The Domestic Chef – food and wine treasures from the USA
A collection of recipes by Jack Madden (revised edition)
By Robyn Lewis
Around the world you’ll find many great home cooks – usually self-taught, and without extra professional training – united by a passion for food and their culinary skills. ‘Domestic chefs’ describes them perfectly. They can cook, and then some. Perhaps you are one yourself?
Jack Madden certainly is. He lives in Grants Pass in southern Oregon, a small town on the banks of the Rogue River – legendary for whitewater rafting (it’s rated number 2 in the USA), fly fishing and forest trail walking.
There are vineyards nearby too; the region produces merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, syrah (shiraz), viognier, tempranillo and zinfandel as well as the better known Oregon pinot noir. The cool climate, tempered by the Pacific, produces lovely berry fruits and more, and a Google search shows over fifty restaurants serving both the 35,000 locals and many visitors.
It sounds a lovely home for a person who describes himself as a ‘retired adventurer of the world’. Originally from another American wine region to the south – California’s Sonoma – Madden has spent much of his life working in the restaurant and hospitality industry. It shows in his cookbook, a collection of largely personal recipes.
I ‘met’ Jack Madden on Facebook. As you do when you’re interested in wine and food, and spend quite a lot of time online, you come across others with similar interests, from chefs to food and wine lovers, some posting photos of their creations or meals they have enjoyed, others sharing recipes and more. He looked a nice man, so we got in touch. Later, he sent me his book to review.
Recalling the regional flavours from a visit I made to North West USA some years ago, this will be something different for our (largely Australian) audience, I thought; a change from the usual. I was certainly not disappointed.
When I travel – even in the comfort of the armchair with a good book (or e version) in hand – it’s the new and unusual in the food and wine of various countries and regions that I love to discover. Different combinations of spices, sauces with a twist, new ideas and ways of doing things …. why didn’t I think of that before? I often ask.
America’s regional cuisines have had longer to evolve than those of Australia (although both Oregon and Sonoma were settled in the mid-1800s, but were inhabited by indigenous tribes long before), and had different influences. There are none more obvious than the ingredients of the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner: turkeys, cranberries and pumpkins are all food natives of America, gifted to the hungry Pilgrim settlers by indigenous tribes.
Then there were wild birds, venison, elk, native corn and more – it didn’t take long before the first American fusion cuisine evolved, adding chilli from Mexico, and okra and other ingredients from Africa (the classic Creole dish gumbo was first described as early as 1802).
Roll on two centuries, and regional food in the US appears more distinctive than that of Australia – some American states even have official dishes, whereas in Australia, many restaurants serve almost the same food in Port Douglas as in Melbourne or Perth. Look at a menu; often you could almost be anywhere.
However, things are different for the domestic chef, who is generally more influenced by what is locally and seasonally available, perhaps from their own garden. These differences are then captured in local recipes.
Jack Madden describes his early years among ‘an assortment of nationalities …. learning the fine art of cooking and developing an appreciation of different ethnic cuisines’. The Domestic Chef is a collection of recipes that he has honed over time; some his own creations, others shared by friends along the way. All have been tested over and over, and trialled by the often most vocal of critics: friends and family.
The book is the total antithesis of a celebrity cookbook – no evocative food shots, 5/5 degree of difficulty dishes or posed cheffy photos (with or without family and dogs) – just a black and white softcover, big type for quick and easy kitchen reference, and homely recipes that work.
Indeed, its earnestness reminds me of the early Moosewood cookbooks, only Madden’s are also for carnivores. No preachy food philosophy here, just good cooking, with wine matches and other tips for maximum enjoyment, and lots of fun.
It’s self published and full of spelling mistakes and typos [Ed: largely corrected in the revised edition], but that is part of its charm. The joy of cooking and serving good food to loved ones shines through every page.
As Madden states ‘The Domestic Chef must prepare (a) meal in a limited time span to satisfy everyone’s tastes … they strive to prepare a satisfying meal every day with everything else going on… to deal with work and the home…. This collection of recipes is a result of these experiences.’
There are 21 chapters and a full 555 pages, and even allowing for the blank pages opposite most recipes (to add your own notes and variations), there’s enough to keep you well fed and entertained in the kitchen for a year. As well as inventions, there are ‘classic recipes that have endured since man first discovered how to make fire.’
Chapters start with Stuff to Prepare Ahead: stocks, marinades, crepes, herbs, a wild yeast sourdough starter made from wine grapes, which I’m going to try this vintage, followed by Cocktails to put you in the mood (or ease the hangover while you think of food), Sauces – more than a few with chilli tang – Sandwiches (including hamburgers and tacos), Brunch, Munchies (nibbles), and Appetisers.
Reading through these is enough to whet any appetite and the differences between Australian/British cuisine and that of the Western USA become clear, and inviting. And despite his multicultural upbringing, there are also not as many direct Asian influences in The Domestic Chef as we might expect to see in Australia.
Reflecting his vineyard surrounds, however, many recipes include wine (some with spirits), and Madden often recommends a variety to match this dish or mood. One Soup recipe – appropriately names Vintner’s Soup – includes a full bottle each of zinfandel and sauvignon blanc; one to try when the weather cools. The Crab and Corn Chowder is a delicious twist on an old classic.
There’s a chapter on regional Salads, another on Mushrooms, others on Pasta and Vegetables, with plenty of recipes that even an inexperienced home cook can manage with ease, and be proud of the results.
Then it’s onto meat: a chapter each on Beef, Veal, Lamb, Pork, Poultry (including Chicken and Beer, and an interesting-sounding Thai-marinated Roast Turkey, plus quail, goose, duck and game hens). The Domestic Chef is not for vegetarians; these are simple, achievable but interesting recipes for the everyday carnivore.
Under Seafood, crab gets the Sonoma and San Francisco treatments, plus there are some simple things to do with salmon, oysters, mussels and cockles/clams. To me, this chapter is the lightest, but hey, we’re already onto page 470, and it’s followed by ‘Some Other Stuff’ for recipes he couldn’t easily fit elsewhere, including a salmon pickle called Becky’s Kokanee Salmon, a venison recipe (Cactus Jack’s Firecracker Chili), Chile Rellenos (chilli peppers stuffed with cheese then coated in a soufflés omelette mix – you’ll need to read the recipe!), an easy Zucchini Pie for the summer glut, and lots more – even a method to smoke your own fish.
Desserts are mainly fruit based. There’s the infinitely variable Madden’s Berry Sauce, which includes riesling and cognac; Cherries Jubilee, and old standby which can be made with canned cherries out of season; and Harry’s Beignet’s, which are New Orleans doughnuts, often served as a post-work snack with a latté. They’re all easy and most are enlivened with a liqueur.
In these days of slick, sexy designer cookbooks, often backed by significant marketing budgets, The Domestic Chef stands out for its honesty and simplicity, and perhaps also for its degree of innocence. It’s a competitive market, and this book won't appeal to those wanting step-by-step photos, evocative pictures of the finished dishes, or a brush with Nigella. But the recipes don’t need them, and neither will most people cooking them at home. ‘Plating up’ is not the point either – it’s the taste.
The Domestic Chef is full of flavour, and I wish there were more regional cookbooks like it, from all countries – celebrating the bounty of the regions, brimming with authenticity, a sense of place, and the simple joys of cooking and sharing meals with friends and family.
The Domestic Chef by Jack Madden (1st edition) is published by Jack Madden (2010, AuthorHouse, Bloomington IN 47403, USA; sc 555 pp) and retails for US$24.95 including postage within the USA. It can be purchased direct from TheDomesticChefCookbook.com
The 2012 revised, updated edition (Empire Holdings, Grants Pass, Oregon, USA, 2012; sc, 297 pp)) can be purchased via Amazon.com for US $14.95 (postage extra) »
You can also become friends with Jack Madden on Facebook here »
This article was first published in February 2012 but has been revised and updated for the new edition.
- USA - all (US)
To see our recommendations, ratings and reviews you must be a logged-in subscriber.
To subscribe please enter your email address in the "Subscribe Now - it's Free" box on the right and click the "Join" button, or fill in this form >