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Simple French Food Paperback – June 2, 1992

4.3 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (June 2, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0020100604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0020100607
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #595,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
Many of the reviews posted here bemoan the fact that the recipes in this volume are not "simple" enough... they require careful selection of raw materials, attention to detail, heightened sensibility, occasionally some difficult technique. But the reference to "simple" in the title is not, as some might assume, a sort of promise that "Anyone Can Cook." It is, instead, an affirmation of Olney's approach -- a relatively short list of ingredients, a few central flavors and textures and not a lot of fuss for the sake of fuss. No complexity for its own sake, and no piling on of flavors and "stuff" to make it big or showy or "ethnic" or whatever.

His approach is definitely not for the beginner who cannot boil water or doesn't know veal from stewing beef. It isn't for those who are looking for "20 minute meals to impress your friends" or how to make chef so and so's signature dish. Indeed, while there are recipes, much of the book consists of mere suggestions. Look, for example, at Olney's chapter on salads. He begins with some general ideas about dressings -- how to select a good quality oil, what sort of vinaigrette you might want to make to dress greens and what sort to accompany cold meats, when you might want to consider adding strong mustard and when you might think of something else. Then he describes crudites - no recipe, just a few paragraphs of ideas and things you might consider when you shop and when you begin to put together a platter. Ditto the entry on asparagus -- how to pick the most flavorful, how to peel and steam and cool; and then he will counsel to "eat it cold, toss it in butter, throw it into a salad or an omelet, cover it with bechamel and buttered breadcrumbs and gratinee it, puree the stems and mix with the tips into a souffle batter...
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