Magnolia Grill, Ben and Karen Barker's Durham, North Carolina, restaurant, is among the country's best places to dine. The couple--he's the chef, she's in charge of pastry--now offer Not Afraid of Flavor, a collection of their spirited, Southern-influenced recipes, plus culinary wisdom all cooks can use. Dishes like Celery-Fennel Chowder with Oysters and Bacon, Crab Cakes with Sauce Diablo and Corn Relish Salads, and Pan-Fried Pork Chops on Creamy Shrimp Hominy are representative of the book's deeply savory fare, conveyed in easy-to-follow recipes. Though many of these require multiple preparations, it's smooth sailing once ingredients are organized and procedures understood. Readers who enjoy a kitchen workout in the service of great eating and others interested in top-of-the-line American cooking should embrace the book.
Emphasizing their devotion to the freshest ingredients and encouraging readers to be similarly choosy, the authors then offer over 125 recipes in chapters like "Tar Heel Tapas," "Dixie Delights," and "A Few Cocktails" through sections on soups, entrées, breads, and desserts. Outstanding among the sweets are Double Chocolate Waffles with Strawberries and White Chocolate Ice Cream, the Chef's Favorite Lemon Tart, and Ginger-Lime Crème Caramels with Tropical Ambrosia. Bakers will also want to try Buttermilk Bread and a definitive recipe for flaky Angel Biscuits. Illustrated with color photos throughout, and with a helpful section on pantry basics, the book represents an American culinary journey that home cooks can now share. --Arthur Boehm