It’s challenging for me to get excited about food in January. After cooking a sixteen-pound turkey and five different sides for Christmas, making lobster bisque at New Year’s, and contending with too many nights of heartburn and bloat, the last thing I want to do is fuss in my kitchen this time of year.
And yet Eleven Madison Park
beckons. The ritzy New York restaurant released its gorgeous new cookbook late last year, and it’s been singing a gorgeous, breathy swan song in my kitchen since the new year. Co-authored by Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm
and General Manager Will Guidara, the tome is less an everyday kitchen cookbook than a meticulously written, gorgeously designed outline of the running and operation of Michelin-starred New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park, one of the most posh dining spaces in the world. It’s somewhat fitting that Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook
(Little, Brown and Company) is intimidating for both its eagle-eyed breadth of knowledge as well as its elegant dare to try its fanciest-of-the-fancy dishes right in your own home.
But before you pull out the saute pan and tongs, I would suggest you read. It’s been my experience that good cookbooks demand a certain amount of sit-down concentration as a kind of foreplay to the main event of sizzling, slicing, dicing, and roasting. Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook
and Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat
are good examples of this literary-cum-culinary approach; such books provide fresh, accessible recipes that accurately reflective their authors’ ethos and beliefs around not only cooking, but around the art of nourishment itself. Eleven Madison Park does this, and more, with aplomb. It’s a thorough education in the restaurant’s history, ethos, and development from its founding in 1998, through its failure and rebirth, with a thorough, thoughtful approach that balances education, information, and inspiration.
This thoroughness is reflected in the Cookbook’s detailed contents. Not only does it offer an array of mouth-watering recipes (which vary in degrees of difficulty), but it boasts an outline of a typical day at the restaurant, when the pastry cook arrives at 5am, to when the dishwashers and porters leave at 4am. There follows a comprehensive map of the position of every person within the gorgeous environs of Eleven Madison Park, followed by decidedly unflowery definitions of the role of each (“Roast Cooks are responsible for all protein preparation, portioning, and cooking, as well as the finishing of sauce and gastriques
.”) along with basic kitchen tools and sources for ingredients. There are also page-fulls of both fancy recipes (like Carrot Lollipops and different types of Mignardises) as well as basics like pasta dough, granolas, ice creams, and vinaigrettes. Helpful, interesting, nicely presented - and not all entirely difficult.
Accurately reflecting its posh source, the book boasts a clean, clear design, with immaculate layout and plain explanations of the restaurant’s complex dishes. Amounts can easily be adjusted accordingly (who needs a gallon of lobster or veal stock at home?) though it’s somewhat surprising recipes are written with volumes, not weights. This old-fashioned approach -rarely, if ever used in professional kitchens anymore - can be challenging, especially when it comes to baking. Stlll, the nicest thing as a home cook is finding a recipe like Prawn Poached With Butternut Squash And Bacon can be deconstructed in a delicious, easy way that those lacking formal chef’s school training can manage. For instance, Chef Humm provides great recipes for Butternut Squash Bisque (a nice soup on its own), Bacon Crisps (good for salad), Beurre Blanc (a seafood basic), and so on. Humm’s Bouillabaisse recipe is possibly the best I’ve ever tried - I had it on tossed with good tagliatelle & lobster -though its original form is Loup De Mere Seared With Cannellini Beans, Chorizo, and Sauce Bouillabaisse. The material in Eleven Madison Park becomes a whole lot less intimidating when deconstructed in this fashion, though they’re equally dazzling when you consider chef and his able-bodied crew at 11 Madison Avenue doing them all (and more) on a daily basis, according to season and product availability.
With its hefty weight, large size (it’s close to a foot squared), and detailed information presented with such elegant confidence, a casual kitchen cook might feel intimidated - but there’s no need. These recipes may require some substituting of ingredients (if, alas, you’re not in the middle of Manhattan, or close to a well-stocked grocer), a few thorough reads, and one or two extra hours in the kitchen, but the results are rewarding, delicious, and impressive. Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook offers something both for those who are fascinated by the operation and daily running of a much-loved
New York restaurant, as well as those who are interested in cooking, and in upping the ante on their kitchen technique. There’s nothing quite so lovely as the smell of a good bouillabaisse wafting through the house to chase away the January blahs. Suddenly, my kitchen seems a whole lot more inviting.