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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Chez Panisse Chef Wants to Help You Master the Basics in New Book

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 9:33 AM

click to enlarge twelve_recipes.jpg
With all the cookbooks from the Bay Area’s beloved restaurants — Bar TartineTacolicious, and Brown Sugar Kitchen, to name a few – that came this past fall, it was easy to overlook Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell (Harper Collins), a chef with almost 20 years tenure at Berkeley’s beloved Chez Panisse.

After all, going by the title alone, who shells out more than $20 bucks for a cookbook with only twelve recipes? But the title is misleading. Yes, there are twelve recipes and corresponding chapters for each one, some ingredient-based and some technique-based. But each one contains numerous variations on a theme.

Chapter one is called "toast" – and we all know that no one would buy a cookbook in order to learn how to crisp up bread. But that chapter features several variations on crumbs and croutons, an ingredient that many of the later recipes require. There are chapters for beans, chicken, pasta with tomato, pastas without tomatos, and then each one has numerous variations on the theme, for example, the bean chapter has recipes for bean gratin, dals, various soups and spreads.

The idea for this book came to Peternell when the oldest of his three sons left for college. He thought his kids had naturally picked up how to cook by osmosis, but realized that besides eating, and occasionally doing one, specific task in the kitchen, like plucking herbs, they actually had picked up very little. Everyone who lives on their own should have basic knowledge how to cook, he reasoned, intending for the book to be a kind of manual for his son. Then, he figured that others could benefit from it, too.

His tone is casual and conversational, and makes you feel you have a friend in the kitchen with you, cheering you on. "Go, right now, and soak some dried beans in a lot of cold water. I'll wait here. Tomorrow, when you're cooking them, you'll thank me."

If you feel you could use help with the basics, like exactly how to roast a chicken, how to make the perfect meatballs or pasta, this is the book for you. More seasoned cooks will no doubt skip over how to chop an onion and the importance of mirepoix, but there's plenty here of interest for us, too.

As food journalist Michael Pollan says in his foreword: “This is the book I’ll give to all those friends who tell me they can’t cook.” 
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About The Author

Alix Wall

Alix Wall

Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer and certified natural foods chef. Her web site is

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