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Bouchon (The Thomas Keller Library) Hardcover – November 15, 2004
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Bouchon, chef Thomas Keller's bistro cookbook, offers 180-plus recipes from his eponymous restaurants--there are two. Readers perusing the near-prosciutto-size book will be dazzled, first, by its great looks (there are many beautiful photos), then, perhaps, wonder why so many of its typically homey bistro dishes are so fussy to prepare. Why, for example, must the onions for onion soup be caramelized for five hours, or the muscles of a leg of lamb separated so that each can be cooked to an exact, presumably optimal, temperature.
They should, however, trust this justly celebrated chef, whose sometimes-painstaking refinements reflect a better way. Apart from the excellence of the dishes, the reason to own Bouchon is to discover the richness of Keller's technical understanding. Readers learn, for example, not to baste chicken while it roasts, which creates skin-softening moisture, and to allow the base for crème caramel to sit before baking, thus permitting its flavors to deepen. Keller's sensitivity to ingredients and their composition is profound; and he and his collaborators have presented it so deftly that one finds oneself engrossed again and again. Whether Keller is talking about vinaigrettes (in their balance of fat, acid, and saltines, the perfect sauce) vegetable glazing, or the creation of brown butter, his insights are fascinating.
The dishes cover a wide range of courses, and include the traditional--poule au pot, veal roast, pommes frites, and so on--and the "new," such as Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables, Skate with Fennel-Onion Confit and Tapenade Sauce, and Grandma Sheila's Cheesecake Tart with Huckleberries. All are, as the French might say, impeccable--and can be accomplished by anyone willing to take the time to do so. Like his cooking, Bouchon is a sui generis treat. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
Keller's restaurant Bouchon, in Napa Valley, Calif., is modeled after Parisian bistros and serves simple yet sumptuous fare. This graceful ode to bistro cooking emphasizes that although in America, "bistro" is synonymous with "casual," the food is prepared with "precision of technique brought to bear on ordinary ingredients." Close-up photos of signature dishes are alluring, and several action shots of food preparation may help readers refine their techniques. The book's sections progress from "First Impressions" (hors d'oeuvres and more) to "Anytime" dishes (soups, salads, quiches) to appetizers, entrées and desserts. Thoughtful introductions to each recipe grouping explain Keller's experiences with the featured dishes; sidebars on everything from oil to onions provide insight and useful tidbits. A "Basics" chapter attempts to further demystify the foundations of bistro cooking (it's built on staples like confit, stock and aioli), and a "Sources" section directs readers to bistro-appropriate tools and specialty foods. Of course, as any chef knows, food is as much about experience, memory and emotion as it is about flavor and presentation. Especially bistro food, Keller says, which retains the "spirit of the original bistro, the spirit of embracing you... restoring you and making you happy." This appealing book promises to do the same. Photos.
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