Michel Roux has definitely mastered the art of cooking and is one very talented individual. Given the classic modern cuisine that his celebrated restaurant, the Waterside Inn, puts out at Bray, you'd expect his book, Only the Best (now out in paperback), to concentrate on French cuisine. But actually, he covers a wide variety of food from many countries in the book.
Its main focus is on cooking techniques, and its aim is to teach the home cook how to adapt and work with produce differently - which makes it quite challenging from the amateur's point of view.
I have to admit, at first glance I found the book's layout somewhat confusing, because instead of setting out the chapters in conventional fashion (eg, by starters, mains, desserts, or by produce), Roux has opted for listing recipes under cooking methods. This means that if you are looking for options on cooking a particular ingredient - peach, say - you have to start off with the index and then locate the different ways of using it throughout the book. It's quite time-consuming.
However, first impressions aren't everything, and as you delve further into the book things become very clear and you realise what he is trying to achieve.
To make things easier, Roux takes his readers through what they are about to learn at the beginning of each chapter. For instance, there's a one-page step-by-step guide on the importance of marinades, stocks and sauces, and how he uses them himself, before the relevant recipes.
Everything is written in a clear and definite manner, which should give skilled amateurs and chefs progressing beyond commis level the confidence to try dishes that they might not otherwise think about cooking. The smoked duck with pak choi (page 44) is a good example.
Duck is a difficult and complex meat to cook. Smoking it, as per the recipe, means you cannot fail to produce the dish if you follow the precise timing supplied. A smoked mussel dish follows on nicely from this recipe. The average cook wouldn't necessarily think of smoking mussels and would be more likely to just cook them traditionally. This recipe serves to underline that nothing is ever set in stone as far as food is concerned: the boundaries can always be moved.
The section on eggs, crˆpes and souffl‚s is especially useful. It's precise to the point of science, and by reading this chapter you will understand exactly why things go wrong when they do - which is absolutely vital for every chef and cook, otherwise how can you rectify the mistake and get it right the next time?
The chapter on steaming and poaching is similarly detailed. In fact, Roux is detailed in his approach to everything: you don't achieve three Michelin stars if you are not. For me, a dish of steamed fillet of sea bass in green jackets really stands out. This is simplicity itself. What I like is the fact that all of the produce is kept untouched and served how nature intended.
In my opinion, Only the Best is a book that needs to be read and digested. I don't think you can just pick it up and begin cooking a recipe if you are an inexperienced cook, because many of the techniques as well as the layout are too complicated. I liked the photographs, which are great and give you a vision of where you need to be, but found it frustrating that some recipes weren't illustrated. It was an unnecessary inconsistency.
However, the book has been beautifully crafted, contains an abundance of know-ledge, and is both innovative and classical at the same time. There's a lot to learn here, as well as a lot of fun to be had trying out the recipes. If you achieve half of what's intended from this book by its master chef author, then you won't have done a bad job.
Adam Culverwell, head chef, Kilworth House hotel, North Kilworth, Leicestershire
Only the Best, Michel Roux