Customer Reviews: Le Bernardin Cookbook: Four-Star Simplicity
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on June 1, 2000
I've eaten at Le Bernardin a couple of times and although I occasionally felt overwhelmed by the NYC high-powered patrons, I always left the table impressed and glad to pay the high pricetag. Meals there are tremendous. I was afraid I might be intimidated by this book but was pleasantly surprized. Not only was the book beautiful in presentation, layout and illustration, but the introductions, recipes and ingredients were very useable, easy to execute and a gastronomic success when I tried them. This is a book for every cookbook library.
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`Le Bernardin Cookbook' by highly regarded seafood chef Eric Ripert and restaurateur Maguy Le Coze (cofounder of the restaurant with her brother Gilbert) is the first case where I wished I could give a half a star. In many ways, it is a classic restaurant cookbook which is better than average in many ways, but I usually need a little more than `better than average' to give five stars. In comparison to Rob Feenie's `Lumiere' cookbook I reviewed yesterday, `Le Bernardin' exceeds expectations in the following ways:

It is almost entirely a cookbook for all sorts of fish, based primarily on classic French recipes. This means that if you had a shelf of 100 famous restaurant cookbooks and wanted a recipe for fish, you could immediately go to either this book or Bob Kinkead's recent restaurant book, depending on whether you wanted something from Brittany or Baltimore. Oddly, this book also shares with the Kinkead book the fact that at least one recipe author (Bob Kinkead and Gilbert Le Coze) for each book was entirely self-taught.

The story behind this book is about as endearing and as interesting as they come. `Le Bernardin' was originally opened in Paris by brother and sister Le Coze in 1972, after the siblings spend their early life together helping their parents run a struggling little restaurant on the coast of Brittany. After an initial splash and failure based on no experience, they ultimately succeeded in Paris. They followed this with opening the Manhattan restaurant in 1986, just as culinary consciousness in New York made it worth their while to open a restaurant which specialized in fish. All of this would be very ordinary if it were not for the incredible affection brother and sister had for one another, ended with the death of Gilbert at the age of forty-eight in 1994, just a year or two after hiring classically trained Eric Rippert as executive chef at the Manhattan restaurant.

The recipes, many the creation of unschooled Gilbert, tend to be much more original than what you may find in the standard fish cookbooks by Mark Bittman, James Beard, and Alan Davidson. None of the classic bistro recipes for mussels (which you will find in Tony Bourdain's `Les Halles' book) are here. While some tend to the involved, fish recipes tend to be involved primarily in the preparation of stocks, nages, butter sauces and court bouillons. If you get the techniques for doing these things well, many of the recipes devolve into very simple preparations, befitting the generally fast cooking times for fish.

Each recipe has a separate headnote from each author, and the counterpoint between them is almost worth the price of the book in itself. It is not uncommon for Madame Le Coze to really hate a recipe that Monsieur Rippert has just praised up and down the avenue. She usually comes around in the end, but the honesty is so unexpected that you start looking forward to contretemps in the next recipe dialogue.

The recipes are organized in a very satisfactory way for a restaurant book on fish. The first chapter is an especially good collection of recipes for the basics. These are for the stocks, nages, butter sauces and court bouillons cited above. This is one of the few cookbooks I can thing of which includes a shrimp, lobster, and clam stock recipe. And, near and dear to my heart is the fact that the chicken stock recipe cooks for only three hours! The following eight chapters on fish dishes is just a little mixed, in that two chapters represent courses, `Salads' and `Appetizers' while six chapters represent the techniques `Raw Fish', `Poached and Steamed Fish', `Sautéed Fish', `Roasted Fish', `Grilled Fish', and `Shellfish'. The penultimate chapter on `Big Parties' gives seven over the top recipes for entertaining, most giving eight servings rather than the usual four to six servings. The last chapter on desserts seems relatively long, giving 31 recipes, including three for basics such as pastry cream, hazelnut-almond cream, ganache, and sweet pastry dough. With all the pastry books available, you will not be buying this book for the desserts, but it does add to the book's value. As usual, some of the dessert recipes are quite involved.

There are no chapters or separate recipes for vegetables, as all the vegetable side dishes are included in the recipe for the seafood. This means many of the fish recipes may not be as complicated as they seem from their length if you removed the vegetable garnish, but that would take away the cachet of serving a dish as done at the great and famous Le Bernardin!

Ultimately, this book deserves more than four stars because it is a restaurant cookbook that is more valuable than a source of instructive recipes to read. It has lots of great fish recipes that can be made by an amateur at home, as long as you have access to high quality ingredients. My only disappointment in reading the book is the feeling that there is simply no way I would be able to get the kind of fresh fish used by Le Bernardin unless I opened a restaurant in an Atlantic seaport.

The mantra for this book that should be intoned as you look for a recipe is to respect the differences between the fishes. Things that work for skate will not work for tuna and vice versa. Respect the fish and you will be rewarded.
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on November 2, 1999
Unlike many chef and restaurant books, the recipes here are lucidly written and easy to follow. Although some demand considerable technique, the techniques are well-explained. The book is nicely illustrated, with nice first person anecdotes and recipe commentary. Anyone who has ever been to Le Bernadin will appreciate the book's elegant flavor and feel. Highly recommended.
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on August 27, 2000
Simply, the recipes all work. The first recipe I made was a relatively simple shrimp dish. My 13 year old (not a purveyor usually of haute cuisine) said "those are the best shrimp I ever had". It was true. Cooking lobster in cognac led to similar raves from the guests. I can't duplicate the room of my favorite NY restaurant, but I have yet to produce a dud from this book.
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I'm really into seafood, and this is the cookbook for that genre.
The sophistication of taste and presentation is the ultimate maxization of the fresh seafood.
One is impressed instantly upon perviewing the recipes and trying them of the intense experience this chef has had with the ingredients and prep techniques.
Four-star chefbooks are typically intimidating due to all the ingredients and steps, but here it's minimal, yet turns out utmost in culinary heights.
Try these, they'll be knockout dishes! Pan-Roasted Grouper with Wild Mushrooms and Artichokes (served with unbelievable pork jus); Roast Monkfish on Savoy Cabbage and Bacon-Butter Sauce; Black Bass in Cabbage Packages with Purple Mustard Sauce; Yellowtail Snapper with Garden Vegetables.
Accompaniments are worth paper as well, with monster dinner dessert of "Earl Grey Tea and Mint Soup with Assorted Fruit;Gruyere and Potato Cakes.
Tough one to match in my extensive collection!
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on March 11, 2002
This is easily the best cookbook I have ever used. Very high quality dishes and presentations; and most (though not all) of the recipes can be executed by any reasonably well-stocked kitchen provided one has access to a high quality fish market .
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on September 11, 2003
Unlike some other reviewers, I've always found Le Bernardin and its staff to be very warm and accommodating. That feeling comes through in the text and personal reminiscences included in this book.
The big surprise for me was how very well written the recipes are. Although there is plenty here for the over-achieving home chef, well over half of the recipes can accommodate a harried schedule and/or moderate talents in the kitchen. If you scan through the book and follow Le Bernardin's three-course format, you can put together an unbelievably elegant dinner in a reasonable amount of time.
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on January 30, 2010
This book is a joy to discover and to go back to, time and time again...
Great recipes, so elegant made, to help you remember the important
parts of preparing great food.
E.Ripert is so down to earth, and yet a dreamer and an inventor. But, all
the time, remaining very humble and unassuming.
The book is superb in its visual appeal with great french charm and joie de vivre.
I don't collect cookbooks but I will keep this one close by, to remind
me of life made wonderful by just paying attention to the very simplest things....
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on November 26, 2014
Le Bernardin is one of those few places that convince you that, yes! The French had been at the top of the culinary World for a good reason. Histories like the Le Bernardin do not happen much anymore, and it is very rewarding to know more: there's a bit of everything..,family run business back in France..., brother and sister coming of age in the 60's, 70's and 80's craziness and landing in New York.., Eric Ripert entering the scene... The quirky two ways comments at the opening of the recipes is a nice touch..,then you understand that a great restaurant needs not only good cooks but soul, personality...those qualities you cannot replicate or mass produce. As for the recipes themselves, they are not for a beginner cook, definitely. This itself makes you appreciate the effort Chef Eric had to go explain each recipe so thoroughly. So: if you want to cook like they do at Le Bernardin.., you need to sweat a bit, of course!
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on July 1, 2014
My husband and I got engaged at Le Bernardin and visit the restaurant every time we're in the City, but, we live in Florida so we don't get there often enough. I bought this book for my husband for Christmas and every once in a while I let him pick a recipe out of it. The recipes are labor intensive and some of them actually take me two days (I work full time so I prep stuff the night before) but the time spent is well worth it. Everything we have tried has been divine and the step by step recipes are easy to follow. If you are experienced in the kitchen this book will great for you, if you're just starting out be warned, some of these techniques are a bit advanced but it breaks it down for you so you can do it - just be patient. There is a scallop salad in this book that we make all the time because it is so good - we also always have the salad dressing in the fridge. You will not be disappointed in this and neither were we, it helps us pass the times between visits to New York without terrible Le Bernardin cravings.
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