Photos by Deborah Jones
Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller and company's latest cookbook has just been published and it is his most accessible and warmest book in that it presents food that is quintessentially American, meatballs and noodles, fried chicken, ice cream sandwiches and pineapple upside down cake. It's also a book that should appeal especially to home cooks. Thomas speaks to what he thinks are the most important kitchen issues facing home cooks, such as how to organize your space, the tools that are important.
As I was typing the last sentence, and generally trying to gather my thoughts, an email from Thomas dropped, congratulating everyone. The book is number 7 on the New York Times bestseller list. Fifty-dollar fatties often dismissed as coffee table decor don't typically make that list. That says a lot about the book's immediate appeal!
Yes, I love the food in this book. The fried chicken recipe has changed the way I see all brines. I love cool new techniques the Ad Hoc team has come up with, like the potato pavé (above); the potatoes are cut thin, cooked like scalloped potatoes, cooled and then cut into "pavés" that are fried on their sliced or crenelated side, making them especially crispy.
Writers for the LATimes and Wall Street Journal have been a tad churlish when they came across recipes that took them a long time [editorial intrusion.. LATimes food editor Russ Parsons took me to task in an email for my use of churlish; he's right—is he ever wrong?! not that I'm aware of! seriously!—churlish was indeed inexact…I was reacting not to the criticism so much as the notion that anything that takes time is ipso facto not home cooking, which is what the book bills itself as…this is the kind of thing that happens when there's no copy editor to ask questions of the writer, and I should have been more precise, thoughtful, etc., but this certainly has given me an idea for a future rant about quick and easy…] Well, yes, some recipes do take time, even homey ones (and that time, I would add, is part of their deliciousness). But there are others that are delicious and easier than you'd expect from Keller (such as marinated strip steak, cod with parsley, cornish hens, blueberry cobbler and apple fritters), because sometimes quick and easy is exactly what you want.
But what I want to do here, because I can, is to call attention to the non-Thomases who made this book happen who don't typically get much attention. I'm thrilled that they put a group shot in the book, because these big books are truly group efforts.
David Hughes, of Level Design in St. Helena, is responsible for the cover illustration and the easy warm visual tone throughout the book. He set a great stage for the photography and recipes.
Dave Cruz is the chef de cuisine of Ad Hoc. He's the one I worked most closely with when writing the headnotes for the recipes. He is an enormously thoughtful, curious, articulate chef—really impressive and I felt lucky to be working with him so closely.
Susie Heller is the woman who develops, tests and makes sure all the recipes work in book form, with her right arm, Amy Vogler; these two labored with Dave Cruz and Thomas and other chefs from Ad Hoc in Susie's home on every single recipe, a painstaking, critically important job.
And I never have the right words to completely describe the excellence Deborah Jones brings to the photography. She always makes the point that it's her good fortune to work with such talented chefs. True enough, but the chefs typically refer to her with the prefix "the amazing." Hard to disagree.
The French Laundry Cookbook was where it all began for me, and I'm nostalgic for that one, but this Ad Hoc at Home is surely the most valuable of Keller's cookbooks for the home cook. It's out of the park.
Here's the team—each one deserves individual congratulations. Clockwise from the bottom left: in black, the amazing Deborah Jones, David Hughes the designer, Dave Cruz, Ad Hoc chef de cusine, Jeff Cerciello director of casual dining for Keller's restaurants (and lead chef on Bouchon), me, Amy Vogler, Thomas Keller, Susie Heller (and Thomas's dad's dog, Aussie). No writer was ever more lucky than I to work with such pros.
Excellent NPR profile of Keller: "Skippy [peanut butter] is really that flavor profile I'm looking for"
Kim Severson's profile of Keller in the NYTimes, discussing his relationship with his dad, from whom he was estranged for years but with whom he shared a deep and affectionate relationship late in his dad's life.
(And if you're in Cleveland, don't forget to see Thomas at the Fabulous Food Show. Thomas and I will be on stage for a conversation on food and cooking Friday at 7 pm. I'll be back the following day to sing the gospel of Ratios, Saturday at 2:45, and Michael Symon will be doing food from HIS new book Saturday and Sunday. See the complete schedule of all the chefs here.)
Update: Here's the video made by the publisher of Thomas talking about the kind of food that's in the book: