“The closer your cooking stays to the seasons, the simpler–and better–your cooking will be.” Michael Chiarello’s mom told him that as he stood beside her at the stove, learning what a real Italian tomato sauce looks, smells, and sounds like as it cooks. Those lessons led him into the chef’s life and his own restaurant in the heart of California’s wine country, Tra Vigne. So it should come as no surprise that the subtitle of his lush cookbook, The Tra Vigne Cookbook is Seasons in the California Wine Country. And such is the organizing principle. Not only are the sections of the book divided into the four seasons, but the subsets include four ingredients key to each season: asparagus or garlic in spring, for example, or mushrooms and eggplant in fall.
Chiarello describes his own cooking style as “combining spectacular ingredients, professional technique, and imaginative presentations.” He shows how to take this into your own home kitchen, in word and technique. A lot of the exceptional flavors he is able to muster come from the flavor enhancers he has put up in his pantry through the seasons–the flavored olives, the dried figs. To read his section on the pantry is to yearn for a dark, cool basement. “Take the time when you have it in order to reap the rewards later when you don’t,” Chiarello encourages.
The Tra Vigne Cookbook is a carefully layered dish of family reminiscence, tech tips, master recipes, and heartfelt yearnings for the seasons and the way they pass outside the windows of a country restaurant, the way they feel on the skin, the way they taste and smell. It’s about attitude. Chiarello grabs it all and makes it accessible. The Tra Vigne Cookbook is a large-format, elegant book you will want to leave open on the table to flip through. Let your attention get caught up in it and carried away. Chiarello stays with the seasons, and his accomplishment is simpler and better as a result. And therein lies a world of glorious, flavorful complexity. –Schuyler Ingle