Sophisticated Palate


Non-Fiction - Cooking/Food
263 Pages
Reviewed on 08/14/2020
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    Book Review

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.

K.C. Finn

Sophisticated Palate is a work of non-fiction on the subject of food and cooking, and was penned by author Johanna Harlen. Written in a truly unique style, the book takes us on a memoir-like journey through the author’s life and changing tastes as we discover her passion for food, growing from more than a simple desire to cook and eat into something more creative, expressive and celebratory. Incorporating recipes as well as essays from different perspectives, we are introduced to modern comfort food that is relatively simple to create, but still expresses the full beauty of the culinary arts and truly celebrates its ingredients.

Author Johanna Harlen has crafted something much more than a simple cookbook in this excellent creative endeavor. Beautifully presented and well organized, it is a book that readers can live through and find personal connections in as they explore the many different experiences which led the author to her creations and the reasoning behind the dishes. There are plenty of different types of meals available plus some vegetarian dishes, which makes the collection more inclusive for alternative preferences. One of the most unique things about it, of course, is the ethos and personality of the author, through whom we can learn much about the culinary journey, and in finding the balance between the practical kinds of comfort food which we all adore, and the finer world of dining beyond. Overall, I would definitely recommend Sophisticated Palate to anyone interested in learning about cooking from a holistic perspective.

Mamta Madhavan

Sophisticated Palate: A Taste of Northern California by Johanna Harlen is a book of mouthwatering recipes, some old, some new, and some traditional. Cooking can be creative as it gives the opportunity for readers to enjoy the process and create a masterpiece. It is a good reminder of the connection to the body, fellow human beings, ingredients, the planet, and the gifts God has given. The recipes shared also showcase a part of the author's life, her experience with the Culinary Institute of America which made remarkable changes in her cooking, and how winning an award for excellence changed her life. The collection has starters, soups, salads, fish courses, meat courses, vegetarian courses, desserts, and souffle recipes, and is a delight for all foodies who love cooking and trying out new recipes. What makes the book even more captivating and appealing are the pictures and they speak to readers on different levels.

Johanna Harlen supports local farmers wherever possible and has a sustainable approach to cooking. She speaks about her experience with the Culinary Institute of America, the California wine industry, wine and food pairing, and olfactory facts which will pique readers' curiosity. Her recipes are simple and can be tried out easily. What makes the book exciting is that it is not only about recipes but also gives good insights into the world of food, the importance of buying sustainable foods, and the importance of healthy cooking. Her food pictures speak to readers and will encourage them to try out the delicious recipes. Sophisticated Palate should be on the bookshelf of all culinary experts, those who enjoy cooking, and those who are keen to try out new recipes. The recipes also reveal the author's penchant for traveling and will take readers to different places in the world along with her recipes.

Sefina Hawke

Sophisticated Palate by Johanna Harlen is a cookbook most suited to a diverse set of chefs ranging from novice cooks to professional chefs. This book is a mix of recipes, food photographs, and the author's life and how it has affected her culinary experiences. Additionally, the book has articles on food and wine pairings, olfactory senses, the wine industry, and some teasers from the author’s other cookbooks. This cookbook’s recipe sections include starters and hors d’oeuvres, soups and pestos, salads and vinaigrettes, fish, meat, vegetarian main courses, desserts, and soufflés. Are you ready to follow the author on a culinary journey that will take your cooking and your imagination to new levels?

Sophisticated Palate by Johanna Harlen is a well-written cookbook with a delectable cover that hints at the culinary delights it holds. The table of contents at the beginning made navigating the cookbook easy and kept the recipes well organized. The images, which accompanied the various dishes, served to highlight the ways in which the dishes could be artistically plated and serve as a guide for how the finished dishes should look. I liked how the author had each recipe organized by ingredient lists, methods, and tips. I personally found the tips sections very useful as it helped me to avoid making simple mistakes like using regular olive oil in place of light-tasting olive oil in the one-minute mayo recipe. I also liked how the author explained the result of using the wrong ingredients, which in the case of the mayo recipe would have resulted in a bitter mayo. Overall, I really enjoyed this cookbook and I am beyond excited to try out more of the recipes!

Vernita Naylor

Even when on the surface it seems like you've lost everything, don't despair. In the cookbook, Sophisticated Palate, Johanna Harlen shows how if you continue to run the race of the dreams inside you, you can turn your dreams into a reality, even if everyone believes and says you can't. Take this journey with Johanna as she shows you that during times of despair she was able to take a step towards her dreams of winning a two-day course at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) under the tutelage of two-time James Beard award-winning author, teacher, and restaurateur, Chef John Ash; this day changed her life forever. Johanna was already an excellent cook in her own right but it was this course with Chef Ash that enabled her to see food differently. This cookbook displays over thirty delicious recipes and photos from soups, salads, and fish to vegetarian dishes initially created by Chef Ash, and which Johanna is reintroducing to the world with a little twist. In partnership with her son, Craig, who was able to mimic Chef Ash's tasty desserts and provided the photos, this cookbook is a must. As a teaser, Johanna provides the reader with excerpts from Chef Ash's book, From the Earth to the Table.

I fully enjoyed this cookbook not only because I like food but because I love the stories behind the dishes. This book is highly recommended because Johanna shows that you can turn your dreams into a reality in a way that you never thought possible. Her passion for food and her travels around the world embodied the relationship between culture and its influences on the smells and tastes of foods. In this cookbook, there are so many dishes to choose from which I can't wait to try, including Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Rabbit Braised in Red Wine, and Wild Mushrooms with Fresh Black Pepper, various vinaigrettes and Warm Spinach Salad with Bacon and Apple Cider Dressing. While you're sheltered in, why not get your copy of this book today and add new recipes and foods with some wine to your life. Enjoy!