Brennan’s of Houston has a tradition in which guests can reserve a spot at the kitchen table and watch their food simmer, ask the chef questions, and scrawl their names in a book (autographs began on a wall but there’s no more space). It’s a way to let people in on the action (honestly, don’t most dinner parties at home end up in the kitchen?). And what better way to sum up this wonderful experience than in a cookbook?

The opening section of The Kitchen Table, called “Kitchen Diaries,” displays comments and photos of previous guests who have sat at the esteemed Kitchen Table. Near the end of the book, a chapter titled “Open Kitchen” provides blueprints for cocktails and festivities; it explains the tradition at Brennan’s of an open invitation party in the restaurant kitchen Wednesday nights in June and July. Between these bookends, chef Randy Evans shares his secrets for lagniappe (meaning “a little something extra”), soup, salad, charcuterie (which includes curing meat and canning jellies), seafood, meat, cheese, and dessert. The recipes are complemented with chic photos of the finished dishes and frequent asides from Evans about the meal. The main inspiration is Cajun, but Evans favors innovation and fusion over sticking to traditional recipes.

Recipes that make us gawk in amazement:
Tempura Crab-Stuffed Squash Blossoms
Venison and Shiner Bock Sliders
Smoked Catfish Mousse
Homegrown Tomato Sundae
Peanut Crusted Soft-Shell Crab
Truffle-Scented Poussin With Rutabaga Hash
Duck Pot Pie
Pecan Crusted Cabrito Lollipops
Chilled Strawberry Basil Soup
Duck Confit Poppers
Drunken Watermelon Margarita
Mint Julep Moderne