Two of the world’s most influential chefs and a James Beard Award-winning wine writer grace us with books this season that are perfect for inspiration, travel planning and what we’ll call armchair dining.
In Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s delightful “JGV: A Life in 12 Recipes,” the chef recounts his journey from his childhood in eastern France to today, where he has his name on countless restaurants around the world (nearly 20 in New York alone). Along the way he adds recipes to enhance the story, such as egg caviar for two, which I’ve been craving since reading about it. But these aren’t just step-by-steps, Vongerichten’s chatty, friendly, encouraging voice comes through in each bit of direction. For example, he tells us, “Put the savory whipped cream in a bag if you intend to pipe it, that is how we do it at the restaurant.” Besides sharing details about his life, “JGV” tells the story of the rise of the “chef as rock star” which he undoubtedly helped create but still feels humble about. There is an Audible version of this title, but it’s read by a narrator with neither Vongerichten’s accent nor his panache, so let him speak to you from the page.
Natural Wine For The People
Meanwhile, in the days since reading Alice Feiring’s “Natural Wine for the People: What It Is, Where to Find It, How to Love It,” I feel as if I’ve been immersed in a whole new world I knew little about. Feiring’s book explains all the terminology of the varying ways of “natural” a wine can be while imparting massive amounts of wine-making knowledge in a slim, attractive book. Much like JGV, she explains complicated procedures simply, and often humorously.
She breaks down myths and misconceptions about natural wines, and all wines really, with succinct explanations of color, scent and appearance. Feiring, the exact opposite of a wine snob, gives you more than enough knowledge to start your exploration of this hot trend with hundreds of years of history. A brief list of wineries and retail outlets is included in the book. Although none are Maryland based, consider this an addendum: Fadensonnen has a solid natural wine list and hosts events with local wineries, such as Old Westminster in Carroll County. And Hampden’s Wine Source is but one market to start your natural wine journey.
Twenty years after JGV began to make his mark, a teenage chef in Denmark started the the same trek. By the time he was in his mid-20s, René Redzipi had opened Noma, which would soon become famous as the best restaurant in the world, putting Nordic cuisine on the map. Redzipi’s story, “Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping and Risking It All with the Greatest Chef in the World,” is relayed by journalist Jeff Gordinier. While this gives more distance than “JGV,” there is at least as much, if not more, passion portrayed. At the time of the writing, Redzipi was getting restless with Noma and traveling the world with his manifesto of hyperlocal ingredients, prepared in highly imaginative ways.
Gordinier not only scores the coveted Noma reservation, he travels to Australia and Mexico, as Redzipi opens short-lived pop-up restaurants in Sydney and Tulum before returning to Copenhagen and reimagining it all. Both chefs make me envious of their energy. I found the contrast between the cultural influences striking. JGV unapologetically makes Thai food with a French twist for well-heeled New Yorkers, while Redzipi agonizes about the optics of a destination meal with a $600 price tag in a poor part of the Mexican jungle. Both of these highly readable biographies will inspire you to cook, eat, travel and imagine who our next culinary magician might be.