Mad River Union
ARCATA – George Gershwin famously said, “Life is a lot like jazz – it’s best when you improvise.”
That’s something that jazz pianist Darius Brotman has been doing for years, not just on the stage, but also in the kitchen. During a lifetime of culinary experimentation, the 66-year-old Arcata musician/potter/KHSU DJ/Renaissance man has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about food along with stacks of recipes. He has distilled his culinary knowledge down to select nuggets of wit and wisdom and hundreds of recipes in a new book titled Rather More Butter Than You Might Think: Recipes From a Lifetime in the Kitchen.
A passionate amateur cook, Brotman starts his book with a defense of “unjustly maligned foods” such as iceberg lettuce, which has been ridiculed by foodies and forced off the salad plates of most homes and restaurants. Even Eureka’s AA Bar & Grill, a bastion of old-time cookery, ditched the iceberg lettuce salads recently in favor of greener greens to accompany its famous ribeyes.
“The dismissal of this vegetable is pure snobbery,” Brotman writes. “Granted, its flavor is very subtle, but the crunchy cold texture is unmatched. Only the inner leaves of Romaine come close.” Brotman also defends curry powder and its “peculiar tastiness” and curly parsley which he doubts has less flavor than the flat Italian variety. “Besides, it’s easier to mince,” he notes.
One of the first things a reader will notice in Brotman’s cookbook is that the recipes are not necessarily quick and easy, nor should they be. Just as a good meal should be unrushed, relished and enjoyed with a nice bottle of wine, so should the experience of making a delicious dish.
And don’t expect this cookbook to hold your hand. Brotman gives excellent advice, but you’re going to have to use your noggin and put some thought into what you’re cooking.
An extreme example of this is Brotman’s recipe for Sourdough “comme a fait Papà.” (Translation: Sourdough as dad makes it.) The recipe takes up four pages, with Brotman warning readers to “Read through carefully!” There is so much chemistry involved that one can’t help but be reminded of Walter White admonishing Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. Making the sourdough starter alone will take about 10 days and when it comes time to make the bread, you’ll need an evening and the next day to get the job done.
But there are other less challenging dishes ranging from cashew chutney to leek and sorrell soup to duck with cassis and walnuts. There’s even something for the vegan in the crew. Our production manager has so fallen in love with the Socca recipe that she purchased a 25-pound bag of chickpea flour.
If you love cooking as much as Brotman does, you’ll find something in this book to match your skills and your schedule.
Rather More Butter is available at Blake’s Books, Northtown Books, Eureka Books and Booklegger.