This latest stylish cooking tome from Phaidon focuses on Marfa, a tiny town in west Texas and fine dining restaurant/art installation The Capri, which is located there. If you’ve not heard of The Capri – or indeed Marfa – you’re probably not alone, so here’s a potted history.
The restaurant, set four blocks back off Marfa’s main drag, is located in a former WWII army airfield hangar, and was bought by owner Virginia Lebermann in 2004. Initially opened as a cultural arts project in 2007, it wasn’t until a year later, with the arrival of chef Rocky Barnette in Marfa in December 2008, that the idea formed to add a restaurant element to the building.
The philosophy – for want of a better word – at The Capri is to focus as much as possible on the ‘austere’ Texan landscape and to reflect the restaurant’s proximity to Mexico (it is said that Marfa was home to the first Tex-Mex restaurant in Texas). Barnette lives by the axiom ‘a lack of options clears the mind’, the book tells us, a jumping off point for an approach to cooking that explores and learns from the restaurant’s environment and the multiplicity of cultures that exist around it.
Cooking in Marfa does not follow the traditional restaurant owner cookbook narrative – with the story laid out in the first instance and the recipes following as you might find them on the menu. Instead, Lebermann and Barnette’s story is woven into the pages between instructive chapters on cocktails (which kicks off the book, rather than ends it, as is traditional), smaller dishes, ‘composed dishes’, tortillas and breads, helados, bases and sauces and finally pickles and ferments.
Despite the dusty Texan landscape depicted in the book, Barnette’s dishes are full of colour, from the dual purple hued prickly ear rose sorbet to the kaleidoscopic range of tortillas the restaurant dyes myriad colours – not simply for aesthetic affect but as an ongoing experiment into the colours of the natural world. A dish of watermelon radishes is particularly striking with its deep red colour that fans out to a creamy outer ring.
While The Capri’s dishes shine between the 250 or so pages, it is the chapter on bases and sauces that is the most beguiling. From ember-scented olive oil and pic de gallo (which translates as ‘beak of the rooster’ owing to the size the ingredients are cut), to the ‘mother of all moles’ recado negro, the recipes encapsulate the rich flavours (and smells) of Barnette’s cooking. Now, how does one get to Marfa?
Number of pages: 255
Self-indulgence rating: ✪✪
Must try dish: Watermelon gazpacho with tequila and aged balsamico
Publisher and price: Phaidon, £35