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Chef on a Shoestring

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Chef on a Shoestring (Canada, UK)
By Andrew Friedman (Editor)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: Jan. 2001
ISBN: 0743200721

First off, let’s state for the record that a television producer’s idea of what constitutes a shoestring budget is probably different from yours or mine. But Chef on a Shoestring is a weekly feature of the Saturday Early Show on CBS, in which prominent chefs come on the television program and cook a three-course meal within a budget of $20 (since changed to $30). It is also the name of a new cookbook that compiles many of the show’s recipes.

Curiously, the people who put the book together separated the different courses from each chef into various chapters, which seems to defeat the shoestring-meal concept entirely. You might choose an appetizer from one chef who splurged on that course, an expensive main course from another chef who scrimped on the rest of the meal, and an extravagant dessert from someone else who put most of his effort and money into the finale!

But, of course, this is not really a book about saving money. And it is a rare individual who will yearn to create the menu of a particular Saturday Early Show guest chef from start to finish. Instead, this is a book that features many of the best-known chefs working in New York and elsewhere in the country, trying to put together really good dishes that are simple enough to do at home (and on television) and are at least moderately priced.

The results are innovative, fairly trendy recipes, some of which are really good. You can begin a meal with Salmon Corn Cakes from Walter Staib of Philadelphia's City Tavern, serve Seared Chicken Breast with Red Onion Vinaigrette from Charlie Palmer of Aureole in New York as the main course, and finish with the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies from Waldy Malouf of the Beacon Restaurant. Another combination could be the Asparagus and Bean Sprout Salad with Dill Pesto from Aquavit's Marcus Samuelsson, Crispy Fried Snapper with Chili Ponzu from Tom Douglas, who runs three restaurants in Seattle, and finish with a Coconut Rice Pudding with Fresh Mango from John Villa of Pico Restaurant.

The dishes fall into the following categories: Finger Foods & Small Plates; Salads, Soups & Stews; Pasta & Risotto; Vegetarian Main Courses; Fish & Seafood; Poultry; Meats; Side Dishes; and Desserts. There’s also a teensie bit of advice on stocking your pantry, buying in season, shopping on a budget, and “avoiding the temptation to be too frugal” — a problem we all face….

A final quibble, no, an outright complaint: the table of contents is completely useless, lacking page numbers for everything except chapter headings and printed in an elegant but totally unreadable font. (Note to publisher: Don’t do that any more. A cookbook that people have to thumb through each time to find interesting recipes is a book that is going to stay on the bookshelf.)

The many fans of the Saturday Early Show will appreciate having these recipes available in print. And an added bonus is that the television network’s share of royalties from the sale of the book go to Share Our Strength, an organization that works to stamp out hunger and poverty.

Chef on a Shoestring (Canada, UK)


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