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Cuisine Actuelle

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Written by:

I was very fortunate to dine at Joël Robuchon’s Paris restaurant, Jamin, a few months before he retired, and to this day it’s still the most technically perfect meal I’ve ever eaten. What amazed me was the apparent simplicity of Robuchon’s food. How could mashed potatoes, asparagus soup and tossed salad taste so absolutely perfect?

Some of the answers are in Cuisine Actuelle, written by Patricia Wells, a well-known and respected food journalist who spent four years with Robuchon at his restaurant and home, and has produced one of the most inspiring cookbooks I’ve come across.

The book starts with an introduction to the philosophies behind Robuchon’s cuisine, which had such a profound effect on Wells that she admits to dividing her life as a cook into two distinct periods – before and after Robuchon.

There’s also an interview with Robuchon in which he says that every cook should respect the essence of every single ingredient. For example, when you brew a pot of tea there’s an instant when it’s underbrewed, an instant when it’s perfectly brewed, and an instant when it’s overbrewed. For me, that sums up the chef’s relentless quest for perfection that makes his cooking unique.

The structure of the book is similar to most cookbooks in that it’s divided into appetisers, soup, hot and cold starters, fish and shellfish, poultry and meat, vegetables, desserts and basic recipes. What’s different is the attention to detail. Every recipe is exact, and if instructions are followed to the letter you can see that the detail counts.

Robuchon gives us two pages of instructions on how to make the perfect mashed potato, how to roast the perfect chicken, when to season, when not to season, when to cook and when to stop cooking. A lot of the basic recipes we use in my restaurant today are from this book, and I’ve yet to discover a better vanilla ice-cream, simple vinaigrette or basic curry sauce recipe.

As well as fantastic recipes the book is full of helpful tips that make the difference between a good dish and a great dish. Is it really necessary to pass the mashed potato twice? Try it and see.

Cuisine Actuelle isn’t French cooking at its simplest, but that doesn’t mean the recipes require exhaustive culinary proficiency. They do demand attention to detail, a degree of discipline, patience, neatness, organisation and an insistence on top quality ingredients. But I would say these are traits and advice that all self-respecting cooks should strive for on a daily basis anyway – that’s why the boys in my brigade have either read the book or have their own copy.

Andrew Fairlie is chef-proprietor of Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles

Cuisine Actuelle
Patricia Wells with Joël Robuchon
McMillan (available in second-hand bookshops)
ISBN 0-333-57594-6

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