fear of taking down a whole halibut. A few of the recipes in Shefzilla strike me as being a bit of a reach for a home cook—not a huge reach, but definitely a bit of one. I’m not sure how many average cooks are going to buy four pounds of beef neck bones and devote two pans and four hours to get four cups of beef stock. And several of the recipes look simple till you realize you need to have made a batch of tomato fondue or have made your own curry powder to finish the dish.
That said, I think this book is going to be a must-have for any weekend warrior home cook who wants to render their guests a quivering mass of delighted jelly. I also can’t think of a better gift to a local foodie than a copy of Shefzilla’s book with a special ingredient, like truffle salt, or long pepper taped to the top. Or, buy two, and present your giftee with a book and an accompanying pan of Shefzilla’s Peanut Butter Brownies or an Almond and Mascarpone Bundt Cake. Woodman is appearing at the Mill City Farmer’s Market Saturday to sell and sign books—why not head down to one of the last Farmer’s Markets of the year and congratulate him?