Can a Great Chef's Cookbook Turn You into a Great Chef?

Stories from Food & Wine.
Sept. 3 2011 7:23 AM

Can a Great Chef's Cookbook Turn You into a Great Chef?

Do you have a wood-burning stove? How about a sizzle platter?

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The Mozza Cookbook was more lyrical and nurturing, and that had its own benefit: I wanted to spend time in the space Silverton created. Still, I minimized risk by homing in on a  simple salad of Little Gem lettuce, yellow squash, toasted walnuts and pecorino, which required by-the-letter grocery shopping more than any culinary derring-do.

I also made Silverton's ricotta gnudi, the production of which promised the kneading and molding pleasures of Play-Doh. Silverton didn't specify cow's-milk or sheep's-milk ricotta; I assumed the former and got to work on the boiled-then-sautéed  gnudi with a divine chanterelle sauce. You can't go very wrong with mushrooms, butter and olive oil, all present in significant quantity here. It was as if Silverton had tailored this recipe for a cook as grudging as me.

It's funny: Although I spent much less time with their cookbooks than I had in their restaurants, I felt a stronger connection to both chefs when I was at the stove. Maybe I'll widen the circle and reach out to the likes of Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert. They, too, have cookbooks in addition to restaurants I've enjoyed, and might be able to nudge me along.

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Frank Bruni writes for the New York Times and is the paper's former restaurant critic. He is the author of the Times best seller Born Round.