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Simple French Food Paperback – June 2, 1992

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (June 2, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780020100607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0020100607
  • ASIN: 0020100604
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Richard Olney, best known as a general food writer, is one of America's most erudite experts on authentic French cooking, but it's difficult to find anyone who knows much about him, except for such authorities as Patricia Wells and the late James Beard. The reprinting of Olney's classic and indispensable Simple French Food offers readers the chance to learn more about this most idiosyncratic and accomplished of cooks. No pared down, paint-by-numbers recipes here: Olney is obsessed not only with showing you how to cook, but how to see, smell, feel, listen, and taste as well. Read, for example, Olney's description of Scrambled Eggs and you will understand what you are missing when they are not properly prepared (as they almost never are): "correctly prepared, the softest of barely perceptible curds held in a thickly liquid, smooth, creamy suspension." To scramble eggs, Olney insists on a wooden spoon, a generously buttered copper pan or bain-marie, and a precise control of the temperature--very simple to accomplish, as all his recipes are, as long as you take care to absorb fully his sensuous and exact instructions. --Sumi Hahn Almquist

From the Back Cover

Simple French Food
"For twenty years Richard Olney's Simple French Food has been one of my greatest sources of inspiration for cooking at Chez Panisse." —Alice Waters

"I know this book almost by heart. It is a classic of honest French cooking and good writing. Buy it, read it, eat it." —Lydie Marshall

"I need this new edition badly because Simple French Food is the most dog-eared, falling-apart book in my library. Here it is newly bound to enrich one's life." —Kermit Lynch, author of Adventures on the Wine Route

"Simple French Food has the most marvelous French food to appear in print since Elisabeth David's French Provincial Cooking.... The book's greatest virtue is that the author...really teaches you to cook French in a way I've never seen before. Here you acquire the methods, the tour de main, the tricks that are the heart and essence of French food, unforgettable once acquired in this book because of their logical, well-explained presentation." —Nika Hazelton, The New York Times

"I am unable to find an ad equate adjective to express my enthusiasm.... I find Simple French Food marvelous. I have never read a book on French cuisine that has so excited and absorbed me." —Simone Beck

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Customer Reviews

Excellent cookbook, very good, easy to follow.
Mr. Olney gives no indication of this whatsoever in the instructions in Simple French Food, but there's a photograph of an omelet in this style in the Time-Life book.
Bohemian Bon Vivant
I've had this book since I bought my first paperback copy, copyright 1977.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Christopher G. Kenber on March 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
Olney is acknowledged by the best in the food field (like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley) as an unimpeachable source of excellence in understanding, tasting, and (by the way) cooking French food. He is, I must acknowledge, opinionated, even arrogant -- he is also almost always right. This book should be read as well as cooked with; absorb it through the skin if you can. My favorites include roasted calf's liver -- absolutely sublime -- and lamb shanks with garlic (unforgettably good). As a european, I acknowledge his view of scrambled eggs as they should be -- soft and creamy, not the overcooked, dried-out buffet eggs of the american breakfast table. And his recipe for poached eggs is perfect -- boil water, turn off the flame, break in eggs, cover, leave.
Simple french food doesn't mean simple cooking; it actually takes real work. But this is the best overall treatise I have read (among hundreds). My second copy is falling apart, I have given it to many friends and I will go on buying it until they take me to the great restaurant in the sky. Don't be without it.
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95 of 99 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on January 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
For Americans, Richard Olney is one of the three most influential writers on French cuisine, along with Julia Child and Elizabeth David, although these three all approach their subject from a different direction. Child is the great popularizer who succeeded in communicating `la cuisine Bourgeoise' without compromising on the techniques used by housewives in Paris and Lyon and Provence. David was the `culinary anthropologist', possibly less interested in culinary technique as in rustic culinary traditions and thinkings. Olney is the ambassador of haute cuisine to American restaurant kitchens. He was a colleague of James Beard, who recommended Olney to Time Life to edit their popular series on world food. The California gang, Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower also cite him as the ultimate authority on French cuisine.
Olney's notion of `simple' is quite different from what you may expect from modern fast home cooking proponents such as Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee. His explanation of `simple food' requires a rather closely reasoned seven pages in his Preface. Olney's position is like my favorite anecdote of Mario Batali commenting on a trainee's `rustic' dice job, he says `No dude, that's just lazy'. Olney recognizes that what many people call simple is really an excuse for the lazy cook. At the other extreme, Olney dismisses fancy architectural constructions on the dinner plate. This is certainly not lazy, but it is not simple either. Although Olney does not dismiss expensive ingredients like truffles and foie gras, he does indict them as crutches used to replace imagination in the kitchen.
Some people may promote being true to simple tastes as being the hallmark of simplicity.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By on April 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is a modern classic, and regularly acknowledged as such. Its charm is in several parts. First, there is Olney's distinctive prose, which is a literary pleasure in itself, then there is the way he avoids as much as possible set recipes (though there are lots of splendid recipes here): his idea being rather to communicate an attitude towards preparing good food, illustrated with possibilities (if you happen to have some of this to hand, do this, if you have that, then do the other, alternatively, try something else entirely).
It also says something about his definition of simplicity that while he is, to put it mildly, uncompromising in his attitude to food, it is possible for someone living in a shared student flat to learn a lot from him (as I did). I'm currently on my second copy, the first having deteriorated, in the course of years, into a bundle of loose sheets.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Anne on April 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In the 1970s, I picked this up in a San Francisco book store. The table was stacked with what must have been 50 copies and they were on sale for a couple of dollars. Now I wish that I had scooped them all up to give out to friends, as, for a time, it was hard to come by this book. This reissue in hardcover is most welcome.

Olney--to me--was an American Elizabeth David, however, his recipes did offer more detail. He was an excellent cook and writer. His menu book is also excellent, as he takes the designing of a menu very seriously.

It is this book, however, that I come back to time and again. The first recipe I tried back in 1974 was the Hot Onion Omelet with Vinegar (Omelette a la Lyonnaise) on page 94 of the original. It is pure heaven and I have made it about once a month since then (that makes about 360 omlets). It is a perfect meal with a simple salad of arugala or mesclun and a light vinaigrette.

On the subject of vinaigrette Olney states, "As I understand it, it is made of salt, freshly ground pepper, good red-wine vinegar, and first cold-pressing olive oil. It is so easy to make that to prepare a quantity in advance to be stored is risibly impractical. Its commonest faults are: An excess of vinegar; poor oil; poor vinegar." He goes on to say that the best olive oil he has found on the American market is James Plagniol. While this is a nice olive oil we have many, many superior choices now available to us in "America".

Several of the recipes reflect the fish and seafood he had readily available to him in the south of France, where he lived. I especially like his vegetables recipes for their diveristy and often interesting treatment.

While I have not prepared every single recipe in the book, I can say that I have made most without one loser.
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