All you need to know about Signature Dishes That Matter
You really need this global celebration of the iconic restaurant dishes that defined the course of culinary history
The Big Mac; the Cronut; Peach Melba; Avocado Toast. Some recipes have a little more to them than the ingredients and the method. Our new book, Signature Dishes That Matter reveals those hidden details, by telling the intricate and often fascinating stories behind over 200 restaurant creations that defined both a chef and an establishment, as well as a certain time and place.
The dishes featured stretch as far back as the 17th century - when a certain Parisian café popularised gelato - right up until today - with an inclusion of the whole turbot served at Shoreditch restaurant Brat. Each is beautifully illustrated and described, with clear, compelling, heavily researched texts, placing the creation squarely within gastronomic history.
The book is also curated by a panel of international experts, including the Wall St Journal’s Howie Kahn; Bon Appétit’s editor-at-large Christine Muhlke; Bloomberg’s Richard Vines; the South China Morning Post’s Susan Jung; and Pat Norse of the Australian Gourmet Traveller. And it features a great introduction by the James Beard Foundation’s Mitchell Davis. We'll be bringing you our interview with him soon.
This committee approach means there's no single criterion for including a dish here. “A chef may have invented something totally new, like with Ferran and Albert Adrià’s Spherical Green Olives at elBulli,” writes Davis in his introduction, “or perfected something very old, like Fergus Henderson’s Eccles Cake at St. John. A signature dish can also emerge from a particular moment in time, for example the twenty-four-carat gold risotto at Gualtiero Marchesi or the caviar Beggar’s Purses at Quilted Giraffe that typify the high-flying 1980s, or from a good story, such as Prince’s punishingly hot fried chicken, stemming from a Nashville man’s infidelity, or Massimo Bottura’s childhood memory of the crunchy part of the lasagna that inspired his famous dish. Or, it can be something that is just so damn delicious that you can’t get it out of your mind, like Zuni Café’s roast chicken for two.”
Indeed, there are plenty of dishes in the book, such as the omelette or the pastrami sandwich, which seem so quotidian and fundamental a part of the way we eat today, that it beggars belief to think that they were actually invented. Similarly, there are foods – pressed duck, anyone? – that show just how far our eating habits have progressed.
While most of the dishes can be traced back to a well-known patron-chef working at a highly regarded establishment, there are plenty of street food inclusions, from Philly Cheesesteak to the Taiwanese working-man's delicacy, Large Fried Chicken.
The book also includes a recipe section, enabling cooks to recreate everything from Roy Choi’s Short Rib Taco to Heston Blumenthal’s Meat Fruit; as well as a detailed index, and a series of personal reflections from the book’s contributors about why they chose what they chose.
Signature Dishes That Matter is an indispensable compendium for ambitious travelling foodies, keen to try the definitive delicacies of the world in the places where they were first cooked; it’s also a vital kitchen aid for cooks too, who can now to retrace the steps of some of the world’s most influential chefs, and enjoy otherwise difficult-to-obtain menu items.
History buffs will love to learn how the greater sweep of world events – from war to immigration, economic booms to austerity causing busts – has played out on our plates; and highly cultured readers can feast on titbits of knowledge. Do you know, for example, how a lover’s infidelity led to America’s favourite hot chicken recipe? No? Then head to the store to pre-order Signature Dishes That Matter and be among the first to receive it when it’s published on 6 November. Meanwhile, check out the video below.