Sense and Sensibility

Attentiveness is at the heart of Coi: Stories and Recipes (Phaidon, 2013), by San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson

By Tejal Rao

Published on November 7, 2013

When I worked in restaurants after college, I quickly learned to stop asking how long to cook things, and instead to look, smell, and taste to tell when food was done. But most cookbooks, in an effort to convey every detail, don't acknowledge that our senses are as important as our kitchen timers. I was delighted, then, to find that attentiveness is at the heart of [Coi: Stories and Recipes](/Coi: Stories and Recipes){rel=nofollow} (Phaidon, 2013), by San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson. Through beautifully shot recipes for dishes that range from the more familiar (poached and grilled lamb with chard) to the maverick (butter-roasted morels with popcorn), he strikes a balance between communicating techniques with precision and leaving room for cooks to find their own way. Studying its pages, I came to a technique that was new to me: roasting carrots on a bed of coffee beans. There was no cook time, just the instruction to bake the vegetables until "very tender." Don't pay attention to me, Patterson seemed to be saying, just focus on your carrots. So I focused. As the carrots roasted, sweetening and deepening their flavors, I checked on them, considering how they'd play with the dish's other components—crème fraîche, rolled oats with honey and butter, and olive oil. I wasn't mindlessly following instructions, I was cooking, with my senses fully engaged. Eventually, the smoky coffee flavor worked its way through and tasted like it belonged. The carrots felt perfectly soft; they were done. And they tasted wonderful.

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