Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Stuff of Legend(s)

Great Chefs of France-Anthony Blake, Quentin Crewe

In the thirty years since publication this book has gained an almost cult like status. Why? Not exactly too sure. Not that it isn't an interesting book. However it is certainly not the first or the last book to have been written about French chefs. But there is a certain mystique contained within these pages.

Perhaps in part it is due to the timing of the book. It was published in 1978. And while not a chef the formidable Madame point is featured in the book. Half of the others featured worked in her husbands kitchen. Several others wanted to but did not get the chance but it is clear that they were influenced by the man and his work. Not that this is a tribute to Point, at lest not intentionally. 'Great Chefs' chronicles and bridges that moment in time. Things on the French culinary scene were changing 'Nouvelle Cuisine' was all the rage. Gastro-tourism was on the rise and Chefs were getting to enjoy a certain new found celebrity status. In turn these chefs have influenced a whole new generation, or two, how to cook.

The book can be divided into two parts. The first being a profile of the chefs and their restaurants. The reader gets to learn first hand just what it is that has set these people and places apart. The second half is devoted to more practical information. Words form the chefs about cooking, wine, the specialties of the region, and even advice about running a restaurant.

It could also be in part of the photos taken by Blake, documenting both the front of the house and the goings on behind the scenes. They are striking in both black and white and color. Providing glimpses into the professional and person life of a restaurant family.

There can be no doubt that this book can seem dated. Half of those featured have since passed on. Others have retired and sold their restaurants. Yet it is this documentation of a unique time in modern gastronomy that makes this book so interesting.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Part 2...

Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume Two-Julia Child, Simone Beck,

This is the forgotten sibling of the ground breaking volume one. People know it is out there but the first volume gets all of the glory. It is like that Baldwin brother that you have seen in something but can't quite place and doesn't get mentioned by the others. Not that it in anyway is undeserved. It was the book that launched Julia Child and got America into cooking. And like a 'part 2' of a classic film it will always be looked at with some scepticism.

Following the phenomenal (and continuing) success of their first book Child and Beck after buying out the third author in the project Louisette Bertholle, published this follow up book. While the format and layout remain the same it is genuinely considered to be not quite as user friendly. Perhaps it is. Not that all of volume 1 was is entirely for beginners. Volume Two takes into account the it's readers have gotten the basics, which were the platform for volume 1, in hand. This book intently moved beyond all of that and looks at things, to name two, such as bread baking and charcuterie. While both these things are certainly staples of the French table they are not the basics that the average home cook will be needing on a daily basis.

Certainly the reader, weather challenged by the recipes or not, will experience first hand the passion and drive that set Julia Child so far ahead of all others.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Unlikely Idea.

"Spotted Dick S'il Vous Plait" An English Restaurant in France-Tom Higgins

Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of gastro-centric France. Numerous Michelin three star establishments are but a short drive away It takes some doing to open a restaurant in the city. With so much to chose from one really has to find a way to stand out in the crowd. In 1986 a man with very little culinary experience decided to do just that. As an expat he wanted to cook the food of his home land. The was certainly a niche market as until then there was not much call for English food. None the less Tom Higgins persevered and eventually opened just such a restaurant.

While English food is currently riding high thanks to the visibility of chefs such as Ramsay and White. Perhaps it has even gained some respect in France. This however was not the case when Higgens undertook his project. The feat was documented in his book "Spotted Dick S'il Vous Plait" An English Restaurant in France.

At times one really feels for Higgins and the troubles he has in dealing with French perceptions (not entirely unfounded) about English cooking, and the everyday bureaucracy found in France. Yet it is with a warmth and humor as well as an appreciation for his adopted home town that he tells his story and that of 'Mr Higgins'-his restaurant.

(Several of his most popular recipes are included in the back of the book.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Devil in the Kitchen

Devil in the Kitchen-Marco Pierre White + James Steen

As far as ‘tell all’ autobiographies go this one seems to tell more that most. There are no groundbreaking revelations. But it is nice to have a celebrity/author talk openly about events from his past without trying to gloss over things. In this case White gives the reader a ‘right or wrong this was the way it was’ point of view. No justification forth coming.

White’s career is legendary, the perfect culinary storm. He was a young dynamic English chef cooking French food in a small out of the way restaurant. The myth was enhanced with the publication of his first cookbook White Heat and the iconic black and white photographs within further added to his mystique. White would go on and become the first British born chef to win three Michelin stars. His personal life became tabloid fodder.

With the publication of this book white talks openly about the his childhood. About what it was like being in the middle of that storm that was his ascent. He freely admits that sometimes things did get out of hand and even explains why it was so. All the while the reader does not feel a sense of someone playing the victim. Instead with White's own eloquence the reader gets the feeling that if anything it has been an interesting and enjoyable ride.