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Chez Panisse Cooking

31 August 2006

I first came across this book in about 1990 (it was published in 1988) after a mate who was working at Bibendum at the time told me about it. I think either Simon Hopkinson or Henry Harris had mentioned Alice Waters to him. I'd certainly not heard about Chez Panisse, but he pointed me in the direction of the book, I hunted it down and read it; and I can honestly say it made me re-evaluate the type of food I wanted to cook.

You've got to remember that we were at the tail end of nouvelle cuisine as far as cooking was concerned back then, and this book represented something that was completely opposite to that. So it made a big impression on me.

What was really revelatory for me was reading about Waters's beliefs concerning food. For her, quality of produce, good animal husbandry, food traceability and supporting local artisan producers were all as important as what she created on the plate. In fact, they drove what she did with her dishes. What shone through the pages of Chez Panisse Cooking was a genuine passion and respect for food.

The recipes themselves are great and introduced with little explanations about each dish. But there are no drawings or photos. That in itself is inspiring, because you have to work the food out for yourself - you have to use your mind and your senses of touch and smell when you cook the dishes. The preface is called "Educate your nose and abide by it", and that sums up the book's philosophy.

I've certainly used the book well over the years. Actually, it's so well-thumbed it's falling to bits. I wouldn't say that I have favourite recipes, but I've adapted lots of them. One that springs to mind is a chunky American-style oyster soup, which I've put out with garlic rostini (at least, that's what it says in the note I scrawled on the page).

Do I recommend it to the brigade? Very much so. In fact, most of the guys who work for me get it on loan for a couple of days to read through.

Peter Robinson, chef-proprietor, Old Butcher's, Stow-on-the-Wold

Chez Panisse Cooking
Paul Bertolli and Alice Waters
Random House
ISBN 0-679-75535-7

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