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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Sophisticated Palate: A Taste of Northern California is a nonfiction cooking/food book written by Johanna Harlen. Harlen’s love affair with the culinary arts and writing about food began when she submitted a recipe to the Service Inspired Restaurants Corporation of Ontario’s contest. Even better news awaited her, however, when she learned that she had won the contest. Her prize was a course at the Culinary Institute of America’s Northern California campus. The course, The Sophisticated Palate: A Taste of Northern California, was presented by Chef John Ash. Ten years later, Harlen decided that the coursework from that 2010 program could be the basis for an amazing cookbook. Chef John Ash agreed and offered to help her in any way he could. Sophisticated Palate immerses the reader in the intensive and inspiring Culinary Institute of America course that is still taught by Chef John Ash. Harlen’s eloquent and inspiring introduction sets the stage for her experience, and her presentation of the coursework covered by Ash offers the reader far more than a simple collection of recipes. Each recipe is updated for 2020 and offers detailed information on alternative ingredients and techniques. As I read through this book, I felt as though I was indeed in a Culinary Institute class, and I loved learning about the courses -- and how I could adapt and make them my own.
There’s something for everyone in this work; I even discovered, to my delight and surprise, a recipe for Avocado Fries. Another plus is that the chef’s notes at the bottom of each recipe are those of Chef Ash, unless otherwise noted, furthering the feeling one gets of being a privileged student as well as a reader. Harlen also includes an article by Chef Ash on souffles that offered me the necessary confidence and boosted my enthusiasm for trying my hand at what I had always considered a formidable task. I especially liked Harlen’s suggestion for a Citrus Souffle. Harlen was the photographer for all but the dessert recipes, which were photographed by her son. Her pictures are eye-popping and mouth-watering. Textures, colors, and ingredients all work together very well to make each dish a visual masterpiece. Sophisticated Palate: A Taste of Northern California is more than a cookbook -- it provides the reader with a learning experience that will have them considering coursework at the Culinary Institute themselves. It’s most highly recommended.