Book 'em: International restaurant reviewer and cookbook author Patricia Wells wasn't originally scheduled to come to Denver on her book tour to promote Patricia Wells at Home in Provence ($40), but when she saw that Houston was on her itinerary, she called the publisher. "I asked them if I could come here instead," she said over breakfast at the Augusta in the Westin Hotel. "Denver is so much more interesting than Houston." Wells has been to Aspen many times for the annual Food & Wine Classic but had only been able to pop into Denver briefly during those visits. This time she was able to stay a few days and take in meals at the Fourth Story and Le Central, although she explained that she can't really comment on them as restaurants since both places cooked from her book. "That's the problem with these things," she said. "I get to all these cities and wind up eating my own food."
Wells makes her home in Paris but has a second place in Provence (who doesn't?), and that's what this cookbook's all about. Actually, it's more of a reading cookbook than a cooking cookbook, since most of us aren't going to be making soup out of artichokes and black truffles anytime soon. I did, however, whip up her whole chicken with twenty shallots, thyme and lemon, and it was easy and great, and there are quite a few dishes in the book that have three- or four-step recipes. Some of the ingredients she lists, though, simply aren't available here.
And one thing we definitely lack is the fresh, fresh produce that Wells continually calls for--the stuff found at markets that was picked just an hour earlier. "I've found that in the States in general, people don't know what fresh is," she said. "I've had tomatoes here in restaurants that were not ripe, they were rotten." And she's also suffered through the other end of the spectrum: the pale pink, crunchy, gassy, underripe tomato. Fortunately, all of the fruit on the Augusta's tropical-fruit plate was ripe, if not particularly tropical (cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, all of which can be grown right here in Colorado).
From Denver, the Milwaukee-born Wells was on her way to one of her favorite food cities, Seattle. "It's beautiful, and everything is always very fresh," she noted. (Which could account for why that city topped runner-up Denver in Fortune's recent list of the most livable cities.)
Several other noteworthy cookbooks are hot off the press. I went crazy over the Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook ($14.95), by Ruth Van Waerbeek, mainly because the only other cookbooks that specialize in Belgian food are written in French, and there's nothing worse than trying to translate directions for a sauce while it's boiling over on the stove (the deep-fried cheese croquettes were so good they made my family's eyes roll backward in their heads). And two wonderful Mexican books just came out: Cantina ($19.95), by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, and Mexican Kitchen ($35), by Rick Bayless (check out the ancho-marinated Oaxacan fish). Vegetarians will appreciate Beyond the Moon ($18), by Ginny Callan; the soup recipes I tried came out well even though they're not meat-stock-based. And families who like Crock Pot cooking but hate the Campbell's soup bases most cookbooks suggest will love Cooking Under Cover ($29.95), by Linda and Fred Griffith, who offer one-dish meals with a gourmet bent.