Excellent restaurant book for foodies and pros
`tru' by rick tramonto, pastry partner gale gand and writer mary goodbody is a book purely for foodies and professionals. the sure signs of this are the fact that the recipes are presented almost exactly as they are done in the restaurant, with all the special ingredients and equipment a home cook is not likely to have available such as foaming canisters, caviar, truffles, and presentation dishes which are custom made for the tru restaurant. this does not mean this is a poor book. it only means that its audience is limited. it is more limited than even thomas keller's two restaurant books in that the `french laundry' cookbook gives more insights into the phenomenology of eating and very high end food handling and preparation techniques. the new `bouchon' cookbook gives a similar master class in technique along with a nearly definitive reference on bistro dishes. tramonto's book is primarily a biography of his five (5) year old restaurant in chicago and a synopsis of tramonto and gand's professional career together. as gale gand is actually the more famous of the two due to her food network show `sweet dreams' and her light, very accessible small books on simple desserts, it is genuinely interesting to us food network junkies to know the background behind some of her tv recipe stories. in the course of the authors' acknowledgments, background chapters, and recipe headnotes, tramonto seems to mention just about every major culinary figure on the planet if they in any way contributed to his business plan, culinary inspiration, or specific recipe. while this may seem like gratuitous name dropping, i actually find this a definite asset to an essay on culinary excellence. this is also just another sign that this book is written for professionals and foodies. two years ago, references to the troisgras brothers and to michel bras would leave me cold. now, i can take tramonto's michel bras inspired recipe and compare it with bras' recipes in his own book. there is some subtly gratuitous selfbackpatting as when the author cites instructions to the wait staff to inhibit breakage, as a single broken piece of dishware will incur a sizable replacement cost. tramonto is clearly aiming for the kind of recognition given to a very small group of american chefs headed by thomas keller and charlie trotter. a quick look at the recipe chapters tells you this at a glance. these are hors d'oeuvres'; `amuse-bouche'; cold appetizers; hot appetizers; foie gras; soups; fish and seafood; meat and poultry; game; the cheese course; dessert amuse bouche; desserts; petits fours; and basic recipes. this selection is a clear indication that the name of the game at tru is `tasting menus', a relatively large number of small dishes all chosen to go together by the chefs. i assure you tramonto's recipes have a richer, more distinctive taste than preparations of similar dishes at your local country club dining room. if i had any doubt that this was possible, i lost those doubts when i made thomas keller's recipe for mac and cheese with wild mushrooms from `bouchon'. there was actually subtlety in the taste of the bechamel sauce carefully infused with onion, pepper, and nutmeg before being strained to smoothness and enriched with emmentaler cheese. similarly, tramonto takes a normally complicated preparation such as lobster bisque and garnishes it with a rather complicated ceviche and prepares it with brandy and sherry in addition to the normal white wine ingredient. dessert recipes by ms. gand are consistent with the savory chapters in that many ingredients are unusual and procedures are fairly involved. these are not you typical gale gand `short + sweet' recipes. one simple amuse-bouche recipe calls for `perfection' tangerines and basil blossoms. you can substitute clementines or pedestrian tangerines and do without the basil blossoms, but that is not how they do it at tru. unlike celebrated culinary books by tom colicchio and john ash, `tru' does not go out of its way to highlight pedagogically interesting portions of recipes where new techniques are revealed. yet, the book is a treasure chest of culinary techniques and unusual ingredients. you just have to read carefully to locate them. one general technique hidden in a recipe is gand's method for roasting lemons to be used in a `lemonade shooter'. this is also the very first book i have read which uses the foaming technique pioneered by spanish chef ferran adria. the book also makes use of a juicer to produce smooth fruit and vegetable juices in several recipes. the book is also the very first mention i have seen of the ingredient truffle flour. every savory entrée includes a detailed wine recommendation supplied by tru's sommelier. while i am not a wine aficionado, i believe these suggestions are better than average, as they always are explaining the selection and often give an `everyday' choice plus a premium choice. almost everything i said about the book in general is not true of the `basic recipes' chapter. here we have detailed recipes for thirty-eight pantry items including twelve (12) stocks, five (5) glaces, and eleven (11) sweet and savory flavored oils. if one does not already own keller's `bouchon', this chapter makes this book worth its price to an amateur cook. there are some very common items such as beef, chicken, and fish stock and simple syrup and brioche, but there are also some uncommon items such as mushroom stock, lobster oil, and beurre monte. if you have ever made chestnut soup with a vegetarian guest, you can see the value of a mushroom stock. this is a book of excellent recipes that i believe only amateur foodies and professionals will fully appreciate. the book's photography is sound, but not out of the ordinary. i found it odd that the author discusses his custom kitchen design at length and gives us no photos of this facility. the average list price of $35 is just about right for this good but not great book.