If you’ve ever watched Masterchef™, nodding along and thinking you need more rabbit cooking opportunities in your daily life, or more ceviche, Social Eats might well be the book you’ve been hoping for.
On the surface, Social Eats isn’t about simple dining: Chef Jimmy Garcia has had too adventure-filled a career for that kind of simplicity. He’s a showman, playing around with food and our ideas around it through a host of once in a lifetime dining opportunities.
It would be easy to mock this book, especially in a culture that teaches us to pay out on anyone trying to fancy up a simple idea for attention. The book’s tagline is ‘Food to impress your mates’, and they mean it. Whether it’s renaming lamb cutlets as ‘lamb lollipops’, the notion of ‘smoked salmon icing’ atop dill and lemon ‘cupcakes’, or the hi-vis safety warning yellow of the front cover, this is a book that seems to be trying very, very hard to get attention.
Flicking through the book, it’s easy to think that all of the recipes involve mountains of prep work and a generous shopping budget. At first glance, the recipes sound a little intimidating, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d spend the day frantically prepping. But the truth is that, impressive as some of the dishes sound, they’re all relatively quick and easy. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of prep required in the majority of the recipes.
That’s kind of the point of Social Eats: make the dishes sound complicated, give the impression of fine dining, and people will think you’ve spent all day frantically preparing for the meal. Add higher quality, more expensive produce to give better cooking results, and sell that ‘fine dining’ idea to guests. And voila! Impressed diners.
There are some delicious looking, and sounding, recipes in this collection, brought to life by photographer Claire Winfield. The photography is beautiful, with some absolutely wonderful details added to the background to add interest and impact. But the sketched in additions feel a little old-school Jamie Oliver-like for my tastes. There’s something odd in having someone draw in the outline of a spoon, as though they’ve either forgotten to include one in the photograph set up, or are worried people won’t know how to eat the food. It’s one of those design features that, clearly, eludes my understanding.
Given the use of higher cost of some of the ingredients, Social Eats isn’t necessarily the best starting point for a new to the kitchen cookery enthusiast. Having said that, there are enough bare basics recipes (sauces and dips especially) that even the most novice cook should be able to find something to try and replicate. I imagine that this could easily become a go-to guide for those trying to impress a new love, show off to friends, or make a good first impression with potential in-laws.
If you get irrationally annoyed about font choices or sketched in imagery, you might be in for a frustrating read, but for those happy to spend a bit more on ingredients, and test their abilities with new and fancy foodstuffs, you’re probably going to enjoy this book.
Social Eats is published by Simon and Schuster, and is available through the publisher’s website, and at leading bookstores nationwide.
Rating: 3 stars
By Kylie Thompson