This week we're bringing the restaurant to your kitchen with a review of a just-released, celebrity chef-written cookbook.
The cookbook: The Chef Next Door: A Pro Chef's Recipes for Fun, Fearless Home Cooking
The author: You probably recognize Amanda Freitag from the Food Network, where she is often a judge on the series Chopped, a competitor on Iron Chef America and a co-host for American Diner Revival. Amanda trained at the Culinary Institute of America and is one of New York City's most celebrated chefs. She opened her first restaurant, the Empire Diner—housed in a classic diner space near the High Line—in 2013.
Initial impressions: Something that stands out right away is Amanda's utter honesty about home cooking. She opens the introduction painting a sensory scene of what a typical night is like at Empire Diner. There are clanging plates and trays, shouts of line cooks coordinating the timing of dishes, heat from the arsenal of burners and the aches of joints from years of twelve- to fifteen-hour days that bleed into nights and sometimes right back into mornings. Amanda is in her element in this scene. Like so many professional chefs, she thrives under the pressure of the kitchen.
But when it comes to the ability to put dinner on the table seven nights a week at home, Amanda concedes the fight. "It's one of the hardest things to do, and it's why I have so much respect and admiration for all the home cooks out there!" she says. "How can my passion at work be such a stumbling block at home? How can I easily knock out fabulous four-star meals in my restaurant kitchen, yet so often find myself staring blankly into my open fridge or thumping through a stack of take-out menus?"
This was what sparked Amanda's journey to create a cookbook for home cooks. It's a collection of the most helpful and reliable tips and tricks she has learned through her many years in professional restaurant kitchens. But it's also scaled down for the home cook who doesn't have a team of sous chefs, never-ending racks of equipment and expansive work surfaces. Reading through the recipes, I get it; I get her vision and I'm impressed. Amanda really has bridged the gap between restaurant cuisine and home cooking: The ingredients are simple, the techniques and equipment are appropriate for home cooks and the recipe instructions are straight-forward. But there is still that restaurant-quality elegance to each dish.
What’s cool: One of my favorite details is the "Prep" section that accompanies each recipe. Amanda tells you the steps that need to happen before you actually start cooking. The "Prep" section is her at-home version of "mise en place"—that's French for "everything in place"—and it's a great chef's technique that makes cooking easier and more streamlined (and more fun)!
Another detail that I love is the photograph that accompanies the opening page of every chapter. It's a simple cutting board, and each one is appropriate for that section. For example, the cutting board image that opens the "What's For Dinner?" section shows what would be left behind after preparing Amanda's famous Lusty Lemon Chicken. The cutting board next to the "More Than A Salad" opener is surely stained with the juices of a red beet and adorned with minced chives. I am at home!
Finally, I love that Amanda has included, in plain-speak, her chef's tips at the end of every recipe – this is where you learn the true secrets, the substitutions in a pinch and those insider shortcuts you soak up only after years behind the stove.
Perfect for: At-home dinner entertainers / Small families with non-picky eaters / Budding chefs / Those who want to cook at home more often but need a confidence boost / Eaters who appreciate restaurant-quality dishes at home
When/Where to get it: Amanda's book was released on September 29, 2015 and is available now for $24.
Sneak-peek recipe: Check out Amanda’s recipe for Barley-Stuffed Peppers (pictured above, and reprinted with permission from the publisher).