In her first cookbook, Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine (Houghton Mifflin Company 1995), the recipes and notes reflected Susanna's style of cooking that has made her so famous, Chinese cuisine created using Western techniques and ingredients. One of Susanna's greatest contributions to Chinese cooking has been her substitution of canned vegetables with fresh ingredients. You wont find any call for canned water chestnuts, canned bamboo shoots, or canned baby corn. Brilliant in its techniques and use of fresh ingredients, the cookbook was most definitely Chinese. The book justly won the James Beard award for Best International Cookbook.
Susannas latest book, Susanna Foo Fresh Inspiration (Houghton Mifflin Company 2005), is aptly named. She has indeed found fresh inspiration and has succeeded in communicating it beautifully to her readers. Casually turning the pages of her new cookbook, the reader would probably not even recognize this as a Chinese cookbook. And indeed, it is not. What Susanna Foo has created is a collection of wonderfully imagitive recipes that are both international in breadth and yet comfortable in their simplicity. When I say simplicity, I refer to the ease with which the home cook will be able to recreate these dishes.
There are several recipes that reflect basic Chinese dishes (although they often incorporate French techniques and fresh ingredients over canned). Wuxi-Style Braised Beef Short Ribs, Nanking Salt-Brined Duck, and Tung An Chicken are good examples. You will also find a number of recipes that are clearly Western in nature. Most notable are the chapters on Salads and Desserts. There are also several recipes that show the international nature of Susannas cooking such as Korean Pancakes, Braised Chicken with Thai Curry Sauce, Slow-Roasted Salmon and Israeli Couscous with Sake Ginger Brine.
Where Susannas genius is most clearly evident is in the recipes that elegantly combine various world cuisines into something that can only be called Susanna Foo. Lobster Ravioli with Soybean Puree and Coconut Lobster Sauce; Beet, Rhubarb, and Grapefruit Salad; and Grilled Shrimp with Avocado and Spicy Papaya Vinaigrette are a few notable illustrations. These recipes not only enliven our senses but also challenge our notion of Chinese cooking.
Susanna Foo Fresh Inspiration is a delightful cookbook full of creative cuisine, passionate prose, and stunning photography. Most great chefs are grounded in traditional techniques and ingredients. Its what they do with that tradition that makes them great. Susanna Foos cooking is certainly based on her Chinese roots, but it also challenges and inspires. Her food is satisfying and comforting yet pushes us to try new things and not to be afraid of our food. Susanna Foo is a great chef and her new book reflects her well-deserved reputation. Dont be surprised if Susanna is once again nominated for a James Beard award. She certainly deserves the recognition.
Susanna Foo Fresh Inspiration; Houghton Mifflin Company 2005 ISBN: 0618393307; $35.00 Hardcover 352 pages.