My copy of Justin Quek, Passion & inspiration has been sitting on my desk next to my computer ever since it was mailed to me a few weeks ago. I have come to know a bit about Chef Justin Quek’s history through Chubby Hubby, but I felt a bit of intimidation as I eyed the gorgeous cover day after day. Adam devoured the book the day it arrived, asking me daily “Have you read it yet? You must read this book.” Of course I had every intention, it’s not every day a package arrives from one of my personal heroes halfway across the planet. But why my hesitation? It was two-fold: I felt unequipped to comprehend and review a chef whose personal praises come from both Charlie Trotter and Ferran Adria themselves, and Chef Justin’s world of French cuisine with his own touch only magnifies what little knowledge I possess about French cooking.
And then I read it.
It only took a few pages into the book, if that, to realize there’s no intimidation necessary when you’re dealing with someone so passionate and real about their art. Part cookbook, part memoir, Justin’s book tells his experiences that begin as a young merchant ship cook that eventually led him to some of France’s top kitchens to learn, train and hone his skill. It’s a remarkable story, but what sticks with me most is his desire to learn and the accessibility in his voice. It simply has to be one of the most real, inviting, and down-to-earth cookbooks I have read in such a long time – exactly the opposite thing I initially expected from such a star chef in a culinary hot spot like Singapore.
And the recipes? Unlike cookbooks from restaurants, let alone famous chefs, Justin’s passion shines through, and the simplicity is simply astonishing. That’s not to say they’re not rich in flavor – this book does have its roots in French cooking, after all – but Justin’s influence brings an Asian sensibility to them in the most glorious and unique fashion. For once I am reading a book that inspires me to create everything from cover to cover, with Justin’s warm spirit coming through every recipe. I’ve never met the man, but one can’t help adore someone who is as passionate and artistic as he is.
And big giant kudos to Amoris Wang, the photographer who crafted such beautiful food images that had me licking the page. Full confession: I had to get up and go to the kitchen twice while reading this book, I can’t remember a cookbook that made me so insanely hungry.
I plan on cooking from this book in the next few weeks, after I track down a few pounds of John Dory (one of my faves) for one of Justin’s recipes. And if I can’t find any it won’t be a problem – there are dozens of other recipes that I can’t wait to try.
Cross your fingers and hope that you can purchase Justin Quek, Passion & Inspiration here in the US. Chubby Hubby says on his website that it’s currently only available in Asia. Call a friend, hop on a plane, do whatever it takes to get a copy of this book (which was written by the talented Tan Su-Lyn and edited by the incomparable Aun Koh, my hero!)