The Modern Café
by Francisco Migoya
Publisher: Wiley, Country: US
ISBN: 9780470371343, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

What’s the difference between my café with its sous vide machine and pantry filled with twenty varieties of salt, and another in our town – Grandma’s Café which still features Salisbury steak every Saturday and hosts Bingo Night at the VFW?

Nestled in between the greasy spoon and the bistro, the café holds a special spot in a community’s heart and stomach. Easy on the pocketbook, but with a touch of decadence, cafés allow us to treat ourselves to comfort food that jazzes it up a bit. In The Modern Café, Francisco Migoya captures this unique genre of eatery and challenges us caretakers to take our standard fare and make it truly remarkable.

Migoya, the renowned Culinary Institute of America instructor and lead at the Apple Pie Bakery (the CIA’s busiest public restaurant), gained his culinary fame at the French Laundry, Bouchon Bakery, and the Bouchon Bistro. I became familiar with Migoya through his blog – theQuenelle.com – which has always served as inspiration for special treats and techniques.

Full review

The Modern Café checks in at nearly 550 pages with some 400 recipes. Beautiful photographs and informative side boxes generously fill the pages. This is a hearty book that might be a bit large for easy use in the kitchen (imagine flipping the pages of this four-centimeter thick hardback book with one hand on the hand mixer and the other covered in butter), but this is a common malady of cookbooks wrought by publishers. Of late, I’ve found Torreblanca 2 to be the benchmark for wise book-binding, where the traditionally bound book is accompanied by a spiral bound recipe book made of plasticized paper. But we can overlook this flaw since the spine will be well worn before the book makes it from your den to your kitchen.

The book is comprised of five chapters: The Bakery, The Pastry Shop, The Savory Kitchen, Beverages, and The Retail Shelf. As you can see this is not just about muffins and croissants. Each chapter begins with a description and explanation of the primary factors related to key ingredients. For example, Migoya discusses the role of eggs and covers their function in aeration, structure development, flavor, emulsification, color and nutritional value. Chapters then share a range of possible defects in baking and cooking. This is one area that is a bit weak. With “pale crusts,” only two possibilities are offered – insufficient egg wash or incorrect amounts of sugar or salt. I can name six others off the top of my head. But, for the more experienced bakers and professionals, this section will be too elementary. Finally, each chapter then delves into the recipes, starting with the base recipes, which serve as the foundation for the remaining creations.

Recipes range the gamut from basic croissant to “Foie gras, rainier cherry, and Sicilian pistachio brioche;” Devil’s food cake to “Tahitian vanilla cream, lemon curd, huckleberry compote, and crème faîche domes and purple velvet;” Braised pork shoulder with hominy and ancho chile soup to “Grilled octopus with giant lima beans, celery sprouts, red onion, parsley, and lime vinaigrette;” and Espresso to “Elderflower with Bosc pear-infused water and Bosc pear sorbet.” Each chapter offers the range from basic to cutting edge. I could easily see a more modest café starting off with the basic recipes and slowly incorporating the more modern and unique recipes until they were the hottest café in town.

This book is intended for the professional, and you’ll need to know how to temper and mix properly. However, Migoya doesn’t assume that you know that putting the croissant, which you just spent two days making, into a brown paper bag is near blasphemous. He not-so-gently reminds the reader (and me, since I am guilty of the brown paper bag gaff) that custom printed bags are much more aesthetically pleasing, and thus, supports the price that is being charged for that flaky bit of flour and butter.

Details that are often neglected and glossed in other books are reasserted such as the fine detail of costing. “Generally speaking, the food cost for baked goods could be between15 to 20 percent, while desserts are closer to 20 to 28 percent.” Many of the professionals I know have a much more informal costing structure for their overall menu, and so Migoya’s specificity is extremely useful.

And even when Migoya states that which should be obvious (“The dessert case doesn’t need to be filled at 6, rather 10 or 10:30 since people don’t eat desserts in the morning”), the reminder is a gem. As chefs and owners our ruts evolve over time and we often forget such important, yet trivial strategies.

Another great example is his statement on desserts remaining on the shelf too long. “A dessert that in fact makes it to 36 hours without selling you might need to think about reducing the par stock or changing the dessert to one that sells more.” Here again, it is so obvious that a product that lasts past a day, not only needs to be tossed, but might need to be replaced with a dessert that will sell faster. Migoya takes us café owners back to school yet again, and does it in a manner unlike previous culinary school-released books.

There is a lot of information to digest in this book. Unlike so many cookbooks that have been released from other culinary schools and their instructors, Migoya doesn’t hold back.

I am a gatherer of cookbooks from the various culinary schools, being a self-taught chef, each time hoping to glean the wisdom of the great instructors. But without fail, these books become recitations of recipes and formulas. And as a result, these books don’t even make it to my bookshelves. Most chefs don’t need a book of basic recipes – we already have them, and we have our favorites. What we are looking for are those comments based on their boundless experience that an instructor will speak in the classroom but often not think to put into print. Migoya, on the other hand, treats the reader as if they were a curious professional sitting as a student in his classroom.

Let’s take brioche as an example. Gisslen’s Professional Baking (Le Cordon Bleu) offers a basic formula followed by a five-step procedure lasting all of eleven lines. The procedures are strictly objective (“Gradually mix in eggs and then dry ingredients to make a soft dough.”) Migoya spends over two full pages with a similar formula, but his explanations are filled with experience and opinion, and partnered with demonstration photographs. The most glaring difference is Migoya’s very detailed paragraph on the role of temperature in handling and proofing brioche, which is completely absent in Gisslen’s book.

If there is a flaw to be found in this book it is that Migoya occasionally forgets his audience and includes information so basic that anybody would know it. “Nonedible garnishes refer to ingredients that can be used to prepare foods but are not eaten as is.” While the comprehensive pedagogy is appreciated, it becomes a nuisance as serious cooks work to filter through the otherwise rich and meaningful wealth of knowledge found on the pages.

Migoya also assumes a CIA-funded commercial kitchen full of the accoutrements and toys of the trade. Blast freezers, thermomix, sheeters, and convention ovens are all folded into the recipe mixes. While many readers will have these tools, most won’t, but as Migoya himself suggests, they’re worth consideration for any serious café kitchen.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to any advanced or professional chef, or anyone who is thinking about opening a café or small restaurant. The knowledge is invaluable, the recipes are fresh and exciting, and the business acumen could move you from failed restaurant to the star of your community.

While Grandma’s Café has been around a long time in our community, a modern café can expect growth in their clientele and sales, and Migoya is ready to help you move ahead.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Not really
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The Modern Café, Francisco Migoya | 2010 | US, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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