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Cookbook Review: <i>Farm, Fork, Food</i>

Sometimes food can be more than spectacular. It can be inspired. Consider this array of dishes.
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If you were searching for a personal farmer, what's the most important characteristic to consider? Set aside the issues of being green and local, don't focus on GMO. The key factor is that the farmer should have intimate knowledge about the destiny of his livestock and crops. How are those raw ingredients to be used and how can he raise and nurture them so that the end products -- plates on the tables - excite and please.

If you were looking for a personal restaurateur, what is the most important characteristic? Set aside what culinary school they attended, or whether the kitchen is equipped with liquid nitrogen. The key factor is that the chef understand the potential of the ingredients on his table, today's fresh ingredients, and how to leverage the ripeness, sweetness, and texture of every element. What are the potential combinations de jour and how can they soar?

Eric Skokan and his wife Jill own a farm and two award winning restaurants in Boulder, Colorado. Eric's knowledge extends from the soil to the final plating of the meal. On his farm on a typical day, he is caring for over 400 animals, including free-range chickens and heritage turkeys. His fields support over 250 varieties of vegetables and fruits.

If you were an engineer, instead of a foodie, you would recognize what Eric has: a perfectly closed system that he can control from seed to sauce. And, it is evident from this book, it is a system he has tune to perfection.

Farm Fork Food is subtitled A Year of Spectacular Recipes Inspired by the Black Cat Farm. Black Cat is also the name of one of his restaurants. The other is Bramble & Hare. The hares served there certainly come from his farm. The couple also forage so, if brambles are on the menu, you can be sure they come from Rocky Mountain soil.

The subtitle is, in truth, an understatement. Sometimes food can be more than spectacular. It can be inspired. Consider this array of dishes:

  • Spring Pea Soup with Mint, Lemon and Crème Fraiche
  • Carrot and Chevre Terrine
  • Country Pate with Turnip Moustarda Cucumber Gazpacho with Labneh and Pickled Vegetables
  • Buttermilk Poached Turkey with Spiced Eggplant and Onion Beignets
  • Grilled Duck and Figs with Barbera Sauce and Lavender Honey
  • Rabbit Loins with Ham and Pumpkin Dumplings
  • Sautéed Heritage Turkey with Prosciutto, Sage and Chanterelles
  • Caramel Brandy Poached Fig Tart
  • Basil Ice Cream
Many of these recipes appear with the exceptional photographs of Con Poulos. As you browse the book, you can only stop at these recipes -- and the others -- with a sense of wonder. There's a refreshing brightness here, somehow Colorado has been impacted with inspirations from Italy and Rome. Ah, but those cuisines have been tempered with Eric's love of American ingredients -- turkey and pumpkin -- which make periodic and enchanting appearances.

These are recipes that have been crafted for their impact and surely surprise. But, but can you do them yourself, in your home kitchen far from Boulder? Yes, you can. The recipe titles may be long, but each of them is written up in just a page. You'll often find the ingredient lists to be long, but who cares: these recipes are adventures and you want to be well outfitted before venturing in new territory.

The recipes appear in twelve chapters: charcuteries, soups, salads, appetizers, poultry, pork, lamb and rabbit, beef, fish, wild foraged, desserts and the larder. Each chapter is relatively short, just a dozen recipes or so. But the spectrum of those recipes is very wide. It's impossible, simply impossible, for you to scan this book and not have grand menu buzz in your head. Well, if you are like me, many grand menus.

There is a Pork Chorizo with Avocado and Cilantro that we made last weekend with zesty success. My wife Suzen is an impassioned chorizo lover, but we've never summoned the courage to make our own. Eric's delicious recipe immediately struck us as very feasible, with Eric pushing us forward with this key fact: freshly homemade is decisively better than purchased in the store. Our home pantry, fortunately, does not contain a lot of preservatives.

That's the message of Farm, Fork, Food. If you can, grow it, nurture it, and employ it with extravagance. Most of us will never own a farm in Colorado or an award-winning restaurant. But all of us can learn from and enjoy the pleasures of Farm, Fork, Food.