Legends in their own larders

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2001, 12:00am

CELEBRITY CHEFS' recipes can be humbling for the home cook. The very reasons that make dining in restaurants such an expensive pleasure is also why the cookbooks can be a minefield. While the recipes might be simple enough for a professional chef with a well-equipped kitchen, a crew of helpers to prepare and clean up, and a fridge full of time-consuming demi-glaces and clarified stocks, they're far too complex for most of us.

Wolfgang Puck - chef to the rich and famous (his best-known restaurants are Spagos in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles) - has come out with the accessible Pizza, Pasta, And More! (Random House, $350). In the introduction, Puck writes the idea behind the book came from what he'd like to make for his wife and two young sons at home. Most of us won't be rolling out homemade pastas, and a lot of Hong Kong fridges aren't big enough to do as Puck suggests and make several different stocks and store them in the freezer. But Puck isn't rigid about his recipes, calling for homemade pasta only 'whenever possible' and giving tinned stocks as an option to homemade. With a well-stocked pantry and prepared ingredients, the recipes are easy enough to make, and a cook can quickly serve up dishes such as angel hair with goat cheese, broccoli and toasted pine nuts, penne with fresh peas and prosciutto, and spicy cold Thai noodles with crushed peanuts and cilantro.

Tetsuya Wakuda is one of Sydney's most influential chefs. At his eponymous restaurant, there's no menu - guests dine on a multitude of small courses made from whatever he deems the best of seasonal ingredients.

His book, Tetsuya (HarperCollins, $280) also calls for choice produce. The beautiful photography and thoughtful prose show why this chef is so well-regarded, even by other chefs. He contrasts the Japanese love of simplicity and balance, so that 'no one flavour overwhelms the other' with Western and other Asian influences.

Many of his recipes are astonishingly simple - consomme of tomato and tea, seared tuna with apple and olive, and cuttlefish noodles with quail eggs - and most call for minimal ingredients and quick preparation. The problem most of us will have isn't with the technique, but in finding the top-quality ingredients he employs. Despite his fame, Tetsuya is full of humility, and writes, 'the recipes in this book are not meant to be definitive, so please do not feel bound by them'. He urges readers to adjust the recipes to their taste and to substitute when ingredients are not available.

Although the recipes in Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani's Terra - Cooking From The Heart Of Napa Valley (Ten Speed Press, $320) - are more complex than those in the other two cookbooks, they're still within reason for most cooks. The recipes are tempting and there are many that can be made in under an hour. Sone's strong Japanese/French influences are obvious (he trained in Tokyo with chefs including Paul Bocuse, Pierre Troigros and Joel Robuchon) in dishes such as fricasse of Miyagi oysters in chardonnay cream sauce and poached skate wings on Napa cabbage with ponzu, and Doumani's pastry background is highlighted in the short but excellent dessert selection.