on March 29, 2015
Daniel: My French Cuisine
Restaurant Daniel is a pretty upscale restaurant, and I enjoy buying cookbooks from those types of restaurants and challenging myself to replicating meals from those books. Hence I came to Daniel: My French Cuisine, albeit somewhat after it had first made its appearance in the marketplace.
My copy of Daniel arrived with a solid thud, a fitting sound for a book over 1 and ½ inches thick and big enough, when opened, to push my feet off of the coffee table. A quick flip-through. Beautiful pictures throughout. The restaurant recipes involved many steps, but each step was precisely explained, as were the recipes in the section on some of the meals that Daniel cooks at home.
Then, my first test. Did the plating instructions match the restaurant meal photographs? I chose a recipe and flipped back and forth a number of times… and then a number of times more, excited to find that the instructions coincided with the pictures down to the last piece of garnish. My excitement built. If I wanted to, I could make a plate that looked exactly like what I could buy at Restaurant Daniel. Nice!
Now, on to step two: the introduction. Was the point of the book clearly stated. Well, yes it was. In the introduction, Daniel set the parameters and, in a sense issued a reminder (or warning, perhaps) that he has many people involved in the preparation of his restaurant food (brigade is the key word) and that he lives above the restaurant which implies (as he would later state in the last section) that a quick run to the restaurant to pick up some truffles for dinner was not a luxury that many of us have.
Aware, and therefore undaunted, I moved on to a leisurely look at the rest of the book, and my next test: Does the book do what it set out to do in a consistent cohesive fashion?
There are three sections to the book. The first section, and the longest, contains the restaurant “evolutions.” For those who are up to the challenge, this part of the book offers the opportunity to replicate the high level meals as they are at the restaurant. This section is divided into Appetizers, Fish, Meat and Desserts. All the plates are complete in themselves, just as they are served at the restaurant. Notably absent are salads and soups. There is no section called “sides,” nor any section devoted mainly to vegetables. These omissions can be justified, certainly, but their absence should be mentioned. Happily, anything used to produce the food can be found on the sources page, and there were alternatives given for much of the equipment.
The third section of the book is called Daniel Cooks at Home. Again, there are in this section plenty of opportunities for cooks. It has four sub sections, all indicating areas of influence: Alsace, Normandy, Provence, and Lyon. Here the reader will find some of the items previously mentioned as missing from the first section. There are, for example, some sides.
Then, I shifted to the second section. While the first and third sections were filled with energy, challenge, insights into Daniel’s “evolving” of the recipes, and how he actualizes them on plates, this section seemed leaden, and not just because it was more prose or because it did not contain any recipes. The second section is the “Iconic Sessions” section. There is a definition for “Iconic” at the beginning of the section, but these recipes can also be understood as tour de force recipes that exist, for the most part, in the cannon of French Aristocratic cooking. Rococo in nature, they are akin to “Terducken”…a production that involves stuffing a small bird inside a larger one, and that one inside a larger one, eventually stuffing that into a duck, and finishing by stuffing the duck into a turkey. Section two just seems to be out of place. This is not because the concept does not fit into the overall concept of the book(recipes that are connected to Daniel’s life in French cooking), but because it is written as essays by a different person (Bill Buford). While I know that the word essay comes from the French word to walk, as to walk with an idea, “essays” in this section seem more like watching a rhythm-challenged person trying to break dance. Sometimes things go right, sometimes wrong, and many times they embarrassingly uncomfortable to see. Buford is well credentialed, but the whole section lacks the sparkle and energy of the other two sections. His use of the “impersonal “you” comes across as sophomoric (He has been called to task for this before,) and proscriptive, and his frequent focus on himself as frequently befuddled raises the word befuddlement to new levels. In many parts of this section, there are more pictures of Daniel than appearances in the text. In all other sections, Daniel’s voice comes through. Here it is lost or muddled. (For an example of one of many strange inclusions, look over page 288, right column, the last four paragraphs beginning with “I heard it was Carême…” ?????) The reader has to work harder, a lot harder, to see Daniel dealing with bringing these recipes to life in modern times while retaining their “iconic” nature.
(I did learn that Buford sweats a good deal, and he seems to feel that this project that he is involved with is a life or death matter, and that he continues to sweat at being entertaining. He is better when it comes to researched material and providing background for the Iconic Session presentations, but still is heavy handed.)
The photographs in part two raise, but still do not save this section. Discounting the obviously (and sometimes painfully) posed “candids,” there are many pictures that show the concentration, interest, and delight that Daniel has in the whole process of making these foods, and which underscores how intensely he works. (Two of my favorite pictures in this section are on page 300 and the large picture on page 311. You can’t fake that intensity.) The photographs of the final products are technically excellent, but the food itself comes from a much earlier time in culinary history, hence the images tend to be of dense creations whose very visuals may send one’s cholesterol skyrocketing or may make one pause to reflect on scheduling an appointment for an electrocardiogram.
So, on to my last test: Did the book inspire me? For the most part, yes, Because everything was so spelled out in section 1 and 3, I could understand what was going on and see variations if I wished to make things more my own. I could hear Daniel’s voice. In section 2, not so much, or not at all. While interesting to consider, the results suggested to me that there was a reason why many of the “Iconic” recipes have faded or been transmuted into something else.
Generally, there are two groups of people who purchase a high level restaurant based cookbook, those who plan to use it, and those who just like looking at books of this type. The latter group, those whose joy is in the perusing alone, will have much to enjoy: the pictures are beautiful, the text in both the first and third section is interesting, and the book graces a coffee table with elegance, and mass. These readers may even like the Iconic Sessions.
People who have paid out small fortunes for a book like this and have plans to use it at home probably are not (or really should not be) timid cooks. They will appreciate the photographs which are almost schools themselves in Boulud’s style of plating. They will appreciate that the photographs match the plating directions, something that often is a glaring problem in other books of this level. They will appreciate the attention to detail in the recipes. They will appreciate the frequent inclusion of alternative techniques to be used if the suggested equipment is not available. They will appreciate the list of sources that make easier finding what Daniel used in the production of his food.
Both groups may well appreciate being invited into the world of Daniel Boulud. I certainly did, and I have gone through the book many times already, but I feel that the Iconic Recipes could have been either moved to the end or handled by someone who could have made his or her work mesh better with the overall energy of the book.
on April 9, 2014
I actually purchased two of these, as a permanent memento for the 50th birthday dinner for my brother (one for us, one for he and my sister-in-law). It's a stunning volume. A show stopper (if it weren't so beautiful, it could also be a door stopper it's so large!)
Really I am an avid cook and I know my way around a kitchen. I appreciate fine food prepared by a fine chef. And Daniel in NYC is one of the best meals I've ever had (especially if you count the experience, the service). And it is for that reason, I'll say I love this book, yes, but not as a cook book. DO NOT buy it as such. It is a wonderful compendium of a life in fine cuisine, with recipes from Daniel Boulud's restaurant. It's part chronicle, part food porn, part celebration of a fine man in food. Buy the book to celebrate that, and slowly flip from page to wonderful page to see the things you could never (and should never) make yourself.
For practical, Daniel Boulud-like recipes, buy a book by Dori Greenspan, Boulud's collaborator for books. She's fantastic. And I know Mr. Boulud has other great, practical cook books.
Buy this one to commemorate a stunning treasure that we have here in food. (And if you go to Daniel for a special dinner like I did, buy the book as a gift to remember an unforgettable night.)
As my family knows, I love to cook, I love to experiment and If I say so myself, I’m not bad. My wife, supporting this view says she is picky when we go out to dinner because I do things so well she wants to try things I haven’t done. So when a new cook book from a premier French restaurant in New York showed on my wish list, my family knew it would be well received under the Xmas tree.
I love it but this is not for the beginner. Usually I can plow through a cook book, marking recipes I like with little scraps of paper going “‘I’ll do that, that, not that…” this is harder. This is for those special meals and while I’m getting ideas it is clearly stuff that will challenge me. If I’m pausing I think the casual chef might well be in over their own head. I know that sounds boastful but I’m one of those people who makes his own ketchup and honey mustard. I have two different home fryers, one for battered foods one for ‘naked’ foods. I can’t buy breaded fish sticks because my wife says my own fish and chips have spoiled her. I’m not boasting here. I’m just trying to set expectations. I enjoy futzing around in the kitchen and this, as fun as it is to read through, makes me pause.
It is a wonderful cook book full of his views on food and some interesting ways to go with food, but it is NOT for the beginner.