The Chef’s Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables — With Recipes lives up to its subtitle. It is a thorough discussion of “common and unusual vegetables”, ranging from garlic flowers to carrots to ground cherries, “with recipes” that are slated for experienced chefs. With such a sweeping subject matter, it’s a hefty volume, weighing in at over 600 pages without including the index. Not only does it discuss a wide variety of vegetables, it provides beautiful photography of both the food under discussion and the recipes provided. It does not provide discussion of fruits, aside from those veggies that are botanically considered fruits, such as tomatoes and the aforementioned ground cherries.
Casual readers who are garden enthusiasts and home chefs will find interesting ideas to draw upon here. There are plenty of ‘aha!’ moments to be had in discovering that there are many more edible parts of common plants than most people think, and the book showcases a wide array of delicious-looking varieties of most veggies. It also includes tasting notes and recommendations for varieties for specific climates.
The recipes are clearly written by professional chefs to inspire other professional chefs. They go well beyond the idea of fresh food simply prepared. Most are not truly a single recipe, but a collection of several to produce a visually dramatic plate of produce. (Pun intended.) For example, the Cucurbit Fruits chapter includes a recipe for Egg-Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Zucchini Fruit, Stems, and Leaves. This recipe breaks down into smaller recipes for the squash stems, squash leaf “Green Goddess” dressing, marinated zucchini, and the stuffed squash blossoms, plus plating instructions. If you’re looking for a brand new way to use up a glut of zucchini, this is one way to do it, but the effort involved in most of the presented recipes is enough work for a weekend for a less-dedicated cook.
A section in the back of the book discusses edible flowers, both of the ornamental variety and plucked from herbs and vegetables. This perhaps might be the most useful part of the book for someone looking for interesting things to grow to add to their table. Edible flowers make for a spectacular garnish or unusual accent note, and the book discusses many of them, again with tasting notes.
Less useful are the number of times the author details a particular variety of produce whose name or variety his company prefers to keep a secret. While this is understandable from a business perspective, it undermines the book’s encyclopedic nature and changes the tone from a more scholarly work to an advertisement. Again, this may be helpful for chefs, but is less so for home cooks who generally do not order produce for delivery.
Overall, The Chef’s Garden makes for a fine coffee-table book. It’s too large to cook out of on a practical level, and the recipes are too complex outside of a professional kitchen or special occasion. It is well worth reading to discover new and different parts of vegetable plants to use, and it is a good book to poke through for inspiration, if not imitation.