Good Stock, Life on a Low Simmer, by Sanford D'Amato. A memoir, with recipes

Good Stock, Life on a Low Simmer, by Sanford D’Amato. A memoir, with recipes

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Sanford D’Amato’s Good Stock: Life on a Slow Simmer. It is, in short, a memoir with recipes. Not something I’d seen before, but it really works well with this book and I predict more of this kind of book in the future. Each chapter ends with a selection of sensational recipes that relate to that particular chapter. What a great combination.

Strictly from an aesthetic point of view, this is a beautiful book, hardcover and incredible food photography in color by Kevin Miyazaki. No dust cover and it lies flat nicely so you can follow a recipe you are making from it.

Sandford D’Amato grew up and worked in what he calls the era before Food Network. He is not a celebrity chef. Except he actually is, among other chefs, the highest form of praise. Once I got into the book, I couldn’t put it down. This is not a tell-all Anthony Bourdain type memoir (and I love Anthony Bourdain). It the words of a very humble man who happens to have started out in an Italian family who owned a grocery store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not exactly a town we think of when we think culinary mecca. He is close to my age and I really related to his descriptions of how life used to be.

Small grocery stores, bakeries, butcher shops. Shopkeepers knowing their customers and catering to them. The Sanford grocery store opened by his grandfather and passed on to his father, must have been a wonderful place for a child in those nostalgic times. For those who do not remember such things, the chapters on D’Amato’s childhood, the first three, will give you a wonderful glimpse into a bygone era. And the recipes are mouth watering, from Fennel Sausage Lasagna to Sweet-Sour German Potato Salat (which is to die for) to his surly grandfather’s Braciola to Tart Cherry Lattice Pie to Charred Corn, Zucchini, and Mussel Soup. And all these recipes have a story.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is D’Amato’s journey to the Culinary Institute of America and his early life as a chef afterward, ending with him being one of the first non-French chefs to be hired by a French restaurant in New York City. At that time, New York City really was the culinary epicenter of the United States. Back then, fine dining was defined by French restaurants, owned and manned by Frenchmen. Frenchmen only, it turns out.

He was a member of the first Culinary Institute of America class after they moved to Hyde Park, New York. There he learned that he had to be aggressive to get ahead and noticed. D’Amato was a polite midwestern kid, not used to the New York atmosphere. But, he quickly figured it out and acquired an important mentor, Peter van Erp, an eccentric but brilliant chef instructor. In those days, instructors had side businesses catering or other food related endeavors. van Erp was one of the “chosen” instructors, you didn’t ask to work with him, you hoped he would ask you. And he asked D’Amato. He could see the potential in this young, green around the ears, budding chef. D’Amato helped him cook (and do anything else required) for an exclusive, private club in Pawling, New York, called the Dutchess Valley Rod and Gun Club. After graduation, he was honored to be a fellow under van Erp in the school’s main restaurant, the Escoffier Room. A couple of the recipes from this time of  the young chef’s life: Fermented Black Bean Clams with Spicy Salami and Ginger and Maple-Glazed Duck with Burnt Orange Vinaigrette, both of these have my mouth watering.

The book moves on to his early days as a chef in New York City, culminating in landing a job at a French restaurant, a rare thing in those days, and becoming accepted by the French . He tells about his crowning glory in opening his restaurant, with his wife Angie, Sanford, in the grocery store his grandfather and father owned in Milwaukee. They even lived upstairs from the restaurant for a long time. Anyone contemplating opening a restaurant must read this account of what it is really like, even for a chef with a great reputation. It is not easy and you will work your butt off. Sanford turned out to be Milwaukee’s best restaurant and brought the chef many accolades, among them James Beard award nominations and eventual win and being selected to be one of the cooks to prepare Julia Childs’ 80th birthday dinner.

The most important thing about this book is learning a philosophy of life, as exemplified by Sanford D’Amato’s life and the path he travelled to become one of America’s greatest chefs. I highly recommend this book, even if you don’t cook, but those recipes beckon to me, everything from sweets to entrees.

Book info:
Good Stock: Life on a Slow Simmer
by Sandford D’Amato
2013, Agate Midway, ISBN 978-1-57284-150-5, $35.00 list
Get it at amazon.com for $26.07


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