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Anthony Bourdain's "Les Halles Cookbook"


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Anthony Bourdain's "Les Halles Cookbook"

Caroline1 | | Feb 2, 2014 06:05 PM

I'm not sure this is the right board to post this, but hey, Mods, feel free to relocate me! '-)

After a whole lot of hassles, Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles cook book FINALLY arrived a week or so ago. Now the question is, is that an indicator that it is selling like hot cakes (or crepes) or is it simply an indication of my typical luck in ordering things? I'm the one who had to have three shippings of a new desktop computer before one arrived in working condition! It took two full months and one cancellation and one new order before I finally got my copy of this cookbook!

I ordered it for two reasons. First of all, I've used a couple of AB's soup recipes I got on line, most notably his mushroom soup which for me is pure and simple "the joy of mushrooms" in a bowl, so I figured a bit more joy in my life couldn't hurt. Secondly, I bought it because I wanted to find out for myself whether it really is true that overall, he is an excellent teacher, and whether less accomplished cooks can learn a great deal from him about cooking, organization, and how to be a better cook over all. Turns out they can! He takes his time, he cheers you with his wry humor, and if you don't understand the basics before reading him, it will be sheer obtuseness on your part if you don't understand after reading this book. Example: If you don't understand the logic and necessity of "mise en place" in the cooking process (or simply "meez," as he puts it) before reading his discourse on it, you will be clear and dedicated to the idea after reading Chef Bourdain! Mise en place is what you do before you apply first heat to the bottom of your pan. It's the engine of smooth sailing in the kitchen. It's what keeps me sane when I cook. It can do the same for you.

I take his word that these recipes are exactly what he says they are: The same recipes he followed religiously as the executive (or whatever) chef at Les Halles bistro in New York City, and NOT true "haute cuisine" recipes as he would present them for the purpose of giving classic "Michelin Four Star" recipes that one would expect from the title of some of the dishes he includes here. Keep in mind that restaurant food, by definition, requires that a chef cook the exact same dish the exact same way night after night in order to "keep the customer sarisfied."

A prime example of this being the (presumably) Les Halles recipe for Tournedos Rossini. In the classic dish, as either Careme or Escoffier invented it (there is ongoing argument about which chef gets the credit), it is a tornedo steak (cut from the large end of a beef tenderloin) done medium rare and served atop a well browned-in-butter "crouton" (a slice of excellent bread cut to the size and shape to match exactly the size and shape of the steak. The crouton is centered on the plate, the steak is centered on the crouton, then a quickly pan-browned slice of foie gras the diameter of the steak is set atop it, then a slice of a good sized black Perigord truffle as close to the size of the steak as possible (which translates into BIG BUCKS in ANY language!) is set atop the foie gras, and the whole bundle is delicately napped with a spoonful or two of well truffled Sauce Perigordine. When prepared with premium ingredients by deft hands, this is a dish that fills the soul with rapture. It is simply divine! BUT.... the Les Halles and/or Anthony Bourdain recipe calls for plopping the steak and garnishments SANS crouton atop a blob of mashed potatoes... <gasp> I cringed! I'm a staunch believer in "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" In this they didn't fix it, they broke it. Brought a shiver to my soul!

He and/or Les Halles do a similar thing with a couple of other classic classic classic French traditional recipes such as Boeuf Bourguignon, but hey, if you've never ever had the original recipes of any of these classic dishes, I'm sure the Les Halles recipes taste good and you'll enjoy them.

In short, I do highly recommend this cook book. Lots of excellent recipes in it, and even better, tons of great information about how the professionals cook, which works just as well (if not better) for home cooks. If you enjoy good food and the satisfaction of making great food on your own, this is a very "user friendly" guide in that direction! But.... If you're into classic recipes and have a thing for authenticity, don't throw away your copy of Larousse Gastronomique either! '-)

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