on November 5, 2008
My grandfather had a restaurant and cooked Sunday dinners for our family. As soon as I was "on my own" I began to cook, relying on James Beard, Julia Child's "Mastering..." and the great French Chef and New York Times columnist Pierre Franey. Then I discovered "Simply French", Patricia Wells classic presentation of "the cuisine of Joel Robuchon" to English-speaking audiences. That book has some fantastic recipes and I still use it often. I have been looking forward to meeting this latest addition to the Robuchon oeuvre.
First, the book is not a "coffee table" beautiful presentation such as Patricia Wells created. There are no photographs or illustrations. Second, we will not learn any Robuchon "secrets" for making fabulous foods. In the early going the recipes do not show anything new to any cook who is familiar with the basic idiom of French cuisine. However, this book does shine: the dessert section is a spectacular feast of ideas, for example the almond flour pastry crust recipes, paired with a variety of fruit fillings. I like to make waffles and there are two fine recipes for different types and techniques of waffles that I will make again. His strawberry Bavarian mousse is a recipe I am very much looking forward to creating. Robuchon also offers great recipes for using different meats such as rabbit (which is widely available in meat markets here in Texas). Robuchon offers fine recipes featuring various parts of the bunny with peppers, with prunes, with a muscadet sauce and with mustard sauces.
Without the aid of Ms. Wells, Robuchon seldom offers personal insights into the dishes presented here but he does offer sound and traditional recipes for poultry, pork, beef and veal and lamb, with the emphasis on bringing out the best of the basic flavors of many of these ingredients. Vegetables and seafood are by no means omitted and one can learn the basics of making stocks and building them into sauces. At a rough estimate, seventy-five percent of the book is devoted to splendid and basic French home cooking and to the recipes that support it. The whole introductory chapter is aimed at a basic discussion of setting up a kitchen (pots, pans, implements) and some ideas about building menus and pairing foods with wines. These latter subjects are presented in a somewhat hit or miss fashion, as if his collaborator captured sound bites here and there without finding the way to unify their content.
Each recipe is carefully and clearly explained in a concise step-by-step method as well.
So I was surprised: this book contains some fine new recipes but most of the text is devoted to teaching a home cook how to prepare good basic dishes using reliable rather than path-breaking recipes.
on November 14, 2008
In a holiday season stuffed with extremely glossy, gorgeous books on cooking - more fetish objects or coffee table books than cookbooks - The Complete Robuchon is an outlier. I pre-ordered my book months in advance, expecting a lavish, opulent package of arty photos, personal anecdotes, and the other trimmings of a major, cellophane-sealed Chef's opus.
Instead, what arrived at my door was a sturdy and stout cookbook, with colorless pages (and prose, for that matter) and not a single photo.
At first, I was disappointed. But then, when faced with such a massive cookbook, I sat down and began reading it, front to back. Robuchon, for a chef who we all may associate with innovation and opulence, tasked himself in this book with creating something for the home chef, and for the chef beginning their journey into the complicated world of French cuisine. So what he focuses on, above all else, in this book is technique. You leave a section on vegetables not even questioning why you would take the time to blanch. It's that authoritative, clear, and informative.
This isn't a coffee table book, and it isn't a book for a well-read French chef. It's a solid work, though, and an inspiring compendium of culinary knowledge - perhaps a little more basic than some might wish, but full of wisdom for everyone from beginners to... well, maybe intermediates.
on November 7, 2008
This book is astonishing. It is indeed, as the New York Times declared, The Joy of Cooking for French cuisine--an ultimate authority you can count on for any occasion. There are all kinds of new preparations and delicacies which have entered French cooking through immigrant cultures. But there is a also the most refined take on technique you will ever find. Classic dishes, like pot-au-feu, that you may have learned from Julia Child or Paula Wolfert are here, but the steps, though simple to follow, are much more precise, and following them teaches you a lot about how subtle differences in method make a decisive difference in results. You will instantly see this when you make dishes that actually taste like the real thing you would have in France, not some Americanized version. This is far more than a cookbook; it's an education. Follow it and learn how a great chef works. Hint: it's not about blending weird, hard-to-find ingredients, or swirling sauce spirals on plates. It's all about subtle tweaks of basic techniques, the exacting understanding of a true master.
With all due respect to Julia Child, who worked to teach cooking itself to Americans as well as French recipes to cook with, and with all due awareness of the almost infinite number of other cookbooks on French home and bistro cooking, "The Complete Robuchon" by Joel Robuchon is probably the single best cookbook of essential French cooking, traditional dishes and classic recipes available for the home cook.
The attention to detail, organization and completeness of the book and the succinct and readable way all the topics and recipes are written makes this book a pleasure to own, to read and to draw endless inspiration and ideas from. This is NOT a Thomas Keller style coffee table cook book (such as "The French Laundry Cookbook", for example) filled with lush pictures, sprawling magazine style layouts and ornate texts. It's a thick, heavy handful of high quality, succinct knowledge and recipes for traditional French cooking.
Some reviewers in France have complained that this is just a book of old tried and true French cuisine. What is too close to home and old fashioned to some may be a trove of great knowledge to other readers in other cultures and countries. Some felt, evidently, that if the great Robuchon's name was attached, especially with a title like "The Complete Robuchon", that the book should include only haute cuisine and cutting edge innovations. But, just as being a solid draftsman with a command of classical visual vocabulary is perhaps essential to being a painter, even if one is working to subvert or evolve that art, having a firm and complete command of classical and French home cuisine is an immeasurable asset in understating how to innovate and draw on that tradition to create new and exciting things. This book is a great bargain, and will always be a source of solid information and recipes.
Many great chefs, at some point in their careers, decide to put together a masterwork cookbook, a summation of everything in their career they think is important. Most are huge coffee table books -- Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook, Julia Child's The Way To Cook, Ferran Adria's A Day at elBulli. One might expect something from a man who is considered one of the world's five or ten greatest chefs similar to the work he did with Patricia Wells, a book of three-star recipes and fiendish creativity. Now Robuchon's masterwork, Tout Robuchon, arrives in English translation... and it is a simple, almost spartan homage to the French home kitchen of the 21st century, as much at home next to The Joy of Cooking as it is the great classics of food porn.
To the extent that this comes as a shock, it shouldn't. Chefs, perhaps more than the foodies they cater to, tend to seek out the simplest things, both for inspiration and sheer enjoyment -- little things like spaghetti aglio e olio, mole, hanger steaks, and the like, things that slide under the radar, comfort foods, and various oddments. Robuchon goes with that idea and takes it deep; while he doesn't quite pull off the French Kitchen Bible of the 21st Century, there's more than enough in here to get a sense of what real home cooking is like in modern France, starting with a concise but solid discussion of kitchen techniques and ingredients (somewhat Americanized to be sure, probably by the translator) and moving into a broad survey of recipes, many long familiar to readers of Julia Child or Madeleine Kamman, some pulled from more recent influences (north African lamb tagine for example). Surprisingly, some things -- brown sauces for example -- are wholly absent, perhaps no longer relevant outside classical haute cuisine. However, the true classics of French cuisine are well-represented -- cassoulet, boeuf bourgignon, and at least four different versions of pot-au-feu -- as well as newer influences.
Robuchon is not a great writer, but he is clear and to the point, and though not given to Cook's Illustrated-style background explanations, is meticulous about technique when necessary. The book lacks illustrations of any sort, but the layout is impeccably clean (if somewhat different from the original French version) and the recipes both creative and down-to-earth. As masterworks go, it's both accessible and inexpensive, and goes out of its way to show what Robuchon thinks is most important.
I leave with this thought: many years ago, former Houston Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon made a point to have his sneaker manufacturer (Spalding, if I remember correctly) create a line of signature sneakers that would be affordable to all of his fans. I had a pair, got probably a year out of them, and picked them on precisely that general principle, and they were pretty good sneakers. Ever since then I've always held an admiration for people who make a point to see that everyone can share in their life's work without the stain of elitism or absurd prices. Joel Robuchon has done this for his native cuisine, and for that, he's pretty awesome in my book.
on November 19, 2012
Those who are happy with this book should check out Robuchon's earlier books, such as Simply French, written by Robuchon with Patricia Wells. Simply French is a great book, but this book is a huge disappointment. It seems to have been hastily slapped together, and I wonder if the translator is to blame or the American editor. I suspect the latter. Here is the first glaring example of sloppiness and omission. Chef Robuchon gives a detailed list of recommended kitchen equipment, down to scissors, kitchen shears, corer, olive pitter, cutting boards, etc.--but there is not a mention of knives. There are absolutely no knives in the list of equipment. Huh? A complete Batterie de Cuisine, but no couteaux? And his recipes at times are odd, as if the translator or American editor interjected her thoughts. For example, here are the first two sentences under the heading of Mashed potatoes. "For successful mashed potatoes, salt the cooking water when it is still cold and salt the finished puree carefully. If you can, use a food mill or potato ricer instead of a blender or food processor." No cook with any experience would ever try to puree potatoes in a blender or a food processor. An absolute beginner might try the food processor--once. I absolutely refuse to believe that Chef Robuchon uttered that sentence. The list could go on and on (e.g., French Fries does indeed translate into Frites, but not the parenthetical inclusion of pommes Pont-Neuf. That is a different potato. Pont Neuf potatoes are deep-fried, yes, but they are cut into short, thick pieces, not the slender french fries or frites.
As to the actual recipes in this book, they are not what you expect from a master chef. As others have said in their reviews, the recipes are simple and basic, like you would find in The Joy Of Cooking. You would be much better off buying The Joy Of Cooking, as it has a fund of information about food not found in other cookbooks and far more recipes than in this book, plus it stands the test of time--no oddities or omissions. This book is probably okay for the beginning cook, but there are better choices, like the aforementioned Joy of Cooking or The Way To Cook by Julia Child or anything by Jacques Pepin.
I would definitely not recommend this book.
on December 20, 2008
Although this is not a glossy read with a lot of pretty pictures, it's an outstanding cookbook. Each recipe is "dictated" from start to finish so that even a novice cook can succeed at classic (and a few bistro) dishes. That said, the why behind techniques is not explained - probably to keep the book manageable. I highly recommend this for someone who is serious about learning to cook well. Want pictures? Go to the bargain books.
on June 8, 2016
I'll give the book 5 stars and myself 3 stars. By the title, I'd thought this was a book that covered the chef's total technical, sensory and philosophical approach to his haute cuisine, something I've been eager to learn more about since coming to know more of Eric Ripert's cooking, especially. I only saw after the fact that the book is intended for the home cook, and not the professional.
Not so arrogant as to say there's nothing here to learn if one is a professional, because that would be ridiculous. If Joel Robuchon were to write how he ties his shoes, I know, it would be a worthwhile study. I was just hoping for an in-depth exploration of his palate and techniques, his entire approach to haute cuisine.
A small comparative example. Ripert refers to his time at Jamin as an incredibly tough, but worthwhile, time; and among the million details of the highest rigor, he goes on to say, is the total absence of squeeze bottles at Jamin. All the ubiquitous dots of intensely flavored oils, etc. you see everywhere these days, are applied by hand, from a spoon. I thought, well, yes, that's difficult, but is it really noteworthy? Until I saw an example of Robuchon's work in the Gault-Millau text, Dining in France - a Robuchon cold lobster salad, ringed with the most perfect little dots imaginable, arrayed in the most perfect symmetry, like a delicate, coral-tinted corona around the plate. There, I finally saw the immediate evidence of what Ripert refers to as the technical precision that was drilled home to him during his time at Jamin.
It's one small example - but I think the point I'm trying to make, is that the smallest, seemingly most insignificant thing, is demanding of an economy of thought and motion, and an intensity of approach (I am sure each of those dots are little, intense orbs of clean flavor) at the same time. Ripert credits Robuchon with teaching him the importance of precision, and the highest (that superlative is overused so much - but what else to say) rigor. (He credits Jean-Louis Palladin with freeing his mind, and Gilbert Le Coze with how to lead, how to run a brigade and ultimately, a restaurant).
At any rate, not in this book. It's a wonderful guide for the home cook wanting to master the classics of bistro and cuisine bourgeoise. I was just looking for something else.
Which begs the question, if anyone reads this review - any recommendations for a "bible" of Robuchon's cuisine? Not sure if the Grand Livre fits the bill, because I'm not sure any of the editions of the Grand Livre do....have Ducasse's on my cart, but at that price point, I'm hesitant to purchase a collection of truffle and foie gras recipes, without a lot of revelation on the chef's technical approach. (That may be grossly unfair to Ducasse's Grand Livre - just going on some of the less stellar comments). Not wanting a cookbook of recipes, but a totality of approach, if such a book exists among the works by or about Robuchon. Any help appreciated.
on June 27, 2009
This book reminds me a lot of Paul Bocuse's book on basics, without being as stodgy and earnest. Robuchon is a good teacher. Don't buy the book if you want pictures - there aren't any.
on July 30, 2015
"His instructions tend to be terse" as per the description. There are things in the book that are instructional, but at times I feel that things were either left out by the author or the publisher, or even printing errors. For example, Tomato Basal Soup calls for 1 & 1/2 pounds of tomatoes of which two are seeded and chopped and the remainder puréed and simmered with a few flavorings and the strained & "pressed". This is supposed to serve 4. What is the average French serving for soup, a table spoon? I think I got a very small bowls worth of liquid to which I add a 1/3 C cream.
When webbing around, I see that similar recipes call for 3 pounds of tomatoes to which other liquids are added.
I can't but wonder what is missing here.