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- Published on Amazon.com
`girardet, Recipes From a Master of French Cuisine' written by retired Swiss master Fredy Girardet is this renowned chef's second book, being published eight years after he retired from professional cooking and more than twenty years after his first publication, `Spontaneous Cooking'. In a totally uncharacteristic show of unity, Girardet is lauded as the foremost master of French cooking by both Paul Bocuse and Joel Robuchon.
In evaluating this book, I felt the weight of having given Charlie Trotter's latest book on fine dining recipes a poor rating, in spite of the obvious quality of the recipes in this `Workin' volume. Ultimately, Girardet's book validated my rating of Trotter's effort in showing how fine dining recipes should be written, thereby earning my high praise.
For starters, Trotter's recipes are touted as being improvisations, while Girardet's recipes have probably been prepared for years in exactly the same way at his restaurant. Among other things, that means they have been thoroughly tested by years of practice by dozens of line chefs. Girardet also has a distinct way of writing recipes, which is great for both restaurant practice and for entertaining. All of his procedures are divided into at least three sections, Preparation, Cooking, and Presentation. Preparation is everything that can be done hours or even days in advance, with intermediate results stored in the fridge. Unlike virtually every other cookbook I have seen, Girardet specifies exactly how to best store these intermediate preparations, citing which need to be covered and refrigerated if they are not used immediately. This simple addition literally doubles the value of the recipes for entertaining. Although Girardet does not tout this aspect of his recipe writing, he actually embodies the very good practice demonstrated in Wolfgang Puck's new book of laying out all the techniques needed for each recipe within that recipe. For example, everywhere it is needed, the recipe repeats the technique for skinning tomatoes by cutting a cross in the bottom and blanching.
Like most cookbooks for major restaurants, this one includes a large section on pantry preparations. This selection is as larger than Trotter's offering and, to my eyes, much better in that veggies are not chopped, but simply `cut large' and simmered for no more than three hours rather than Trotter's six. In only one stock recipe is the mirepoix diced, suggesting a ¼ inch dice. At the same time, Girardet is not overly fussy. I have seen more detailed recipes for exactly the same product from the CIA, Judy Rodgers, and Thomas Keller. Of all chapters I have seen on pantry preparations, I think Keller's work in `Bouchon' is the best, but Girardet comes close. He especially offers recipes for three different gelees; close relatives to stocks where veal shins and feet are added to extract their gelatin.
The organization of recipes is very conventional, which is quite reassuring. One is not disoriented as you encounter all the familiar subjects of Cold Appetizers; Hot Appetizers; Fish; Shellfish; Poultry, Rabbit, and Feathered Game; Meat and Furred Game; Variety Meats; Cold Desserts; and Hot Desserts. The first thing you may notice is that there are no meze, tapas, sandwiches, or other species of finger food evident in this list. This is FINE DINING! There are also no easily recognizable classic Bistro salads here. Most of the appetizers are soups or small dishes of fine shellfish.
One of the most difficult aspects of these recipes is that many use a principle ingredient that may be difficult to find in the average supermarket. There are many recipes involving rabbit, venison, boar, langoustines, scallops in the shell, cockles, crayfish, frogs legs, skate, and sweetmeats. And, there are no suggestions for substitutions. The scallops in the shell are not simply a conceit or a decoration. The leftovers after excising the scallop from the shell are used to create a broth, in much the same way as lobster shells are used to create a stock for bisques and other seafoody stuff.
And yet, there were still lots of recipes which not only impressed me with their quality, but which I actually looked forward to making in my own kitchen. A recipe for tuna fish tournedos with Ratatouille and green peppercorn vinaigrette may sound daunting, but the instructions are so straightforward and the result looks so delicious that I am certain I will try this little gem very soon. While all the photographs are expertly done, and there is a full-page photograph for practically every dish, I did detect a few where the photographed dish did not exactly match the description in the recipe. I rarely weigh this against a book, as I generally pay little attention to fancy plating or to using the pics to pick a dish to make, but you may feel differently, so I'm compelled to mention this.
The author claims he will avoid technical cooking terms as much as possible, but I sense he put this objective out at the beginning of the book and quickly forgot it. I forgive him on this, because I would be annoyed to see words such as Aiguillettes, Gelee, Veloute, Chartreuse, Chaud-Froid, Galantine, Terrine and Frivolity replaced with any circumlocutions. And that is just from the names of the recipes in the hot appetizers.
I have seen English translations of books by both Bocuse and Robuchon and this volume joins them as evidence that the leading Europeans really know how to do cookbooks. The binding is of a very high quality, the book lays flat where you open it, and an integrated ribbon bookmark is added for good measure.
This book may only appeal to professionals and foodies, but it is a very, very good embassy to this interest indeed. Highly recommended.