From books revealing the secret recipes of Portland's top chefs to essential DIY guides from local cooks, editors from New York to San Francisco are working the 503 area code.

By Karen Brooks December 2, 2013 Published in the December 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Nomad

Hefty tomes from Portland’s top chefs and food thinkers are blending personal stories, iconic dishes, and a DIY ethos. Local food obsessions, from sauces to root vegetables, are growing into award-winning collections. Editors from New York to San Francisco are working the 503 area code. Is there any local chef, food writer, or artisan dreamer not fielding calls or dreaming up the next culinary page-turner? We doubt it. Here are eight recent releases that belong on your kitchen shelf.

Pok Pok

Andy Ricker with JJ Goode, Ten Speed Press, Fall 2013, $35

What’s cooking: Chef Andy Ricker loves Thai food with every molecule of his being, and he wants us to share the joy. As we journey through his stomping grounds, Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Ricker lays down the definitive Thai cooking manual, with backstories to make your heart laugh and photos to make your stomach rumble, plus detailed recipes that provide an edible road map to the addictive funk and fire of his restaurants.

Standout Recipe: Khao man som tam (papaya salad with coconut rice and sweet pork) 

Cooklandia Moment: A tip from a Thai laap mentor for those who balk at raw meat and blood: “It helps to drink a lot of booze first.”

Le Pigeon

Gabriel Rucker and Meredith Erickson with Lauren and Andrew Fortgang, Ten Speed Press, Fall 2013, $40  

What’s cooking: A meat-loving tour through the fantastic imagination of two-time James Beard winner Gabriel Rucker and Le Pigeon’s food and wine culture, with worthy detours through Oregon’s mushroom-foraging cult and the ultimate local cheese case. It’s for the confident cook, not the novice—or the faint of heart—but it’s a great curl-up-in-bed read for anyone, full of crazy genius inspiration.

Standout Recipe: Smoked rabbit pie with cheddar and mustard ice cream

Cooklandia Moment: The best misuse of titular, ever: “Now let’s make the slaw so it has time to soften and get titular while we cook our chops.” 


Diane Morgan, Chronicle Books, Fall 2012, $40 

What’s cooking: While other cooks go the memoir route, veteran cookbook author Diane Morgan digs into roots the old-fashioned textbook way. With encyclopedic precision, arrowheads to yams, the 2013 James Beard winner for “best vegetables focused and vegetarian” cookbook shoots right to the starchy heart of the matter: each entry logged by history, nutrition, buying and storing tips, recipes galore, and a cocktail-table photograph.  

Standout Recipe: Carrot-top pesto 

Cooklandia Moment: In case you missed it ... “I’d like to remind the reader again that the large genus of subterranean buds (Allium) is not included in this book.” 

Modern Sauces

Martha Holmberg, Chronicle Books, Fall 2012, $35 

What’s cooking: Laid-back, user-friendly, and bubbling with take-to-the-grave recipes, this is less a cookbook than a flavor manifesto. Veteran food thinker Martha Holmberg ignores the daunting, labor-intensive sauces no one really wants to eat or make (goodbye, demi-glace!) to focus on accessible taste bud boosters—among them, fresh tomato strategies, globally infused pestos, pared-down classics, caramel wonders, and holiday gravies. 

Standout Recipe: “Steak sauce” hollandaise amped with Worcestershire and Sriracha 

Cooklandia Moment: Holmberg keeps it real with a photo of bug-holed arugula with the pesto treatment.  

Salt Block Cooking

Mark Bitterman, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Spring 2013, $24.99

What’s cooking: If Korean barbecue got a makeover from Chanel, it might look like salt block cooking. This is stone cooking gone glam, and who better to mine the drama and appeal of serving, curing, or baking on a translucent pink Himalayan salt brick than Mark Bitterman, the salient savant behind local salt shop the Meadow. Right now, he owns the territory.      

Standout Recipe: Salt-melted chocolate fondue with crisp bacon

Cooklandia Moment: Best cure for hipster guilt: “Salt blocks can help support hardworking but economically disadvantaged people in a distant land.”  

The Artisan Jewish Deli

Nick Zukin and Michael C. Zusman, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Fall 2013, $27.99

What’s cooking: True deli food is a way of life—of pickles and pastrami, bagel obsessions, and Talmudic recipe debates metamorphosed into truth and soul, Jewish-style. Nick Zukin (cofounder of pastrami temple Kenny & Zuke’s) and Michael C. Zusman (freelance food scribe) plumb this fading universe through family recipes, seasonally reimagined staples, and playful creations from the great-grandchildren of lox-loving immigrants.  

Standout Recipe: Pastrami Benedict

Cooklandia Moment: Grandma, cover your ears: “Pumpernickel is a German word meaning ‘devil’s fart.’”

Toro Bravo

John Gorham and Liz Crain, McSweeney’s, Fall 2013, $35

What’s cooking: On the surface, this is an accessible greatest-hits recipe collection from Toro Bravo, Portland’s farm-happy ode to Spanish food culture, from simple small plates (bacon-wrapped dates) to feed-a-village paellas. But chef John Gorham sets the table with a soul-baring food memoir. There’s plenty of ink devoted to a childhood worthy of several Jerry Springer episodes, shaping the idea that all of life’s journeys help mold the cooks we become.  

Standout Recipe: Radicchio salad with Manzanilla olive tapenade

Cooklandia Moment: The mood kicks in at sentence three: “... my mother, who had me when she was just a teenager....”

Flour Water Salt Yeast

Ken Forkish, Ten Speed Press, Fall 2012, $35 

What’s cooking: Ken Forkish shares his fermentation excitement and exacting formulas for rustic boules, levains, and Neapolitan-style pizzas honed at his celebrated Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Obsessively detailed, full of bread porn and strong storytelling, Forkish’s tome took home James Beard gold (best baking and dessert book, 2013), for good reason. 

Standout Recipe: Field blend # 2 (a dark, earthy wheat/rye loaf, sexier than it sounds)   

Cooklandia Moment: The advent of a “bread flavor complexity scale”

ANOTHER ONE FOR THE LIBRARY: Portland Monthly food editor Karen Brooks is author of The Mighty Gastropolis, a romp through the city’s maverick food scene, with profiles, untold stories, and recipes from rule-breaking chefs, including Andy Ricker, Gabriel Rucker, and John Gorham. The New York Times calls it “the definitive guide to Portland’s scrappy, endlessly inventive food culture.” Karen Brooks with Gideon Bosker and Teri Gelber, Chronicle Books, Winter 2012, $24.95

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