Virginia B. Wood is on a rampage when it comes to diet trends and bad cookbooks. Plus: Au revoir, Jean-Luc.
I don't get on my soapbox all that often, but something keeps cropping up lately, and I've got to have my say. At least once a week, I get a story suggestion or request from someone who has a great new line of low-carb items on their menu, in their store, or prepared by their wholesale business. I tell these people the same thing: Our Food section really doesn't do consumer-product stories, as a rule, and we don't cover diet trends. When they seem shocked as to why I could possibly pass up such a great story opportunity, all I can tell them is that it's a personal preference. As far as I'm concerned, the mainstream media already provides exhaustive coverage of diet trends, which ethnic foods to fear, and the most popular new imitation-food products on the market. As an alternative voice in the news media, we've simply made an editorial decision to go another way. The freedom to do that is literally one of the best things about working for an independently owned publication. Several years ago, the first time I interviewed Saveur Editor Colman Andrews, I asked him what he thought about national food magazines and newspaper food sections following popular diet trends. I'll never forget his answer. He said if worse came to worst, he'd rather see Saveur running nude centerfolds to generate revenue than ever run stories about the newest trends in diet foods or how to "lighten up" the authentic regional recipes for which his publication is known. I'm with Colman.
Fall Cookbook Deluge
Yes, the fall cookbook deluge is in full swing, new titles piling up around my house like falling leaves. My early favorite is the new edition of Terry Thompson-Anderson's Cajun-Creole Cooking (Shearer Publishing, $18.95), a wonderful update of her well-used early Nineties Sunset classic. Another appealing title is A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies (Harvard Common Press, $14.95) by New England pastry maven Dede Wilson. I won't be waiting till Christmas to try some of these inviting cookie recipes. A new cookbook from Neiman Marcus is the front-runner for the loveliest coffeetable book of the fall and, by far, the season's most overwhelming disappointment has to be The Texas Cowboy Kitchen: Recipes From the Chisholm Club (Texas Monthly Custom Publishing & Ten Speed Press, $34.95) by Grady Spears with June Naylor. The book itself is lovely, with a faux-cowhide cover and remarkable authentic trailside photographs by famed cowboy photographer Erwin E. Smith. Fort Worth food writer Naylor has done an excellent job with the historical research, and the writing is very engaging. The scandal, in my mind, is that Spears' recipes are a mess. I've tried several and have yet to find anything that really works other than recipes donated by other Texas celebrity chefs to fill out the table of contents. Productionwise, this book is a thing of beauty and a very enjoyable read, but, as the working Panhandle cowboys in my family would say, when it comes to actual recipes, chef Spears is all hat and no cattle.
It has been my pleasure to cover the career of local French chef Jean-Luc Salles in this column during the past several years. From his early days behind the counter at Cook's Night Out in the Clarksville Fresh Plus to the opening and subsequent sale of his own Jean-Luc's French Bistro to his most recent incarnation as a chef instructor at Texas Culinary Academy, chef Salles has always been good copy. Jean-Luc and his wife, Denise, have also been tireless supporters of the Austin community, donating their time and talents to many charity organizations and events, mentoring other chefs and students, supporting sustainable agriculture, and generally being good neighbors to us all. Their most recent news is that the talented couple has been hired as private chef and personal assistant to an East Texas rancher and business magnate. They're leaving Austin for a new home in Athens, Texas, this coming week. The new job offers great opportunities for travel, wild game cooking, organic gardening, and spending summers on a ranch in Colorado. Bon voyage, dear friends. We'll miss you.