Holiday Cookbook Roundup
Charleston Grill at Charleston Place: French-Influenced Lowcountry Cuisineby Bob Waggoner and Susan Franzen
Gibbs Smith, 224 pp., $29.95
The best chef-centric cookbooks are not for everyone (not particularly focused toward novice cooks) but are intensely personal reflections of the chef and her/his individual culinary history and style of cooking. This is one of those. Waggoner, a Southern Californian by birth, apprenticed at various Michelin-rated restaurants in France, and at 26 became the first American chef to own a restaurant in France. After 11 years abroad, he returned to the U.S. to cook in Florida, Nashville, and ultimately in South Carolina at the elegant Charleston Grill at the Charleston Place Hotel.
This lushly illustrated book (Waggoner lovingly photographed his own food) is a rich amalgam of basic French techniques, traditional Carolina Low Country ingredients, and the adventurous yet subtle culinary sensibility of the chef. With some notable exceptions, the recipes are surprisingly uncomplicated, although they have no explanatory introductions and the chef assumes the reader has basic culinary knowledge.
Several dishes, particularly in the fish chapter, call for ingredients that probably aren't available outside the Low Country (barramundi, spiny lobster, snook, creek flounder, river prawns), but resourceful cooks can think of reasonable substitutes. Emphasis is on creative treatment of very fresh components, and the chapter on salads is especially wonderful; the Camembert, marinated grape, pecan, and arugula salad is divine. And the whole roasted chicken with caramelized onions, bacon, and mushrooms is truly inspired.
There's a cool local connection – Waggoner met his co-writer, Austinite Susan Franzen, a couple of years ago when she hosted him at the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival; in a Hill Country-meets-Low Country inspiration, they cooked up the idea for the book together.