One of the great benefits of travel is the chance to eat locally--wherever in the world that may be. The Fire Island Cookbook (Atria, $30), then, is the perfect vehicle for Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, better knows as the World Wine Guys. Over the years, they’ve managed to explore--and report on--seemingly every corner of the planet, and it’s clear from this beautiful edition that their travels have added up to an excellent food and drink education.
The book is divided into concise chapters, each one of which is based around a specific theme for a meal, and includes all the recipes and pairings you’ll need to pull it off. From the Rainy Day French Menu (chicken liver pâté, Provençal black olive and onion tart, beef bourignon, and more) to the more exotic thrills of Mykonos by Torchlight (including feta baked in a puff pastry and rosemary-rubbed leg of lamb), each chapter is intuitively constructed for both easy reference and use. These are the kind of dishes, in other words, that are both high-impact and far easier to pull off than guests will likely ever suppose.
That rosemary-rubbed lamb, for example, is punched up with a tomato-eggplant caponata that lends both greater depth and a sense of mystery to the meat. The recipe also comes with an explanation that, though this is generally thought to be an Italian dish, it’s not quite that simple. “This is a version of a Sicilian dish that Mike’s grandmother, Paolina DiBella Termini, always made for holidays...” the authors explain. “Travel has taught him that the food of Sicily has much more in common with Greek cuisine than with typical Italian-American fare.” It’s a deeply important point that most of us would never learn about, or even consider: The education contained in this cookbook is conveyed with a light, personal touch.
In terms of the wine suggestions, it should perhaps be expected that authors knows as the World Wine Guys should be adept in this department. What’s most impressive is how they straddle the line between accessibility and interest in their selections. Grilled salt and pepper tuna with zucchini in lemon caper butter is expertly paired with Sartori di Verona, a Garganega-based white that, though unfamiliar to most readers, will instantly win them over, especially in the context of the food itself. Recommendations run the gamut from the familiar (Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc, St. Francis “Old Vines” Zinfandel) to the less so (Gerovassiliou Malagousia, Dominio de Tares Godello). And the options aren’t limited to just wine. Salted chocolate caramel brownies, ambrosial on their own, are lifted into the stratosphere alongside the Buffalo Trace Bourbon that DeSimone and Jenssen smartly suggest.
This, then, is that rare cookbook that will make the casual home cook come off like a pro, and that will re-frame certain dishes--and certainly their liquid accompaniments--even for experienced chefs. It’s a beautiful volume, with evocative photos and thoughtful, intimate writing throughout, but my guess is that most won’t stay all that pristine for long. My review copy, for example, is already dog-eared and food-stained. It is, you could argue, the greatest show of respect a cookbook can ever receive.