But both shopping lists and a dose of ideology are fairly standard for cookbooks. Readers of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook require a real chef's knife and a lifetime's supply of shallots and veal bones, as well as patience with profanity and impulsive diatribes against veganism. Paltrow's need a trip to a health food store, and have to swallow some odd nutritional claims. If Paltrow doesn't have as much training as Bourdain, she's hardly the only amateur out there. Putting prejudice aside then, the questions become: (1) are the nutritional claims valid? and (2) is the food good?
Turning to experts for some fact-checking on this one produced some interesting reactions. "I don't know why she's getting such a hard time," wrote pastry chef David Lebovitz, who got his start at Alice Waters's Chez Panisse, though he noted that he hadn't seen the book yet. "Celebrities (whether they deserve it or not) are writing cookbooks. At least she's using real food and cooking it!" He added that a friend working on the book said Paltrow "was really involved."
There's certainly plenty of real food: Though packaged as an homage to Paltrow's departed father, the book does not skimp on recipes, starting out with basics like stocks and sauces (homemade Sriracha—that's one you don't get every day) then proceeding to soups, salads, burgers and sandwiches, pastas, main courses, side dishes, breakfast, and desserts. The offerings range from the classic chicken and dumplings to the more niche homemade veggie burgers, from duck ragu to miso soup. And of course, though there are deliberately reckless indulgences like macaroni and cheese, or her father's pancake recipe (with eye-poppingly large quantities of buttermilk, butter, and eggs), a macrobiotic or vegan option, or a recipe using spelt instead of wheat, is usually only a few pages away.
Do the healthful options make sense? From a culinary perspective, the reliance on spelt rather than wheat, or maple syrup and agave nectar rather than sugar, isn't all that outrageous. "People were making dessert with honey before the advent of white refined sugar," Lebovitz pointed out, and "usually whole grains and alternative flours provide another dimension of flavor to a lot of baked goods." Nor is it completely nuts to try to bake muffins without eggs, I found out from Susan Reid, a baking expert with King Arthur Flour who had just completed an eggless chocolate cake recipe.
In fact, if a single late-night testing session is any indication, Paltrow's vegan, spelt-based blueberry muffin recipe works pretty well, despite the unusual ingredients. "I have to admit, that is an impressive muffin recipe, given its proportions and the fact that it has to hold up a lot of berries," Reid said, perusing the forwarded recipe along with my testament to its success. That said, "white spelt seems kind of ridiculous to me; if you're going to go for a grain like that, why wouldn't you want the whole grain version?"