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This book by Paul Bocuse, arguably the most distinguished French chef alive today, translated from the French into English, is akin to Stephen Hawking's writing a popular work on the history of physics. Unlike similarly formatted works by Joel Robuchon, this book aims at presenting relatively straightforward instructions for preparing classic French regional cuisine. What is missing are the details of proper selection and handling of seasonal ingredients. This is replaced by a very high level tour of the major culinary regions of France.
I am surprised that such a distinguished culinary figure would do this kind of book, but I am supremely delighted that he did. The book includes literally every traditional French dish I can think of, with recipes that are quite easy to follow by the average American amateur cook. The book includes recipes for pot-a-feu, cassolet, crepes, coq au vin, salade Nicoise, Vichyssoise, onion soup, stuffed cabbage, Provencal fish stew, Burgundy Beef, tapenade and aioli. The list of recognized classics goes on and on. There is even a gratin recipe for macaroni and cheese and a confession that it was the Romans and not the Lyonnaise who invented macaroni.
I confess that some ingredients, such as the Lyonnaise sausage with pistachio may be a little hard to find, but the author graciously provides several serviceable substitutes for each ingredient not commonly available in American markets. Kielbasa, for example is an acceptable substitute for the saucisson pistache.
I am simply delighted with the simplicity and clarity of the instructions. The potato and sausage salad dish is French to its core yet the author succeeds in making the recipe read like something out of a Martha Stewart book. The instructions are clear, unpreachy, and workable. Aside from the sausage, there are no unusual ingredients and no unusual equipment needed. No trace, for example, of a food mill, china cap, or bain marie. The same can be said of almost all recipes in this book.
This is not to say there are no interesting recipes in the book. While there are so many classic dishes here, many have a special twist which is not due to the invention of the very talented author, but rather due to the author's using a recipe which is closer to the original roots of the dish rather than the dish's most famous incarnations. The recipe for onion soup, for example, is quite unlike the dish I had at Les Halles in Paris at 5 AM. Bocuse's recipe is from the Lyon area where, as he says, they put onions in virtually everything.
There are only two minor complaints about the book. First, this is a book about foods from specific geographic regions, yet there is no map to assist one in visualizing where in France these regions occur. While many foodies may be familiar with the location of Provence, is probably the rare American who knows that the Alsace is in the East, bordering on Germany. This explains similarities between food in the Alsace chapter and common German dishes such as sauerkraut. Second, as the author states himself, there was much Procrustean lumping together of different geographical regions to form a single culinary identity. The author blames this on his editors. I am willing to believe this, and register my complaint to the editors that I am really surprised that they could come up with only six culinary regions (Lyonnais, Provence, Bordelais, Perigord, Brittany-Normandy, and Alsace).
These two complaints aside, this is hands down the very best introduction to French cuisine I have seen for the casual reader. Be sure to read Julia Child and Elizabeth David and Patricia Wells, but read this book first. It will clearly whet your appetite for those other classic authors.
Very highly recommended.