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Book review – The Essence of French Cooking, by Michel Roux

17 October 2014
Book review – The Essence of French Cooking, by Michel Roux

The Essence of French Cooking
By Michel Roux
Quadrille Publishing, £30

This book is the latest by Michel Roux, who has been at the pinnacle of Europe's cuisine and restaurant keeping for 50 years. When Michel
and brother Albert published New Classic Cuisine and the follow-up Patisserie about 30 years ago, the impact was instant and versions of their lemon tart and blackcurrant delice appeared with degrees of success on menus right across the country.

These recipes were sometimes difficult as they assumed both craft skill and immense care on the part of the reader, but they all worked if you followed them meticulously. This book could almost be the prequel, for the dishes are mainly fairly simple, such as starters of terrine de pâté
de campagne and oeufs en cocotte aux crevettes grises.

Main courses include navarin d'agneau printanier; the fabulous carré de veau Orloff that I haven't seen for decades and roast rack of veal with mushroom stuffing, white onion purée and a béchamel enriched with egg yolks, the result glazed with plenty of black truffle slices. There is nothing trendy, low fat, dairy or gluten-free about this dish; it's a celebration of the grand restaurant and country house cooking upon which a big part of current cookery is really based.

My favourite recipe is for the old favourite, ratatouille. The dish is treated with respect and each stage covered in complete detail rather than glossed over.

Desserts are mostly familiar, such as tarte Tatin and mousse au chocolat, alongside the occasional more complex dish. The charlotte aux poires used to appear on the menu of the Capital hotel in Knightsbridge, when I worked there and was made for us by Michel's pastry kitchen.

It was memorably good. The style and look of this book is similar to many of Michel's more recent ones, but with Lisa Linder rather than Martin Brigdale's photography. Just like the recipes, and the author, the pictures are confident and precise, showing finished dishes.

Cutting edge photography of intense cooks toiling in tough kitchens would, in any case, be absurd for this celebration of a French cuisine that is steeped in tradition, regionality and seasonality.

Maybe it is a book that is more modern than we realise.

By Shaun Hill, chef-proprietor, the Walnut Tree, Llanddewi Skirrid

If you like this, you may enjoy these:

  • French Country Cooking, Michel and Albert Roux
  • Michel Roux: The Collection, Michel Roux
  • The French Kitchen, Michel Roux Jr
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