Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions
by Fernando and Marlene Divina
Publisher: Ten Speed Press, Country: US
ISBN: 9781580081191, Edition: paperback, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Recently released in paperback version, Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions, brings renewed life to this James Beard Foundation book award winner of 2005 (originally published in 2004). Numerous books have been written about native or indigenous cooking in the Americas, but most focus on a small subset of people, and are rarely written by accomplished chefs. Fernando and Marlene Divina, in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, have created a book that documents important cultural history, and thankfully convert it into a useful culinary tool.

Full review

Chef Fernando Divina has helmed numerous restaurants in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, while his wife, Marlene, is an accomplished children’s author and member of the Chippewa tribe. Both are considered food historians and serve primarily as consultants to the food industry, although certainly not far from the kitchen with their Terrace Kitchen in Oregon.

The new paperback edition comes in at 240 pages with 140 recipes. The recipes include Fry Bread, Turkey with Oaxacan Black Mole, Wild Rice and Corn Fritters, Venison with Juniper and Wild Huckleberry Sauce, Chilean-Style Avocado and Shrimp Salad. Ample historic photos and modern food images accent the book that also contains a number of personal essays. The essays range in quality but each offers an insight into a specific tribe and contextual history for the various foods in the book.

Foods of the Americas is of the quality that you might find at your museum bookstore – crisply edited, interesting and gorgeous photos and stimulating information. Yet the book’s content vibrates with a roughness that seems to hold itself back. Possibly this roughness has its roots in the breadth of the content. In describing the foods that the Divinas are most familiar with, namely foods associated with the indigenous people of the United States, they cull from the annals of history to show roots and similarities from the southern tip of South America to the frozen tundra of the north. This may be too much geography and why other books choose a more focused perspective. The result is that Foods of the Americas serves as a launching point for future exploration but should not be considered the end of the journey.

Although the book seems scattered, I found myself constantly challenged and spurred on with ideas for dishes as I turned the pages. In my own restaurant in the American Southwest, I focus on indigenous ingredients and historic local recipes, while presenting them in extremely modern formats. My sense is that I will be revisiting this book many times in the future as seasons change and as my interests evolve. I’ve spent hours searching for some of the ingredients listed in the recipes because I intuitively know that incorporating them into my repertoire would make me a better chef. Even such simple recipes as the classic Fry Bread spurred revisionings for my modern kitchen. But don’t think these recipes are dated museum pieces relegated to the archives. The recipes, both traditional and modern, are updated for the modern kitchen and begging to be incorporated into your daily menu as well.

I found it interesting digesting the Divina’s book after my previous review of Marcus Samuelsson’s New American Table. Where Samuelsson shows the influence of the rest of the world’s immigrants on American cuisine, the Divinas show indigenous America’s influence on the rest of the world. Potatoes, tomatoes, corn, wild rice… each seems to stitch back and forth throughout history between continents creating a culinary tapestry that is recognized worldwide. That tapestry may have become dusty over time, but this book brushes it off and allows all levels of cooks to create history anew.

There are many wonderful books on foods from the Americas, and now that the Divina’s book has been re-issued, it is a good time to look back at history to find new ideas and create a new American cuisine.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 3. Recommended – some flaws
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: If the person is really interested
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Foods of the Americas, Fernando and Marlene Divina | 2010 | US, 4.3 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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