Imagine a book on cooking that not only contains impeccable recipes, but also has dialog on the goings-on in the day-to-day operation of an innovative restaurant. Now mix 2 parts classical French cooking, one part down-on-the farm cooking and handful or two of kitchen chaos, bake between 141 pages until golden brown and Patina by Joachim Splichal is what emerges. Another slant, you need? How about Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential on lots of red wine and laden with stellar recipes. Most striking within Patina's pages is the complex and elaborate detail that most, if not all, of the recipes are described. Some transcend mere household cookery, no doubt. Others are so far beyond what we could do at home, they make for a good bedtime story for your burgeoning gastronome. However, the color in which the book is painted, interlacing the rigors of restaurant work, the quotable insight from Splichal himself and vignettes on his fanciful fare make Patina a worthwhile read. If, for nothing else, just to say "you got" the Sweetbreads Club Sandwich.
At first glance, Patina struck me as yet another companion book to any given hoity chef-plays-celeb for a week. And for that, I am remorseful. Sure, there is the standard break down we come to expect from book fare the appetizers, soups, meats, main courses, desserts and the like. But rather than launch into so much as a crumb of recipe jargon and "I do this& I do that& they love my food because&" we are whisked away to the Los Angeles produce market at 5:30 in the morning for the chef's perspective. While we can imagine the rigors he puts his vendors through to deliver the goods, it is refreshing to blend the origins of the recipes and the food for the recipes from inception. Well, the market, anyhow. The remainder of the book follows the same path. The prep cooks share the pages with their charge as does the pastry department, utility staff and line cooks. As the day progresses, we are transfixed, rather by design, not only on what the cooks and crew are doing, but by what exactly they are preparing for their respective responsibilities. Alas, enter the food. Patina is subtitled, and rightfully so, "Spuds, Truffles and Wild Gnocchi" which really underscores the story that is trying to get out. Each item, on its own has meaning to each reader. But as an amalgam, there is a very complex, perhaps unsettling picture. Potatoes hearken to the common folk, the fruit of the earth, a mainstay. Truffles, to the contrary, are elusive, exotic and are shrouded in mystery. Wild gnocchi, well that certainly throws a wrench right at the monkey. So, together there is comfort and upset all in one turn.
Splichal does well to expound on his recipes. I say expound rather than 'allay fear' because there certainly exists preparations that invoke fear in this cook. There are many recipe confabulations that run over onto the second page. And just about every morsel in every recipe has special handling and elaborate assembly. But something like "Everything from a Rabbit with Polenta Gnocchi and Zucchini Mousse" should be that complex. This is not mom's tattered copy of Meals in 30-minutes or Less. Mind you, there is real food in these pages. The selection of ingredients certainly shine, without a lot of hard-to-find components. Rather, Splichal's innovation, by his own admission, is from taking well-rehearsed classics and twisting them. You or I might twist Buffalo Wings by dabbing some sauce other than Tobassco and butter on them. Splichal does his thing by giving us "Chicken Wings with Unorthodox Chopped Liver". Unorthodox, indeed. Page after page goes on this way.
The poignant photography puts an exclamation point of Chef Splichal's mission. Some barely discernable black and whites garnishing a page or two amongst the larger than life details of fish scales and mushroom stems are a throwback to some PBS special, but it works well to dictate what is really happening at that particular time and place for which we are involved. Just as Patina works to throw you back into the glory of magnificent food without scavenging the earth for some unknown ingredient, Splichal does the same in 141 pages by originating food that we long for only we did not know we wanted it until now!