Cookbook Review: Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio
As the name suggests, Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef isn’t just a collection of recipes. Like the name says, Collicchio has set out to demonstrate how a true chef makes dinner: not from a written recipe or list of ingredients, but from a quality ingredient and inspiration.
The overarching theme of the book is one I hear him reference over and over again as head judge on Top Chef, mainly that when you taste great food, you know that it’s coming from someone who cares about food, thought about the ingredients, and really put their heart into it. And yes, that sounds a little bit like Carla “putting the love” in her food, but I think it goes deeper than that. For Collicchio, being a chef means respecting the ingredients enough to use the proper technique to make them shine.
The book opens with something of a memior, as Collicchio describes the development of his culinary career, with special care to show how his background and family shaped the chef he ultimately became. The early food chapters describe some very basic techniques (pan roasting, braising, blanching, stock-making, and sauce-making) that are building blocks for any asipring cook. Collichio explains them well, breaking them down step by step, and illustrating with gorgeous, uncomplicated recipes designed to teach by doing, and really inspire you to get in the kitchen and start trying them out.
The following chapters focus on the ingredients (as Collichio’s cooking does) and gives you a glimpse into how Tom’s recipes must develop. A chapter on Roasted Tomatoes, for example, teaches you what to look for in quality tomatoes (apparently, “Everybody knows the best tomatoes come from New Jersey”), how to roast your carefully chosen tomatoes, and then five different recipes that showcase these roasted tomatoes. The best part of this approach is that you turn the page at the end of this section imagining what else you might do with roasted tomatoes.
And that, I’m sure, is the point.
This book is beautifully photographed, and a pleasure to read. And even though many of the recipes use ingredients that aren’t often found in my humble home kitchen, they inspire me to expand my culinary repiortare ever-so-slightly. I guess you might say they inspire me to “think like a chef.” Go figure.
The book includes a foreword by Danny Meyer, and a preface and introduction from Collichio himself, and concludes with a resources section, as well as a detailed index. In between, you’ll find the following sections and recipes:
- Roasting (Roasted Chicken, Pan-Roasted Striped Bass, Pan-Roasted Sirloin, Roasted Herbed Leg of Lamb, Salt-Roasted Salmon, Pan-Roasted Sweetbreads, Pan-Roasted Soft Shell Crabs with Pickled Ramps and Creme Fraiche, Pan-Roasted Lobster with Bay Leaf, Pan-Roasted Salsify)
- Braising (Braised Short Ribs, Braised Beef Cheeks, Braised Fresh “Bacon,” Braised Red Snapper)
- Stock-Making (White Chicken Stock, Brown Chicken Stock, Lobster Stock, Veal Stock)
- Sauce-Making (Beurre Fondue, Beurre Blanc, Apple Cider Sauce, Basic Vinaigrette, Tomato Vinaigrette, Lemon-Rosemare Vinaigrette)
- Roasted Tomatoes (Roasted Tomatoes & Garlic, Roasted Tomato, Zucchini, and Eggplant Lasagne, Roasted Tomato Risotto, Clam Ragout with Pancetta, Roasted Tomatoes, and Mustard Greens, Sea Bass Stuffed with Roasted Tomatoes, Seared Tuna with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette and Fennel Salad, Braised Lamb Shanks with Roasted Tomato, Caramelized Tomato Tarts)
- Mushrooms (Pan roasted Mushrooms, Roasted Sea Scallops with Mushrooms, Marinated Mushrooms, Salmon Braised with Mushrooms, Polenta Gratiin with Mushroom “Bolognese,” Pan-Roasted Quail with Swiss Chard and Mushrooms, Caramelized Mushroom Tarts)
- Braised Artichokes (Artichokes Braised in Olive Oil and White Wine, Artichoke Salad, Artichoke Vinaigrette, Oricchiette with Artichokes, Cabbage, and Cranberry Beans, Artichoke Ravioli with Artichokes, Peas, and Asparagus, Quick-Braised Striped Bass with Artichoke and Zucchini, Slow-Braised Chicken with Artichokes, Artichoke & Tomato Gratin)
- Asparagus, Ramps, & Morels (Ragout of Asparagus, Ramps, and Morels, Baked Free-Form “Ravioli” with Asparagus, Ramps, and Morels, Sole with Morelss, Ramps, and Asparagus, Asparagus Soup with Morel Custard, Pan-Roasted Poussin with Morels, Ramps, and Asparagus, Morel, Ramp, and Potato Gratin)
- Lobster, Peas, & Pasta (Basic Boiled Lobster, Fettuccini with Lobster and Peas, Basic Pasta Dough, Chilled Pea Soup, with Lobster, Pasta, and Pea Salad, Spiced Roasted Lobster with Pea Ravioli, Lobster Risotto with Peas, Lobster Spice, Lobster Butter)
- Duck, Root Vegetables, & Apples (Roasted Duck, Root Vegetables, and Apples, Braised Duck with Apples, Root Vegetable and Apple Ragout with Duck Crepes, Basic Crepes, Duck Confit, Root Vegetable Soup with Apples and Duck Ham, Duck Ham, Duck Rillettes, Duck, Root Vegetable, and Apple Terrine)
4. Component Cooking
- Spring Vegetables (Pickled Ramps, Pan-Roasted Ramps, Pan-Roasted Spring Onions, Rhubarb Chutney, Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad with Prosciutto, Swiss Chard Cannelloni with Chanterelle Sauce, Pan-Roasted Asparagus)
- Summer Vegetables (Summer Vegetable Ragout, Ratatouille, Eggplant Caviar, Pan-Fried Eggplant, Corn Relish, Corn Chowder, Creamless Creamed Corn, Corn and Potato Pancakes, Zucchini with Lemon Thyme, Pan-Roasted Zucchini, Pan-Fried Zucchini Blossoms, Pickled Watermelon Rind, Tomato Consomme, Green Tomato Chutney, Pepper Chutney)
- Fall Vegetables (Braised Red Cabbage, Roasted Savoy Cabbage with Raisins, Roasted Endive with Whole Spices, Glazed Endive Leaves, Endive Chutney, Onion Confit, Honey-Glazed Onions, Puree of Onion Soup, Onion Marmalade, Balsamic Onion Marmalade, Potato, Leek, and Bacon Pan-Fry, Diced Potato-Leek Soup, Roasted Potatoes, Leeks, and Bacon, Boulangerie Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts with Bacon)
5. A Few Favorites
- (Lentils, Foie Gras Terrine, Poached Foie Gras, Pan-Fried Oysters, Cured Salmon, Lemon Confit, Cannellini Beans, My Favorite Chicken Soup)
In conclusion, I would recommend Tom Colicchio’s Think Like A Chef for the ambitious home cook or growing foodie. The book is well-written, and full of information about Colicchio and his personal style of cooking. I think most anyone whould have osmething to leanr here, but if you’re skittish in the kitchen, you’ll probably be intimidated by a lot of these recipes. I, personally, am excited to try a number of these dishes. I picked up the paperback version of the book, which is well worth the $15-20 price tag.