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Artisanal Cooking: A Chef Shares His Passion for Handcrafting Great Meals at Home Hardcover – October 3, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Brennan's first book makes it clear why his New York restaurants Picholine and Artisanal have such devoted followings. Drawing heavily on his French training but also taking inspiration from the full range of Mediterranean cuisine, the chef emphasizes traditional techniques, good seasonal ingredients—and cheerful invention. He breathes new life into classics from Gougères (cheese puffs) to Cheese Souffles, and makes them seem easy to prepare. His fans, however, will thrill to find so many of his signature dishes, including Chestnut-Fennel Soup with Apple Walnut Chutney, Duck and Morel Risotto, and Daube of Short Ribs with Olives and Orange-Cumin Carrots. Cheese plays a leading role in Brennan's repertoire, and he offers a guide to serving and storing as well as an overview of his 36 favorite varieties. An opening section called "The Artisanal Pantry" functions as a roadmap to ingredients and an introduction to the craft of making stocks, chutneys, compotes and flavored butters. Brennan is a skillful teacher whose recipes are models of clarity, with special notes on techniques, embellishments, and the reason behind certain steps. All in all, though cheese lovers may wish for more from the cheese section, this is a mouth-watering read that brings a great chef's energy and intelligence to life on the page. 75 color, 15 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Brennan's main problem is that his message is very ambiguous. Since he owns the `Artisanal Premium Cheese Center', artisanal cheeses and other artisanal food products are very important to his cuisine, but praising hand crafted ingredients plus fresh and seasonal ingredients does nothing to improve the quality of the cookbook. And, since the title of the book says it is about artisanal COOKING, not artisanal INGREDIENTS, all the talk and information on high quality American and European cheeses teaches us nothing about artisanal cooking, even though it does give us a pretty nice tutorial on making nice cheese platters, although I think the paragraph or two we have seen from former caterer, Ina Garten's books gives us about as much substance in arranging cheeses on a good cheese platter.
In contrast, Bertolli gives us genuine hand crafting tutorials on central culinary subjects such as how to make sugos, pasta, and sausages. Brennan gives us eight very traditional chapters on:
Salads and First Courses
Fish and Shellfish
Poultry and Game Birds
Meats and Game
Side Dishes and Accompaniments
In looking over the selection of recipes, I am simply not struck by a high degree of originality. I recall many similar recipes from other books such as the chestnut apple soup very similar to one presented by Daniel Boulud, a fish en papillote recipe very similar to one I saw in Sara Moulton's first book, a sautéed chicken encrusted with parmesan which is remarkably similar to, albeit much more grand than a recipe by the 30 minute meal gal, Rachael Ray, and a classic white sauce based baked macaroni and cheese dish. Many more recipes evoke a strong sense of `déjà vu', even if I can't name a specifically similar dish in another book.
The cuisine is heavily influenced by French country and bistro cooking and I count it a plus that the dishes are NOT highly original and idiosyncratic `haute cuisine'. However, they are a bit fancier than what you will find in bistro cookbooks such as the new Les Halles cookbook from Tony Bourdain or French home or provincial cooking as described by, for example, Susan Herrmann Loomis. The recipes are well written with clear prep instructions incorporated into the ingredient list. I am particularly fond of the style of procedure writing that highlights the operative verb at the beginning of each paragraph of general instruction.
Many recipes include up to four endnotes on `Terms and Techniques', `The Reason', `Variations', and `Embellishment'. While these terms may not appear in many other books, the material presented is pretty ordinary, almost all of which I already knew from the first two categories. And, I don't quite see the difference between a variation and an embellishment.
The only sense in which this book is distinctively `artisanal' is in the fact that it has a sizable number of recipes for pantry or `garde manger' preparations such as chutneys, compotes, croutons, dressings and other vinaigrettes, garnishes, savory sauces, side dishes, dessert sauces, and stocks. I was just a bit disappointed early in the book when the author did not take the trouble to distinguish between Mediterranean and California bay or to warn us about removing head, tail, and spine from salt packed anchovies which he recommends.
I like the authors' approach to stocks that have three different features of which I definitely approve. First, like the CIA manual and few other references, the authors call for pre-boiling the stock bones to do an initial cleaning of the protein scum common to all stock production. Second, the simmer time for all stocks is three hours or less. Third, vegetables are added in stages, depending on how soon the simmering water will claim all the goodness from the veggies, leaving little but limp, insoluble fiber.
The author laments the fact that so few Americans are familiar with poultry beyond the trusty chicken and turkey. So to his recipes for venison and rabbit, he adds recipes for duck, squab, and pheasant. Now aside from my book dedicated entirely to duck and the zillion duck recipes in the new Paula Wolfert book on Southwestern France, I am swimming in odd poultry and game recipes from a dozen books on regional Italian and French cooking. So, I really don't think Brennan needs to worry about catching up on recipes for game animals for the foodies in the house.
I'm teetering between four and five stars. Four because the book does not really deliver on the promise of its title. Five because it is a collection of sound, good recipes, albeit just a bit pricy for the number of dishes. And, I give it good marks for its recipes for stocks and pantry preparations. I leave it at four stars because the book brings very little to those of us who have bookshelves filled with cookbooks already.
So, I recommend this book especially to those who may not have a lot of cookbooks on French cuisine and who wish to really take the effort to make and store chutneys, dressings, stocks, flavored butters, and flavored salts.
I am rating the book 3 stars because many of the recipes *sound* terrific; he has some great flavor combinations. But I won't be afraid to adjust ingredients during future efforts based on my own experience.