This book of 52 articles on food products, both natural and man-made, is a perfect model of what can be done with culinary subjects in books with a lot of commitment to quality of both the intellectual material and the production values in its presentation.
Be perfectly clear that this book, as available from Amazon by the item within this review appears is most definitely in English, with a lot of care taken so that units are also translated into those familiar to American and UK readers. There is even a little list of synonyms for translating European terms such as aubergines into the more American friendly term, eggplant. I was so interested in seeing this book that I was willing to put my college French to the test and read it in French. That exercise is unnecessary.
The best thing that can be said about the book is that it lives up to Joel Robuchon's rather considerable reputation. He is probably even better known to Americans than his eminent countryman Paul Bocuse through his occasional appearances on the Food Network show `Iron Chef'.
The 52 articles in the book are divided into thirteen (13) articles per season. Of the 52 articles, 48 deal with raw foods such as Asparagus, Lamb, Lobster, and Grapes. Two (2) deal with refined products, salt and olive oil. Two deal with primal `compound' products, leavened bread and pastry crust. As the book was based on a collection of journalized articles first printed in a French periodical, it is entirely understandable that the selection of products is based entirely on products raised or gathered in and around France. The varieties of fruits and vegetables and the sources of meats are also all French. This is not parochialism; it is simply that the material was originally written for a French audience.
The first thread running through all the articles is the emphasis on what constitutes the very best samples of each product, how to judge the best products, how to pass on lesser samples, and how to do the very best preparations of these products. The chapter on haricot beans is a perfect example of how best to treat this very, very French product. As Robuchon states in this article, these are little things, but that is what excellence in cooking is all about, an attention to a lot of little details.
Let me not give the impression that the book is a collection of dry details on cooking techniques. Whether through Robuchon's skill with words himself or through the efforts of an excellent (albeit uncredited) translator, the text is a very easy read, quite capable of holding ones attention, as long as one has the least amount of interest in the subject at the outset.
I must also say that I have rarely seen any book so well served by its color illustrations as this. The first comparable work that comes to mind is the Larousse Gastronomique. The French (Europeans?) really know their stuff when it comes to creating an evocative mix of photographs, color plates, and black and white engravings to pair the best possible picture with the text and achieve a mix of media which entertains the eye as much as the text engages the mind.
Each of the 52 articles is accompanied by a recipe featuring the subject of the article. Some recipes such as the one for leavened bread is quite involved, it being a method for creating the leavening from natural yeasts rather than using brewers yeast. Other articles, especially those for vegetables, are very simple such as with the simple glazed carrots. Yet, even these most simple of recipes include techniques which expand one's appreciation of matching techniques to the product.
When the legions of culinary workers and writers babble as if by rote about the best and freshest ingredients in season, this is what they are really talking about, if they would just apply the level of care Monsieur Robuchon has put to his subject.
Very highly recommended for the library of anyone interested in food.