Texas (Cook)Book Festival
Reviewing the Central Market Cooking School
The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine
by Steven Rinella
Miramax Books, 319 pp., $23.95
When a friend loaned outdoor writer Steven Rinella a copy of Auguste Escoffier's 5,012-recipe opus, Le Guide Culinaire (1903), he had an epiphany. Rinella with an entourage of colorful characters and his long-suffering vegetarian girlfriend, Diana decided to embark on a yearlong odyssey to "scavenge" some of Escoffier's more esoteric ingredients from the wild, items not available at the corner market.
Rinella sets off on his expedition, filling freezers as he goes, to harvest the ingredients for a three-day, 45-course Belle Époque banquet as a Thanksgiving treat for his pals, with all recipes culled from Escoffier's cookbook. Numerous species had to be stalked, killed, and eviscerated from all corners of the country: elk, eels, stingray, sparrows, clams, antelope, baby pigeons, carp semen, mountain goat, halibut, duck, wild boar, snapping turtle, jackrabbit, etc. Along the way, we meet resident experts who assist Rinella: entertaining characters like Floyd (who traps and kills sparrows to save the bluebirds), Dorst the frog gigger, and Ray the Eel Man. His two ever-present guides were the ghost of Escoffier and the memory of his outdoorsman father, who taught him the ways of the wild.
Rinella is a Michigan native raised with a love and respect for nature, an avid hunter and fisherman, and a piss-poor rancher of domestic pigeons. He weaves a story full of vivid and funny prose: Picture Julie Powell's Julie and Julia on megatestosterone. Historical narratives surface throughout, loaded with interesting morsels and background lore, and he builds tension like an accomplished mystery writer. It's a blend of cooking school, field biology, culinary philosophy, travelogue, and outdoor adventure, while he brilliantly addresses the sharp disconnect between Americans and their food supply. With this, his first book, Rinella proves himself an author on par with greats such as Jim Harrison, Tim Cahill, and John Gierach.
Stephen Rinella will be in the Texas Book Festival Cooking Tent on Sunday, Oct. 29, 12:30pm.