Any time is a good time to buy beautiful gift books. And when they feature brilliant recipes by world famous chefs, there’s no point in hesitating.
Look to Artisan for sheer perfection in cookbooks, especially when they spotlight a chef as renowned as Thomas Keller. Keller’s life journey epitomizes the American Dream. He was born at Camp Pendleton, Ca.; his father was a Marine drill sergeant. The youngest of five boys, Keller began his restaurant career during his high school summer vacations; he started as a dishwasher at the Palm Beach Yacht Club, and quickly became a cook.
While the budding chef was working as a cook in Rhode Island, noted French Master Chef Roland Henin assigned Keller the job of cooking staff meals at The Dunes Club. Here, the future superstar learned the fundamentals of fine French cuisine.
When the small Hudson River Valley restaurant La Rive in Catskill, NY, allowed him the freedom to build a smokehouse to cure his own meats, Keller learned to work with local livestock farmers, and to cook organ meats, which other chefs traditionally scorned. This is now known as “nose-to-tail” cooking; Chef Chris Cosentino is a noted practitioner.
Keller perfected his craft in Paris; opened then left the refined eatery, Rakel, in New York; then finally, in 1994, he achieved his dream of opening his own fine restaurant, The French Laundry. It was so named because the lovely little ivy covered building in Yountville, California, had indeed once been a laundry. THE FRENCH LAUNDRY COOKBOOK began Keller’s career as an author. The book features 150 recipes from the restaurant Ruth Reichl called “The most exciting place to eat in the United States.” Be forewarned: there are no shortcuts here. If you want to feel like a true Keller acolyte, you must be willing squeegee the moisture from fish skin for sautéing; correctly use vinegar as a seasoning; and repeatedly wash bones for use in stock. It’s also OK to just read the essays and profiles; and as in all the Artisan gift books, the pictures are magnificent.
Keller has said that he opened his next restaurant, BOUCHON, so he’d have a place to eat after work at The French Laundry. The New York Times called the book “May be the best cookbook ever about bistros and bistro food.” Like the restaurant, this ideal coffee table volume contains recipes that are more basic, like French onion soup, which will make you swoon. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Keller recipe if you didn’t have to caramelize those onions for five hours.
Have you heard the term “sous vide,” but hesitated to ask what it means and how to do it? No worries, Keller’s UNDER PRESSURE tells all. The secret to cooking perfect short ribs, succulent fish, and fruit and vegetables which retain color and flavor, is to figure out the exact temperature just under simmer. Part science, all finesse, this cooking method has taken the culinary world by storm. But must I say it? Definitely not for the beginner.
A breath must be taken here, and Thomas Keller knows it. For AD HOC AT HOME, he vows “It delights me to offer here a big collection of family meals and everyday staples, delicious approachable food, recipes that are doable at home. No immersion circulator required. No complicated garnishes. I promise!” Ad Hoc restaurant is a casual adjunct to the aforementioned, with a daily fixed menu. This cookbook is Keller’s gift to the ambitious home cook. Look for the light bulb sidebars with tips and tricks.
Thomas Keller is the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneously three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. And incidentally, if anyone would like to treat me to dinner at Per Se, Keller’s uber expensive restaurant in New York, I graciously accept. Any time.
Whenever the subject is great chefs, you will hear the name Alain Ducasse. The proud possessor of fourteen Michelin stars for eight restaurants in three countries, he’s the acknowledged dean of French cooking, and has inspired a generation of chefs. With DUCASSE FLAVORS OF FRANCE, we can have the master right in our own kitchen. Ducasse is noted for using several different preparations of an ingredient in the same dish. Some of the one hundred recipes are easier to prepare than others, but all are a Foodie’s delight.
Eric Ripert is familiar to lovers of the Food Channel’s competitions as a very discerning judge. ON THE LINE feature invaluable inside information for all who crave knowledge about the restaurant biz. It’s taken more than just talent to establish Ripert’s Le Bernadine as a legendary mecca of fine dining. Chocked full of tasty tidbits like “Cardinal Sins” every employee should know, this is a must for all those who thirst for the excitement of the inner workings of a great eatery, as well as those who hunger for ravishing recipes.
No mention of top New York restaurants would be complete without a tip of the fisherman’s cap to Esca.is the story of David Pasternack, lauded seafood genius. It was he who took raw fish, sprinkled it with sea salt and citrus juice, and thus added the word “crudo,” which is “Italian-style sushi,” to the American food vocabulary. A top-notch fisherman as well as cook, no one knows fish like Pasternack.
Every one of these gorgeous books would be a great gift, but I’m definitely keeping a copy of each for my kitchen. Even if I just look at the scrumptious pictures, I know I’ll be inspired.
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist, an unrepentant Foodie, and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com