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The Chef's Art: Secrets of Four-Star Cooking at Home Hardcover – October, 1992
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Explains how cooking works and how to organize your steps in order to prepare elegant meals quickly and less effortlessly to obtain the exact results you want. Presents gourmet recipes for serving 4 or 16 delicous repasts. Basic procedures are illustrated with 200 step-by-step photographs. Features 16 pages of color photos showing various presentations of finished dishes. Over 600 recipes for all kinds of menu items serve as practical examples of the food types and cooking methods discussed. Also includes an appendix of recipes for basic sauces and other recipe ingredients.
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For the culinary student, the author assumes that you already have cooking basics under your belt, so there is little or nothing about technique or the basic mechanics of cooking. Here, the emphasis is on explanation and understanding. Each chapter starts out with a rather lengthy and informative essay; the rest of the chapter is a simple list of recipes. In the sauce chapter, for example, the various ingredients and their functions are explained, and the usual litany of families and mother/secondary sauces are dispensed with. The recipes have both English and metric measurements. They also have two yields: 4 portions (home size) and 16 portions (restaurant size). The recipes are all bunched together at the end of each chapter, so this book also makes a useful reference for those who simply want a specific recipe. Better yet, there is a listing of all recipes in each chapter right after the TOC, making it super easy to find that recipe you are looking for.
For the home cook, the situation is a little more dicey. The author assumes a rather high level of experience and proficiency ("The recipes for these small sauces are given in abbreviated format rather than in detail, since you should be familiar with the basic techniques for making small sauces from the leading sauces". In Soups, "The recipes included in this chapter are primarily new and sometimes unusual ones. For the most part, you will not find traditional recipes that you probably have already learned". Most chapters contain similar warnings about the explanations provided.). Even so, you have to be careful about wending your way through some of the chapters (in Sauces, the author assumes that you already have a ready supply of brown stock, chicken stock, and demi-glace). While he is correct in stating that many professional cooking principles can be successfully brought into the home kitchen, there is much that is not really suitable for the typical home cook. So, if you are an accomplished amateur chef, this is a good resource for you. Better, it gives you a glimpse into the professional kitchen, just in case you have an inkling to turn your avocation into your vocation; in this case, save this book and pick it up again towards the end of your schooling.
One of the best statements I seen recently about cooking: "The only real `secret' of professional cooking is that there are no secrets. The techniques are based on easily understandable concepts that are as relevant to the home cook as to the professional". Indeed so.
In Soups: "Sometimes unusual combinations work, but sometimes they are just strange". Chefs/restaurateurs of "fusion" restaurants, please take note.
p.197 (talking about flavored liquids for poaching fish) "It is helpful to note that, while the combinations of ingredients in these kinds of recipes are new, the basic procedures are based on the classic methods. This again is an important reason for learning the classic cuisine well". Hallelujah.
Referring to garde manger: "This does not mean, however, that the most elaborate or intricate presentation is the best. `Keep it simple' is a good rule of thumb. Food is not made more appetizing by excessive handling". Amen.
The only disappointing material is the chapter on vegetables (sigh...).
It has these chapters: The Professional Approach to Cooking, Basic Cooking Methods, Sauces, Soups, Salads-Pastas-and Other First Courses, Fish and Other Seafood, Poultry and Feathered Game, Beef-Lamb-Pork and Veal, Miscellaneous Meats, Vegetables, Garde Manger.
This is through and through a book of professional techniques. One of the very few concessions Gisslen makes to the home cook is to begin with a chapter of material that a freshman at the Culinary Institute of America would already know. One of the most impractical assumptions the author makes is that by reading this book, the home cook will buy a good kitchen scale for weighing ingredients to the gram or to the quarter of an ounce. Yeah, right! There is no question the minds of anyone who knows anything about baking that weighing flour carefully is clearly a good thing. But, TV chef / educators such as Rachael Ray, Tyler Florence, Giada De Laurentiis, and Jamie Oliver would simply not be as popular as they are if they did not liberate the home cook from careful measurements when doing savory dishes in a saute, braise, stew, grill, roast, or bake. This doesn't mean that this ad libbing style of cooking doesn't need a fair amount of experience so that you can have a pretty keen sense of how much a tablespoon of olive oil looks like. This is why I like metric quantities so much, since I spent ten years as a professional chemist and can tell the difference between 5 ml and 15 ml a lot easier than I can between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, until I memorized the fact that a teaspoon was 5 ml and a tablespoon was three times the size of a teaspoon.
I say all this because this is really an excellent book. It's just that if you believe the glosses on the cover and think you are getting recipes for home cooking, you would be very disappointed. You would be much better off spending your money on a copy of `The Joy of Cooking', because what you are getting is much closer to Escoffier than it is to Irma Rombauer or even to Julia Child, for that matter. Child taught us French home cooking. Gisslen's book is `haute cuisine' straight down the middle.
On the other side of the coin, Gisslen's book is really great for conveying general techniques, especially the great techniques of French stocks, sauces, braises, gratins, soups, salads, and vegetable cookery. While this is new breed Escoffier, there are many classic French dishes and techniques that are not here. There is not a hint of a souffle, a crepe, an omelet, or a pastry. Not even any savory tarts. But for those techniques he does cover, Gisslen is very, very good. He may even be as good as Jacques Pepin for explaining techniques, although I think the photographs in Pepin's `Complete Techniques' are better (not as dark and with better focus and more of them) and for a complete treatise on sauces, James Peterson's classic on `Sauces' is better. But, this is still a very good book for covering the important bases of French technique.
One application for which I have found very few good cookbooks is in cooking for a crowd, as you may do for a large potluck gathering or a church social, or even for school cafeterias, where you need soup by the dozens of servings and stock by the tens of gallons. For cooks with such needs, this book may be a godsend, as long as what you want to make is in Gisslen's Franco-American lexicon. Gisslen accomplishes this by giving the quantities for all his recipes in four different measurements. Two columns of units are in standard U.S. units giving four or 16 servings and two columns in metric measurements for the same two serving counts. And, I encourage you to use the Metric unit columns, as I believe it is as easy or easier to measure out 60 ml than it is to measure 2 oz.
Since there are no omelet recipes, I loose one of my favorite means of evaluating a cookbook, but there are still plenty of recipes for stocks for me to ponder. And, I am humbled, because Gisslen is quoting Escoffier and other French culinary authorities chapter and verse in calling for very long simmer times for stock making. While I am certain Gisslen's stock recipes will produce excellent results, this is a bit much for the casual home cook and may even strain the avid foodie's patience. And, I would not suggest you leave 8 quarts of hot water sitting on a live burner unattended for more than a few minutes. Especially if this is your first time at major league stock making.
If this book interests you, I strongly recommend you read the first several chapters from front to back, at least through the chapters on sauces, stocks, and soups. From there, skim over the recipes, but read all the general information from cover to cover. The placement of the stock and other utility recipes at the end of the book is a bit annoying, but you can live with it, as this is a very, very nice book to become familiar with professional doctrines and techniques. It may not be quite as good as Pepin on technique or quite as authentic or complete as Escoffier, but it is a worthy book if you need to cook it right and in large quantities.
If culinary schools use him as their reference - why shouldn't you?