Review: Bouchon

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By: Thomas Keller
ISBN: 1579652395
Publisher: Artisan
Publication date: Nov. 2004
Format: Hardcover
List price: $50 (Canada, UK)
Type: French Bistro; Chef's
Sample recipe: Cauliflower Gratin
intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive Biblical stature coffee-table
competition: outclassed also-ran midrange strong challenger leads the pack
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 >300
practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% >80%
# of ingredients: <3 <6 <9 <12 >12
ingredient hunt: 7-11 pantry supermarket online airfare required
recipe complexity: baby steps simple medium intense professional
instructions: inadequate bare bones full figured educational verbose
time conscious: outright lies speed of light fairly quick takes time takes all day
photos/drawings: skimpy adequate decorative instructive glorious
recipe results: dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
flavor quotient: disappointing fair good delicious exceptional
layout: ick cluttered clean kind to cooks work of art
legibility: microscopic challenging adequate clear brilliant
production quality: cheesy questionable years of service gift-quality stunning
value: ouch! a little pricey on the money excellent worth splurging
Ease of Use
page numbers: invisible hard to find spotty adequate obvious
table of contents: missing frustrating passable useful helpful
index quality: none tragic adequate good excellent
page flipping: infuriating tedious acceptable rare never
writer: hack cook turned writer writer turned cook comedian auteur
cook: self-taught non-restaurant chef teacher celebrity
overall rating: fair good above average excellent Ochef Top 100
Comments: If you've drifted through life vaguely thinking that French bistro food — for all its delicious simplicity — is simple, Thomas Keller is here to set you straight. The celebrated chef, best known for The French Laundry restaurant in California (and eponymous cookbook), and new Per Se restaurant in New York, also has two bistros, each named Bouchon. And in the book that shares their name, he presents 180 recipes that are anything but simple.

Keller, who has a reputation as a perfectionist, makes no apologies. Real bistro cooking is based on technique, he says, and his procedures and instructions are painstaking and without shortcuts.

The section on basic preparations and techniques is comprehensive and invaluable — a cooking master class in the space of 25 pages. It is these basic preparations that make it possible for a restaurant to turn out these kinds of dishes day after day.

Yes, it's a brilliant, stunning cookbook, filled with great food, beautiful pictures, and a wealth of cooking information. But we struggled mightily with our assessment of the number of practical recipes in the book. Almost every recipe looks really good. Every competent cook, given enough time, could prepare most of them. But the book suffers from the problem that besets most chef-written cookbooks — very few people are going to make more than three or four of the recipes in the book.

If you want a great coffee-table book, if you want to learn a lot, if you want to have great recipes on hand for weekend afternoons in the kitchen, you should absolutely consider buying this book. You'll be a better cook for using it. If you're going to be frustrated because you don't have the time to follow Keller's instructions, however, perhaps you should put the money into your travel fund and visit a few great bistros when you get the chance.