What makes American cuisine American? That’s the question put—and, in a way, answered—by America: The Great Cookbook (Weldon Owen, Oct.), the latest title in the publisher’s “Great” cookbook series.
The series, which includes four other titles, has sold more than 350,000 copies and has covered the cuisines of such countries as Australia and South Africa. But to say what constitutes the food of America, melting pot that it is, was uniquely difficult.
To help with this curatorial challenge the publisher brought on Joe Yonan, the food and dining editor of The Washington Post, to edit the book. Yonan, a two-time winner of the James Beard Award (for the best newspaper food section), was tasked with choosing whom, among the country's culinary elite, to include.
"The primary driver in deciding who would be in the book was a commitment to representing the beautiful, amazing diversity of the American food scene,” Yonan said. “I wanted to make sure that we saw both high-end, famous chefs and down-home, more casual restaurant figures.”
The book, which features recipes and stories from more than 100 chefs and food-world figures, touches on the food scenes in five distinct regions of the country. Bold-faced stars such Mario Batali and Ruth Reichl appear in the book. More under-the-radar figures who crop up include the family behind Murder Point Oysters, a beloved local spot in the Gulf Coast, and the owners of the soul-food restaurant Bertha’s Kitchen, in Charleston, S.C., which was named a 2017 America's Classic by the James Beard Foundation. Also important to Yonan was highlighting America's diversity of food production: the book spotlights such practices as fishing, foraging, and cattle ranching.
Yonan also wanted the book to highlight how much of the country's food scene has been enriched by people who hail from other places. “I certainly think the book celebrates the incredible contributions of immigrants to America’s food culture,” he said. “It’s an interesting statement to the world about how we, who put the book together, think the rest of the world, and even America, can and should view American food.”
America: The Great Cookbook will also serve a humanitarian purpose. A portion of the royalties from the book will go to No Kid Hungry, a campaign run by the nonprofit organization Share Our Strength to combat childhood hunger.