cover image A Platter of Figs

A Platter of Figs

David Tanis, , foreword by Alice Waters. . Artisan, $35 (294pp) ISBN 978-1-57965-346-0

Both a meditation on the powerful rites of cooking and serving a meal and a gentle but serious education in doing both, this book by the part-time head chef at Berkeley's renowned Chez Panisse is an impressive ode to the simple beauty of food. With 24 menus distributed over the course of a year, Tanis emphasizes seasonality with ingredients (blueberry-blackberry crumble in summer; celery root mashed potatoes in winter) and with the types of dishes provided for each menu (as with a divine, warming lobster risotto as part of a menu for a cold spring day). Anecdotes from his peripatetic life of enjoying good food around the world, from Venice to Morocco to New Mexico, add another intimate dimension and help the book appear written just for the reader by a kind, patient friend. Many of the recipes are almost as simple as the title implies: a summer menu features sliced tomatoes with sea salt, while a course for a fall lunch consists of nothing more than pears and Parmigiano cheese. Others, like a black paella with squid and shrimp, are more involved, but the detailed instructions make them accessible to any cook willing to put in the effort, and the results are delicious, never fussy. Taking a stand against the typical cookbook organization from appetizers through desserts, Tanis teaches how to think clearly about conceiving, preparing and enjoying simple but delicious meals. Full-color photos throughout. (Nov.)