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Chef On A Shoestring By Andrew Friedman.

In a nation filled with fast food, big budgets, and hectic schedules, discovering a cookbook designed to meet the needs of the average customer's demand for gourmet products on an affordable budget seemed impossible. Until now.

Created from CBS's "The Saturday Early Show" cooking segment, Chef on a Shoestring (Simon & Schuster, January 2001) contains more than 120 easy-on-the-budget recipes from America's best chefs.

The weekly television show's segment, which debuted September 13, 1997, features a prominent chef who is given $20 and the task of creating a three-course meal for a family of four. Chef on a Shoestring is a compilation of some of those recipes from more than 50 chefs divided into Finger Foods and Small Plates, Salads, Pasta and Risotto, Poultry, Meats, Sides, and Desserts sections. The book captures the essence of the show, providing readers with shopping tips, recipes, and personalities.

In addition to providing a moral -- it's possible to cook deeply satisfying food on a low budget -- the book also serves a charitable function. All royalties from the purchase of Chef on a Shoestring will be donated to Share Our Strength, an organization fighting hunger and poverty.

The Foundation

Home chefs will find great tips in the book. "Shopping on a Shoestring," presented in the introduction, provides readers with strategic shopping tips. In this section, author Andrew Friedman suggests readers don't overpurchase, buy seasonal ingredients, and be resourceful. An explanation of a well-stocked pantry is also included, prompting readers to keep on hand bay leaves, butter, capers, cornstarch, Dijon mustard, dried herbs and spices, fresh ground pepper, canola oil, olive oil, flour, starches, and sea salt.

A boost for gourmet retailers is the author's urging of readers to purchase the best ingredients such as Arborio rice, couscous, high-quality canned tomatoes, and Modena Balsamic vinegar. At the end of the book are a few basic recipes and techniques, such as how to roast garlic or peel tomatoes. Biographies of each chef are also included.

"Each week, the television segment begins in the food market with the chef shopping for the ingredients, giving tips on what to look for and how to determine what's fresh," Freidman said. "We've kept some of those insights in the book with head-notes before each recipe."

Friedman, who also worked on Alfred Portale's The Twelve Seasons Cookbook, is a former restaurant publicist representing such establishments as Portale's Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City and creating media campaigns for corporate clients such as Starbucks.

When he signed on to author Chef on a Shoestring, the first step in the project was to sort through the more than 300 recipes featured on the show since its inception. Despite the show's unified menu format, Friedman opted to present recipes in the book rather than full menus.

"It allowed me a greater cross-reference of people and styles," he said. "The result is a unique chef cookbook featuring the recipes of sixty chefs whose food runs the gamut from Mexican to Spanish to Contemporary American to Scandinavian to Italian. It does all that within a very modest budget. These recipes are not expensive and they're really not time consuming for the home chef -- which I think is rare when you're dealing with one chef and extremely rare when you're dealing with sixty."

Budget Benefits

Chef on a Shoestring readers will enjoy both professional chefs' exciting innovations and their adaptations of traditional recipes to create budget-conscious dishes. One example is Marcus Samuelsson's Asparagus and Bean Sprout Salad with Dill Pesto.

"Most pesto recipes call for pine nuts. You're not going to buy pine nuts when you're trying to do a menu for less than twenty dollars so Samuelsson uses mixed nuts. On paper it looks odd, but it works," Friedman said. "By reading and using these recipes, I think home chefs will be encouraged to be spontaneous themselves and not feel married to every word in a recipe. These chefs' work will encourage them to experiment."

Executive Chef Jim Botsacos of Molyvos in New York City who agreed said, "I think when home chefs get a look at this book and they see professional chefs cooking these meals on a twenty-dollar budget, it will make them be more creative. It's a challenge."

During his most recent television appearance last October, Botsacos prepared Plaki -- an item from his restaurant menu featuring wild striped bass with caramelized onions, Kalamatta olives, tomatoes, and red wine. For the shoestring budget, Botsacos searched for an alternative fish at market.

"I grew up eating mackerel and they had Spanish mackerel at market. That's how I came up with the idea. It's what I ate as a kid," he said. "I think the best way to create these recipes is to walk through the market and see what's available for that season, then take those ingredients and play with them."

Botsacos' Lemon Garlic Roasted Chicken is featured in the cookbook, another simplified version of a restaurant offering. The headnote for the recipe includes a tip from Botascos to stuff the cavity of the bird with lemons before roasting it very slowly and basting it with lemon juice, olive oil, and oregano.

Friedman reformatted each recipe into a unified style and created the headnotes for each recipe after reviewing his edited version with the chef. He said interviewing the chefs was one of the highlights of his work. Friedman said the timing for conferring with Chef Mario Batali couldn't have been more perfect. Batali was in the midst of opening Lupa in Manhattan and invited Friedman to meet him on the first day the new restaurant served lunch.

"We spent ten minutes talking about the recipes and I was there two hours," Friedman said.

Batali, co-owner and executive chef of three of the most popular Italian restaurants in New York City -- Po, Babbo, and Lupa, signed off on several recipes, including a surprising dessert combination of Peaches with Balsamic Vinegar and Black Pepper. Another of Friedman's favorite recipes is Batali's Pork Scaloppine.

Don Pintabona, executive chef of Tribeca Grill in New York City, created Caramelized Onion, Gorgonzola, and Rosemary Pizza for Chef on a Shoestring, as well as Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs with Smoked Mozzarella and Polenta Lemon Cake with Fresh Berries.

Pintabona appeared on the show twice, once bringing the crew to his Brooklyn home where he created the pizza in his backyard pizza oven. He said the budget-conscious show and cookbook are wonderful venues for professional chefs to communicate with home chefs.

"It shows chefs in a slightly different light. Because of the theme of the show and being on a budget, I think it's less intimidating. No one is throwing foie gras or caviar into the recipes so it's home friendly," Pintabona explained. "I try to attack the menu seasonally to stay within budget. It sounds easy, but it's really challenging when you have to consider every ingredient. Before you know it; there's one more little garnish and it adds up quickly. It's a lot of fun."
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Moran, Michelle
Publication:Gourmet Retailer
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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