For years now, I and other Bay Area food people have asked chef/restaurateur Charles Phan this question: When will you have a cookbook? If you don’t know Charles, he and his family own and operate one of the most successful and high-profile Asian restaurant empires in the U.S. Their flagship establishment is San Francisco’s Slanted Door, an 8,000-square foot space located not in the city’s Little Saigon but rather the Ferry Building — the iconic epicenter of the Bay Area’s local and artisanal food movement. As one of San Francisco’s top culinary destinations, Slanted Door announces that modern Asian food has arrived.
On a nightly basis, Slanted Door is packed with foodies, tourists, and suits feasting family style and relishing Vietnamese dishes. What attracts diners are the tight, ingredient-driven menu, inviting ambiance, and professional service, not a kitschy, themed experience. In fact, the sleek design of stone, wood and glass echoes the panoramic view of the rugged bay. Other than the faint whiff of nuoc mam, the environment doesn’t give away Slanted Door’s Vietnamese identity. By transcending preconceived notions of race and ethnicity, the restaurant is refreshingly post-ethnic, as dynamic and organic as Asia itself.
So when Phan’s debut cookbook arrived, I had certain expectations. Never mind that he collaborated with Jessica Battilana on the book. That’s what many chefs do these days. Jessica is a very able writer tasked with recording and conveying his words and recipes.
Most restaurant chefs first release a book about their establishment. Phan’s first book is surprisingly broadly titled, Vietnamese Home Cooking.
A slew of shock-and-awe travel shots of him in Vietnam open the book. They then segue into images what appears to be Phan's home in the Bay Area. There are few obvious photos of the Slanted Door, despite the fact that a fair number of recipes come from the restaurant and/or reference cooks there. Chefs coats and latex-gloved hands signal a professional cooking environment, not a home kitchen.
At first glance, Vietnamese Home Cooking seems perplexing, perhaps because it aims to fill too many needs.