Jennifer Schaertl defines gourmet food as "food perfectly prepared from the finest ingredients and artfully presented with love and care." The premise of her cookbook is that this can be accomplished in "crappy little kitchens." Very small kitchens without a lot of the equipment normally associated with gourmet cooking merit this distinction. A helpful section of the book is a description of the equipment need to equip a CLK (crappy little kitchen). Even more interesting is a list of what you don't need!
As an avid collector of cookbooks, I was intrigued by the idea of a chef who has worked in four four-star restaurants in Dallas taking this unique approach to writing a cookbook. Schaertl's experiences certainly qualify her to undertake this task. She began her professional career working inside a CLK as a dishwasher. She moved up to sous chef, but the kitchen wasn't much bigger than a closet.
Her father provided early inspiration to her when he baked a pineapple upside-down cake in a Dutch oven over a fire. Knowing what could be created in the great outdoors gave her the confidence to cook whatever she wanted in her succession of CLKs, including serving lobsters to friends in a tiny apartment in a Brooklyn brownstone. In fact, she lives in an apartment today with a kitchen floor that slopes, an ancient stove, and with terrible storage and no dishwasher.
For Schaertl, the emphasis is on the food and good preparation and through the recipes in the book she shows the cook with a CLK that putting a gourmet meal on the table is very achievable. Those cooks whose kitchens may not fit the CLK category will appreciate the variety and simplicity of the recipes included in the book.
Writing clear instructions for creating a dish is not a simple task. I've tried a lot of recipes where I was puzzled by exactly what the writer intended. The recipes in this book are presented in easy-to-follow numbered steps. I can attest to this, as I found the Superlative Stuffed Chicken Breast to be easy to make and delicious to eat. Providing the internal temperature for when the chicken is done contributed to the clear instructions.
Schaertl's creativity is demonstrated in the names she gives the recipes and in the helpful information given at the beginning of each recipe. Throughout the cookbook, she also provides additional information pertinent to a specific recipe about how to swap out ingredients, or cooking techniques. Presentation of the dish is stressed and photographs of some of the dishes throughout the book help with this aspect.
Whether you are a seasoned cook or just a beginner, you will find this cookbook to be a welcome addition to your kitchen, crappy or not!
Jennifer Schaertl's first job inside a professional Crappy Little Kitchen was actually that of a dishwasher, where she eventually worked her way up to sous chef. Since that humble beginning, Jennifer has worked as a chef in four Dallas 4-star restaurants, all the while creating her own recipes both for her restaurant menus and her family gatherings. Visit Jennifer's website.
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