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Joël has a restaurant empire that reaches from Europe to America and Asia. That’s not bad for a lad who had to find a job when he was only 15 years old. He was born in 1945 and by 1966 he was the official chef of La Tour de France, the most prestigious sporting event in the country. At 28 he was the head chef at Harmony-Lafayette and cooking 3000 meals each day (OK, he did have staff). Jamin in Paris was opened in 1981 and within 3 years he had 3 Michelin Stars under his belt.
The Complete Robuchon is a hefty tome of over 800 recipes. It looks an overwhelming size on the bookshelf but dip into these pages and you’ll see that it’s not going to spend much time on those bookshelves. This is a practical cookbook with sensible and accessible recipes that will be recognisable to family cooks all over France and beyond. Don’t be put off by the weight of the book nor the French name but rather focus on the quality of the dishes.
These are not cheffy recipes. It’s good old-fashioned cooking. Roast Duck is basic, traditional and delicious, and simple Buttered Cabbage relies on the quality of the produce rather than complicated cooking techniques. Skate Wings with Capers takes 2 minutes to prepare and only 13 minutes to cook. That’s less time than most preprepared “instant” meals.
My favourite chapter is that of One-dish Meals and Regional Specialities, not because it’s French food but rather because it has some of the finest rustic family cooking. Aligot is a winner of a dish of mashed potatoes, cheese and cream, and hails from the Massif Central, the central mountain range. Parisian Custard Tart is a lovely dessert but it’s not difficult, and nods to bistros and cafes and visits to the Louvre.
The Complete Robuchon deserves respect for its breadth of information. It must surely be considered a classic, not because the author is star-spangled but because the recipes stand scrutiny. It’s magnificent.
The Complete Robuchon
Author: Joël Robuchon
Published by: Grub Street
This book is one of the most faithful representations of how ordinary French people eat. It is also true to say that ordinary French people don’t eat like this every day, as supermarket aisles of ready meals and frozen pizza will testify. However, the French do take an interest and pride in food in general and most housewives can turn their hands to at least a dozen classic dishes.
The chapter headings give a good insight into the character of the French family cook: Shops Wisely, Knows Her Classics, Steals From Chefs, Rises to the Occasion. It would be good advice for anyone.
Nobody Does It Better is an impressive volume of lovely, for the most part traditional, recipes that you would have enjoyed whilst in France. There is also a nice sprinkling of newer recipes that are now popular in France and southern Europe. It’s a culinary snap-shot of real French food now, and not an outdated list of Escoffier-penned masterpieces.
Yes, the French DO eat frog’s legs and escargots but not every week. There is the classic recipe for Snails with Garlic and Parsley Butter. “Yuck”, I hear you cry! Well, have you tried it? No, I thought not. The snails don’t taste nasty at all and they are really only there to provide the lumps in the garlic butter.
OK, I have teased you enough, I can tell you that there’s more familiar fare like Onion Soup, with cheesy bread floating on top; Duck in Orange would tempt you, I’m sure, and Boeuf Bourguignon is a crowd pleaser whichever side of the Channel you hail from.
I am very taken by this cookbook. I wouldn’t change any of these recipes. There isn’t much I would add and there is nothing here that I would want to miss out. Each dish would be familiar to a French housewife, who would be surprised and pleased to see such a collection in English. But it’s taken an Irish lass to do it!
Nobody Does It Better
Author: Trish Deseine
Published by: Kyle Cathie
Marie-Pierre Moine set out to create a school that would be accessible to all those of us who are “sans passport”, who don’t have the cash for a stay at a regular three-dimensional establishment, or don’t have the time to go. This is the next best thing.
Gui Gedda is the essential element to the success of this book/school. He is the chef who ran a popular Provencal restaurant in Bormes-les-Mimosa not far from where I lived in Le Lavandou. He has written books and had also run cooking courses. Just the right chap for the job of chef for this new enterprise.
You have a full week at the school with each day filled with visits to markets and learning how to choose the best produce. You’ll learn how to make the most authentic of Provencal dishes (yes, I can vouch for their authenticity). There will be time to consider the merits of Aperitifs, and you will feel that your “stay” has been worthwhile.
The first day starts with a look at basic store cupboard ingredients and some equipment. There is nothing very exotic and you won’t feel that you need a trip to Marseille to buy that very special cast iron, blue-enamelled casserole dish...although that would be very nice!
The week progresses with days filled with lessons, tastings, delicious meals with delectable desserts and the odd glass of rosé. You’ll almost feel the warmth of the last rays of the setting sun... and you haven’t even moved from 13 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam.
The recipes are just what you would find in Provencal restaurants but, more importantly, in Provencal homes. They are not dishes rich with creamy sauces. This is olive country, remember. It’s all healthy and full of flavour with ingredients that give a tang such as anchovies, goat’s cheese, radishes and ..er, what was the other thing? Oh, yes, garlic.
The selection of recipes is lovely with everything from meat to sweet. None of the dishes will be over-taxing and the instructions are clear with plenty of amazing photographs to tempt you. The nature of Provencal food revolves around freshness and simplicity. Yes, it’s classy but if French housewives can do it, so can you.
Provence Cookery School
Authors: Marie-Pierre Moine and Gui Gedda
Published by: Dorling Kindersley