What’s the USP? Recipes and stories from a pair of three Michelin-starred American restaurants. The book appears 20 years after the publication of the original The French Laundry cookbook and serves as a kind of update and elaboration as it now also covers sister restaurant Per Se.
Who is the author? Thomas Keller is one of America’s best known and most decorated chefs. He holds three Michelin stars at The French Laundry in Napa, California and at Per Se in New York. His other restaurants include Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery in both Yountville California and Las Vegas and The Surf Club in Miami. His glamorous, upscale TAK Room restaurant, opened in the mid-town Manhattan Hudson Yards development and inspired by classic American cuisine from the 40s and 50s, closed in August 2020 after just one year of trading, a victim of the pandemic. He has also been a consultant to Hollywood, working on the animated film Ratatouille and the Adam Sandler comedy Spanglish. He is the author of five previous cookbooks, publisher of Finesse magazine and has his own Masterclass. He has recently been the subject of a Trump-related Twitter controversy that has seen the chef delete his account on the social media site. At the time of writing, he remains active on Instagram.
Is it good bedtime reading? Given it’s size and weight – The French Laundry, Per Se is a great big, beautiful book – it won’t make the most relaxing bedtime reading material. Better then to enjoy it sitting in your favourite chair with a nice glass of Californian red (in homage to The French Laundry’s location in the heart of Napa Valley wine country) and appreciate the thousands of words carefully crafted with the help of leading food writers Susie Heller and Michael Ruhlman.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Let’s have a look at the very first recipe in the book shall we? Smoked Sturgeon Rillettes on an Everything Bagel. No problem, apart from the smoked sturgeon, Reglis Ova caviar (Keller’s own brand, available online for US only delivery), Argumato lemon oil and onion blossoms. Opening the book at random, I land on Hiramasa with Apple Vierge. First, catch your hiramasa (sushi grade Australian Yellowtail Kingfish, available online in the UK from The Fish Society) then track down some Champagne vinegar and Marcona almonds and you’re good to go. Elsewhere, expect ingredients such as foie gras, spiny lobster, and Alaskan king crab. Things get ludicrously specific with Venison Rack Roasted Over Grapevines that not only call for 1.5kg of ‘dried grapevine knots’ but ‘250g of dark raisins, dried on the vine, preferably from Paradigm Winery’. Thankfully, not all the recipes are this tricky to negotiate and, with some common sense substitutions, you should be able to attempt a number of dishes from the book.
What’s the faff factor? These are recipes from three Michelin-starred restaurants so they were never going to be a walk in the park for the home cook. They will take time, money, effort and concentration, but they are far from unachievable if you have the resources and will to make them.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Six books in and with the help of some of the best food writers in the business, this is not an issue. Keller is a proponent of sous-vide cooking, but has include full alternative ingredient lists and methods when appropriate so if you don’t happen to have a vacuum sealer and immersion circulator in your kitchen, it’s no biggie.
How often will I cook from the book? When you have the time and inclination; for example, during a pandemic. Even a simple sounding – and looking – bowl of Red Pepper Farfalle lists 38 ingredients, not counting those included in the three additional satellite recipes you’ll need to make to complete the dish. A few simple soup recipes aside, this is not a book for weeknight cooking.
Killer recipes: Smoked Montana Rainbow Trout Chaud-Froid; Celery Root Pastrami; Salt-and-Rye-Baked Lamb Neck; Malted Brownies among others.
What will I love? The premium look and feel; the numerous essays that cover everything from a treatise on fine dining to the importance of bread and butter; the gorgeous food photography by Deborah Jones.
What won’t I like so much? Before embarking on the majority of recipes, you will have to take some time to consider if you can source the necessary ingredients, and if not, will the dish still be worth making with replacements. You’ll also want to weigh up if the dish, which may only be a mouthful or two, is worth the cost and effort required. It’s worth bearing in mind that the recipes in the book are the product of a very well staffed and resourced kitchen and that the resulting dishes will be sold at a significant profit on menus that cost upwards of $350 a head, none of which applies to the home cook who will be left with a much depleted bank account and a mountain of washing up.
Should I buy it? For many professional chefs working in the fine dining arena, The French Laundry, Per Se will be an essential purchase. The same will be true for serious hobbyist cooks and restaurant enthusiasts. For those simply in search of a practical recipe book that will be put to regular use, look elsewhere.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book
French Laundry, Per Se, The (Thomas Keller Library)