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Now reading Can You Cook Like Tartine At Home?

Can You Cook Like Tartine At Home?

Paula Forbes reviews the new Tartine cookbook.

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Restaurant kitchens and home kitchens are two different beasts. Recipes of one variety do not translate easily to the other. Restaurant recipes tend to call for big batches of prep work (sauces, rubs, garnishes), while home cooks may roll their eyes at sub recipes. Recipes for home kitchens champion one-pot methods, while the scale of a restaurant allows for each vegetable to be cooked separately to perfection. Neither approach is better or worse—each just makes more sense in its context.

Because of this divide, I hesitate to reach for cookbooks in which chefs cook at home. Chefs often bristle at the apparent confines of home cooking: the perceived lack of patience for complex technique, the smaller pantries, the restraints on equipment. Don’t get me wrong: many chefs are excellent home cooks, but if you spend enough time in a restaurant kitchen your conception of what makes for an easy weeknight meal gets a little warped.

I pushed past my hesitation and picked up San Francisco chef Elisabeth Prueitt’s Tartine All Day for several reasons. First, have you seen the cover? If there has been a more gorgeous, more satisfying cookbook cover in the past five years, the book didn’t come across my desk. A deep copper pan with a swirl of blueberry jam, imprinted with delicate silver lettering promising “Modern Recipes for the Home Cook.” I swoon.

The “modern” here means heavy on the vegetables and whole grains, with Mediterranean influences and the occasional indulgent main. There is a lot of ricotta involved, a lot of fresh herbs. Most of the recipes are gluten free—Prueitt is gluten intolerant except for some breads, the delineation of which I am going to just take at her word. Still, it is nice to see this increasingly prevalent dietary restriction presented in the context of an all-purpose cookbook and not relegated to its own specialty volume.

Prueitt and her husband, Chad Robertson, founded Tartine Bakery, Tartine Manufactory, and Tartine Cookies & Cream. Between the two of them, they have also written three cookbooks under the Tartine umbrella: Tartine, Tartine Bread, and Tartine Book No. 3. Tartine All Day makes book four. This is Prueitt’s “collection of recipes that we like to cook every day,” “meant to be a steadfast guide.”

Prueitt promises a familiarity with the wicked barriers to good home cooking: “One café, two restaurants, and one nine-year-old daughter later, and I understand that limitations on time can reduce the family meal to a slapdash event.” This is not to say these are quick and easy dishes—by any means—but rather it’s Prueitt’s way of acknowledging that good food is hard work. If you’re going to sink time into cooking, the results better be worth it. “The effort becomes part of a meal’s pleasure,” she writes, “the experience of transforming ingredients into a sum greater than their parts connects you to the food.”

I tested five recipes from the book. The kuku sabzi, a Persian herb-and-egg dish, was delightful and vibrant, although it proved tricky to flip in the pan. A spring vegetable-packed slaw was a nice accompaniment. An eggplant parm baked on top of a bed of quinoa was a fantastic all-in-one dinner party dish. (And good thing, since I bailed on the garlic bread that was suggested to accompany it after I discovered how elaborate the recipe was.) A tahini-lemon dressing to drizzle over kale and cucumber is an easy keeper, while a ricotta and cornmeal upside-down cake was a bit trickier than expected but turned out flavorful and very moist.

These recipes ranged from incredible easy (tahini dressing) to multistep centerpieces leaning heavily towards the other side of the difficulty spectrum (eggplant parm). More than once I faltered halfway through a recipe when I realized I needed a new pan to steam greens, or yet another bowl to whisk egg whites into soft peaks—by hand, because the recipe already had me use the mixer for other ingredients. In other words, there are places where Prueitt’s chefiness shows. Most of the time, it betters the recipe, but sometimes (say, eight-thirty on a Tuesday night) it’s a bit much.

The book suffers from a touch of what you might call Californiaitis. I am very aware and very jealous of California’s bountiful produce, and I get why so many California-based cookbook authors make good use of it in their recipes. But in my neck of the woods, Texas, vegetables like asparagus and fennel are almost always pricey, many ingredients for a purple salad (stone fruit, peppers, raddichio) are hard to find in the same season, and eggplant season and baking season never overlap. It’s a small thing, but it does push Tartine All Day into special-occasion cooking territory, and makes it a hair less universally accessible.

Prueitt somewhat makes up for this with copious cook’s notes: every manner of substitution is suggested, advance preparation techniques outlined, and storage methods advised. These notes are the true strength of the book, and where readers will learn the most from Prueitt. Following a strict recipe is fine, but you truly learn how to cook when you go off book. These notes are a nudge in the right direction.

Tartine All Day is an invitation into Elisabeth Prueitt’s kitchen: this is how she cooks at home, and her recipes are a combination of home cook practicality with, yes, cheffy flourishes. “There’s no way around it: cooking is work,” writes Prueitt. She’s not wrong, and in my experience cooking with Tartine All Day, the work is worth it. And I look forward to cooking more recipes from it in the future.

But years from now, will it be “stained and dog-eared, appreciated… for the good food it helps to get on the table night after night,” as Prueitt writes? More likely it will be credited for successful dinner parties, filled with shopping and guest lists. In many ways, All Day is the rare cookbook that does manage to bridge the gap between home cooks and restaurant chefs. It just happens to lean a bit more towards the latter. Prueitt’s kitchen is a great place to visit, but, for me at least, it’s not an everyday affair.