`The Chef's Art' by Wayne Gisslen is a textbook on modern French technique, as interpreted by American chefs and American cooking schools. Two of the few problems with the book are when the author tries to represent this book as an embassy from professional cooking to the home cook and as a manual of American cooking.
This is through and through a book of professional techniques. One of the very few concessions Gisslen makes to the home cook is to begin with a chapter of material that a freshman at the Culinary Institute of America would already know. One of the most impractical assumptions the author makes is that by reading this book, the home cook will buy a good kitchen scale for weighing ingredients to the gram or to the quarter of an ounce. Yeah, right! There is no question the minds of anyone who knows anything about baking that weighing flour carefully is clearly a good thing. But, TV chef / educators such as Rachael Ray, Tyler Florence, Giada De Laurentiis, and Jamie Oliver would simply not be as popular as they are if they did not liberate the home cook from careful measurements when doing savory dishes in a saute, braise, stew, grill, roast, or bake. This doesn't mean that this ad libbing style of cooking doesn't need a fair amount of experience so that you can have a pretty keen sense of how much a tablespoon of olive oil looks like. This is why I like metric quantities so much, since I spent ten years as a professional chemist and can tell the difference between 5 ml and 15 ml a lot easier than I can between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, until I memorized the fact that a teaspoon was 5 ml and a tablespoon was three times the size of a teaspoon.
I say all this because this is really an excellent book. It's just that if you believe the glosses on the cover and think you are getting recipes for home cooking, you would be very disappointed. You would be much better off spending your money on a copy of `The Joy of Cooking', because what you are getting is much closer to Escoffier than it is to Irma Rombauer or even to Julia Child, for that matter. Child taught us French home cooking. Gisslen's book is `haute cuisine' straight down the middle.
On the other side of the coin, Gisslen's book is really great for conveying general techniques, especially the great techniques of French stocks, sauces, braises, gratins, soups, salads, and vegetable cookery. While this is new breed Escoffier, there are many classic French dishes and techniques that are not here. There is not a hint of a souffle, a crepe, an omelet, or a pastry. Not even any savory tarts. But for those techniques he does cover, Gisslen is very, very good. He may even be as good as Jacques Pepin for explaining techniques, although I think the photographs in Pepin's `Complete Techniques' are better (not as dark and with better focus and more of them) and for a complete treatise on sauces, James Peterson's classic on `Sauces' is better. But, this is still a very good book for covering the important bases of French technique.
One application for which I have found very few good cookbooks is in cooking for a crowd, as you may do for a large potluck gathering or a church social, or even for school cafeterias, where you need soup by the dozens of servings and stock by the tens of gallons. For cooks with such needs, this book may be a godsend, as long as what you want to make is in Gisslen's Franco-American lexicon. Gisslen accomplishes this by giving the quantities for all his recipes in four different measurements. Two columns of units are in standard U.S. units giving four or 16 servings and two columns in metric measurements for the same two serving counts. And, I encourage you to use the Metric unit columns, as I believe it is as easy or easier to measure out 60 ml than it is to measure 2 oz.
Since there are no omelet recipes, I loose one of my favorite means of evaluating a cookbook, but there are still plenty of recipes for stocks for me to ponder. And, I am humbled, because Gisslen is quoting Escoffier and other French culinary authorities chapter and verse in calling for very long simmer times for stock making. While I am certain Gisslen's stock recipes will produce excellent results, this is a bit much for the casual home cook and may even strain the avid foodie's patience. And, I would not suggest you leave 8 quarts of hot water sitting on a live burner unattended for more than a few minutes. Especially if this is your first time at major league stock making.
If this book interests you, I strongly recommend you read the first several chapters from front to back, at least through the chapters on sauces, stocks, and soups. From there, skim over the recipes, but read all the general information from cover to cover. The placement of the stock and other utility recipes at the end of the book is a bit annoying, but you can live with it, as this is a very, very nice book to become familiar with professional doctrines and techniques. It may not be quite as good as Pepin on technique or quite as authentic or complete as Escoffier, but it is a worthy book if you need to cook it right and in large quantities.