Denise Norton, in a bright red chef coat and cowboy boots — her signature cat-eye glasses perched on her nose — talks fast and breathlessly about her new cookbook, flavour favorites. The cookbook wasjust published in October and is available now in the store on Madison Street.
“At flavour, we want to teach how to make real food for real people,” she said. “We don’t do anything foofy, fussy or fancy.”
Work on the book began two years ago when, after years of requests by friends and customers, Norton finally decided, as something of a New Year’s resolution, to “just do it.” And so began the nearly overwhelming task of choosing, from among the over 6,000 recipes to date in the flavour database, the 70 or so to be made, tested, tasted and photographed.
“I’m proud to say all the pictures are of food that we really made and really ate!” said Norton. “We just cooked it, plated it, photographed it and ate it.” So no fakery, no waxed super-shiny “styled” displays — just real food on display in attractive photographs, taken by photographer John Caruso. Every recipe is either original to or adapted by flavour, according to Norton, who takes in ideas and, like a composer, rearranges them into something bearing her unique stamp and sensibility.
“Every recipe was subjected to three rounds of testing, instead of the usual one or two,” said Norton. The dishes were first tested in-house at flavour, then made by cooking students in their own homes. Feedback — any problems encountered or ideas for improvement — were then incorporated into the final version.
“Sometimes we had to make significant changes” from the original store version, Norton said. Finally, a third test was done in the store.
Each recipe setup is designed by Norton for maximum ease and efficiency. Formerly a certified public accountant, Norton says her personality, embracing both the analytical and the creative, found plenty of scope for expression in the making of the book.
Each year, Norton teaches a popular “Julia Child” class, but notes that people today no longer want to work through a recipe that is 3-5 pages long. Cooking, she notes, should be manageable, and enough of a pleasure to want to do it daily.
“Through our classes and now this cookbook, I want people to know they can cook amazing food at home. No culinary degree needed.” Each recipe is set up with instructions by each ingredient as it occurs in the process. This is a change from cookbooks of the past, with a list of ingredients first, followed by the how-to. The process is intended to be logical and leave less room for misunderstanding or error.
There is bonus material in the book as well: a well-illustrated and fascinating explanation of different types of salt, their care and use; items such as useful tips on dealing with shellfish; and the chapter “Recipes are Roadmaps,” which can be considered a guide on how to use the book and approach cooking generally.
Like the classes from which its recipes sprang, the cookbook seeks to bring pleasure and fulfilment back to the art of cooking. “People are already asking when’s the next book coming,” said Norton, who appears both flattered and flustered at the whole idea of another so soon. “I tell them, let me enjoy the fruits of my labor on this one for a while!” But flavour devotees need not despair, because Norton is already toying with enough ideas for not only one but several sequels.
Flavour favorites, by Denise Norton, illustrated by John Caruso and designed by Tom Deja, is available at the school: 7401 Madison St.