Superlative Haute Cuisine: A Review of La Cuisine De Joel Robuchon: A Seasonal Cookbook

Superlative Haute Cuisine: A Review of La Cuisine De Joel Robuchon: A Seasonal Cookbook

 Joel Robuchon is considered to be one of the best chefs in the world. His Paris restaurant Jamin, from which he has recently retired, has been named as one of the ten best, and with his 3 Michelin stars, international fame, myriad of prestigious awards, 12 cookbooks, television appearances, high profile consulting work, and columns for newspapers, Robuchon is truly a epicurian celebrity.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

La Cuisine De Joel Robuchon
by Joel Robuchon
Cassell Illustrated Pbs
September 2001
ISBN: 1-84188-134-14

Joel Robuchon is considered to be one of the best chefs in the world. His Paris restaurant Jamin, from which he has recently retired, has been named as one of the ten best, and with his 3 Michelin stars, international fame, myriad of prestigious awards, 12 cookbooks, television appearances, high profile consulting work, and columns for newspapers, Robuchon is truly a epicurian celebrity. His knowledge is extensive, and his philosophy simple, but stringent. He advocates using the best possible fresh ingredients seasonally, and combining them in ways that bring out their natural flavours. His latest book La Cuisine De Joel Robuchon is structured seasonally, and set out in alphabetically arranged food order. For Spring, we have Aparagus, Artichokes, Morels, Spider Crabs, Lamb, Veal, Broad Beans, Chanterelles, Carrots, Cherries, Strawberries, Apricots, and Vanilla. Each item is given a detailed page of background, information, best ways of preparing, and relevant flavour partners. The information page is followed by a recipe for each food, with a suggested wine partner. Summer brings us Bread, Haricot Beans, Mussels, Lobster, Tuna, Tomatoes, Salt, Olive Oil, Aubergines (eggplant), Melon, Grapes, Applies, and Shortcrust Pastry. Autumn includes Truffles, Oysters, Scallops, Herring, Ceps, Foie Gras, Partridge, Pheasant, Hare, Pork, Walnuts, Pears, and Chocolate, while Winter includes soup, cavier, cod, salmon, capon, pot-au-feu, lentils, cabbage, potatoes, turnips, chestnuts, lemons, and flaky pastry.

The book is glossy, and nicely presented, with botanical drawings mingling with the large, lush food photographs. Generally speaking, the preparations aren’t difficult, relying instead on showcasing the natural flavours and exquisite ingredients, rather than on sophisticated culinary techniques. However, unless you live in France, where superb seasonally oriented and epicurian food markets abound, you may find it difficult to pick up the range of exotic mushrooms, game birds, and seafood listed. Robuchon’s featured ingredients are not for those on a budget either. Sliced Scallops and Cavier, Truffle and Smoked Bacon Pancakes, Warm Foie Gras with Lentil Cream Sauce, or Truffled Christmas Capon might set you back a little (plus I doubt my little boys would appreciate the effort).

Not all the ingredients are fancy and rare. There is plenty that a home cook can learn from the master about things like the humble carrot, the melon, bread, grapes, apples, vanilla, turnips, potatoes, and lemons. New Turnips Steamed in Gravy is sublime, and will change the way you look at the funniest vegetable in the supermarket. There are hints for making really smooth mashed potatoes, for peeling and pureeing chestnuts, for making a versatile soup base, and a very tasty sourdough bread. I doubt that the average cook will use this book every day. Robuchon’s reputation is daunting, and you feel that you would be failing him dreadfully if you were to substitute, play around with the recipes, or take shortcuts (mea culpa). Its emphasis on products and produce rather than meals makes it less practical than a book which provides simple and quick family meals. However, La Cuisine De Joel Robuchon is as enjoyable to read as the food is to eat, providing an informative guide to seasonally available ingredients. The book will increase your knowledge of many different types of foods, and you will be a better market shopper as a result. The recipes themselves are simple, and there are some innovative and very easy winners which you will certainly add to your daily meal creation such as Carrots with Cumin (a wonderful combination), Ratatouille, Apple Upside Down Cake (I tried it without the Calvados – don’t tell Joel, and it was still delicious), and even Braised Green Cabbage, or Cream of Pumpkin Soup. It is kind of special to prepare a Robuchon meal, even if you don’t take on the Capon, Caviar, Morels, or Truffles, and you don’t need fancy French flourishes. Just a good knowledge of the ingredients you are using, and a philosophy which insists on always cooking with the seasons, using the freshest ingredients possible, cooked in a manner to take advantage of its singular flavour. Ah bon.

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