C Food
By Robert Clark and Harry Kambolis
Published by Whitecap Books 2009, hardcover, $40; 165 pages

This starkly beautiful book hides a number of elegant yet accessible recipes, rare for something coming from a top-rated chef of a top-rated Vancouver seafood restaurant.

It’s C’s style to challenge, surprise and even put off, something the book does in spades. When I first began leafing through it, I thought the photos were strange, not like the yummy pictures you’ll see in many other books. They are artfully lit, mysteriously arranged, and it’s sometimes difficult to separate what is food and what is prop.

C Restaurant is like that, too. It seems to have as many detractors as it does fans. But this post is not about the restaurant, it is about the book. Yet one can’t exist without the other so the only thing left to do in figuring out what is going on here is to quote an explanation from the book’s introduction:

“C has always searched for its own path. And that is how we approached this cookbook. This is not a conventional cookbook. It is not a series of menus or of seasons, but of photos. These conceptual photos inspired the recipes; it was through the lens of the camera that the dishes emerged.”

Thus we have philosophy, art and food all on the same plate, a rather confounding combination for someone who just wants  to cook something delicious. Do we really have to do so much thinking when we’re hungry? C believes so.

C has been a pioneer since it opened in 1997. It used local products as a palate to paint new possibilities, not always successfully, it must be said, but always in the spirit of pushing boundaries, which meant things were never dull. It then began to peel back the onion of its food sources – where the ingredients came from, how they were raised or harvested, what it cost in terms of environmental sustainability to get them to table. As a result, a new awareness spread through Vancouver’s restaurant community, fueled by C as it led the effort to stop plundering endangered species for temporary eating delight, particularly through the Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise program.

That’s the philosophical side, which Chef Clark has worked hard to promote. But there’s also a lot of good eating to be done, and this book shows that it’s possible for the home cook to aspire to restaurant quality if the ingredients are top-notch and time is taken to prepare some of the spices mixes and garnishes that lift the dishes beyond the ordinary. There are recipes here for starters like coconut shrimp, delicately cooked in a lemon-grass and kaffir-lime-zest scented reduction of coconut cream, dungeness crab meat served in a winter melon salad, and a tomato consomme incorporating clams, chorizo and swiss chard. There are also a number of meat dishes here, including slow roasted pork seasoned with pumpkin spice (a recipe for the spice mix appears at the back of the book), roasted duck breast and braised beef shanks. Wine suggestions accompany each recipe.

Although the book states that the recipes in it flowed from the photographs taken by Hamid Attie, there are some restaurant favourites here, too, among them their famous nori scones. But for the most part though, they are unique, and to celebrate the book’s arrival, the restaurant currently offers a special tasting menu featuring some of the dishes.

Here’s a recipe for calamari, C-style. Please note that if you’re making your own crème fraîche (which takes 24 to 48 hours to “ripen”) for the dip, the book suggests it be made and chilled at least 24 hours before use.

1 lb. squid bodies
2 cups buttermilk
2 tsps. kosher salt
1 cup flour seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Crème Fraîche Habanero Dip
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro
½ habanero pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 cup crème fraîche (recipe follows)
Beer Batter
1 cup potato starch
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup Seven C’s Spice Blend (recipe follows)
2 tsps. baking powder
1½ cups lager, ale or dark beer
Kosher salt
1 lime, cut into wedges

To prepare the squid, cut the squid bodies cross-wise into ¼-inch slices. Stir together the buttermilk and salt in a non-reactive bowl. Add squid and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Drain squid, discarding the buttermilk. Dredge the squid in seasoned flour to coat completely. Gently lay squid on a baking sheet and set aside for 10 minutes to allow squid to dry and firm up slightly. Pour oil into a deep fryer and heat to 350°F, following manufacturer’s instructions.

To prepare dip, fold cilantro and habanero pepper into the crème fraîche and set aside.

To prepare the beer batter, whisk together potato starch, flour, spice blend, and baking powder. Pour in the beer and stir until smooth.

Dip squid rings one at a time in beer batter and deep-fry, a few at a time, for 2 to 3 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Drain squid on paper towel and season with salt to taste.

To serve, place squid in a napkin-lined bread basket or bowl, and squeeze lime juice over the top. Serve with the crème fraîche and habanero dip. Serves 4. Serve with Prosecco.

Crème Fraîche: Mix together ½ cup buttermilk, 1½ cups whipping cream (35%) and ½ tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice in a non-reactive bowl. Cover with a clean damp cloth so the cream can breathe while remaining protected. Allow to stand at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours until the cream has thickened and smells slightly sour. Refrigerate crème fraîche for at least 24 hours or up to four days before using. If  crème fraîche splits, drain it by placing it in a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Makes about 2 cups.

Seven C’s Spice Blend: Toast 2 tsps. caraway seeds and 3 whole cloves in a dry skillet until fragrant, then grind them to a fine powder. Combine with 3 tbsps. ground coriander, 2 tbsps. ground cumin, 1 tbsp. ancho chili powder, 1 tsp. ground cardamom and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Store in airtight container. Makes about 1/3 cup.

From C Food