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Simple to Spectacular: How to Take One Basic Recipe to Four Levels of Sophistication Hardcover – October 10, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

What happens when a world-class chef--Jean Georges Vongerichten, to be exact--writes a cookbook with a culinary minimalist, the New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman? The answer is Simple to Spectacular, a book that presents more than 250 recipes in a unique way. Here's the drill: a few-ingredient "core" recipe is offered, followed by formulas for four increasingly sophisticated (though not necessarily more taxing) variations. Chicken Breasts in Foil with Rosemary and Olive Oil, for example, yields to recipes for the breasts with tomatoes, olives, and Parmesan; with mushrooms, shallots, and sherry; Thai style; and, finally, with foie gras and porcini mushroom. In hands other than the authors', the dishes could be banal or overwrought. Vongerichten and Bittman triumph, however, presenting richly imagined yet straightforward fare whose preparation almost all cooks can manage.

Dish categories range from soups, salads, and entrees to seasonings, sauces, and desserts. In a number of cases, a particular ingredient, such as pasta, or a technique, such as vegetable roasting, is explored (the authors offer recipes for making plain pasta flavored with curry, for example). The sauce section is particularly useful and provides interesting theme-and-variation recipes for vinaigrettes and mayonnaises. Desserts, including Roasted Almond Ice Cream, Butter-Poached Pears with Praline, and Chocolate Tart in a Chocolate Crust, should please all sweet lovers. With 80 color photos, useful tips, and notes on food and equipment, Simple to Spectacular offers an original premise that will stimulate thought as well as great cooking. --Arthur Boehm

From Publishers Weekly

Following their James Beard Award- winning collaboration, Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef, Vongerichten and New York Times food columnist Bittman (The Minimalist) team up again, this time ingeniously leading home cooks from simple to spectacular dishes. "A mastery of basic recipes and an idea of how to vary them leads to almost limitless options," writes Bittman. They emphasize time-saving techniques and offer an intriguing range of flavor possibilities. An excellent section on seasonings and sauces introduces innovative flavor-enhancers such as Citrus Salt, Mint-Licorice Spice Mix and Lobster Oil Mayonnaise. The authors expertly marry an updated French culinary sensibility with Asian-inspired influences, gradually transforming one basic recipe into four increasingly sophisticated dishes by adding luxury ingredients (e.g., truffles, caviar) or unusual seasonings (like harissa or pistachio oil), or by incorporating more advanced techniques (such as making beurre noisette). Among the mouthwatering permutations on French-bistro basics, One-Hour Chicken Stock morphs into Rich Chicken Soup with Chestnuts and Mushrooms; Best Scrambled Eggs is elevated to Oeufs au Caviar; and Tuna Tartare takes a fancy turn as Tuna Spring Roll with Soybean Coulis. Clean, pared-down prose, helpful "Keys to Success" sidebars and clear recipe instructions ably guide both novice and seasoned cooks. With a masterful understanding of today's global pantry, the authors have produced a modern classic. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; 1 edition (October 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767903609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767903608
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 1.2 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

The first thing you should know about me is that I'm a country boy at heart. I grew up on a farm in Alsace where my mother and grandmother taught me to eat and cook according to the seasons. It was there I fell in love with food--fresh herbs and vegetables and the warmth of our local Franco-German flavors. Though I've been living an urban life since 1973, I'm still most at home in the country.

Since my departure from Alsace, I've lived, trained, and cooked all over France, in Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Boston, and New York. Now, I'm rooted in New York, in my little Perry Street neighborhood and in the hills of Westchester County. But I also feel at home in my other restaurants around the world.

Wherever I go, I always want to cook both globally and locally. If you've been to my restaurants, you've probably guessed that I love Asian flavors. My first trip to the open-air market in Bangkok remains one of my most influential culinary experiences, and I've since adopted those herbs and spices as my own. Everything I cook has to have a little heat. (Even at home, my wife, who's Korean-American, keeps our fridge stocked with kimchi.)

As for life outside the kitchen, I enjoy relaxing with my family. In the country, I often go fishing in my little pond and, while the weather's still nice, chop wood for the fireplace. In the city, I take my chefs out to eat after work and catch up with friends when we're cooking together for charity events. The greenmarket is one of my favorite places to stroll. I guess you can see that I love food. It's my passion. It's my life.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 104 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First of all, the book is gorgeous. Better yet, the recipes are divine. They go from simply luxurious to positively decadent. The day I got the book I made Steak with Butter and Ginger Sauce. It was soooo easy and soooo good, and it was also different from any other steak I had ever made. The fabulous combination of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman came up with the idea of taking a simple recipe and then building on that recipe to create a series of more sophisticated variations, and the idea really works. Mark Bittman's recipes are always clearly written, and Mr. Vongerichten is truly an alchemist in the kitchen. Whatever he starts with ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts, it's remarkable. Most cookbooks seem to have basically the same recipes distinguished by slightly different methods of arriving at a similar result. Not true of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. His recipes are very unique and usually uncomplicated. The difference is he combines ingredients that go very well together but that no one else has thought of. I have both his other cookbooks, and each recipe I have tried is easy to execute for the home cook. I would recommend both of them also. In fact, all three together would make a great gift set. An even better idea is to get them all for yourself and enjoy the results. Happy cooking and eating.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Melissa on December 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Although I have over 150 cookbooks, this is my first by Jean-Georges. I've become acquainted with him through his appearances on Martha Stewart and enjoyed watching him create some of his recipes. However, it was a recent appearance on the Regis show that sold me on this particular book. From a simple version of mashed potatoes, he then proceeded to enhance it four different ways. Wow! Also recommended which version would best accompany different meats or fish. I am always a fan of cookbooks that show one main recipe as well as subtle ways to change accompanying ingredients to create simple or spectacular menus.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Michael Gebert on January 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Chef's cookbooks are, to me, guilty until proven innocent-- guilty of containing recipes that require a full restaurant staff to create, guilty of containing ingredients that are mainly there to justify a sky-high tab. (Rule of thumb: if more than three recipes call for White Truffle Oil, don't buy the book.) This, like Charlie Trotter Cooks At Home, is one of the few exceptions that genuinely seems aimed at a single cook and not a professional team. The concept is excellent-- showing you how to make roughly the same dish at levels ranging from farmhouse simplicity to four-star sophistication, and then letting you find your own level. In truth, though the Level 4 recipes still tend to be a bit much, you'll find a lot of terrific and quite impressive things at Level 2 and 3 (what you might call the bistro levels). Just as importantly, you'll learn a lot about how chefs think about putting dishes together at these different levels, which will encourage you to improvise as well.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By TechnologyRocks on June 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
My fiance and I throw a lot of dinner parties. I've loved cooking for years, and have mastered a number of great dishes that my friends love - and usually keep asking for. Constantly in search of new 'greats' - I've bought shelves of cookbooks trying to find great recipes that I could then modify to make my own. If only I'd found this book first - I would have saved myself hundreds of dollars!
This book is incredible - it starts with one basic (but great) recipe for something (like sauteed red snapper, for instance) then gives you 3 additional recipes, each becoming more complex. For instance, sauteed red snapper becomes potato crusted red snapper with a mustard/wine sauce, then spice and nut crusted red snapper, and finally pistachio crusted red snapper with pistachio oil and sauteed spinach.
The best part is that this isn't just a book of recipies. The author always explains in detail what you're doing, and why. He points out the really important part of these dishes, to ensure you know where to be careful. Plus, because it's written showing how you can constantly modify recipes for new creations, it opens a *big* door for you to constantly modify and be creative. I've never seen another cookbook like it.
-Recipies are amazing!
-Even better, you learn how to modify them all in order to create fantastic new recipies.
-Besides the recipies, there's a lot you can learn about cooking in general - there is a wealth of knowledge in here.
-I don't have any... this book is just remarkable.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
`Simple to Spectacular' is the second of two collaborations by the dynamic duo of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and New York Times columnist and cookbook writer, Mark Bittman. The first, `Cooking at Home with chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten' is very good. This book is even better. To my seven (7) categories of modern cookbooks, I would add an eighth category for this and a select few other books such as Tom Colicchio's `How to Think Like a Chef', Paul Bertolli's `Cooking by Hand', and `Jeremiah Tower Cooks'. These are all `master class' texts on cooking techniques. If cooking is not your hobby or you are not a professional cook, your money would probably be much better spend on one of the `big' cookbooks such as the `Joy of Cooking' or on books by one of the fast cooking gurus such as Rachael Ray.

I have often thought that learning cooking is a lot like learning chess. There are lots of general strategies and tips, but you really cannot master the game until you actually play lots of games and see how the strategies play out in many different situations. One of the cleverest techniques for teaching chess is the method of playing through successively more difficult games in which the same rule(s) are applied with increasing sophistication. This book promises to do exactly the same thing with cooking, per its subtitle, `How to Take One Basic Recipe to Four Levels of Sophistication'.

One of the very few disappointments in this book is that it doesn't really follow this agenda.
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