If you're a guy and watch Top Chef, Iron Chef America, Chopped or any number of cooking shows, you'll find yourself instantly attracted to this book. Tom Colicchio, Mario Batali, Ted Allen, Michael Symon... you're going to recognize many of the chefs who have recipes featured, but if you've never attempted one of their recipes and are looking to learn technique, you'll most likely find yourself a bit disappointed in the long run as I was.
The premise is solid. I found myself saying; "I'm a man, I like to eat meat, I know who these guys are!" SOLD. Except for sides, just about every recipe here features heavily with a manly protein. Plan to eat much beef and pork if you work through the book in its entirety.
The main problem is inconsistency and lack of a clear vision towards a target audience. I was under the impression that this book catered to men who were not regular cooks but wanted to be able to make satisfying meals that were simple, but delicious and satisfying. The difficulty rating supports that notion. Recipes are "Easy," "Reasonable," or "Worth the Effort." Unfortunately, "Worth the Effort" includes recipes such as Butter-Poached Bone-In Top Loin and "Reasonable" is a Ratatouille Risotto. The difficulty of many recipes will seem overwhelming to those of you who are not more adventurous or experienced. Depending on how adventurous your palate is as well, you may find many of the recipes to be overdone, as many of them have their unique "twist." Recipes seem to go from insultingly simple, to overzealously complex. There isn't much middle ground. If you want a solid Mac & Cheese recipe, there's only two choices in the book. A 3 ingredient Macaroni Pie, or the overdone Truffled Macaroni and Cheese. Some recipes include ground-up instructions for all components of a dish, some call for out of the box mixes and other shortcuts.
I think my biggest disappointment though is it is not a good working cookbook. This isn't a book you can put up in your kitchen and easily read from while trying to make a recipe. The attractive layout is pleasing to the eye, but not well structured for step-by-step instructions. It makes a better read for inspiration and you'll need to transcribe recipes to a better working format if you don't want to memorize the more complex ones. If you need instruction on technique, you'll find it is lacking. Most recipes assume you know how cooking staples such as how to poach, recognize the difference between mincing and dicing and none of the steak recipes are supplemented with any solid pointers on how to properly cook steak. Not a problem if you are experienced, just not helpful if you're a guy looking to learn how to cook. Its not a bad book by any stretch, just inconsistent and not a great working cookbook for those of us who are less experienced. I definitely plan on trying Michael Symon's meatloaf, Harold Dieterle's Chicken Parm Hero and Tom Colicchio's Steak and Potatoes. Oh, and if you want desserts, go elsewhere. Fruit Crisp is the only dessert in the book, I guess they decided dessert is a woman's thing?
Still, I enjoyed the book for its non-recipe content. There are excerpts from previous Esquire interviews, contributions on cheese and wine and other tidbits that provide more than just a book of recipes and that help give it that "Esquire" feel.
PS - the book includes a subscription to Esquire. If you don't want the subscription, you can opt for a $5 refund on the cost of the book with the inserted card by 12/31/2011.