`Lumiere', written by Rob Feenie on the recipes of his British Columbian restaurant of the same name is a competent write-up of the restaurant's great recipes, mostly invented by chef Feenie. This means that in spite of the great recipes, it is a mediocre cookbook for the rest of us.
The book is very good if you happen to share the same seasons and produce of Vancouver and you happen to be a dedicated foodie who enjoys reproducing the dishes of great restaurants. Unfortunately, that is a relatively small population. The book should also appeal to those who are especially fond of seasonal eating, as the chapters of recipes are organized by season and by tasting menu.
In some ways, this book is very similar to `The Arrows Cookbook' covering the cuisine of a seasonally oriented restaurant in Maine; however the Maine restaurateur / authors transcend their Restaurant cookbook genre by adding great material on their personal truck garden which produces most of the seasonal vegetables for the restaurant.
While I am certain chef Feenie invented most of the savory recipes in the book, the Acknowledgments give us the sense that he had little to do with the writing of the book. As usual, there is the battalion of editors, book designers, and recipe testers, but there is also Marnie Coldham who assembled the recipes and adapted them for home preparation. There is also Nathan Fong who `whipped the manuscript into shape'. In addition to inventing most of the recipes, I suspect Feenie did little writing aside from the brief headnotes to each major recipe.
Lumiere is very much of a `haute cuisine' restaurant, similar to Chicago's Tru and Charlie Trotter's and to Napa Valley's French Laundry. It seems to concentrate on fixed price tasting menus, of which there are three for each of the four seasons. All recipes in the book (except for the pantry items in the `Basics' chapter) are on one of these twelve tasting menus. One result is that the portion sizes for these recipes are relatively small. And, it strikes me that these are the perfect sort of recipes to use on `Iron Chef', as they give the judges just two or three bites so that at least four portions can be made from the materials usually needed for two conventional portions. And, lo and behold, Chef Feenie recently won his competition on `Iron Chef America' against the very formidable Masaharu Morimoto.
When I saw that the Foreword to this book was written by Charlie Trotter, I suspected this would be an `Advertisement for Myself' kind of book with recipes similar to great 18th century furniture rather than the more immediately useful instructions for bookcases, Adirondacks chairs, and compost boxes. Feenie has learned much from Trotter and both are great chefs, but this is the kind of book which is much nicer to look at and read than to try to cook from, unless you happen to own a high end restaurant and don't mind a little recipe piracy now and then.
To be perfectly clear, let me say that that not all recipes in this book are complicated and not all recipes include expensive ingredients or involved stocks, sauces, or glazes, but many do. For starters, many recipes include varieties of cheese of which I have never heard, and I have heard of a lot of cheeses. And, many of these cheeses are specifically made with raw milk. It also manages to use dried pasta shapes I have never heard of. Other unusual or expensive ingredients are ice wine (a Canadian speciality), poussin (very small chicken), feuillantine (Not even in the Larousse Gastronomique!!!), tobiko (flying fish roe), veal sweetbreads (thymus glands), black truffles (oh my).
Certainly I am having just a little fun at Chef Feenie's expense, but I still find this book merely a `good' expensive restaurant cookbook and not a great one such as Thomas Keller's two weighty volumes. `The French Laundry Cookbook' went off the top of the scale for providing the aesthetic rationale behind tasting menus and the culinary rationale behind supporting local artisinal suppliers. At best, Feenie is saying `I can do that too'. Similarly, `Bouchon' ranks high as a reference on recipes for high-end bistro cuisine dishes. Feenie doesn't seem to have any such terroir anchor, as he uses ingredients from around the world. He avoids olive oils (which carry hints of their birthplace) by replacing them with the very bland grapeseed oils, but he calls for things such as fresh Roquefort cheeses, which must come from France. Not exactly in the Vancouver terroir. It is almost funny to see Yukon Gold potatoes crop up in every other recipe as the starch of choice. Certainly a strong advertisement for the gourmet cachet of these Canadian spuds.
The use of grapeseed oil is certainly an interesting change, after having read hundreds of books on Mediterranean cooking sopping with olive oil, it's almost refreshing to find an oil based cuisine which does not use olive oil. He also uses lots of butter, as befitting his northern French influences.
At $35, you will not feel cheated if you buy this book and you know what to expect. The recipes are interesting, the section on Basics has lots of good recipes for glazes and infused oils, and the dishes have plenty of `Wow' factor if you use them to entertain. It just does not have a lot of value outside the world of professional chefs and foodies.
Recommended with reservations.