Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 11/7/17
As every foodie knows, America is a lot more than hot dogs and milkshakes — the real American food scene includes homemade comfort food from the South, fresh produce from the garden, tasty ethnic desserts brought to the United States from all over the world, and everything in between.
The newly published “America the Great Cookbook” seeks to capture this diversity by featuring an intimate glimpse into the lives of more than 100 food personalities, ranging from the mega-famous to the baker down the street.
The $40 book, published by Weldon Owen, seeks to eliminate the lines between the five regions of America and instead, showcases what makes up the various pieces of the nation’s food “pie.”
And this pie is also getting a serving of help. The publisher is donating $20,000 to No Kid Hungry, which provides meals to needy children.
“We are seeing chefs, diners, food writers, farmers, producers and more in this book,” said Joe Yonan, two-time James Beard Award-winning food and dining editor of The Washington Post and editor and curator of the book. “I wanted to show this beautiful portrait of the rich diversity that the American food scene offers.”
To define the American food scene from the perspective of food professionals from across the nation, Yonan and his team asked the book’s subjects a very personal question: What do you cook for the people you love?
Their responses are showcased through unguarded moments, family recipes and heartwarming stories, presented through a double-page portrait for each contributor, which includes household names, such as Buddy Valastro of Carlo’s Bakery and hit show Cake Boss, as well as local favorites such as Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, founders of the Frenchtown-based Canal House, which has produced a series of cookbooks, a radio show, blog and video series for home cooks.
According to Yonan, the mix of contributors from throughout the nation collectively tell one story — how the diversity of America has made the food scene what it is today.
“There’s a lot of attack on immigrants right now and to me America, and particularly the food scene, wouldn’t be what it is today without the hundreds of years of immigration,” he said. “America is enriched by the contributions of everyone. In this book, you really see the variety of America instead of thinking ‘Now I’m here’ and ‘Now I’m there.’”
In “America the Great Cookbook,” contributors aren’t organized by their specific region. Instead, readers may find that a certain chef from the Midwest, known for his eclectic dishes and seasonal ingredients, actually has a lot in common with another food professional in a bustling city without initially realizing his origin.
The Frenchtown Canal House’s Hirsheimer and Hamilton, who maintain a contemporary approach to food while still utilizing a home-cooking tradition with a laid-back feel, appreciated the variety of professionals offered in the book.
“The book has many voices and it’s not just about giving a recipe from a restaurant, it’s going deeper and more intimate,” Hirsheimer said. “It’s what they cook for the people they care about and that’s what the Canal House is all about.”
Although New Jersey is frequently misunderstood by travelers passing through the Newark Airport, Hirsheimer said that where they are in Hunterdon County, “is a magical, urban growing scene and is beautiful with farms and produce in the rich and fertile Delaware Valley.”
Hirsheimer and Hamilton’s recipes in the book include roast leg of lamb, with lamb from Jamison Farm across the river, and strawberry shortcake, with strawberries from Hunterdon County.
“Most peoples’ food is an interpretation of generation to generation from their families and what they can do with their own local ingredients,” Hamilton said. “We’re Heinz 57 variety here in America — we love all food and all that is unusual in the world.”
From Valastro’s porch in northern New Jersey, the Garden State may not look a whole lot like Hunterdon County, but to the famous baker, New Jersey still packs a punch in the culinary world.
“New Jersey is a small state but we’ve got a lot of different cultures and countries represented across the board,” he said. “I think that’s true of the entire Northeast; it’s cultural representation and influence is impressive and its bred a lot of fusion and innovation that makes us such a strong force in the culinary world.”
For the cookbook ,Valastro shared his recipe for chocolate mousse strawberry shortcake, which he said is one of his first recipes that his father ever taught him to make. Plus, while decadent and delicious, it’s also easy to make — Valastro learned how to make it when he was only 12-years-old.
Just like Valastro’s recipe, “America the Great Cookbook” has soul behind it — it isn’t just an arbitrary collection of recipes since $20,000 will benefit No Kid Hungry.
“The No Kid Hungry mission is one very near and dear to my heart,” Valastro said. “One in six children aren’t get the proper meals they need to grow and thrive and if there’s anything I can do to help even one child in this country not suffer from food insecurity, I will.”
“America the Great Cookbook”
Features: An intimate glimpse into the lives of 100 food personalities alongside their favorite recipes.
Where to Buy: Visit mycj.co/2gbpVUe