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French, Damien Pignolet

13 April 2006

From a chef's point of view, cookbooks divide into two categories. The most important ones are those that will stand the test of time - books that have been written with an intense sense of purpose, usually by men and women who have devoted themselves to their craft and transmitted their knowledge both to their own brigades and to a wider audience. And then there are the kind of books that should have been allowed to remain as a good idea and not followed through to the publishing stage. In my opinion, French is in the latter category.

The book's introduction sets the tone and, for me, is far from inspiring. We learn that chef-restaurateur Pignolet is the fifth generation of a French aristocratic family living in Australia, and after a quick sprint through his family tree we are given some salient biographical points about his own life. This then expands into a discussion of a few of his "favourite things" in life, ending with a paragraph on how his wife, who is a publisher, urged him to write a cookbook. Not always a good reason to put pen to paper, it has to be said.

Pignolet says he is inspired by French classical and provincial cooking, but I'm not too sure about some of his dish translations to suit Australian produce. His Provençal fish soup recipe - bouillabaisse - for instance, calls for blue swimmer crabs, rock cod, leather jackets and flatheads. I'm not sure that these are a good equivalent for rascasse, gurnard, mullet, eel or mussels. It's something to think about. If you need to adapt to the local culture too much, then what you are writing about is not universal.

However, having said this, the cooking part of the book is well thought out and the pictures and recipes themselves work. I'm sure that it will find its place on kitchen shelves throughout eastern Australia, but it is completely out of context here in the UK.

Maybe Pignolet's book is best sold out of his restaurant in Sydney. Better off a big fish in a small pond then a very small fish in the ocean.

Bjorn van der Horst, chef

French
Damien Pignolet
Penguin, £25
ISBN 1-920989-17-X

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