When they say “only time will tell”, this is what they meant.
To say that the Larousse Gastronomique is a work of art would at first seem like a pretty grandiose statement. Add to it the tagline, “World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia” and the bar just gets re-set at a much higher level.
Pick up the book. I mean physically pick it up. It’s massive. The latest edition (2009) weighs in at an immodest seven pounds! That’s 1216 pages of recipes, information and culinary reference material. That is impressive and more than a little intimidating.
Sure, there are other BIG volumes of food technique and information out there. The Modernist Cuisine comes quickly to mind. But, these are two entirely different animals. Yes, the six volume 2,400+ page set delves unimaginably deep into some pretty obscure cooking topics. But, pound for pound Larousse is the standard bearer.
If you want 200 pages on cooking tools that you may never have access to. Or, recipes that include ingredients so obscure they may be next to impossible to locate, then Modernist is your baby. If you are more in the mood to examine the building blocks of classic techniques married with flavors that have stood the test of time, then Larousse is your archive of choice.
That does not mean that the most recent incarnation of LG doesn’t touch on some of the newer cooking methods and contain some pretty exotic ingredients. It certainly does. But, it tends to be more of a cooking class and less of a science lab.
Since I first laid eyes (and hands) on the book I’ve wanted to write about it. But, what? Where to start? I thought a series right here on CBM.com might be appropriate. The goal will be to explore the Larousse Gastronomique in all of it’s delicious, mouthwatering glory. Maybe to learn how it’s lessons have impacted what we are currently seeing chefs around the world put on their plates. And, possibly gain a little insight into classic culinary thought.
This is the book that many of today’s biggest and most successful chefs cite as their cornerstone. It’s turning 75 years old this year. That’s a milestone that deserves to be celebrated and toasted!
TITLE: Kitchen on Fire AUTHOR: Olivier Said & Chef MikeC PUBLISHER: Da Capo Lifelong CUISINE: Cooking Instruction
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Featured Ingredient: Cooking School A cooking school or culinary school is an institution devoted to education in the art and science of food preparation. It also awards degrees which indicate that a student has undergone a particular curriculum and therefore displays a certain level of competency. Cooking schools are often associated with public restaurants where a student can acquire experience in working in a real environment and perform in many roles. [Wikipedia]
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First Impressions OK, first off this is not a cookbook. Not in the traditional sense at least. Sure, it contains recipes, good ones. And, it has other features that would make you think it’s a cookbook. But, it’s not. It’s much more than a cookbook. It’s a culinary school in 442 pages. It covers subjects from Barding to Yeast Breads and EVERYTHING in between. I promise. It’s a masterwork of techniques, skills, procedures and methods. I can’t think of a thing that was omitted. There is vivid, colorful photography throughout courtesy of Olivier Said. It promises “Mastering the Art of Cooking in 12 Weeks (or Less)”. If you could stick with it, it would deliver as promised.
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What You’ll Find Inside (aka Table of Contents) Week 1 – Knife Skills and Mise en Place
Week 2 – Sautéing, Stir-Fry and Searing
Week 3 – Stocks, Soups and Poaching
Week 4 – Frying and Confit
Week 5 – Stewing, Braising and Steaming
Week 6 – Sauces, Condiments and Dips
Week 7 – Roasting and Broiling
Week 8 – Grilling
Week 9 – Yeast Breads
Week 10 – Quick Breads and Batters
Week 11 – Starches, Grains and Pastas
Week 12 – The Incredible Egg
The Basic Science of Cooking
Tool Master List
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It’s hard to imagine we’ve gone from this to Olivier and Chef MikeC. WOW.
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The Best of the Book (Our Favorite Recipes)
Roasted Fennel and Orange Salad
Herb and Olive Oil Focaccia
Pan-Fried Cornmeal Cakes
Sage Brown Butter Quinoa
Double Cheese and Bacon Quiche
Spice-Rubbed Barbecued or Grill-Roasted Pork Shoulder
This book is not about the recipes. Sure, there are some delicious dishes here. The Herb-Roasted Leg of Lamb with Vegetables and Romesco (p. 195) is a standout. Likewise, the Brie and Chervil Omelet (p.370). But, this book isn’t really about what you can make. It’s about the techniques that are required. Teaching you how to preform those skills the correct way is the essence of Kitchen on Fire.
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Special Features This is usually the part of the review where I’ll reference the small things that make the cookbook special. But, honestly this book is ALL special features! I’m not sure that there is a component of the culinary process that was overlooked. OK, here’s where I have my tail between my legs. Most know my disdain for the ubiquitous conversion chart. Here’s an instance where it actually belongs! AND, is useful! Congrats on that. My only small problem with the book was the way in which the techniques were cross referenced. There are little red circles with chapter numbers directing you to more information on a certain topic (❼). In order to find the chapter you need to go back to the table of contents. If they would have printed the red circle chapter numbers in the upper (or bottom) right corner of the pages you could flip through with your thumb and quickly find the reference sited. It’s not a big deal by any means. More of a usage observation. Fantastic special features run from the head of this book to its tail.
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Conclusions If you’re looking for a traditional cookbook, look somewhere else. This is not it. On the other hand, if you’re in search of a great, comprehensive, instructional guide to your home kitchen, you have found it. Big time! Kitchen on Fire covers all the bases and more. It would make an excellent gift for someone just learning their way around the kitchen. It would be also a superb addition to the experienced home chef’s collection of culinary resources. It’s sure to be a “go-to” book again and again.
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Culinary Expertise 1 to 10 (and everything in between) 1= Boiling Water (novice) 10= Liquid Nitrogen (expert)