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Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook - Review

Recipes from the highly acclaimed Eleven Madison Park Restaurant in New York City

By Daniel Humm and Will Guidara

(Little, Brown and Company, 2011)

Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara

Fans of Eleven Madison Park the world over, rejoice. With Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook, the team behind Manhattan's acclaimed restaurant, including executive chef Daniel Humm and general manager Will Guidara, share more than 160 of the famous eatery's decadent recipes. With stunning photography by Francesco Tonelli, the dishes are plated and captured exactly as served at the grand New York dining institution, celebrating the high artistry of presentation. Since its inception in 1998, Eleven Madison Park has garnered numerous awards, but in the introduction, Guidara writes candidly about the obstacles they faced on the path to gaining such accolades, and the moments of elation they experienced along the way.

In keeping with Humm's practice of seasonal cooking, the recipes are categorized by seasonal availability of ingredients. Each section is prefaced with some words by Humm about what a particular season means to him, often influenced by his upbringing in Switzerland. Humm describes his growth as a chef, maturing from somewhat of a show-off with a "See what I can do?" mentality and eventually arriving at the "Less is more" philosophy that characterizes his food today.

At first glance, the exquisite photographs of complex dishes make the recipes seem more representative of his former, showy approach. The roasted pork rack with onions and cherries, for instance, looks daunting but turns out to be quite doable, which one would not know until reading the recipe all the way through. On the other hand, the seemingly approachable roasted chicken with chanterelles, corn and farro is actually made up of seven recipes. All in all, the book covers a wide range of recipes from simple (couscous salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and melon) to intimidating recipes using complex cooking techniques such as molecular gastronomy.

The last quarter of the book contains "Basic Recipes" ranging from dressings to stocks to doughs, all of which the home cook with the bravado to tackle Humm's creations will appreciate. One of the most interesting aspects of Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook is that it allows a glimpse into the mind of a chef and the inspiration behind Humm's masterpieces. His ideas can come from the simplicity of a color (fromage blanc inspired by yellow) or a childhood bedtime ritual of milk and honey, re-imagined in his "milk and honey" (dehydrated milk foam, milk "snow," chamomile honey, milk sorbet with Tuaca honey centers).

Despite its unapproachable, slick look, Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook manages to retain a comforting humility via the inclusion of Guidara's stories and Humm's reminiscences. This book is best served with a hearty dose of ambition if intended for practical use, but it would stand up just as well as a mere visual feast for those who would prefer to leave the culinary artistry to Humm himself.

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