There’s usually reverence on the lips when one speaks of the Philadelphia restaurant renaissance, the circa-1970 heyday of Frog, Friday Saturday Sunday, Astral Plane and Le Bec (the first one), but a new cookbook, Philadelphia Chef’s Table (Lyon Press, Sept. 4), says we’re living, right this very minute, in a second golden age.
“The book’s introduction makes the argument that this era in Philadelphia dining, roughly 1998 to present, starting with Buddakan, Rouge and Vetri, will be recognized as the city’s second restaurant renaissance and is redefining how the country thinks about Philadelphia food,” says author April White.
Subtitled “Extraordinary Recipes from the City of Brotherly Love,” Chef’s Table is the second cookbook from White, who co-authored Jose Garces’ formidable Latin Evolution in 2008 while editing the food section of Philadelphia magazine. She’s now the communications manager for the Food Trust, penning Night Market press releases between testing recipes from Michael Solomonov, Peter Woolsey, Pierre Calmels and other local chefs, 57 in total, for Chef’s Table.
“This book is the closest you can get to having all of the city’s best chefs and bartenders in your kitchen,” says White. “That’s the real ‘why,’ I suppose: This book was an excuse for me to talk food with the city’s best and learn from them and their recipes.”
The chefs’ most popular dishes, ones we’ve all gushed and obsessed and drooled over — what up, Dandelion fish and chips! — preen on the pages, lusciously photographed by Jason Varney. Divided into starters and snacks, soups and salads, pastas, entrees and desserts, the recipes come from a roll call of the some of the city’s best places to eat: Barbuzzo (bruschetta with stracciatella), The Farm and Fisherman (bluefish confit), Han Dynasty (dan dan noodles), Pub and Kitchen (roast chicken with Irish soda biscuits), Franklin Fountain (hot fudge sundae).
Curious how to recreate the rich and briny fisherman’s egg at Bistrot La Minette? It’s in here. Oyster House’s signature oyster stew? That too, along with recipes from sorely missed favorites you might have never tasted again otherwise. Remember James’ pappardelle with duck, chocolate and orange (one of White’s favorites, along with Zahav’s chicken freekeh and Guapos Tacos’s carnitas)? With Chef’s Table, it needn’t just be an ephemeral memory.
“I am so glad I didn’t let Jim Burke get away without sharing that ragu recipe,” says White. And so are we.