Review: The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook
As a child I remember watching evening news footage of what the media referred to as “boat people.” In reality they were Vietnamese and Thai refugees fleeing the violence in their homelands. Whether they were running from the Red Menace, a tyrannical government or just tired of having their rice fields carpet-bombed I do not recall. I do have memories of people on makeshift rafts swamped by waves and Coast Guard choppers and the older generation with their whispered-apprehension about our new neighbors.
A sizable number of those refugees and subsequent generations now call the Gulf Coast home. The trepidation felt by those older and supposedly wiser than me has since been replace by admiration. Sure the newcomers look different and their native language is . . . well, foreign, but they have an amazing work ethic and if there is one thing folks on the Third Coast appreciate it is hard work. Plus their food is exciting!
Though a wok cooker-er from way back, I have done very little with Asian food professionally. Recently, I had decided to make chicken lollipops with a Thai peanut sauce for a catering job. I tried to duplicate flavors I had experienced at some of the great Thai restaurants in the area. It tasted right to me, the rest of the staff loved it but I was still worried. What if an expert on Thai food were at the wedding? Each time I do a job like this my reputation as a chef is on the line. I had to make sure my Thai peanut sauce was right so I whipped out my laptop and shot a quick Tweet to Jaden Hair. In less than 140 characters she let me know I had it right.
It isn’t often that I get to review the work of someone I consider a friend. Consequently I always worry that I can aptly separate friendship from the task at hand. In this case, however, I do not have to. When great chefs like Martin Yan and Ming Tsai praise the Steamy Kitchen Cookbook then I can rest assured that the recipes are technically sound. And when renowned food writers like the Washington Post’s Kim O’Donnel and Michael Ruhlman give it their approval then is it safe to say the prose is sound as well.
So with objectivity no longer an issue I’ll jump right to what I love about Jaden’s book. It teaches while it entertains. Though Jaden was born in Hong Kong, the is not a Chinese cookbook, it is an Asian cookbook featuring flavors from Korea, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and yes, China.
One lesson is that different cultures in Asia have vastly different cuisines. Japanese is not Chinese. Chinese isn’t Korean. Another lesson that all Americans need to learn is that stuff on the steam table at the Red Dragon Buffet is far from being Chinese food. It is American food.
The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook has 101 authentic or inspired Asian recipes. It also boasts the most entertaining cookbook introduction I have ever read. Damned clever, in fact. And for you picture gawkers, Jaden is big into food porn, too. Quite the accomplished food photographer, she has packed the 160 pages of the book with tons photos bursting with color and allure.
Jaden makes her home in the Tampa area with her husband, kids and a covey of culinary cohorts. She can be seen working her gastronomic magic on TV shows like the nationally syndicated Daytime TV Show and NBC’s Today Show. You can also just drop by the blog that started the whole Steamy Empire by clicking HERE. Oh, yeah, buy the frickin’ book!