Hell's Kitchen owner releases cookbook, Damn Good Food

Like most heavy-hitters on the dining scene, restaurant owner Mitch Omer is a colorful character. He's a recovered addict, has struggled with manic depression, and in recent years has lost weight thanks to gastric-bypass surgery. Jacques Pepin has been quoted as stating that "Mitch Omer makes Anthony Boudain look like an altar boy." Together, he and Ann Bauer have penned an original and fun cookbook, Damn Good Food, that is as much about a man and his wild past as it is about his tasty recipes.

Part biography, part cookbook, Omer, with the help of Bauer candidly speaks of his struggle with mental illness, his attempts to land a gig on a reality show, and the love story of his parents (complete with recipes for garlic coleslaw, Aunt Fran's chicken and noodles, and caramel sauce) in the opening chapters.

The nostalgia turns raunchy in the third chapter, "Drugs, Sex, and Gluttony: Recipes from the Vagabond Years." If you've ever wanted to recreate recipes from someone deep into cocaine, PCP, and rock 'n' roll, this is your opportunity. This chapter is heavy on the seafood and meat dishes, and features classy-sounding treats like jalapeno-polenta blinis with sour cream, chives, and caviar, lobster risotto with roe and fresh peas, and charred tuna with beurre noisette. This section is heavy on menu items from Omer's days at Pracna and New French Café.

Finally, later chapters focus on the recipes and menu items that have made Hell's Kitchen in Duluth and Minneapolis the tasty restaurants they have grown to be. There are recipes for breakfast items like the lemon-ricotta hotcakes, crab cakes, plus a special section on eggs. There are also chapters dedicated to sandwiches and burgers, entrees, and dessert. Perhaps the most intriguing section focuses on libations and includes a relatively simple--though ingredient-heavy--recipe for a mean Bloody Mary.

In conclusion, even if you don't make anything from the cookbook, you'll probably at least have a good time reading the biographical portions on the strange life of Mitch Omer. Those that aren't that into labor intensive cooking should probably beware--many recipes include asides into special sauces or purees that newbies might find daunting or discouraging. However, if time-strapped or just lazy, most recipes can be simplified, and the directions should be informative regardless of your level of experience.