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Vegetables by 40 Great French Chefs

11 May 2006
Vegetables by 40 Great French Chefs

Take one market gardener, 40 French chefs, a couple of food journos and a London-based translator writing for the US market; garnish with extravagant photography of parsnips. The result? Death by over-design, a coffee-table cookbook of supreme pretentiousness - at least, that's how it presents itself.

What saves it, though, is the accuracy with which the recipes have been compiled, and some of the recipes themselves.

The starting point for each recipe is a vegetable selected by gardener Joël Thiébault, grower to the culinary stars. He provides a snapshot of, say, a King Edward potato or a Kelvedon Wonder pea, and why he chooses to grow it.

When he goes off-script and describes details of a species, he can be fascinating: "Eggplants… the melting texture of the Asian varieties, the density of the white varieties and the fleshiness of the violet-coloured eggplants grown in Provençe. Not forgetting the mushroom woodland flavours of the smoky Japanese varieties, the sweet, even sugary, varieties of Italian eggplants or the faintly bitter flavour of green Indian eggplant."

The recipes themselves are post-Arpège. Alain Passard's vegetarian menus made vegetables sexy. Chefs, and not only those across the Channel, are captivated by technique; here, it is applied with a spade and fork to give interesting textures or shapes or mouthfeel. Trimoline, lecithin and gels flit in and out of processes. Several dishes should be credited "in the style of Heston".

A Swiss chard tart with an olive oil dough, by Catherine Guerraz, looks and reads as though it should be scrumptious rather than a mere style statement. A miniature pizza with goats' milk cheese and cantaloupe melon sprinkled with black pepper, from Charlotte Christiansson, might almost have come from the latest Jamie Oliver.

As for the recipe by Passard: it's a soufflé fitted inside a hollowed-out celeriac bulb - nice filling, silly concept. A bit like the book.

Michael Raffael, food writer

Vegetables by 40 Great French Chefs
Lyndsay and Patrick Mikanowski
Flammarion, £29.95
ISBN 2-0803-0511-5

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