Atelier of Alain Ducasse

Ducasse

Atelier of Alain Ducasse sets out to provide an insight into the working methods and philosophy of prehaps the most successful chef currently working anywhere in the World today. The book contrasts signature Ducasse recipes with those of his current and former Head Chefs in order to illustrate his influence on the men who work for him.

The book begins with a look behind the scenes of the Ducasse empire and attempts to contextualise it in terms of the last 300 years or so of French gastronomy. This rather dry and pretentious exercise is greatly enlivened by the beautiful black and white portraiture of Herve Amiard. Some amusing non-secquiturs from Ducasse lighten the tone, such as “It is better to have turbot without genius than genius without turbot”. Probably the definitive statement in the fish versus intelligence debate, if not the only one.

Things liven up with profiles of Ducasses favoured suppliers and their produce, and again it’s the full colour photographs that impress. These range from dramatic shots of turbot and bass being landed, to a lemon grower in quite contemplation amongst his trees. They communicate beautifully the powerful connection between man and sea and land.

The book contains recipes for just 8 of Ducasse’s signature dishes. Each is based around a characteristic ingredient of his cuisine, and is followed by further recipes from five of his pupils. Hence, under the heading “Sea Bass” you find Ducasse’s “Sea Bass Steaks with Leeks, Potatoes and Truffles”, along with “Fried Mediterranean Bass” by Le Louis XV head chef Franck Cerutti. Notes on each recipe assist the reader in comparing and contrasting the different approaches taken. Although this is all very enlightening, I personally would have settled for a few more of the great man’s recipes.

Having said that, it is highly unlikely that I would ever attempt to produce a dish such as “Semi Dried Pasta with Cream Sauce, Truffles, and a Ragout of Cockscombs and Chicken Kidney” at home. If invested wisely, the small fortune required to purchase the ingredients (including lobster, sweetbreads, 4 1/2 pounds of veal and chanterelle mushrooms), would see my kids through university.

Although all the main recipes are supported by step by step photographs, preparation is dauntingly complex. You could probably write your first novel in the time that it would take to cook some of the dishes featured. The book is best approached as an inspiration to get into the kitchen, rather than something to be slavishly followed once you are there. Some individual garnishes are achievable however. I particularly liked the thinly sliced potatoes sandwiched together with slivers of olive, which were then baked and served with spider crab.

Illustrations of the food itself are refreshingly clear, and avoid the current and annoying fad of everything being out of focus except for a square centimetre in the centre of the picture. Although the overhead style used for every shot gets a little wearing, it does show the unusually relaxed presentation style Ducasse employs. Elements of each dish seem to be casually strewn across the plate, but still somehow create a pleasing and cohesive whole.

Having read the book, I now have a greater understanding of what M Ducasse food is all about, but didn’t really learn much about the man himself. The book provides a diverting enough read, some stunning photography and a few usable recipes, but can only be recommended to fans M Ducasse who already have his other books.

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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Atelier of Alain Ducasse: The Artistry of a Master Chef and His Proteges (Masters of Gastronomy)
Alain Ducasse
£20.05 John Wiley & Sons

No Place Like Home by Rowley Leigh

No place like home

Rowley Leigh is the grand old man of the new wave of British cooking that sprang up in London in the late 80’s. Along with Alastair Little and Simon Hopkinson, Leigh dragged the capital’s restaurant world kicking and screaming into the modern age.

Although some very familiar recipes feature, such as Piedmontese Peppers or Nicoise Salad, Leigh brings a great deal of originality and excitement to the table in this, his first book and, as you might guess from the title, focuses on what works best at home, rather than fancy restaurant food. Roasts pepped up with some interesting side dishes, barbecues or a satisfying tart are the mainstay of the recipes you will find here.

If all that sounds a little dull, fear not. How about a Red Mullet, Aubergine and Potato Sandwich, Breast Of Veal with Pork, Spinach and Garlic Stuffing, or a sigature dish of Scallops with Minted Pea Puree?

The book is organised around seasonal, themed meals such as an autumnal “club dinner for the rich uncle” which includes oysters and grouse. The lovely line drawings of Lucinda Rogers make this a beautiful and original book but on that you will certainly want to cook from as well as look at.

Cuisine: modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

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No Place Like Home: Seasonal English Cooking (The Food Lovers’ Library)
Rowley Leigh
£9.99 Clearview

Think Like A Chef by Tom Colicchio

think like a chef

“God, my feet are killing me”, “If that commis messes up again he’s out the door”, “Wow, who’s the new waitress”. Just some of the thoughts that probably pass through the mind of your average chef on any given day. Happily, Think Like A Chef, the first cook book published by Top Chef judge and former head honcho at New York’s Gramercy Tavern, has it’s mind on slightly higher things.

First comes some basic techniques like roasting, and in particular, braising. Then Colicchio focuses in on three of his favourite ingredients: tomatoes, mushrooms and artichokes, demonstrating how they can be used as building blocks to simple or complex dishes.Chef Tom would like to “help you trust your instincts” and “free you from the feeling that you must follow a recipe”. The book is based on Colicchio’s cooking classes and as a result has a slightly unusual format.

Next, a chapter is devoted to a number of recipes based around a trilogy of ingredients, and illustrates how the application of various methods and techniques can produce a variety of results. Further chapters on components and favourites round out the “course”.

Colicchio is, suprise suprise, of Italian extraction. His food is influenced by his early home life, so pasta features heavily. However, his professional career has seen him working alongside such diverse talents as Alfred Portale of the Gotham Bar and Grill, Thomas Keller and Michel Bras. Colicchio has taken a little from each to create his own style.

Photography is as stunning as you would expect, and looks particularly attractive on the high grade glossy paper used for the book. The design is clear and uncluttered, with an understated use of colour which gives the whole thing a very classy feel. The book is very well written, with easily followed instructions and recipes. Key recipes from the book include Braised Fresh Pork Belly, Seared Tuna with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette and Fennel Salad and Artichoke Ravioli with Artichokes, Peas and Asparagus. The book also contains some wonderful condiments like corn relish and balsamic onion marmalade.

The unusual approach makes a welcome change from the bog standard recipe a page formula but most importantly, Colicchios passion for food and his desire to educate come through loud and clear, which makes for a highly entertaining read.

Think Like A Chef is useful not only for it’s excellent recipes, but also as a reference work for fundamental cooking techniques like stock and sauce making as well as the definitive method for braising meat fish and vegetables. Essential for all dedicated cooks.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Beginners, confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

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Think Like a Chef
Tom Colicchio 
£16.99 Crown Publications 

The Frenchman and the Farmer’s Daughters by Stéphane Borie

Frenchman

The title might sound like a bawdy joke, but this is a serious cookbook from Michelin-starred The Checkers at Montgomery. The Frenchman is Waterside Inn-trained chef Stéphane Borie and the farmer’s daughters are his wife Sarah (also a former Waterside Inn chef) and her sister Kathryn who together run the acclaimed restaurant with rooms in mid-Wales.

In the forward, Michel Roux says Borie is ‘among the top ten’ of all the chefs that have worked at the Waterside Inn during its 45 year history; praise indeed given that list includes the likes of Pierre Koffmann and Mark Dodson (now of the Michelin-starred Mason’s Arms in Devon) who Borie worked under for three years.

Borie’s recipes reflect his long and varied career and includes dishes he created at the Waterside Inn such as Dover Sole printaniére (the fish stuffed with broad bean mousse and served with spring vegetables and a luxurious lobster, Champagne and sorrel cream sauce) as well as a recipe for figs marinated in honey, cardamom, mustard and ginger he picked up while working as a private chef for the Bamford family and serves at breakfast at The Checkers.

Borie is at his most distinctive when he is marrying his French heritage (he was born and raised in Agen in south west France) with that of his adopted home. Sewin – Welsh sea trout – is served as a canape in a Feuille de Brick ‘cornetto’ with lemon cream and caviar, and France and Wales sit side by side in a checkboard-style terrine of foie gras and leek.

While Borie isn’t averse to a few modern flourishes – date bubbles made in an alginate bath accompany a roasted crown of pigeon de Bresse and sous vide and dehydration techniques are employed regularly throughout the book – his style is grounded firmly in the French classics. Methods are often complex and require a decent level of knowledge, skill and precision to pull off successfully, but the results are impressive. You’ll probably need to bone up on your butchery before attempting the saddle of farmed rabbit stuffed with its confit shoulder and served with the best end but it will look stunning on the plate.

By using a small independent publishing company, Borie will probably make more money from the enterprise than if he had approached a major publisher, but the end-product suffers from a clunky and sometimes confusing layout and repetitious use of images (the same shot of a smoked tomato soup appears on three successive pages). Nevertheless, Borie’s individual talent shines through making The Frenchman and the Farmer’s Daughters a worthy addition to any cookbook collection.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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The Frenchman and the Farmer’s Daughters
Stéphane Borie
£25 A Way With Media

Éric Frechon by Éric Frechon

Eric Frechon

Éric Frechon is old-school French culinary royalty. You may have heard his name in connection with London’s Lanesborough Hotel where he is consultant chef to the one Michelin-starred Céleste restaurant, opened in 2015. But his heart belongs to Paris where he worked at Taillevent, La Tour d’Argent and Hotel de Crillon before heading up the kitchen of Le Bristol where he has held three Michelin stars since 2009 and where a starter of caviar with smoked haddock ratte potatoes fetches a cool €150.

The dish is included in this opulent tome as one of just 60 recipes. With a cover price of nearly fifty quid, that means you’re getting about half the usual amount for roughly twice the average price which cynics might say is business as usual for a three-star chef. But if you do shell out, be prepared to be delighted and frustrated by turns.

Benoît Linero’s dense, brooding images of Frechon’s dishes and favoured ingredients owe more to renaissance painting than modern food photography and are unquestionably breath-taking, but the decision not to show all the recipes as they are served in the restaurant is irksome, despite the inclusion of detailed plating instructions.

The recipes are inspiring (you’ll want to jump on the next Eurostar to Paris to eat the signature macaroni au gratin stuffed with truffle, artichoke and foie gras) but sometimes lack detail. If you want to know how Frechon makes truffle jus, chicken stock or vegetable nage then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

The rather florid forward by French food critics François-Régis Gaudry and Emmanuel Rubin provides some insight into the cuisine and creative process of a three-star chef. Frechon describing how he took the French classic of hare à la royale and developed it into a soup is particularly fascinating but ultimately you are left wanting to know more. It’s galling to read that the pair had ‘many meandering conversations’ with Frechon that could have provided much needed introductions to the recipes or a longer biographical section.

With a number of cookbooks already to his name, this self-titled volume is meant to constitute Frechon’s ‘culinary manifesto’.  At a skimpy 160 pages, it falls short of being that, but does paint a decent portrait of a French fine-dining chef at the top of his game.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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Eric Frechon
Éric Frechon
€59 Solar

The Five Seasons Kitchen by Pierre Gagnaire

Five Seaons

Pierre Gagnaire is the French godfather of modernist avant garde cuisine, winning Michelin stars for his adventurous food in the early 80’s when Ferran Adria was still washing dishes for a living. Now, he presides over a world-wide empire that includes restaurants in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, and Dubai as well as his native France. But if you’re hoping for a definitive tome of the chef’s culinary oeuvre in the style of the Noma or el Bulli books, then you’re in for a disappointment.

Instead, to mark his 50th year in cooking, Gagnaire has produced his first family cookbook. The book’s 90 recipes are organised into 30, three course menus which are divided between not four, but five seasons. Gagnaire claims the fifth season is ‘that moment after winter has ended but before  spring has truly begun’. Recipes in the ‘Almost Spring’ chapter designed to be cooked in March and April include a stunning sole terrine with leek (although perhaps more of a dish for the restaurant than the family table) and a more homely and traditional blanquette de veau.

As you might expect from the man who serves conger eel with green mango and grapefruit granita in his eponymous three star restaurant in Paris, dinner chez Gagnaire is no ordinary affair. Fresh oysters are garnished with sardine, ginger and slices of frozen banana. Yes, banana. Floating islands is re-imagined as starter of egg white quenelles in a coffee scented chestnut veloute, topped with mortadella; and financiers are flavoured with rocket chlorophyll and served as a dessert with mint syrup and vanilla ice cream.

Frustratingly, there are no introductions to the recipes so the reader is left none the wiser to where the inspiration for all this creativity comes from, or the derivation of the name of the spicy ‘6 rue de la Pepiniere sauce’ that’s served with roast beef and made from red and green peppers, strawberries, raspberries and beetroot among other things (Google the address and you’ll discover it’s a branch of M&S Food in Paris, but how the two are connected remains a mystery).

The lack of a ‘basics’ section means there are no recipes given for the stocks, jus, brioche and ice creams required to make some of the dishes, inferring that home cooks are expected to use ready made alternatives. But despite it’s shortcomings, cooks of all levels may well find inspiration lurking in the pages of this highly individual collection.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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The Five Seasons Kitchen
Pierre Gagnaire
£25 Grub Street

Casa Marcial: The Cuisine of Nacho Manzano by Benjamin Lana

Casa Marcial

Nacho Manzano is best known in the UK as the executive head chef of Ibérica, the chain of stylish Spanish restaurants he helped launch in 2009 in London and which now has branches in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.  But this book focuses on the food at his two Michelin-starred restaurant Casa Marcial in the tiny hamlet of La Salgar and the surrounding region of Asturias in northwest Spain where Manzano was born and continues to live and work.

The rugged, mountainous landscape is beautifully captured in Lobo Altuna’s images, which are almost worth the price of the book alone, and illustrate the first half of the book that tells Manzano and his family’s story. What is now one of the leading modernist restaurants in Spain began life after the Spanish Civil War as a cider mill and shop selling traditional wooden clogs run by Manzano’s great grandmother. In the 60’s, Manzano’s father Marcial ran it as a bar with food until finally Manzano and his sister Esther opened Casa Marcial in 1993.

The second half of the book contains recipes for the restaurant’s ’60 best dishes’ organised into vegetables and rice, fish and seafood, poultry and meat and desserts and fruit. Signature dishes include ‘house scrambled eggs over torto’, a deep fried maize flour flat bread typical to the Asturias region that Manzano put his spin on at the tender age of 15 when he topped them with eggs flavoured with caramelised onions and local Cabrales blue cheese; and ‘rice with pitu de caleya’, a take on a traditional Asturian feasting dish made with the local free range pitu de caleya or village chicken, a formerly neglected ingredient that Manzano has championed to become the Spanish equivalent of poulet de Bresse.

Given that the Manzano family have their own fishing grounds (although La Salgar is in the Sierre del Sueve mountains, it’s just 6 kilometres from the Bay of Biscay) it’s no surprise that just under half the recipes in the book are dedicated to seafood. Manzano takes a fin to tail approach with refined and stunningly presented dishes such as cod tripe with red pepper consommé and pil, the classic gelatinous sauce made with the cod’s skin and bones.

Manzano is a truly individual culinary mind and Asturias is a fascinating and under reported gastronomic region; Casa Marcial makes a fine introduction to both.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: Spanish
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

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Casa Marcial
Benjamin Lana
Photography by Lobo Altuna
€38, Planeta Gastro