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Peer Inside Josef Centeno’s New Bäco Cookbook, a Celebration of Downtown LA

The cookbook debuts this week

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Bäco cookbook
Matthew Kang
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

Josef Centeno’s new cookbook dubbed bäco (Chronicle Books) is a gorgeous volume on Downtown Los Angeles’s recent modernization. The serial restaurateur with five restaurants strung along a single block on the corner of 4th and Main in Historic Core released his cookbook yesterday. It covers dishes from across the spectrum of his restaurants, from the namesake Bäco Mercat to Bar Amá, Orsa & Winston, Ledlow, and the newest P.Y.T. (he also recently opened the fast-casual BäcoShop in Culver City).

The striking pictures come from seasoned local photographers Dylan Ho and Jeni Afuso. Centeno co-wrote the book with former LA Times food section deputy editor Betty Hallock. The written section dives into Downtown LA’s rapid transformation from sleepy urban core to a bustling business and nightlife district. Eater sat down with Centeno last week to discuss the new book and how he wants it to become a useful and approachable manual for cooking at home.

Curry leaf Meyer lemon pickle
Chronicle Books

While the ingredient lists for many of the recipes might be daunting, Centeno says he has multiple substitute recommendations. He also suggests that many of the harder-to-find produce or spices can be left off completely with moderate success.

The introduction to the book sheds light on Centeno’s rise as Downtown LA’s resident chef, from Bäco Mercat’s opening back in 2011 to the subsequent openings along the block. Centeno’s main inspiration comes from a rabid pursuit of flavor, mostly through the use of vibrant spice blends, sauces, and other flavor enhancers.

In fact, the first set of recipes focuses completely on these flavor bombs: from Middle Eastern baharat (a spice blend of cumin, coriander, and paprika) to sunflower-miso tahini. Centeno employs these recipes throughout the book, so it’s best to learn these recipes first before attempting the array of appetizers and entrees.

The relative simplicity of the recipes evinces a timeless and distinctly Angeleno outlook on cooking, drawing heavily from Asian and Middle Eastern influences. One might sense a kind of Yotam Ottolenghi-style approach to every day recipes, whereupon the London-based chef creates easy-to-grasp dishes for the serious home cook.

Peer through some of Centeno’s recipes below and try the blueberry and frangipane rye-caraway crostata. The chef says that’s the single recipe that he hopes cooks will try when they pick up the book.

Bäco is now available for purchase on Amazon and at local bookstores.

Blueberry Crostata, Bäco Cookbook
Chronicle Books

Bäco Mercat

408 South Main Street, , CA 90013 (213) 687-8808 Visit Website

Orsa & Winston

122 4th Street, , CA 90013 (213) 687-0300 Visit Website


400 South Main Street, , CA 90013 (213) 687-7015 Visit Website


9552 Washington Boulevard, , CA 90232 (424) 258-6301 Visit Website

Bar Amá

118 4th Street, , CA 90013 (213) 687-8002 Visit Website