My First Encounter
It was my love of cooking that first brought the name of Thomas Keller and The French Laundry to my attention. I was looking for a new cook book and so I was browsing through Amazon looking at books and reading the reviews. When I came across The French Laundry Cookbook. I was immediately impressed with the amount of positive reviews it had received and was eager to learn more. However I was not won over when I saw it’s price! I mentioned my disappointment to my husband and the next thing you know I received it as a Christmas present.
Well. Wow. I have to say that this is the most incredible cook book I have ever had the pleasure to own.
After reading this book I would give anything to visit and eat at The French Laundry Restaurant In the Napa Valley, but unless I win the lottery I know this will never happen. I also understand that the restaurant is so well patronised that you have to book years in advance.
The recipes are not for the faint hearted and there are many of them that I would not have the courage to attempt for a long time yet, even though I have had the book for a couple of years. But life springs eternal and, hopefully, I will try them in time.
The book itself has so much in it that it makes an interesting read even if you are not interested in the intricate cooking techniques. The recipes range from tiny tastes of intensely flavoured foods, designed to make you want more, through, melting tender meats and vibrant vegetables to sweet, unctuous creamy desserts. Interspersed through the sections of the book are with personal information about Thomas Keller and his life, and the occasional treatise on the some of the most basics of ingredients like salt, pepper and vinegar.
Be warned the book is huge. I do not mean that it is a foot thick, although it is quite hefty, but it’s dimensions are bigger than most other cookery books I have ever come across. It will not fit comfortably on any of my book cases and it is not an easy to read book because of its size. This does add to its overall impressiveness though.
The photographs inside the book, by Deborah Jones are just outstanding. They portray the food exquisitely, making the senses long to smell and taste the delicacies set out before you. The images capture every tiny detail of the dish including even the tiny specks of powders used to highlight the presentation and taste of the finished masterpiece. The colours perfectly captured. Not easy to do when photographing food.It is a shame that copyright prevents me from posting those pictures here, but find this book in any bookshop and you will be instantly impressed when you open the book for a sneaky preview.
There are many ingredients featured in the recipes that I had never heard of before. Some are simply not known in the UK. Not being a professional chef I had no idea about some things and I had to do a lot of research on the internet to either find a supplier, a substitute or, sometimes, I tracked down how to make these more unusual items myself.
Another problem I have with the book is with the quantities of the ingredients. Living in the UK we do not work in cups, and being old-fashioned I don’t always work in Kilograms and Grams. Working out the right quantities to use in a recipe is quite confusing. Salt is one of the main problems. He often refers to using salt by the tablespoon and if I were to use the amount of salt given in some of the recipes it would be inedible to most people. I am assuming, therefore that his tablespoon is smaller than the one I have always used. The book uses Kosher Salt and I have not managed to lay my hands on this as yet. I felt I had to invest in a new set of digital scales to allow me very precise measurements when attempting any of the recipes. I think this is very important given that many of the ingredients are expensive and you really do want to get things right first time around.
It was daunting at first to even think about making something from the book but ,after re-reading a recipe several times, and then ensuring I had everything I needed to hand, I felt confident to tackle one or two. That then gave me the confidence to try more and more. Sadly I never took photographs to show these culinary masterpieces of mine but I do wish I had, now more than ever.
Do I recommend this book. Absolutely, even if you never cook a single thing from within its stunning pages, it will keep you enthralled for long and weary and make you yearn for things you do not have. I do wish he would bring out a version using British weights, measures and ingredients. That would indeed be perfect.