on 30 October 2009
Better exterior, worse contents
I have upgraded from The Concise Larousse Gastronomique (2003) to find out that this beautifully designed book has actually worse contents than its little cousin!
1) The book is so beautifully designed that it's a great pleasure to look at it and to have it on the bookshelf.
2) A general index and a very good recipe index are added.
3) Many contemporary chefs have got their own entry.
1) Entries are written in all caps (e.g. CAHORS, CAILLEBOTTE) instead in normal case (as they are in The Concise Larousse Gastronomique). Therefore you'll not be able to indubitably know how to write French (and English) names and words correctly (correct is Cahors, not cahors*, and caillebotte, not Caillebotte*). Entries in all caps may still be encyclopedic standard in Poland and Russia, but they are surely not in the West.
2) French translations of entries in English were omitted.
3) French names of recipes were omitted, too.
4) Major part of misspelled words and other mistakes is still there, and some new big mistakes were added.
And what's the most disappointing feature?
The photographs! Don't expect to find photographs of any dish, neither French nor English!!! All you'll get are photographs of some vegetables, apples, fish etc. (which you can find in much greater number in other books, if you are intersted in fish, apples or vegetables!), and much too many artistic photographs of cooks and kitchen details, which are mainly of no use.
I really enjoy any sort of Christmas cookbook and despite being small and compact, this book is definitely packed full of all the recipes you'll need for the festive season.
The book itself is split into five chapters which are: Christmas Fare, Centrepiece Cakes, Small Cakes and Cookies, Edible Gifts and Leftover Turkey Ideas. There is also a fairly comprehensive introduction and good index at the back.
Each recipe has a full page colour photo, clear instructions as well as details of how many people the dish serves and how much preparation and cooking time you will need. There are some excellent recipes whether you are looking to cook the whole traditional meal or simply making treats for visitors. I thought that the leftover turkey section was an inspired inclusion as many books completely overlook the fact that you're usually left with tons of turkey and nothing to do with it except make sandwiches. If you are a vegetarian or have one in the family, there are only really two main meal options and two salads to choose from. Otherwise, there are recipes for turkey, salmon, beef and lamb. The cakes sections were also packed out and full of goodies that everyone is sure to enjoy.
Overall, whether you are cooking the Christmas meal for the first time or are a pro, this book will definitely give you lots of inspiration and ideas. It's packed full, easy to use and definitely a book I would recommend.
on 28 December 2011
Epicures, it is time to reinforce the bookshelves. The new edition of the Larousse Gastronomique will shortly arrive - with a thump. At 1,206 pages and nearly 8lb of pulped forest, the culinary reference bible of French cooking is bigger than ever. But what's this? The LG, always the embodiment of the French-food vernacular, now comes with a smattering of parvenus, a scattering of avant-garde techniques and a new wave of international chefs who have broken free of traditional French cuisine.
The avant garde is represented by the so-called molecular chefs whose creations often involve the transfiguration of common textures to the uncommon. Enter Monsieur Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck, he of bacon-and-egg-ice-cream fame, followed swiftly by M. Ferran Adria, doyen of bizarre, high-tech Catalan cooking at El Bulli in Spain. After that we have M. Thomas Keller of California, another chef using alternative, not-so-Gallic concepts in the kitchen. Then, look under "N", and you will find the entry, "nitrogen, liquid", because that is the ingredient these upstarts use to chill their sorbet. In the hands of these men, olive oil can become a powder, a root vegetable, a biscuit. No need to eat a tomato, these chaps will simply ionise it, then spray it up your nose.
It will be interesting to see if this conceptual cuisine, admittedly popular and the recipient of numerous awards, will bear the test of time, as have conventional entries on crêpes suzettes, soufflés, mousselines, daubes and bavarois. The LG becomes larger with every edition, but if ultimately judged to be a flash in the pan, the new wave may be quietly weeded out.
Imagine the reaction of Auguste Escoffier, the acknowledged father of French cheffery, who helped to compile the first LG, published in 1938. The impact of Escoffier's strict observation of seasonality and the reduction of the number of ingredients in a single dish has been felt for more than a century and still influences cooking today. What would he make of some of the more extreme activities in the kitchens of Adria and Blumenthal, where artificial food processing aids, not natural ingredients, are routinely used to bring off culinary feats?
As with every new edition, updated every five years, the latest ingredients to become popular in French cuisine are included. This time we have tonka beans, the black, oblong variety from South America with a "powerful aroma of sweet almonds and freshly cut hay", which are used to perfume cream dishes. Cactus - or prickly pears - also make their debut, along with potimarron, a winter squash with the flavour of sweet chestnut, and eddo, a hairy taro root used primarily for its starch element and not its flavour, described as "insipid."
But the greater part of the book is concerned, as ever, with the typical, and extensive, range of ingredients, techniques and recipes that make up French cuisine. Four pages of dense text describe every classic soufflé, from the simple cheese version to hot and cold dessert types. Another four are devoted to foie gras, with recipes for the fattened duck or goose liver au vin jaune, en brioche, with grapes and truffles, in a purée, potted or poached. The rules for making an authentic cassoulet run to over 1,000 words and specify strictly the use of 30 per cent pork (including Toulouse sausage,) 70 per cent haricot beans, as well as the essential confit goose, duck or mutton.
In spite of the move by many French Michelin-starred chefs away from the old bourgeois cooking towards today's scientific molecular cooking trend, the new LG reflects a renewed interest in the revival of traditional, provincial food.This is the language of cordon bleu, the perceived right way to do it. It is this that also makes the LG the essential reference point for chefs. The new edition comes decorated with plaudits from Jamie Oliver, Sir Terence Conran, Michel Roux and Gordon Ramsay.
But, as with any standard work, should you argue with the content? The LG takes its first name from the famous French lexicographer, encyclopaedist and publisher, Pierre Athanase Larousse, a man who "wanted to teach everyone about everything". He died in 1875, and the publishing house appointed Prosper Montagne as editor; Escoffier wrote the preface, though he died before the first edition was published.
Today French chef Joel Roblochon heads a "gastronomic committee" which oversees the content. The LG does not always marry up with other reference books. Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion To Food, for example, will often provide more detail on a single ingredient or dish, or a contradictory fact, and he backs up most of his claims with citations from academic works.
This niggle is not the point, says Christopher Hirst, food writer and a regular reviewer of cookery books. "Of course I have my doubts about some of the content," he says. "I am more amused by it than anything else - you can almost hear the accordion music as you open it." Does he cook from it? "Not exactly. It has remarkably little use for its bulk. But it is very entertaining nonetheless." I would urge, however, that you turn to "crêpes" and make Crêpes Normandes. These thin pancakes studded with calvados-soaked apple slices, served with crème fraiche are utter heaven.
The LG holds the clue to the French Paradox, the fact that the French have always suffered lower rates of cardio-vascular diseases in spite of a diet heavy in butter, eggs and cream. I recall a study carried out by the University of Michigan. Seeking an answer to the paradox, a team of dieticians was sent to Dijon in Burgundy and asked to record the diets of several hundred families. The study concluded that the reason for the good nutritional health of the French lay in the diversity of their diet. Not only did the French eat a huge range of foods, they ate seasonally, chopping and changing their diet through the year. Added to this was the application of a multifarious cuisine. Where another country might eat eggs only three different ways, the French have 50.
The giant Larousse Gastronomique is not just a curiosity, or simply a good bedtime read for the food-obsessed. When it describes itself as the bible of French gastronomy, it is exactly that: an almost holy spirit that has always been worshipped by millions. Bringing in the new wave of chefs and their strange ways might even win back some Gallic deserters as they head for McDonald's.
France may be changing, but the LG still represents the health of the nation.