34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2001
There's a special reason we go to the books of the great chefs. It's not to throw a meal together in 2 minutes, or to make sure we will find a dish we can cook with no trouble in two pans in our kitchens at home. It's to look inside an imagination and see what someone can achieve with ingredients and passion when it's what they do all day, every day, with devotion.
As Nigella Lawson said about another writer, "I often cook, if not directly from it, then inspired by it (which is more telling)". This is a truly inspiring work, one you will go back to again and again. From the buckwheat crepes with glaced fruit and eau de vie, to the amazing amazing fish soup, simple dishes with corn and over the top reworking of french classics, the judgement of flavours and textures is perfect. Ignore Water's fetish about perfect lettuce, read it, and just go to the kitchen. 10 stars out of five, the best of all the Waters books.
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2002
This is one of Alice Waters' early books, and it shows, as compared to the later ones. Many of the recipes are complicated, and involve ingredients that are not easy to come by, even in NYC. I read it more for amusement. The later books (Vegetables, Fruit, Cafe), are much more user friendly and result in great dishes. I wouldn't recommend this to someone new to her philosophy of cooking, or who doesn't have serious kitchen experience.
49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 1998
I enjoy reading this cookbook more to gather ideas than to find recipes I want to cook. Alice Waters describes how she and her team at Chez Panisse created many of their memorable meals, what inspired them, the problem that arose, and how they worked around those problems. What she doesn't write about as much is the actual process of preparing the food--the recipes. Of course, for some of these menus, it would be virtually impossible to create in a home kitchen, or to have access to the ingredients (a pig feed a diet heavy with garlic comes to mind). Good ideas for the knowledgable cook.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2006
American foodies owe a debt of gratitude to Alice Waters. She is the patron saint of California cooking, or new American cooking, or whatever you want to call it. She's the one who gave us goat cheese croutons, roasted beets, mache, and so many other now-ubiquitous dishes. "Former Chez Panisse chef" is just as much a brand name as the brand named meats and produce she serves at her restaurant.
For those reasons, I actually read The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook cover to cover, the way one reads an MFK Fisher book - to get an understanding of the cook's philosophy as well as recipes. Both women write in a formal style and have strong ideas about ingredients, preparation, presentation, and consumption. Unfortunately, Water's writing is more spare, perhaps as befits a patron saint, and lacks the pithy humor that leavens Fisher's books. Reading her prose is more like learning a lesson than being entertained.
Which may be why this book struck me as an essential book for someone who wanted to learn to be a restaurant chef, but not particularly useful for someone cooking at home. Most of the menus require some final preparation of the next dish after the preceding one has been served - possible in a restaurant, but not much fun at a dinner party if the cook wants to eat with the guests.
The individual dishes are also complicated or labor-intensive, causing me to often think as I read, "I'd eat that if someone made it for me." Waters is particularly fond of leg of lamb, lobsters, and quail and her recipes for these show the difficulty in preparing them at home. First, most of the lamb recipes call for spit-roasting the leg of lamb. She even explains how to build a spit. In my spit-deficient kitchen, those recipes are not possible.
Second, while I find a steamed lobster to be a wonderful treat on a special occasion, Waters takes the fun out of it with instructions to semi-cook a lobster, then remove the meat and make a fumet with the shells - a process involving roasting the shells, making the broth, putting the shells in a blender, then straining the whole thing through a fine sieve - then finish cooking the lobster. Whew!
Finally, quail do not usually show up on my dinner table, but if they did, I do not think I'd have the dedication to follow Walter's recipes. In most of her quail recipes she gives similar instructions: "Marinate the quail in a cool place overnight . . . turning the quail four to five times during this time." No little boney bird is worth losing a night of sleep.
Reading this Menu Cookbook made me want to spring for dinner at Chez Panisse, but it did not make me want to don an apron and start cooking.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2003
There's a lot of good sense and good food in this book, but the California style is getting a bit past mark of mouth, if you'll permit an archaic phrase/pun. I've made a few of these dishes, and they're fine, but somehow this isn't the book I pick up and flip through, asking myself, "what's for dinner?" With Jody Adams, Daniel Boulud, and Pat Wells on the shelf, I'm not sure I'd call this a "must have" addition. But, if you're a Waters fan, go for it .
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Some of the other reviewers have taken issue with the complexity and raw material requirements of some of the recipes, and it's true that most of us don't have access to all of the ingredients that are available to a premier restaurant near California's coast and amazingly rich farmlands, and most of us don't have a professional cook in the kitchen all day every day to make stocks, tend reductions, etc. (or the desire to be that cook, for that matter). You may not be up to, or inclined to make, a roast suckling pig. But there are still many recipes in the book that are within reach of an able home cook and the local grocery and farmer's market, and you will almost certainly find something in it to add to your repertoire. But the primary reason to buy the book is to be inspired by, and learn from, Alice Waters's extraordinary gift for bringing together dishes that complement and enhance each other. A random example: artichoke tart, charcoal-grilled duck breast, potato and wild mushroom gratin, and raspberries and crème fraîche. Doesn't that sound fabulous? Do yourself and those you feed a favor--get this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2010
Having dined at Chez Panisse, I anticipated being able to recreate some of those mouthwatering dishes, but not all are included -- an admittedly impossible task, since they change menu every single day and rely upon whatever local food is fresh at the time. While there are a lot of recipes here, they are not as accessible as I had expected, and I haven't tried any of them yet. But there is a wealth of great advice within these covers and I hope to be able to take advantage of Alice Waters' insights and tips.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2011
This is an excellent cookbook to add to your gourmet collection. There are quite a few recipes in here that one would consider to be more fine dining than an average home cook might want, but for the serious cook it is an excellent book to stretch the culinary imagination.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2015
It is kind of funny to see the negative comments here. Firstly, this cookbook IS more of a restaurant cookbook than a cookbook for the home cook because it's called - hello - The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook. Chez Panisse is the name of Alice Waters' restaurant, 'menu'... does one need to spell it out? This isn't a cookbook for those who want simple versions of the food at Chez Panisse but for those who want to recreate the dishes on the menu. Some recipes are simple, some are complex (not really complex but Ms. Waters is one of the keepers of the sacred rite of slow cooking. i.e. this ain't no fast food joint).
Secondly, there aren't any ingredients that are hard to find if you're willing to ask your market to order certain items (squab comes to mind. There really aren't any ingredients here that are hard to find in a major city or on the internet).
But most importantly... one doesn't need to take any recipe literally! If you can't find squab try quail. If you can't find quail try chicken. If you can't get black grapes try red grapes. Every cookbook is a springboard for creativity. You always have three options. 1. Follow the recipes exactly and recreate the chef's masterpieces. 2. Just get inspired by the recipes to use some of the ingredients and techniques in another dish of your own creation. 3. Check your pulse. If you can't get inspiration here, you might need medical intervention!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Alice Waters is famous for her resturant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California. While I have never been to dine while I was out there, I would love to go there myself. As somebody who loves food but more for the social connection which brings people closer together. I have to say that Alice Waters loves her life especially since it includes food and wine among her passions. If you're ever going to Berkeley, you must reserve a table at her restaurant. It is legendary because it's not a dine and dash, it's an experience to be remembered.
Alice Waters practices what she preaches when it comes to purchasing, preparing, and serving her food the for the customers. There is a saying that a chef who doesn't like his food is a very bad chef or something to that effect. Anyway, this book's layout has a collection of recipes from her restaurant directly from the menu and special occasions. She also offers practical advice and encourages substitution for some products not available during peak season. She encourages her fellow foodies to enjoy and savor the process of cooking rather than some chore.
I have one criticism with the book's lack of visual pictures or illustrations depicting on how the recipes should appear in it's outcome. With the thousands of cookbooks out there, I wouldn't imagine a chef without one from one of America's foremost restaurants.