Review: Jonathan Waxman’s “Italian, My Way”

When foodies talk about chefs they speak in hushed tones about the likes of Mario Batali, Emeril Legasse and Todd English.  When those chefs get together they speak in hushed tones about chefs like Daniel Boulud, Jacques Pépin and Jonathan Waxman.

Johnathon WaxmanChef Jonathan Waxman is one of the all time great American chefs hailing from the “Provence of the US,” Northern California.  But Waxman’s early days were spent chasing the rock and roll dream (been there) relying on his trusty trombone to lead him to fame and fortune (done that).  Eventually he gave up his dreams of rock stardom in lieu of becoming a chef (got the T-shirt).

When many think of Waxman they think of the French trained chef that helped define California Cuisine as the executive chef of Alice Water’s famed Chez Panisse in Berkley.  But it wasn’t until 1979 that people began to realize his brilliance.  That was when he left Water’s tutelage to open Michael’s Restaurant in Santa Monica.

Soon the accolades came flooding in and it didn’t take long for Waxman to move to the bright lights of New York.  It is there that he opened Jams Restaurant on East 79th Street and it has since been followed by Bud’s, Hulot’s, Jams of London and Table 29.

Through the years Waxman has played mentor to dozens, perhaps hundreds of young chefs including Iron Chef Bobby Flay.  Flay worked the line at both Bud and Jams and it was Waxman who first introduced the young chef to Southwestern Cuisine.  Flay says of his mentor, “Jonathan Waxman was the first person to teach me what good food was.”

So it came as some surprise to me that Jonathan Waxman, master of California Cuisine and a pioneer of Southwestern had just published a cookbook of Italian recipes entitled Italian, My Way: More Than 150 Simple and Inspired Recipes That Breathe New Life into Italian Classics (available at amazon).

So I got a review copy from the publisher and decided to take it for a spin around the block.  First thing you see on the cover are the words, “Forward by Tom Colicchio.”  Man, if Colicchio is writing your foreword it is a testament to the regard other chefs of caliber hold you in.

If you are one of those people that simply cannot stand a cookbook that is not overflowing with brilliant and colorful food porn then this is not the book for you.  If you love innovative recipes from someone who is truly one of the great cooks of our generation then saunter on over to amazon and order a copy.

Not that there are no pictures.  There are a few, mostly in black and white and crafted in an artistic, almost nostalgic format, like looking through an old photo album with your 90 year old Sicilian grandmother.

But the heart and soul of every cookbook are the recipes and Waxman has put together 150 where he re-imagines classic Italian cuisine.  Nothing drastic, mind you, the chef simply applies the spirit of Italy to the ingredients found stateside.  Take for instance this little gem:

: Hanger Steak with Salsa Piccante
  • 1 24-ounce hanger steak
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 sweet onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 Hatch or red Fresno chilies
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamico
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Trim steak and season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Bring it to room temperature.
  3. To make the salsa: Put the garlic, onion, chilies and olive oil into a cast-iron skillet. Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, deglaze with the balsamico and then puree everything in a food processor fitted with a metal blade until chunky.
  4. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Sear the hanger until dark mahogany in color and crispy on all sides – this takes vigilance, but only about 8 minutes total. Hanger should be rare to medium-rare. Let the steak rest for 5 minutes, then slice.
  5. Serve with salsa.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4-6

Meal type: supper

Culinary tradition: Italian

 

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
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2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
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2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
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