John Besh: My Family Table

John Besh‘s My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking with 140 Inspiring Recipes (Andrews McNeel 2011) is an ambitious book:

I worry that the more cooking becomes entertainment and a spectator sport (instead of a family activity) and the more we fetishize celebrity chefs, the awful result is that we discourage folks from even setting foot in their kitchens. More and more, I’m concerned that by glamorizing chefdom, we turn off the very thing we seek to promote: getting people excited about cooking dinner. (p. 1)

This smart chef presents a combination stories, recipes, and photographs of his own family meant to extort us to follow his example of cooking for a better life.

John Besh is very convincing.

Perhaps his own exposure to the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef (see Next Iron Chef: Bets? or Top Chef Masters, have given him a perspective on the excesses of celebrity. And part of what makes his restaurants so good is his very connection to the bayou and the growers and producers who supply him – amply portrayed in My Family Table. Even though the book is full of pictures by Maura McEvoy of his handsome family – he tries hard not to focus on glamour.

The stories in Sunday Supper are about his family:

It becomes purely a cooking of the heart. I assign each of the boys a kitchen task, and I wish I could describe the joyful feeling of everything being right with the world (if only for a few minutes) as I look over my shoulder and see Brendan slicing an onion (properly!), or Drew Drew peeling garlic, or Jack kneading dough, or Luke carefully measuring ingredients, or Jenifer relaxing for a change, just sipping a glass of wine. (p.34)

Of course, they better all help – he writes that 20 to 40 guests show up for a Sunday dinner. All the recipes are feed 10-12 people. There’s an essay on how to cook a roast, opposite a fancy table spread with a feast of Slow-Roated Pork Shoulder (p. 38). There is also a huge Pecan-Baked Ham (p. 42) that is flavored with Chinese five-spice powder and plenty of pecans and butter. The side dishes would be excellent at Thanksgiving, like Brussel Sprouts and Bacon (p. 52), Sweet Corn Pudding (p. 54), or Provencal Stuffed Tomatoes. Wondering what your kids could do in the kitchen – two of John’s four sons press the topping into the tomatoes.

Check out a wonderful chapter called Breakfast with My Boys with a story about breakfast that will make you want to fix a hearty Southern breakfast of Angel Biscuits (p. 107), Cheesy McEwen Grits (p. 104), bacon and eggs – there is a whole essay on How to Cook an Egg (p. 102). There are more pictures of the boys – one holding a watermelon, and another gazing up from his heaping plate. The book is about John’s love and delight in his boys that is blended with his love and delight in feeding them – and all the rest of the folks that end up at his table. It is hard to resist his joy and his own excitement about cooking. He writes of his young son (and really about himself?): “Of our four boys, he’s the eater, with an appetite for all things food and an appetite for life to match. Drew is wildly lovable. He knows no half throttle, only full speed ahead.” (p. 220)

That is the enthusiasm in My Family Table. Infectious.

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