Culinary bad boy Tony Bourdain and his Les Halles owner chefs have written a very, very good cookbook. If you have an ounce of interest in reading good cookbooks, stop reading this and go to the top of the page and order yourself a copy.
If you are still here, I will tell you that this is an excellent cookbook:
1. Tony Bourdain is a very good writer. That means reading this book is very entertaining and worth the price even if you make none of the recipes. There are hundreds of good cookbooks, but Bourdain joins the very select rank, along with Alton Brown and Wayne Harley Brachman of culinary writers who can have you laughing out loud. It also means that he knows how to put things so you understand them and remember them.
2. The book is all about demystifying classic Bistro cooking and in convincing you that with the right attitude and the right directions, you can do as well or better than any newbie professional cook entering Tony's kitchen to work for the first time. Bourdain lays out the reality of this cuisine in a way I have never seen before. If you ever had any reservations about whether you wanted to cook or had the aptitude to cook, this is the book for you.
3. The book presents excellent directions for doing most of the basic preparations for bistro dishes, with special emphasis on preparing stocks. I even think Tony sells himself short when he says that if a chef used his directions at one of Thomas Keller's restaurants, he would be fired on the spot. I personally find Bourdain's stockmaking recipes as good or better than any I have seen short of the CIA textbook. All the right steps are there and all the right culinary reasons for doing them are there.
4. The book explains some kitchen techniques and ways of thinking that I have simply never seen anywhere else explained so well. Recipes for dishes such as bouillabaisse and cassoulet which in most other books seem to be daunting projects are broken down into realistic steps which make them entirely manageable. This is the only place I have seen the very logical distinction between `deep prep' and `prep'. Deep prep is the type of work Beetle Bailey does when he is on KP duty. It is distinctly unskilled labor. Prep work requires culinary training and involves making stocks, glazes, compotes, and the like, and work that requires trained knife skills.
5. The book gives us excellent recipes for all and only classic bistro cooking with wonderfully informative comments and instructions. (I am especially grateful that Bourdain gives both English and Metric measurements for all ingredients. The French, after all, cook entirely in metric.) There is no filler here. There are no recipes which would be more at home in a book by Mario Batali or Ming Tsai. It also means that if you have two or three good French books on `cuisine bourgeois', you will probably already have recipes for many of the dishes presented in this book. But, this book is so entertaining and the recipes are so well written I would not let this give you any pause. Buy it anyway.
6. The book does not make itself out as the wisdom of a single mind. Culinary skill is highly social, done in a world full of influences and people to influence. Bourdain is generous with his being clear about the people and institutions to whom he owes his culinary skill, with special mention being given to Jacques Pepin. Yet, Bourdain has absolutely nothing about which to be modest. He has given us a major addition to useful culinary literature.
Aside from excellent chapters on general principles and glossaries, the chapters are almost all the same you will find in any good English language book of French recipes. These are:
Soups, including excellent comments on which preparations improve with age and which DO NOT!
Salads, including a surprising method for preparing lardons. Boiled, not fried.
Appetizers, especially gratins, snails, and mussels.
Fish and shellfish: Lobster and dry scallops and pike, oh my!
Beef, of course. Note the very important notes on how the French cut up the cow different from us Yanks.
Veal and Lamb. The lamb stew recipe is especially good. Baaaaaa.
Pig, from nose to tail. Bourdain is a great fan of Fergus Henderson and of using everything but the oink.
Poultry and Game, roasted, braised, and rolled chicken, duck, and pheasant.
The big Classics. You know the ones.
Blood and Guts. Recipes for `the fifth quarter' of organ meats.
Potatoes. I love a book that puts potato recipes in a special chapter. Way to go Tony.
Desserts. Everything you expect. Crème Brule, poached pears in wine, and clafoutis.
Even the trivial stuff is done right. The recipe titles are BIG. The recipe text is done in a very easily readable font. The binding is especially well made to take a lot of standing open while you prepare dishes from the recipes. The book is so well put together, I am surprised it was not published by Knopf , Scribners, or Harper Collins. The closest recent book to this volume is from the chefs at Balthazar, also in New York City. This book beats out that effort by a mile. My only complaint that this book shares with the Balthazar book is that some recipes are in French and some in English. Why not consistently give both?
This book is not a classic like Julia Child's `Mastering the Art of French Cooking' or James Peterson's `Sauces', but, I have read several of Bourdain's references by Robuchon and Bocuse on French cuisine and I would recommend Bourdain over these luminaries for the clarity and fun in his writing.
Very highly recommended for both clear recipes of popular dishes and the great support he gives to the confidence of the amateur cook.
on July 6, 2006
The target audience for this book is the dedicated home cook, or "foodie." The introduction, and the comments interspersed, which aim to simplify and demystify professional cuisine, are worth the price of the book: you can get recipes anywhere, but they don't come with the benefit of Anthony Bourdain's years of training and exploration (which wasn't a walk in the park; read _Kitchen Confidential_ if you're curious about the underside).
His passion makes the prose explode off the page. I actually read most of the Introduction out loud to my wife once, as I was finding it just too delicious not to share the humor and deep insight.
I also had to give my first copy to my daughter (who, as a sous-chef at an Atlanta restaurant, is not in the target audience), but she can't get enough of "Uncle Tony"'s writing, either.
The recipes spell out not only ingredients, but what tools are needed. Where else can you be instructed to make cotes du boeuf wearing "novelty apron or vintage Ted Nugent T-shirt," and to serve it with "an outrageously expensive Burgundy in cheap glasses to show [the guests] who's their Daddy"?
All of the funky, sometimes ribald humor (you no like cusswords, you no buy da book, OK, paisan'?) serves to brand certain points into your brain (on using fresh herbs for poulet roti: "keep that dried trash away from my bird").
The emphasis on prep and mise en place, as applied to the home kitchen, will do most cooks a world of good. He makes it clear that by thinking through what you need and what you're going to do ahead of time, and then organizing everything, you reduce mistakes, speed up the process, let go of a ton of stress, and make better food. Resistance is futile. You _will_ go buy a bunch of little stainless pinch bowls for chopped this and minced that. You _will_ sort out what you're doing ahead of time. You will _not_ put dried herbs in a roast chicken or burn the garlic. You _will_ burst out laughing while cooking, before the wine is even open, because you remembered some relevant point from this book.
Perhaps you'll also recognize and incorporate some classic techniques into the making of other dishes, if you hadn't already.
If you are not already a professional chef and this book doesn't improve your cooking, send me your copy and I'll videotape myself eating it with nothing but some _gros sel_ and maybe a little horseradish.
There are lovely sauce and dressing recipes in their own section, and therein I encountered my only problem with the book. I'm not sure it's possible to get an aioli to emulsify with only one egg yolk to a cup of oil, for example; I'm going to have to try that one again. The nice, simple vinaigrette didn't emulsify either, but they're both delicious.
If Anthony Bourdain didn't exist, someone would have to invent him.
on November 2, 2004
I read B. Marold's amazing review below and immediately bought the book, it must be said. Tony Bourdain's brilliant cookbook is brief history and bootcamp styled self-help. He truly helped me shine with my new in-laws with his book and wile away the hours in-flight.
Went to Ireland to honeymoon with my in-laws on their dairy farm, an American gourmand alien to rural life. Ultimately brought this book with me to give to my Irish sister-in-law who's a fantastic cook. This book has both metric and English/American measurements and temperatures, which is a great help to all cooks stateside and abroad.
Read the first chapter and fell in love with Tony Bourdain all over again, after avidly watching his "A Cook's Tour" series on FoodTV. It makes sense: the best chefs come from the poorest regions of the world. Why? They have to improvise with the 'scraps' made available to them and make the undesirable most delicious. That explains why some of my best dishes were made with paltry remains in the pantry days from payday or years away from real income.
I offered to make my in-laws dinner one night with a recipe from the cookbook. Something basic and not frightfully exotic was the consensus. My intended feast: chicken basquaise. Feeding a family of five hungry adults in Ireland (or anywhere in the EU) is darned expensive. Lucked out at the local supermarket when eight pieces of chicken (thighs with bone and skin) were on sale, as all other options broke my budget.
My wonderful, saintly mother-in-law regards cooking as drudgery and the kitchen reflects this sentiment. I regard cooking as essential therapy, All-Clad as instruments of mental health. I was shocked we spent over $100 on two measly bags of food for the meal. For the considerable expense of groceries and the toll my outsized ego would take, I prayed the meal would be successful.
In the kitchen making the meal, I operated in less than ideal circumstances with limited overhead light (oh!), scant pots and pans (no!), and makeshift utensils (ugh!) on an electric stove (egads!). Kept glancing at Tony Bourdains really simple recipe, insisting it must be harder than it is. It wasn't.
When the meal was done, we all sat around the large table and served them. I nearly cried to see everyone in my new family of simple eaters devour first plates and second helpings. We left the table stuffed and blissfully happy, repeating with newfound eloquence: chicken basquaise, ooh la la.
If this American can impress pastoral people of Ireland with simple tastes and big appetites with one of Tony Bourdain's sophisticated recipes, then I absolutley assure you similar success with anyone. His explanations are sensible and inspire imagination. Following his logic and any of his recipes instills confidence.
on October 3, 2004
This is easily one of the greatest food books I've ever purchased. It is as much a guide to bistro cooking as it is a collection of recipes from the restaurant. Bourdin's wry writing style comes through quickly and often. He gleefully pokes fun of dumb American palettes and those that would think the most expensive steak (tenderloin) is the best because it can be cut with a fork. The recipes are as good as they get and he never suggests taking short cuts. Those that properly make stock and demi glaze from the recipes at the beginning will do well later when the steak au poivre recipe calls for it. A valuable reference hysterically written that should find a happy home in your collection along with the Balthazar cookbook.
on September 11, 2005
Ok, so I am a foodie, I have been cooking for years, and made the decision to not kill that love by going to cooking school and making it my full-time job. Instead I went to law school.
I have been a fan of Anthony for a long time now, his attitude and adventuristic style comport with my own. I received a copy of this cookbook, and had it kicking around on my shelf for a few months. Then came my wife's birthday.
I am a cook who already knows what I want the end result to be, and usually just refer to cookbooks for temperatures and times, and the occasional idea for what else to add to a dish. I guess that I use cookbooks as reference manuals, not for rote instructions.
I decided to make rack of lamb, as we were in the mood for meat, and that is an especially nice meal to drop on your guests: some veg, some potatoes, and three or four ribs of lamb with a red wine reduction. Pop a few bottles, and ... Nice.
So I was cruizing my cookbooks for ideas, and came upon his book. I read through the recipe for "carre d'agneau au moutarde" and thought, geez, this is simple and looks really good. I decided to just do his recipe whole nut. It was spectacular. An absolute hit.
Let me tell you, my family and friends are serious foodies. We love to get together for special occasions and blow a paycheck on an excellent meal with good wines. We all travel, and are the types to try all the freaky foods you find in local markets in far away places (most recently Beijing's stinky tofu and fried scorpions).
We were all floored. The lamb was fantastic. It is a quick meal: you just take your racks, salt and pepper them, brown them in olive oil and butter, set them in your roaster, slather them with dijon mustard and then breadcrumbs, then roast at 375 for 20 minutes. Easy.
I highly recommend this cookbook. The recipes are easy to make, and are truly the classic recipes, but cut down in time and process to make it doable at home. This is the type of recipe that is quick to make and could be whipped up for special occasions or an impressive business dinner. Get this book.
on March 7, 2005
You can't go wrong. As someone who impulsively purchases cookbook after cookbook only to make one or two recipes in them, the entertaining and casually pedantic tone to Bourdain's book makes it a worthwhile read even if you don't ultimately make anything. That, however, would be a mistake. I've made the French Onion soup (to die for), the Mushroom soup, Poulet Basquaise and Iles Flotantes in the short time I've had the book. These recipes were surprisingly easy and delicious.
I'm a bit confused and amused by some who claim to be die-hard Bourdain fans and then are surprised when he drops the f-bomb in the cookbook. Tony is Tony and that's what makes him so likeable in my opinion. But if you have a problem with the occasional swear and tough-talking language, then you're probably better off eschewing this book, but then, you probably know that already.
I also purchased Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook and I note the differences in their approaches. Tony, being a bit of the food and restaurant historian, observes that everyone can make this Bistro food because it's casual and nonfussy by nature and because the home French cook who executes these recipes is not interested in being a fastidious culinary genious (a la Keller), but rather in easily feeding his or her family. In other words, you can have minimal skills and slop these recipes together successfully. On the other hand, Keller claims that for the same recipes it's all about technique. Keller advocates, for instance, putting ice in a stock part way through to further "clarify" it, or using cheesecloth to separate the meat from the vegetables to again further clarify the sauce in the beef bourginon. Tony would joke that unless your dinner guest is Thomas Keller he or she would not know the difference between a clarified or impure sauce for boeuf bourginon so why bother? But more seriously, I can't help but think that, as much as Tony adores Keller, he would say that Keller misses the point because this type of fussiness is not what Bistro food is all about.
on October 2, 2004
Bourdain brings the same no-nonsense, hard talking patter that made Kitchen Confidential so enjoyable to an actual cookbook. He writes like he talks and in a universe where cookbooks are too often just artsy coffee table decorations that is refreshing. Throughout the book you get the sense that Bourdain is actually talking to you (OK, sometimes he's yelling at you) which makes the whole thing feel more like a conversation on cooking rather than a school text book. I'd been cooking for years but had never attempted to make my own demi-glace. After reading his passage on veal stock I gave it a try and it worked great. If you own a lot of cookbooks (like I do) and think you just don't need another go buy it anyway. You won't regret it.
on September 7, 2005
This cookbook has been a consistent success for me--we usually cook something from it at least once a week. The pork recipes are particularly good (as is the roasted chicken!).
Bourdain's instructions on how to make veal stock and demiglace were sufficiently inspiring to get me to attempt it and the results were as good as he suggests. I've had ice cube trays of demiglace in my freezer for months now and it is a magic ingredient for sauces.
All in all an excellent cookbook. Don't be put off by the "attitude" other reviewers have complained about--it's more in the nature of coaching than real invective.
on November 3, 2004
I was sick in bed when this arrived and found myself laughing out loud and sitting up in bed. This reads almost like a novel. This is not your typical cookbook, ie I wouldn't consider giving it to my French mother, due to Tony's (ahem) colorful style of writing. It is more geared towards the new wave of home cooks. However, I would gladly and wholeheartedly make any of the recipes for my mother, and she would be very pleased. These recipes bring back memories of my childhood. I simply cannot wait to gorge myself on rillettes just as I did as a child. Thank you, Tony Bourdain, thank you.
on January 9, 2005
I haven't read any of his previous books, so I wasn't a lifelong Anthony Bourdain fan, who was buying his cookbook because I liked his other stuff.
However having read his cookbook, I will now try and read his other stuff, because as many of the other reviewers have commented, I was laughing out loud while reading it.
Behind the Bourdain "attitude", there is solid cooking technique and food knowledge, and a lot of common sense about how to prepare classic bistro dishes.
I also particularly liked the emphasis on building up a good network of food suppliers. People tend to think that professional chef's concentrate mainly on good techniques, their training and clever presentation tricks, to get the results they do in professional kitchens. What is often not so appreciated, is that they start with the best ingredients possible. This combined with good technique is the killer combination.
Having just found an incredible range of suppliers for meat, fish and seafood in local Butchers, Fishmongers, and Markets in Manchester UK, I was already putting the "network of food suppliers" thing into practice before I got the book.
It really struck a chord when I read this section in the book. Bourdain is 100% correct that if you make the effort, show that you are concerned about the quality of your purchases, and use the knowledge of these suppliers, that you can source really good ingredients. You can find things that you thought were only available to top restaurants, and in Coffee Table Cookbook Fantasy Land.
I did have some sympathy for one reviewer who complained about the lack of availability of ingredients in his/her part of the USA. All I can say is that if you hunt around, I think you'll find that there are a lot of places hidden away in your locality, which you never even knew about. The Internet and Mail Order are also increasingly making it possible to get hold of exotic ingredients.
Finding the ingredients used to be the part of cooking that I enjoyed the least. Now I get such a kick out of " scoring the good stuff " that I'm a bit addicted to it.
Bourdain's cooking knowledge is the real deal, and the bonus with this book, is that he explains it in such an entertaining and approachable way, that you are far more likely to go ahead and try and make a demi-glace, or some of the other techniques outlined in the book. He makes the whole subject come alive.
I already had several versions of the recipes included in the book, and this initially put me off buying it. The other Amazon reviews I read convinced me to give it a try, and I'm so glad they did.
Bourdain's deep knowledge of food shines through in the introductory sections, and in the recipes.
Only people who are not interested in cooking, or are offended by bad language should avoid this book.
I now understand what all the fuss with Anthony Bourdain is about.
This book combines the wisdom and guidance of an excellent chef, with a rare intelligence and wit. I can't think of any better way of recommending this book.