Texas Tortes

by Arthur Meyer (UT Press, $17.95 hard)

Texas Tuxedos to Tacos

by Betsy Nozick & Tricia Henry
(Eakin Press, $21.95 hard)

An important consideration in the purchase of any cookbook is the author's credibility. What do they know about their subject and how did they acquire that knowledge, how likely is it that their recipes will actually work? As any Austinite who was addicted to Art Meyer's elegant Texas Tortes or any party guest who was dazzled by a spread from Gourmet Guys & Gals Catering can attest, the local authors of two new cookbooks know their stuff. They are consummate pros, highly regarded by other members of their professions and the eating public. Their bona fides lies in the fact that for years, they've made a living selling the very dishes now presented in the books. That works for me.

Perhaps it's his dual training as a chef and chemistry professor (Austin Community College & University of Texas) that makes Art Meyer such a superior pastry chef, as successful baking depends on chemical reactions. He also acknowledges the influence of family members and cooks from the New York neighborhood where he grew up. Whatever the genesis of his talent, Meyer successfully supplied many of Austin's best-known upscale restaurants with his classy, delicious creations during the late Eighties and early Nineties. Desserts bearing the Texas Tortes label made such impressions on restaurant patrons that devotees still rhapsodize about his Chocolate Intemperance, the Clarksville Cafe Lemon Almond Tart, and the various cassattas created especially for Botticelli's and Mezzaluna in its early years. Those recipes and several more are included in Texas Tortes, a slim volume delightfully illustrated by John A. Wilson.

While some of Meyer's recipes are simple, many require quite a bit of preparation and organization. A man of abundant confidence and strong opinions, Meyer provides the reader with carefully written, authoritative instructions for preparing each recipe so that even the novice baker should experience success. He stresses the need to use only the best quality, freshest ingredients and wherever possible, encourages the reader to use Texas-grown products such as fruits, nuts, and cheeses. Anecdotes about Meyer's experiences in the baking business add a pleasant personal touch to this accomplished and useful book.

Suburban housewives and catering partners Betsy Nozick and Tricia Henry have been entertaining Central Texans as Gourmet Gals (now Gourmet Guys & Gals) for more than 20 years. Their new book about the mystique of entertaining, Texas Tuxedos to Tacos (written in collaboration with Chronicle food writer Rebecca Chastenet de Géry) is part party memoir and part cookbook. It works on both levels because the client list from their legendary parties is a veritable Texas "who's who" and their most popular menus and recipes are included. It could very well be the perfect primer for aspiring caterers and also offers party guests smitten by a Gourmet Gals dish the chance to recreate it at home.

Since I now feel much the same way about catering parties as I do about making wedding cakes, I was disappointed not to read about a few disasters, because everyone has had some. But caterers Nozick and Henry appear never to have encountered a catastrophe they couldn't finesse and that's what success in the catering business is really all about. Like a good community cookbook, Texas Tuxedos to Tacos works best as a very informative snapshot of how people celebrated in the capitol of Texas from 1976 to 1996. -- Virginia B. Wood

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