The charismatic, culinary tornado and executive chef at Incanto with a James Beard Award nomination this year, Chris Cosentino has built his reputation as a loud, meat-fueled, barely unofficial offal spokesperson whose menus run rich with pork fat. His nose-to-tail crusade is showcased at his Boccalone salumi shop, the LA shop at the Umamicatessen called PIGG, and regular appearances on the Food Network. This will no doubt create some expectations of his first cookbook, Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal ($25/hardcover, 192 pp., Olive Press), which just hit bookstores.
The book features over 60 recipes for Italian-style first courses, broken up by season and beautifully photographed by Michael Harlan Turkell. The recipes run from light starters like "Fava Beans, Strawberries & Pecorino" and a David Chang fig-on-a-plate-inspired "Figs, Marcona Almonds & Port Vinaigrette," to heartier fare like "Marinated Tripe, New Potatoes & Parsley" or "Porcini, Foie Gras & Douglas Fir." The recipes are approachable, with nothing overly complicated, and most preparations require little more than a good farmers market. Each recipe features a handwritten note from Cosentino, with serving suggestions or stories, like how the "Braised Dandelion Greens, Chile & Pecorino" in a rich broth with grilled bread was re-created for business partner Mark Pastore from a childhood memory.
Breaking up the recipe chapters by season "gives you an understanding of what to look for in your markets and what ingredients will help make your food taste best," says Cosentino is his intro. This may be preaching to the choir in the Bay Area, but the idea is still slowly filtering its way into the mainstream.
Meat-heads might feel disappointed that most of the meat dishes are seafood- and poultry-based, with a single offal recipe ("Marinated Tripe, New Potatoes & Parsley"). With roughly half of the recipes being vegetarian, the book shows the softer side of Cosentino's art and a more balanced picture of what his cooking at Incanto is like. As my vegetarian wife can attest to, there's plenty to like about Cosentino's cooking, no matter how much tripe you can stomach.
Chris Cosentino Book Signing and Cooking Demonstration
Where: Williams-Sonoma, 340 Post (at Powell), 362-9450
When: Friday, May 11, starting at 5 p.m, with other dates in other store locations as well