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The Book and the Cook’s memorable meals


Pork goulash with caraway spätzle and homemade sauerkraut, ragout of snails with fresh herbs, baby green salad with cold lobster, baked rock oysters with cabbage and bacon, goat cheese ice cream with fresh berries, marvelous creamed spinach and homemade baked beans …

This is just a sampling of the delicious dishes I savored during this year’s Book and the Cook event.

When the Book and the Cook began in 1985, Philadelphians, including myself, never thought it would grow from a small three-day event to a week-long celebration highlighting many of our finest chefs and nationally known cookbook authors. The 19th edition of the Book and the Cook was a success despite our troubling times.

I have covered the event since it began, and each year I enjoy reporting on the delicious dinners.

The first stop was Opus 251, where South Philadelphia chef Anthony Bonett greeted chef Paul Waltuck from New York City’s award-winning Chanterelle. Waltuck brought along his 12-year-old daughter, Sara, who has grown up in the restaurant business and served as hostess for her dad. Waltuck also wrote Staff Meals from Chanterelle, an easy-to-cook-from book that features 200 recipes for dishes his staff enjoys at the restaurant.

I sampled a cool salad of grilled octopus with buttery Boston lettuce and mustard dressing. The pork goulash was absolutely Hungarian in taste and style. My bowl was filled with small chunks of tender braised pork, homemade spätzle with a hint of caraway seeds and piquant sauerkraut. Side dishes of creamed spinach and baked beans arrived on hot plates. The homemade applesauce was chunky and added a slightly sweet contrast for the pork.

As my colleagues and I enjoyed dinner, Bonett came to our table and asked, "Did anyone order the tripe?" Since we didn’t, he sent out a bowl. I was the only one who tasted it, and it was downright delicious. The tripe was braised pepper-pot style, filled with slightly hot spices that added a delicious kick. Moist, cake-like chocolate brownies, jumbo oatmeal cookies and rich homemade vanilla ice cream ended a most satisfying meal.

Last summer, chef Georges Perrier attended a wedding at Le Moulin de Lourmarin, chef Edouard Loubet’s two-star Michelin restaurant in sun-drenched Provence, France. He immediately invited this talented young man to this year’s Book and the Cook. Loubet teamed up with South Philly-born chef Chris Scarduzio at Brasserie Perrier for one of the most unique dinners I ever had.

Homemade breads were served with rich green olive oil from Provence. Our first course was a petit ragout of snails with fresh herbs from Loubet’s garden. The snails, enhanced by heady garlic, were nestled in a soup bowl of stock prepared with rich crème fraîche, white wine and chicken stock. Chopped coriander, mint, parsley and marjoram were used extensively here. Edible flowers and small bundles of herbs were scattered on the plate.

The fish course consisted of sautéed sea scallops with spears of endive prepared tempura-style and enhanced by kaffir lime juice. The citrus sauce was boosted by lemon juice and lemongrass. The tempura batter was light and crisp. Loubet adds club soda to the flour and cornstarch batter.

The filet of beef was a French twist on classic beef Wellington. Individual filet mignons were wrapped in puff pastry and baked in the oven with an assortment of herbs, including exotic mint, rosemary and a handful of others. The sauce was prepared with red wine and beef stock, which imparted a heady flavor. Deep-fried potatoes came with the beef. I could have eaten a dozen of these light, crispy treats.

I never tried ice cream made with goat cheese, but the velvety texture and slight piquancy made for an unusually delicious dessert. Fresh berries came with the ice cream.

The wine flights included Riesling Trimbach from Alsace, Domaine D’Aupillac "Lou Maset" from Languedoc, and a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise Domaine de Duban. (That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?) This dessert wine ended a very unusual dinner.

Chef Ron True, who moved to South Philly last year when he was named chef at Cadence in the Kimmel Center, looked forward to working with Jacques E. Haeringer, author of Two for Tonight: Pure Romance from L’auberge Chez Francois. This romantic restaurant is located in Great Falls, Va. I was delighted to see Cadence filled with people enjoying dinner before the 8 p.m. performance of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Dinner began with a salad of mixed baby greens topped with cool, perfectly cooked sweet lobster claw meat. The vinaigrette was light and in the proper balance of olive oil with lemon juice. In keeping with the classic French mode, I chose rack of lamb, which arrived rare as ordered. True and Haeringer frenched the bones, which allowed for easy eating. My dinner arrived with fresh steamed spinach and a creamy yet toothsome risotto. I sipped a glass of Côtes du Rhône with the lamb.

I also sampled a friend’s seared ahi tuna, which was tasty and not a bit overcooked. Unfortunately for me, the kitchen ran out of profiteroles. I asked for a hot fuge sundae instead.

My culinary travels took me from France to Ireland, where I met Margaret M. Johnson at Tir na Nog. Johnson is the author of The New Irish Table. She and executive chef Scott Larson put together a menu of dishes prepared with several Irish ingredients.

I began dinner with rock oysters topped with grated cabbage, crisp bacon and a light sabayon with Guinness. They were run under the broiler so the cabbage and bacon were hot, yet the oysters retained their silky raw quality.

For my entrée, the roast breast of duck was tender and juicy, and arrived rare. The sauce of dried sour cherries with a hint of balsamic vinegar was unusual but did not mask the duck’s natural flavor. My dinner came with steamed spinach and a gratin of shredded potatoes and parsnips — a marvelous culinary marriage that looked like a kugel. Edward’s filet of beef was enhanced by Cashel blue cheese, artisan-made in Ireland; braised leeks and a rich port sauce. I enjoyed a glass of Pinot Noir with the duck. A warm chocolate soufflé with raspberry coulis and real whipped cream ended our meal.

Three tips of the toque to the Book and the Cook dinners at Opus 251, Brasserie Perrier, Cadence and Tir na Nog.

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