Read this cookbook: “David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations Ingredient by Ingredient” by David Tanis (Artisan, $40)
By Wendell Brock
As the author of a weekly New York Times column, David Tanis has a lofty pulpit for essaying on the dishes, ingredients and techniques he’s mastered over the years, most notably as a chef at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse.
I love his recipes for their simplicity, his essays for their directness. To read a David Tanis piece is to feel a bit calmer in the kitchen, more informed, ready to cook. He’s smart, but not overbearing, and you sense his love of France and the Mediterranean in most every impulse.
At this point in his career, if Tanis wants to publish a heavy volume on what the French call la cuisine du marche (cooking as a response to what is found at market on a given day), he certainly has the authority to do so.
Starting with alliums and ending with one perfect rustic apple tart, Tanis’ fourth book follows no discernible structure other than his own tastes and opinions. Clocking in at almost 500 pages, it is more deliciously personal than practical, a little rambling and unfocused, yet nothing if not charming.
Some recipes are precisely detailed, others more loosely described–in the style, say, of Elizabeth David. Rather than organize by alphabet, season or course, Tanis follows his bliss: Vegetables, mostly. Followed by chapters on “The Art of Seasoning” and “Kitchen Essentials” (eggs, rice, pasta, bread, broth).
With echoes of Waters (see “Chez Panisse Vegetables”), Deborah Madison (see “In My Kitchen”) and Steven Satterfield (see “Root to Leaf”), Tanis puts me at ease and makes me hungry for Provencal Garlic Soup; Improved Creamed Corn (he adds cumin, lime and crème fraiche); Cauliflower “Couscous” with Spiced Butter; and Spicy Peanut Noodles, among many other concoctions.
As a lifelong Southerner, I’m quite impressed that this worldly New Yorker takes a stab at Buttermilk Biscuits, Spicy Buttermilk Onion Rings, and Southern Greens with Ham Hocks. As best I can tell without testing, he nails them, too.
In the end, “David Tanis Market Cooking” will be meaningful to those who want to get into the mind of a masterful cook. That it twists and turns on a whim is a big part of its appeal.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).