Napa chef Cindy Pawlcyn, who has three restaurants in and around St. Helena (Mustards Grill, Brassica, and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen), has just finished a cool, international cookbook called Cindy’s Supper Club (Ten Speed Press). The book, due out in May, is based on the weeknight “supper club” series that Pawlcyn’s been doing at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen for the last decade. The menus are always themed, often around the rustic cuisine of a particular country, and this forms the basis of the book, which is part travelogue and part culinary world tour.
Pawlcyn says the recipes that made it into the book — mostly derived from her own travels and culinary archeology in vintage books from Omnivore Books in San Francisco and Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York — are “the hits” from the last nine years of weekly dinners. “There are my favorites plus what our customers picked as the most popular and their personal favorites,” she says.
The fun of the book comes in its variety and simplicity. Pawlcyn presents just four or five recipes from each country, with 27 countries represented in all, on five continents. And each country is then a menu; Pawlcyn points out that certain countries lend themselves better to certain seasons, like “spring in Paris, winter in Hungary, summer in Brazil, fall in Japan,” for instance. And everything veers to the rustic, easy, and unpretentious. Her country French menu, for example, consists of spice-roasted peppers with onion and “undeviled” eggs; grilled quail with roasted mushrooms; grilled fava beans; and apple charlotte. For India she offers up a menu of food from Goa and Kerala, including halibut curry, tomato rasam, and pan-roasted potato and cauliflower.
And even places that don’t get a lot of culinary attention, at least from Americans, get their due, like Belgium, Sweden, and South Africa. The menu for the latter, which Pawlcyn says was “a star of the Supper Club,” includes mongrel dishes like bobotie — a curry-spiced dish with ground lamb and topped with egg custard, which is an amalgam of flavors from both Indonesian and Dutch cuisines.
It’s a book that shows a great deal of care, attention, and intellectual curiosity about the foods of the world, as well as Pawlcyn’s talent for discovering the homiest and most representative dishes from disparate lands. Pawlcyn introduces each section with stories of her own travels, and nearly every recipe comes with its own story and special instructions as well. Essentially, this is a book that took a lifetime to write, and to get right, and it shows.