Ever wonder what the chefs and owners of elegant restaurants eat in real life, whether the staff feasts on foie gras or is left to consume the portions that pampered patrons pass up? David Waltuck, chef/owner of Chanterelle, still trendy after 20 years and one of New York's gastronomic jewels, answers those questions as he invites us to the family meals he cooks and shares with his entire staff every day before the restaurant opens its doors. Staff Meals from Chanterelle Cookbook, written with Melicia Phillips, has over 200 recipes for the hearty soups, slow-simmered stews, stir-fries, roasts, seafood, pasta, salads, dressings and desserts that sustain the restaurant's close-knit team during long, strenuous hours of work. This is not fancy four-star fare. Though many of the dishes are international in origin, most of them are unfussy and satisfying, the kind of straightforward food that has fueled families for generations paprika-spiked Pork Goulash, succulent Short Ribs Braised in Beer, Chicken Gumbo served over Cornmeal-Onion Biscuits and now fit the needs of our time-challenged schedules. Waltuck's recipes are easy-to-follow, and his prep steps unusually thorough. Now we can all sit down to a savory staff dinner without having to serve, bus, sauté or truss.

SIMPLY SPECTACULAR
When Mark Bittman, a.k.a. The Minimalist and author of 
How to Cook Everything, one of the best cookbooks in recent years, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, four-star chef and restaurateur, team up they form a simply spectacular culinary combo. Their latest joint venture, aptly titled Simple to Spectacular: How to Take One Basic Recipe to Four Levels of Sophistication , takes the recipe-and-variation format to new heights. These aren't the add-on alternatives so often found as sidebars or after-thoughts; these variations are part of the main event. Remember, these two great cooks have very different styles Mark, the patron saint of simplicity, likes to strip recipes down to make them easy for a simple cook in a simple kitchen. Jean-Georges is always looking for ways to enhance recipes and bring them up to his multi-starred standards. Here, we're offered the best of both: there are 50 groupings of five recipes; each grouping starts with the basic dish the creative springboard then four, increasingly complex and sophisticated variations follow, all based on the same techniques you've seen in the first. Slow-cooked salmon, sprinkled with parsley and capers a true Bittman bonanza takes on tempting Thai tastes with crunchy lemongrass, classic French flavor with herbs, mushrooms and tomato fondue and finally becomes a most elegant entree topped with coriander-scented mussels. The 250 recipes in these sensational scenarios cover the gastronomic gamut from soups to desserts, demonstrating how well this dynamic dining room duo balances innovation with careful instruction, and pleasing ease with the joy and excitement of experimentation.

ISLANDS IN THE SUN
The glory that was Greece can be seen in superb sculpture, ceramics and temples, but the glory that is Greece can not only be seen, it can be tasted. And the mythic islands that dot the wine dark Aegean and Ionian Seas are the perfect place to taste simple and sophisticated Greek food, with flavors as bold and bright as the sun-splashed white houses perched on their rocky cliffs. The next best thing to sitting in a taverna, sipping ouzo while you wait for your Shrimp Baked in Tomato Sauce with Feta, is The Foods of the Greek Islands, Aglaia Kremezi's tribute to Cooking and Culture at the Crossroads of the Mediterranean. Ms. Kremezi, an authority on Greek food, journalist and photographer (she took all the lovely photos included), spent eight years collecting thousands of recipes from island cooks who have inherited them from generations past. For her book, she selected dishes that can be made successfully in American home kitchens and serves them to us sauced with history and tradition. That makes it an ideal gift for armchair cooks, who can browse through these pages imagining themselves in Odysseus' rugged Ithaca eating Grilled Bonito Steaks with Garlic and Lemon or at a Greek Easter dinner, savoring a fragrant, tender Leg of Lamb stuffed with Greens and Feta. Hands-on cooks can make those dishes for friends and family as well as exotically-spiced Cephalonian Meat Pie, Chicken Baked with Orzo, tiny pear-shaped Tangerine-Scented Almond Cookies and so much more. This is true ticketless travel.

Sybil Pratt has been cooking up this column for more than five years.

 

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