SUPERCHEFS by Karen Gantz Zahler

WHO IS AMERICA’S NEW ROYALTY?  Why, it’s the superchefs!

The author of SUPERCHEFS is Karen Gantz Zahler, an entertaining lawyer and literary agent who is trained in classic French culinary techniques and the author of an earlier book TASTE OF NEW YORK which sold over 50,000 copies.

Explain the publishers, “In researching SUPERCHEFS Karen Gantz Zahler worked alongside the chefs who command the kitchens of many of America’s top restaurants.  She quickly mastered their recipes and preparation secrets, then adopted their magic for home cooks.

What an undertaking! Some time ago, I had the idea of writing a series of articles about famous chefs – not necessarily those operating in famous restaurants today–but tracing some of the  famous chefs, some long gone, and their careers. I think the idea first came to me when I began collecting and reading about Chef Louis Szathmary (who I have written about on this blog) but the idea was a bit overwhelming so I put it on a back burner and only tackled a few chefs of long ago. Meanwhile, Katen Gantz Zahler has managed to put an entire fabulous cookbook together, honoring seventy-five of today’s well known chefs, including Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse and Jimmy Schmidt.

“SUPERCHEFS was written” says the author “Because TASTE OF NEW YORK had such a broad group of fans who wanted to recreate signature recipes in their homes…”

Karen explains in the PREFACE to SUPERCHEFS “Today’s American chefs have brought North America decisively into the global culinary arena. Their cross-cultural heritages enables them to use the best aspects of classic and ethnic cooking and blend them with American regional ingredients to creative a distinctive cuisine…”

Karen credits the coming of age of American cuisine to people from all parts of the world, immigrants who have brought with them exotic approaches to cooking. She notes that the Immigration Act of 1990 brought an explosion of immigrants, especially Chinese, Southeast Asian, Russian, South American and Indian.  (FYI– The Immigration Act of 1990, enacted November 29, 1990) increased the limits on legal immigration to the United States, revised all grounds for exclusion and deportation, authorized temporary protected status to aliens of designated countries, revised and established new nonimmigrant admission categories, revised and extended the Visa Waiver Pilot Program, and revised naturalization authority and requirements).

Karen says that these waves of immigration explain why our relationship to tradition is different from that of other classic cuisines and that even though many contemporary American chefs are trained in French culinary techniques, “they depart from those Eurocentric models and borrow freely elsewhere to create distinctive American dishes that have won universal acceptance…”

The author believes that today’s American food “reflects our changing sense of culture identity” and that “Classical relationships between foods and sauces are no longer rigidly observed. There are new different ways to combining foods…”

Karen explains that “The great chefs in SUPERCHEFS excel at crossing those boundaries, while still respecting the integrity of the food…”

She says that the genius of the contemporary superchef is knowing just how far to go with their experimentation. “Innovative American chefs also present food in new flavorful ways,” she writes.

“The American chefs’ approach is clearly global. The absence of boundaries and the blending of influences create fusion cooking at its best,” states the author. She also notes that American farmers cater to today’s more discerning food market.

Writes Karen, “the wild mushroom industry now racks up $50 million in annual sales. Chanterelles and white truffles are a boon for Oregon foragers. Washington State provides our woodsy conical morels. Lobsters are spawned in   Maine. Kiwis once imported form New Zealand are bountiful in California, as I that beautiful Mediterranean thistle, the artichoke. Duck ranchers in New York’s Catskill mountains and Hudson Valley, as well as California’s Sonoma Valley, produce a rich yet tender foie gras…”

“Chefs of the nineties,” says Karen, “long confined to behind-the-scenes roles, are increasingly escaping not only their profession’s traditional mold but their kitchens as well. Many own and manage several restaurants, shuttling back and forth. They write cookbooks, demonstrate recipes on their own television programs, organize cooking schools and promote products. Some even lecture at colleges and make celebrity appearances in television commercials. They have gone far beyond simply being chefs to being superchefs and superstars…”

The author says that, a few years ago, when she wrote TASTE OF NEW YORK (subtitled Signature Dishes of the Best Restaurants) “to unlock the closely guarded secrets of New York’s star chefs and share them with readers and culinary enthusiasts” she had the privilege of cooking with the great chefs who appeared in the book.  It provided the inspiration to go “national with m culinary adventure to share with you the techniques of North America’s most renowned contemporary chefs…:

And what recipes!  Whether Citrus Crusted Shrimp with Ginger and Bourbon or Cream of Potato soup with Avocado, Chicken, and Corn, – Grilled Scallop Salad with Frizzled Tortillas or Crispy Roast Chicken with Wild Mushroom Hash…SUPERCHEFS is packed with mouth-watering recipes. Another small, but significant feature are the sidebars accompanying many of the recipes, telling us something about the superchef who created it.

Along with a wide assortment of superchef recipes is a list of all the superchefs and their respective restaurants.

I’d like to add that—in 1999 I didn’t even have cable. We didn’t sign up for Direct TV until 2008 when Bob & I moved to the high desert of the Antelope Valley – where you can’t get ANY kind of TV reception without some kind of cable network subscription…so its only been in the past four years that I have really become acquainted with the Food Network and all of the different programs, such as “CHOPPED” which enabled me to become familiar with what restaurant chefs are producing today. I am enchanted with all of the food network programs that introduce us to new superchefs!

SUPERCHEFS is lavishly photographed by Susan Goldman.  This is a large softcover cookbook which in 1999 sold for $19.95.  I found it listed on Amazon.com starting at one cent for a pre-owned copy and listed at $5.25 for a new hardcover edition.  Alibris.com has copies starting at 99c.

–review by Sandra Lee Smith

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