Cookbook: Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams
Overall Impression: This book is for lovers of simple, good, unfussy food. From soft scrambled eggs to sumptuous lentils, Buvette has each meal and moment covered to the fullest. I can't put this one down.
Buvette is my favorite restaurant in New York City. I discovered it a few years ago with my partner Sam as we were stumbling through the West Village one hot, muggy July morning. We shared strong coffee, soft scrambled eggs and little currant scones, lingering for what must have been at least two hours, maybe three. So when the cookbook came out a few months ago, I couldn't wait to get an inside glimpse into some of the recipes we've tried and love.
Interior Pages: Love the photography by Gentl & Hyers
Recipes I Tried
- Toasted Oatmeal Brûlée, page 44
- Piperade, page 26
- Oeufs Brouilles, page 5
First Impressions of Buvette
When I first picked up Buvette, I noticed the beautiful red cloth spine right away; this feels like a book to treasure. I always flip through cookbooks to check out special sections and instructions before considering the actual recipes or food, and in doing so with Buvette, I noted a few standout traits and sections. There is a thorough "Notes Before You Start" section that clarifies how you should buy ingredients and select kitchen tools and equipment (i.e. "all butter is unsalted").
I did notice that instead of elaborating or going into much detail on ingredients and equipment, Williams chooses simple declarative statements — at first, this felt a little like I was being ordered around, but after a second consideration it's actually quite helpful and smart. She cuts right to the chase about ingredients and tools so we can all move onto bigger and better things: the recipes themselves.
The cookbook is divided logically into meals or moods of the day (Mornings, Coffee and Tea, Afternoons, Aperitifs etc.). What I particularly appreciated was how each chapter was then broken down further into suggested menus. For example, the Aperitifs chapter is split into "A Springtime Luncheon," "A Bachelor Party," and "New Years Eve Aperitifs." I find suggested menus a great jumping off point to planning dinner parties or gatherings, often taking a few suggestions and leaving others but always appreciating the creative impetus and often discovering recipes I wouldn't have thought to put together. Buvette is no exception.
Two extra features — existing outside of the actual thematic chapters — impressed me right away. The first was the Household Cleaning Tips, which contains brief yet immensely helpful information on cleaning cutting boards, silver, etc. While I feel like the topic of sourcing ingredients and equipment is often covered in cookbooks, rarely does anyone cover the topic of cleaning up after the task. Second, Williams's "Recipe Notes" help walk readers through adapting a recipe to suit their taste or further explain a step where one may stumble. For example, in the Toasted Oatmeal Brûlée that I tested, Williams uses the Recipe Notes to encourage readers to use whatever nuts and fruits they have on hand, and gives tips on how to bypass the broiler step altogether.
Cooking From Buvette
Moving into the recipes themselves, I found recipe testing from Buvette to be pretty stress-free and enjoyable. Jody Williams prides herself on her simple, seasonal food and the recipes are written in a way that reflects this straightforward approach. The ingredient lists are often short —with no more than 6 to 7 ingredients — and the directions are clear and direct. I appreciate how she uses headnotes to explain the "why's" behind many of the recipes (i.e. referencing the Toasted Oatmeal again, she explains why you toast the oats and what it does to the flavor of the dish).
I also love how she very clearly suggests how to serve many of the recipes. For example, in the recipe for Mushrooms, Shaved Celery and Parmigiano-Reggiano, she instructs: "Drizzle each of four salad plates, or one large serving dish, with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Lay down the mushrooms in a single layer and then artfully and casually arrange the celery ..." It's not common that I see a writer ask that the reader "artfully and casually" arrange something and it makes me smile — in a good way. Jody Williams is a stickler for details, and you get all of them within the instructions for each recipe.
What Could Be Better
I really struggled in thinking about what could be better with this book. I suppose the one thing that comes to mind is that perhaps some of the verbage will come off as too didactic in places, especially in the section "Notes Before You Start." It's my experience that readers don't love to be told that something must be a certain way definitively, and statements such as "all eggs are organic" may come off as a little pretentious. Or the note under "Freshness" that reads that something really can't be considered fresh if it has a lid and is refrigerated. I'd wager that most of us have things that we use as shortcuts in the kitchen that have lids and are refrigerated — and some of this is okay, no?
I'm truly smitten with this book, and while some of the recipes almost seem too simple to be actual recipes (Steamed Artichokes or Yogurt Parfaits, for example), when considered together they paint a real picture of a place. And for me, this is the sign of a successful cookbook: recipes I want to cook that really tell a story or hint at the tenor of a specific place or time. Buvette succeeds with this.
In her introduction, Williams notes: "Buvette is free from all the impositions and expectations of a restaurant. It's a neighborhood place, open all day: a place to frequent alone for a quick coffee or a long, lingering supper with friends." I couldn't agree more, and find the book to be quite similar: it's easy to dip in for a quick glance or to select a recipe with ingredients you bring home from the market. Or if you have a bit more time, you could plan a whole meal here, or read Williams's words before bed much like you would a novel, lingering and savoring.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Image credits: Megan Gordon)