This is the first of Bobby Flay's books I have reviewed and I approached it with the expectation that it will either deflate the hype of Flay's celebrity or show that, as I have seen with Jamie Oliver, there is real substance behind the smoke.
My first observation is that aside from a few nice frills, the book is all about the recipes and all about Bobby Flay. To get them out of the way, the nice frills are the complete list of recipes at the beginning of the book, the list of internet sources at the end of the book, and the last chapter on menus. For a book with only 125 recipes, the complete listing of recipe titles in the table of contents is a natural feature. It should be a feature in every cookbook. The list of internet sites is becoming another expected feature of cookbooks. The list of menus is a very nice touch and shows up what I think is the book's strongest feature. I must say the few color photographs of plated dishes are very good. The many black and white photos of Bobby doing this and that are boring.
I was very pleased to see that Flay's choice of recipes was not at all limited by the cuisine of his two restaurants. In addition to Southwestern and Spanish cuisine, Flay covers other Latin tastes such as Cuban, Caribbean and Argentinean plus Greek, East Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Italian. He has enough recipes to fill out complete menus for each of these cuisines.
Even when you just look at his core cuisines, you can see that Flay is giving us original recipes. They may not be all of his own invention, but they are certainly uncommon. For example, he presents six quesadilla recipes, none of which contain black beans, which is a staple in the four quesadilla recipes in Steve Raichlen's encyclopedic 'BBQ USA'.
It is surprising, in fact to see Flay make heavy use of Greek ingredients. Feta cheese seems to be one of his favorite ingredients and he uses it and blue cheese almost as often as he uses cheddar and Monterey Jack. In fact, he says he loves the Greek cuisine since it is rooted almost entirely on grilling. This brings up a basic culinary issue of 'fusion' food versus an interest to not violate cuisine or 'terroir' boundaries in the composition of recipes. I cannot say Flay never crosses boundaries in his combinations, but it seems he respects them a lot more than he crosses them. Feta is most commonly pared with other typically Greek ingredients such as olives, spinach, and lemons. Blue cheese, on the other hand, has become an ingredient that is pervasive throughout western cooking, as there are French, Italian, Spanish, English, and American native blue cheese products. So, as long as you don't go pairing it with raw tuna, you are pretty safe with just about any blue cheese use.
The chapters of food categories are a bit mixed. They are:
Cool Drinks, largely alcoholic.
Dips, Pizza, Flatbreads, and Quesadillas
Vegetable Appetizers, Salads, and Sides
Big Parties with Fish Tacos, Burgers, and Skewers. This is one of the more valuable chapters in the book.
Fish and Shellfish - Surprisingly large selection of recipes for grilling fish.
Chicken, Duck, and other Birds
Beef, Lamb, Pork, and Sausages
Simple Desserts - Not all of these recipes involve grilling fruits.
One of my favorite aspects of these recipes is that they give so many techniques for inexpensive meats or cuts that have become difficult to cook. There is a very simple and effective method, for example, for grilling thin pork chops with nectarine ginger chutney. Another aspect of almost all the recipes is their simplicity, as long as you get past the steep setup time required preparing to use a gas or charcoal grill. Flay says he uses both and offers few opinions or instructions about using one or the other.
This is an important consideration when buying this book. Flay gives some few tips about equipment and heat control at the beginning of the book, but there is virtually no other advice about finding your way around the grill. I think I would not want to start grilling from recipes in this book. If you are a novice, start with one of Steve Raichlen's books and assimilate his lessons on working with grills before tackling Flay's recipes. In a similar vein, Flay gives very little guidance on basic culinary techniques. I sensed that he was assuming a fair amount of knowledge on the part of his readers when he gives no clue to the fact that fava beans require a double pealing. He and his cowriter only mention a single pealing. On the other side of the coin, Flay and co-author Julia Moskin are very careful and thorough in specifying what can and what cannot be prepared ahead. They are as careful about warning us about what must be served immediately as they are about what can be refrigerated.
These recipes show the great natural culinary talent with which Flay has been credited. If you are a devoted griller or you are a devoted Bobby Flay fan, get the book. If you are a foodie or simply an avid cookbook reader, you may wish to use the money to fill out your M.F.K. Fisher collection. My biggest criticism may be that Flay has not given any guidance to people who do not wish to invest in grilling hardware and prefer to stay with their modest indoor grill pans.
Highly recommended for grillheads. Simple, innovative recipes if you have well-developed grill skills.