Young Man & The Sea
by David Pasternack
Artisan 2007

Foodies living in seafood-centric Charleston should get to know Chef David Pasternack. His Manhattan restaurant Esca (which he co-owns with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich) takes total inspiration from the ocean’s bounty, and his recently-released cookbook The Young Man & the Sea demystifies this process for the home cook. Pasternack will demonstrate some of these seafood dishes on July 25 at Charleston Cooks!, and afterwards he will sign copies of his book (the event is sold out, but you can call 722-1212 and put your name on the waiting list).

Oftentimes, cookbooks by restaurant chefs seem more fitting for the coffee table than for actual use in the kitchen, but such is not the case with The Young Man & the Sea. Pasternack and co-author Ed Levine (a frequent contributor to The New York Times) have created a book that serves many purposes. First and foremost, it reveals Pasternack’s love for fishing and cooking, especially the cuisine of coastal Italy. His passion comes across in a very genuine manner — presenting an image of a guy you might meet down on the dock rather than that of an imposing chef. In fact, there are no pictures of Pasternack in a restaurant setting, but instead snapshots of him on the water, usually holding a large fish.

It is this down-to-earth tone that makes the book work so well. Obviously, Pasternack is an ingredient-driven chef who holds very high standards, but he also comes across as a realist. The first recipe of the book “Mackerel with White Bean Bruschetta” details the “welcome” dish at Esca, which comes with freshly-cooked white beans. But in his “Ingredient Notes,” Pasternack allows that you may use canned white beans and even gives his favorite brand. These notes appear throughout the book as do sidebars, which might explain all varieties of a specific fish and how to buy it.

The recipes themselves cover a broad range of skill level. The novice cook might try the “Poached Gulf Shrimp and Heirloom Tomato Salad,” a dish that should work well with local ingredients, or “Soft Scrambled Eggs with Lump Crabmeat.” Daring cooks/avid fishermen will certainly want to tackle Pasternack’s signature dish “Crudo” — or Italian sashimi. The tradition of eating raw fish surely dates back as long as man has fished, and Pasternack shares fond childhood memories of snacking on the fresh catch with his father. At Esca he elevates this preparation to an art form, serving dishes like “Albacore Crudo with Caperberries” and “Black Sea Bass with Pine Nuts.” The photography of Christopher Hirsheimer captures the simplistic beauty of the “Crudo” — and really the elegance of all Pasternack’s creations.

The stylized photographs interplay with the more candid shots of Pasternack and work to define The Young Man & the Sea. In this book there are just enough of all the necessary ingredients. From tales of traveling with Molto [Mario Batali] to profiles of revered fishmongers to informative text and useful recipes, The Young Man & the Sea captures Pasternack’s passion for seafood and can inspire the home cook to take a new approach with the same old catch.

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