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This review is from: Ducasse: Nature (Hardcover)
To the enthusiastic cook this might be the nearest they ever get to working with Alain Ducasse, one of the greatest living chefs of our time.
Through this imposing yet accessible hardback book, one is given direct access to Ducasse and gets the chance to learn a bit about his culinary philosophy and modus operandi as he turns his expert eye to natural, simple, healthy and good-for-you ingredients that can be transformed into some rather spectacular dishes. Proving there is more to Ducasse's repertoire than rich, intricate French dining, the reader can see Ducasse's take on a much more simpler French-dining experience that will still have you wanting more.
In many ways this book is a modern-day curate's egg. It certainly has its quirks such as the cartoon-style imagery that can be found throughout. They just seem to jar the otherwise pleasant flowk, its full-colour photographs and the great text. They didn't work for the reviewer in any case and proved to be a bit of a distraction.
Once you start digging in the book you begin to get on the Ducasse wavelength. Nothing has been taken for granted. Need a chicken stock? Lemons? Ketchup? Yes, there is a Ducasse recipe for that which forms part of its "larder essentials" section. Ducasse is serious about working with only the very best materials and nothing is left to chance. You might think this is fussy and over-the-top but one must presume that Ducasse really does know what he is doing and why. Even a busy chef, no matter how prolific and experienced, would not seek to do unnecessary work if they can avoid doing so as it would be a major draw on their resources. Put your trust in the master.
The book is split into a few distinct chapters - for the larder, condiments, grains and cereals, soups, vegetables, sea, land and desserts. Once you get past your irritation (?) at the quirky images or, as the publicity material calls them "delightful line drawings" you find that the book is easy to navigate and the focus is made on the recipes. The majority of recipes seem to have their own full-colour illustration and every recipe is accompanied by various hints and tips for customisation, techniques or just making things a little better.
There was one disconcerting thing that this reviewer reacted to and so far the jury is out whether to award a little black mark or not. Conventionally a recipe has its ingredients listed in a separate break-out box, whereas in this book they are merged in with the recipe. So to know what you need for a certain dish you have to read through every line of the recipe and extract the information from there. In some ways it is good that you read the "assembly instructions" several times (where justified) yet it makes browsing to be less friendly. A separate broken out ingredients list makes a "do we have this?" or "I must buy X" process a lot quicker when skimming.
And the usual grumbles about the lack of a typical preparation/cooking time estimate should be recorded here. For a book that focusses on the more-healthier foodstuffs one doesn't miss the typical nutritional information so much. But in a book that can feature more complex, involved recipes (or the presumption of same) SHOULD give you a timing estimate, if nothing else than to reassure you that you are not doing things wrong along the way!
At the end of the book is the customary index and this one is fairly comprehensive, if not slightly overladen by the graphical styling. All in all, this is an excellent book. If one views it as an inspirational/aspirational book then some of the niggles lose a little of their weight. However as a practical book these niggles do get in the way. The quality of the content (recipes, advice, etc) is not at question - it is more a question of the packaging. This could be compared to a dish being overly complicated by little flourishes that add nothing to the taste and can even make things appear too fussy. There is no need to hide the content or camouflage it, so it is a little disappointing that some graphic designer has been allowed to run rampant. Ducasse would not let a junior chef run amok with the tomato ketchup to make things look pretty when the food didn't need it, so why do it to the book?
It is still a lovely book. Just a little love-hate relationship that can mirror many real-life relationships with a partner you adore but who does a few things that can wind up you too!