REVIEW – Michael Smith, Back to Basics

5 Dec
Back to Basics, 2013

Back to Basics, 2013

This review is made possible by Penguin Canada’s Daily December Delights holiday campaign. 

” Success is defined not by whether you cook exactly the way I do but by whether you and your table are enjoying yourselves. Nothing is more fun than taking pride in something you created yourself, then taking a bow for the inevitable compliments!” — Michael Smith, Back to Basics

Since the debut of The Inn Chef, Chef Michael Smith’s casual charm and easy manner has been a fixture on Canadian televisions. Unlike celebrity chefs, who make their name with one tv show or publish a single book and then ride off into the sunset “working” as a judge on a reality TV show, Michael Smith is as prolific as ever in writing and developing recipes. We love that he calls himself a “nutritional activist”!

His seventh cookbook (SEVENTH!!Back to Basics features 100 recipes that remind you how delightful it can be to cook with fresh and nutritious ingredients. The organization of the book reads like a menu: salads, mains, sides, and sweets. Finding a dish to suit your mood is simple. Each recipe is accompanied by a vibrant full-page photo that tantalizes your tastebuds. This feature may seem like a no-brainer but SO many cookbooks don’t have photos OR, even more vexing, the photos and recipes are in entirely different sections of the book. It is essential that we, the home cooks, have an image of what we are trying to create!

The recipes themselves are concise and clear. Instructions as well as the ingredients required can be located at a glance without having to wade through irrelevant anecdotes. Chef Michael Smith doesn’t ask for devices or methods that are beyond the reach of a novice cook. No sous-vide here! Our favourite feature: each recipe includes a “twist,” a hallmark of Michael Smith’s style, which encourages you to experiment and personalize his dishes. Michael Smith wants to inspire you!

One thing that jumped out at us was the prevalence of “pan-rushing,” which he explains is a trick he learned as a line cook. Simply: you sear a piece of meat, build the sauce in the pan, and simmer them together to finish. This method is quick and allows you to create a flavourful dish without a billion pots and pans! We were so intrigued by the technique that we tested the “Pan-rushed Salmon with Bacon Clam Chowder (p.123).” The results were delicious. The soup was creamy and luxurious. The salmon was so tender. And, just like Michael Smith would have wanted, we added our own “twist” to his recipe and threw in some corn. Had HoM not selected the wrong sized pan to start, we also would have dirtied only ONE pan as the method intended.


Michael’s Pan-rushed Salmon!

We also tried his “Green Apple Salad (p.17),” which proved a light accompaniment to the rich main. Genius: cheese toast croutons! So crunchy and chewy. Who could ever have have plain old dusty croutons again?!

Cheese croutons

Cheese croutons

A perfectly balanced and low maintenance meal brought to you by Chef Michael Smith!

A perfectly balanced and low maintenance meal brought to you by Chef Michael Smith!

Back to Basics is a great addition to every cook’s bookshelf. As he’s done throughout his career, he’s making good food accessible and achievable in our humble kitchens.  For many people, cooking can be a chore or even scary.  Michael Smith provides readers with guidelines but then gives you permission, nay encourages you, to be creative and have fun! Perhaps the best compliment we can pay to this book is that we enjoyed cooking and eating from it.  By Smith’s own criteria, this makes it a resounding success.






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