This combination cookbook, art book, and memoir is the story of a major celebrity chef's retreat from restaurant cooking to spend four weeks of culinary invention with a supporting cast of one culinary journalist (Michael Ruhlman), one painter (Valintino Cortazar), two photographers (Shimon and Tamar Rothstein), and a sous chef / recipe scribe Andrea Glick, all in a rather pricy package.
For the $50 list, one gets about 156 recipes, 15 of which are for condiments and ingredient preparations such as a vinaigrette and confit of lemon. Included in the price is the text by Ripert and Ruhlman which can be read in less than 4 hours, very good photographs of some, but not all of the dishes and photos of Rippert staring at and fondling ingredients, and about 100 paintings by Cortazar.
The most valuable aspect of this book is what it reveals about how Rippert reached his level of excellence in the culinary arts, and how he works to maintain that level. Rippert appears to follow the same path as Bobby Flay, Emril Lagasse, Tony Bourdain, and, if you can believe it, Alton Brown, where these people were mediocre at school and other vocations until they discovered cooking, which, along with some very important mentors, they came alive with the passion needed for excellence in the culinary arts. Rippert's primary mentor was the great French chef Joel Robuchon, who demanded a level of excellence and discipline which only a handful of chefs can accomplish. The insights of this sort you simply don't get on the Food Network. Wolfgang Puck will give you his secret for a poached beef, but not for the way he thinks when he creates and tests recipes.
The recipes are much more a part of this narrative of revelation than they are a worthy source of material for the food hobbyist, much less for the everyday cook. The recipes are not organized by ingredient, taste, or course. Some are simple, but many are very involved and use uncommon ingredients such as the always elusive Kaffir lime leaves and expensive ingredients such as foie gras and truffles. Each recipe give an estimated prep time and cooking time. This is an excellent reature and probably should be included in every worthy recipe book, but I suspect the prep times are a bit ambitious for the average home cook, even for an enthusiastic hobbyist who is not under any time pressure. Twenty-five (25) minutes is not a lot of time to perform some type of preparation on eleven (11) different ingredients unless you are Eric Rippert. One symptom of the impracticality of this cuisine is that an important ingredient for several dishes is lemon confit, which requires THREE MONTHS to prepare. And, it is not an ingredient you will commonly find even at the local megamart. True to Rippert's history and the cuisine of his restaurant, Le Bernardin, the majority of the more interesting recipes are for seafood and I think he includes several important techniques for dealing with them. You will want to prepare more than a few of these recipes, but I think the bottom line is that the recipes are much more valuable as a part of the narrative than they are a part of a cookbook.
The photographs are very good; however, they are basically eye candy, except for the few glimpses of the attractive Ms. Glick, The paintings are pleasant. Somewhat more interesting eye candy than the photographs. The text in Mr. Ruhlman's voice is primarily background scenery, about as useful as the non-food photographs. Ruhlman has serious credentials in culinary writing, so I suspect he made a serious contribution to the words Eric Rippert's voice. The text in Mr. Rippert's voice is the main game. The only real dissonance I found in his discourse was when he shows his disinterest in pastry, claiming it was `too scientific' requiring far too many measurements. The great irony of this statement is that Eric Rippert's methods represent the scientific method at it's best, constantly tasting and adjusting based on his experiences with intermediate steps.
The overall package is attractive, with one glaring sour note. The font of the text is FAR TOO SMALL. This is a major annoyance, something which would have never gotten out the door at Knopf or Harper Collins. The book has much value for serious foodies with very good eyesight. The recipes are very good and well worth the investment, if you can get the book at a discount.