Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes
Southern Living/Time Inc. Books, 2018
Over the past couple of years, with food trends moving faster than you can try them, the culinary world has finally given some much-deserved attention to African-American cooking or what we’ll call “soul food”, even though the African diaspora goes far beyond the south, and not all of the traditional ingredients we think of under this umbrella term even originate in Africa. And with traditional ingredients comes the expectation of traditional preparations even though those ingredients can be used in many different ways that nobody would recognize as soul food at all.
In Soul, Atlanta-based Chef Todd Richards takes the traditional ingredients of southern cuisine and cooks up not only the traditional soul food dishes he grew up on, but uses his training and love of other cuisines to take those ingredients even further. He has even arranged his cookbook by ingredient in order to demonstrate the versatility of things like collards, lamb, stone fruit, roots, beans and rice, and more.
In the section on collards, for instance, he offers a recipe for collard greens with smoked ham hock, and pickled collard greens, but then goes on to use collards for pesto, in place of lettuce in a sandwich with bacon and a fried egg, and in fried rice. Collard Greens Ramen combines Japanese noodles with the greens and ham recipe plus the pickled stems offered earlier in the chapter. When discussing corn he moves from the much-loved corn bread to grits to a grits-based souffle.
Richards understands and shares his knowledge about varieties in the chapter on onions, explaining how different types of onion have different uses and flavours, and this is reflected in the recipes throughout the book. Suggested menus included in each chapter offer ideas on how to combine dishes for maximum impact. He also pushes boundaries with some combinations that will make your jaw drop such as Smoked Duck Breast with Brandied Cherries, Pound Cake and Whipped Cream. When you think about that, of COURSE it’s going to taste awesome. But it’s definitely not traditional southern cooking.
While many recipes are straightforward and simple, Richards does get cheffy with some dishes; the duck and pound cake recipe mentioned above requires the reader to refer to and make five different recipes (a brine, a rub, the pound cake, the brandied cherries, and smoked potatoes) to be used as ingredients before starting on the duck.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. Richards obviously loves creating ingredient-focused dishes and you can clearly see his respect for the variety, seasonality, and terroir of the ingredients he works with, as well as his enthusiasm for the food of the south and the potential it has to be high-end as well as casual in its handling.
Usability: Very good. I’m reviewing this from a pdf so I can’t say how Soul would pass the kitchen counter test, as I don’t know the dimensions. Fonts are clear and appear to be a good size in relation to the page. Directions are numbered but do not have a line break. Ingredients are mostly accessible, although Richards does include some dishes with oysters, quail’s eggs, and sea urchin, which might make things pricey. Measurements are in imperial units but there is a metric conversion chart at the back.
With thanks to Southern Living, Time Inc. Books, and NetGalley, this book was reviewed from an Advance Reader Copy and may not include exactly the same content or format when published.