Let’s start out by saying I really wanted to love this cookbook. I really did. Too bad it didn’t turn out that way.
I made it my goal to pull down a cookbook off the shelf each month, dust it off, and make something out of it. For the first month, full of enthusiasm, I picked Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller.
For February, when thoughts turn to romance, the choice was clear – Café Fírenze by Top Chef cheftestant Fabio Viviani. I have to admit, I was a bit smitten, like so many of the female viewing audience, of this charismatic Italian. Sure, there’s the whole accent thing at first but it was his sense of humor that really was the selling point. No wonder he was voted Top Chef favorite of his season.
When I was at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago last May, and saw that Fabio was on the list of speakers, I couldn’t have been more excited. I got there early and staked out a seat close to the front. He lived up to all my expectations – charming, funny and cooking simple food that looked and smelled delicious. And as I sat there starry eyed, my wonderful husband went and bought his cookbook and stood in line so that I could get it signed.
I love my husband for this but I have to say, I don’t love this cookbook and it’s a real bummer for me to have to say that because I wanted so badly to love it and to cook out of it so often that the pages were curled from use and stained with olive oil and San Marzano tomatoes.
When I pulled the cookbook down unused after owning it for 9 months, I remembered how it came to be this way. As a graphic designer by trade, I couldn’t help notice that the layout on the book is clunky and unsophisticated and the typesetting is really pretty awful. While it’s cute when he talks in broken English, it’s not so cute when the book is written that way, and I wonder who edited it as the only recipe I made had an error. And while he may cook simple food which is admirable enough, his cookbook was loaded with expensive and hard to find ingredients.
And then there’s the cocktails made by his partner, Jacopo Falleni. While they might taste fine the garnishes he suggests are nothing short of ridicules, corny and unsophisticated in a way that seem so out of place next to Fabio’s cooking style.
I finally just had to pick a recipe and get on with it.
Filetto di maiale alla camomilla con spinaci alla crema
(Chamomile Encrusted Pork Tenderloin with Creamed Spinach)
FOR THE SPINACH:
1 stick of butter
¼ cup of flour
1 cup of half and half
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp of fresh ground pepper
1.5 lbs. of fresh spinach
1 nutmeg (here’s the typo – notice the preps below never call for the nutmeg)
2 oz. of cream cheese
½ tsp of baking soda
2 oz. of Parmesan cheese
In a saucepan over medium heat start the butter and let it melt, add the salt and the pepper for taste and add the flour. Turn the fire off and mix well, add the half and half and turn the fire back on low. Keep stirring until the mixture starts to thicken. [This is where I added the nutmeg] Now add the cream cheese, set aside once fully incorporated. Bring to boil a pot of water and add the baking soda. Once it is boiling put all the spinach inside and let cook till the spinach is completely wilted (about 4 minutes); strain the spinach and with the help of a towel squeeze the water out. Place the spinach in the creamy sauce and let them cook on medium for another 5 minutes, grate the cheese and add it at the end.
FOR THE PORK:
2 whole pork tenderloin
1 cup of breadcrumb, finely minced
10 bags of chamomile tea
Fresh ground pepper
1 egg white
Preheat the grill, in a food processor blend the breadcrumbs, a tbsp. of salt, some fresh pepper. Open the chamomile tea and mix into the breadcrumbs.
Whisk the egg white with a little bit of water and brush the whole tenderloin. Heavily season with salt and pepper, roll the tenderloin in the bread/chamomile mixture making sure that the whole tenderloin is nicely coated with the crumbs. Place on the hot grill turning the meat so you will have even grill marks. Grill for a period of 6/8 minutes, let the meat rest for 5 minutes so the juice will be redistributed. Preheat the oven to 400 and place the tenderloin in it for another 5 minutes. Slice 2 inches thick and place cut face up on the spinach.
The food was good. I wouldn’t ever have thought to encrust pork with chamomile but it worked and wasn’t overpowering, and I have to say creamed spinach never sounded that good to me but it was really tasty (of course, what isn’t mixed with a stick of butter, a bunch of half & half and cheese). No – my complaints aren’t with the food at all.
And I even hate to complain – not just here but in life in general – but since I had taken on this cookbook challenge I feel like I have to at least be honest in doing it.
Top Chef Season 5 aired in 2009 and the copyright date on this book is the same year. I just feel like maybe this cookbook was rushed. Like they felt like they had to strike while the iron was hot. Little did they know that Fabio’s fame was just getting started. Now with two restaurants in southern California and a new one, Siena, in Chicago that just opened last week. With two cookbooks and guest appearances in more places than I can even imagine. And while researching this blog, I see that now he even has his own magazine. I definitely think there’s a lot more of Fabio Viviani to come.
The bubble started to burst for me when I followed Fabio on Life After Top Chef and the picture painted there was of a chef that is just trying to capitalize on his fame as much as he can at the sacrifice of almost everything else in his life.
It was awesome to meet Fabio in Chicago and I cherish the cookbook as a memory of that but now it’s time to put it back on the shelf.