After reading and being inspired by Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook, I was pleased to be asked to review his second book, Bouchon. Actually, if I'm honest, I didn't wait to be asked - I volunteered to do the review before anyone else.
The book is named after and based on the food of his second restaurant in California's Napa Valley and is written with simplicity to reflect Bouchon's bistro-style cooking.
You may wonder why one of the best chefs in the world would write a book that is based on simple food. I think the reason is that he wants to show how it is possible, using nothing but basic ingredients of the highest quality, to make truly great food. The point is not what you can do to the food or how many garnishes you can use with a dish, but rather the quality of produce.
As Keller points out at the beginning of the book, most people are drawn to bistro food because they are more likely to eat this style of cuisine at home. But the difference between ordinary and excellent cooking lies in the techniques and ingredients used - and this premise is the basis of Bouchon.
The book is divided into five chapters with headings such as "The importance of the raw bar", "The importance of onion soup", "The importance of the pig". These make the reader focus on the ingredient discussed.
Keller shows various uses for the ingredients and explains how they can cross the divide between bistro and fine-dining restaurants. The book's words and recipes are backed up with excellent food photographs, and the recipes are easy to follow. They come with a small description of their concept at the top of the page, giving the reader a full understanding of the dish. This is a great idea, because many chefs just take a recipe and go off in another direction. This will help them stay on track.
Many interesting cooking tips are included in the book, such as soaking a chicken in brine before roasting it, and using a lemon curd method to make lemon tart - this could put an end to all those restaurants serving separated lemon tarts.
I am lucky enough to have eaten at both the French Laundry and Bouchon, so I know Keller is a great chef. And the thing that runs through both his restaurants and books is pure quality.
I think Bouchon is an outstanding book - great for the enthusiastic amateur and professional cook alike. It stands out as a rare exception to the vast selection of cookbooks that flatter to deceive.
Kevin Mangeolles, chef-director, the George hotel, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight