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awardJames Beard Award Winner: John Besh, My New Orleans

A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking

My Family Table

by John Besh

Published by Andrews McMeel
Photographs by Maura McEvoy

The author has kindly shared these recipes:

click to see collected chef & cookbook recipes

please read John Besh's "A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking"

There aren't enough superlatives to describe My Family Table. In a season of exceptional cookbooks, My Family Table stands above a dazzling crowd. The recipes are among the best to be found: clearly written and without fuss, their simplicity is based on good ingredients and techniques honed by a master chef who also loves to cook at home. Besh's recipes are not ones that rely on a line-up of bottles, jars and cans.  They are comforting, just as home food should be, but they are elegant.  John Besh is a class act: in My Family Table he does not patronize home cooking, he lifts and celebrates it.  Besh has also penned stories from his own cooking memories.  They are compelling, because they are authentic celebrations of the home cooks who inspired him.

Besh is the owner of seven restaurants, but his plea for home cooking, and it is a heartfelt plea, comes from his own experience of the bonding that happens in the kitchen.  If My Family Table is the only cookbook you buy, you are standing tall, and standing on solid ground. If you have a library of cookbooks, this will be one of your stars, and one of the most used and loved. 

When away from one of his restaurants, Besh shares the kitchen with a wife, a dog, a friend or two, and four active sons who tear in and out of the kitchen, pausing to participate in the kitchen energy and glow. It is a chaos of a different sort than the frenzy of a professional kitchen.   Often, in chef's' books that go from professional to home cooking, the recipes are tossed off as if they bored the chef, but we know that Besh loves cooking at home.  These recipes are not dumbed-down, but written to ensure success, even if the home kitchen is as chaotic as Besh's.   My Family Table spills over with Besh's warmth, with his love of cooking, his joy in reaching out to others to make their dinner tables that much simpler and tastier. 

Besh is aware that recipes for a home kitchen must pare away inessentials. Lavish displays with over-the-top combinations of ingredients, frills, and frou-frous are restaurant food. Home cooking is for dishes so good they enter family lore, for comfort, and for enjoyment of both preparation and eating. Home cooking demands simplicity and freshness, and the most important ingredient of all - technique. Besh gives advice in sidebars, but his techniques are incorporated into the method of preparation.  We are in the hands of a master chef who loves his home.

The first time we shouted bravo (not the last) was in chapter one which Besh calls, "Kitchen Focus," and which gives suggestions for the essential pantry, but also offers master recipes so fear is banished, and every kitchen has variety.  A partial list of the master recipes includes such loved dishes as Risotto of Almost Anything, Creamy Any Vegetable Soup, Simple Meat Ragout, The Perfect Frittata, Curried Anything, Warm Any Fruit Crumble, or Quick Pickled Vegetables.

Besh has also poured his considerable imagination into creating outstanding recipes. Renowned for his understanding of native Louisiana food served in his restaurants and presented in the award-winning My New Orleans, Besh goes further afield when at home, incorporating the tastes we love across the country, the way we like to cook.  His chapters offer ideas for the events of our lives, as well as those rushed non-events when we want to have glorious food without fuss.

Sunday Supper: "Sunday is a time for family and friends, even though it's impossible to distinguish who's family and who's friend. My Sunday supper menu follows the traditions of our Southern roots, invariably a roasted something."  Try John's Herb Roasted Chicken, Pecan-Baked Ham, or Slow-Cooked Beef Chuck Roast, possibly with a side of Ratatouille or Olive Oil-Roasted Cauliflower.  Of course, you'll want Perfect Mashed Potatoes.

Dinner from a Cast Iron Pot "Most of my cooking pots at home are heirlooms, passed down to me from generations of folks who really knew how to use them to cook from the heart."  Try such gorgeous braised dishes such as Chicken Fricassee, Coq au Vin, Duck Stewed with Apples & Turnips, Pork & Sausage Jambalaya, or Braised Beef Shortribs.

School Nights "Sunday is our day to sit up straight: weeknights are for soups to be reheated and simple sandwiches and wraps full of good things." Among John's casual dishes are Heat & Serve Chili, Sloppy Joe Sliders, Beef Noodle Bowls, Chicken & Noodle Pan-Fry, and Hearty Baked Pasta.

Breakfast with My Boys "Through my grandmother Grace (who cooked breakfast), I came to realize the importance, if not the nobility, of cooking for and serving others, especially those you love.  So it's no surprise that one of my most cherished pleasures today is to cook breakfast for my boys.  Opening a box of cereal - whole-grain, organic, or whatever - demands no sense of commitment; it doesn't engender memories."  Make such great breakfast food as Simple Cheese Omelette, Angel Biscuits, Drop Biscuits, Stuffed French Toast. (John has a side-bar called How to Cook an Egg of Any Variety.

How to Cook a Fish  "I earned the money for bait and fishing tackle by cutting grass in the yards around the block.  My friends and I would get one of our mothers to drop us off on the shore of Lake Pontchartain where we'd fish all day."  Mom would allow me to cook whatever we caught."  Get suggestions on different types of fish, and then try John's delicious recipes such as Herb-Grilled Wild Alaskan Salmon with Buttermilk Dressing, Ginger-Poached Trout with Citrus Vinaigrette, or Whole Roasted Sole with Brown Butter.


Fried Chicken & Other Classics Reminiscing about the family memories of his grandmother and a Miss Ruth who helped he family, Besh states, "I'll forever debate the virtues of Grandmother's and Miss Ruth's recipes and will never decide on a winner.  It was never a competition anyway, just each woman cooking from her heart."   He gives a page of frying advice and offers recipes such as Sweet Potato Chips, My Grandmother's Fried Chicken, Miss Ruth's Fried Chicken, Pan-Fried Pork Chops, and Fried Catfish. 

Barbecue Wisdom  "Few meals are as memorable to me as the great barbecues in my life.  When it come down to it, barbecue is really all about seasoning the meat properly and cooking it either quickly on the grill, or covered, low and slow, over indirect heat."  Try such recipes as Dry-Rubbed Pork Ribs, Dry-Rubbed Smoked Chicken, Baked Beans, Grilled Corn on the Cob, Tender Slow-Cooked Beef Brisket, and Roasted Red Pepper Salad. Go hog wild and make Cochon de Lait and accompany it with Grilled Avocado and Tomato Salad.

Jazz Brunch "So much more than just another meal, Jazz Brunch is a celebration of our passion for food and music and can happen at a funeral or a wedding. Any day is a great excuse for this celebration of life." This chapter is for entertaining, and Besh offers his own recipes for Pickled Shrimp, Warm Alsatian Onion Tart, Roasted Pear Salad, Blue Crabs Sausage Stew, Crab-Stuffed Avocados, Crown Roast of Pork with Dirty Rice Dressing,

Goose for the Holidays "The children will be spoiled today with gifts of chocolate and impeccably wrapped toys.  Branches of tannenbaum are twisted into every imaginable shape, to fill each room with green life."  Besh makes a glorious Roast Goose (nicely illustrated with photos to aid the eye) with Yukon Gold Potatoes, Mulled Cider, Braised Red Cabbage with Apples & Onions, Creamy Lentil Soup, and a sweet Chocolate Torte.

Drew Makes a Cake & Other Desserts "Each of our four boys is so very different: each is so beautiful.  But they are quite competitive.  Ever since Jack claimed that he was the first one to bake a cake, Drew became determined to not just bake the cake but to supply the berries, too.  One thing is certain, every time I bake with Drew, Luke, Jack, or Brendan, I can't help but think: these are the best of times.  I know this is as good as it gets; these just might be the best times we've ever spent dong anything."  Get in the kitchen with your own kids, or borrow a neighbor's and make such delights as Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, Snickerdoodles, Brendan's Apple & Pear Crumble, Our Favorite Strudel, Brown Butter-Molasses Cupcakes, Black Forest Cupcakes, Chess Pie, or a lavish Hummingbird Cake. 

There are gorgeous color photos by Maura McEvoy throughout, some illustrating technique, some of the family, and many of the luscious food that will soon grace the home cook's table. My Family Table is lavishly, and respectfully produced by Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Besh states: "I thank my family for both the grounding and inspiration that they give me and for the patience they showed as I have evolved as a man, a father, and a chef.  If asked what my last meal would be, I'd reply, 'any Sunday supper at home, cooked with love, for people I love.'"


About the Author: John Besh is a chef and a native son dedicated to the culinary riches of southern Louisiana. In his restaurants, entrepreneurial pursuits, and public activities, he preserves and promotes ingredients, techniques, and heritage.

Besh grew up in southern Louisiana and has set the benchmark for fine dining in New Orleans. Each of his eight acclaimed restaurants (August, Besh Steak, Luke, La Provence, American Sector, The Soda Shop, Domenica and Luke San Antonio) celebrates the bounty and traditions of the region.

From the outset of his career, Besh's talent and drive have earned kudos: Food and Wine magazine named him one of the "Top 10 Best New Chefs in America," and his flagship restaurant, August, was featured in Gourmet magazine's "Guide to America's Best Restaurants" and "America's Top 50 Restaurants." Besh won the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southeast in 2006 and received Food Arts' Silver Spoon Award in 2009 for revitalizing the culinary legacy of New Orleans.

Besh's devotion to local ingredients and cuisine also extends to his entrepreneurial projects, including the creation of Besh Restaurant Group Catering; a line of gourmet products; the publication of his first cookbook, My New Orleans (Andrews McMeel Publishing, October 2009); and a follow-up cookbook, My Family Table (Andrews McMeel Publishing, November 2011). Besh is a frequent guest chef on NBC's Today Show and has appeared on top programs on The Food Network and the Sundance Channel.

Besh is a philanthropist and is active in serving others.  Please visit these web sites to learn more:      johnbeshfoundation.org            www.arkel.com


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