Comments: Most chefs don't have a clue how to write a cookbook for home cooks, and most publishers, it appears, don't have the guts to tell them so. The result is lots of beautiful cookbooks, brimming with tons of information, that don't get used.
Mark Peel is an exception. First of all, for his premise, he started with the Monday-night "family meals" he initiated in his Los Angeles restaurant Campanile more than 10 years ago to increase business on a slow night. Each three-course, family-style, take-it-or-leave-it menu offers what might be described as upscale home cooking. Second, Peel has a civilian wife, so he says he constantly asked himself, "Would Daphne do this?"
Further, he was very aware that home cooks do not have a staff of cooks or dishwashers, and that they cook a meal from start to finish (unlike in a restaurant, where someone does the chopping, someone else makes the stocks and sauces, and someone else might do the cooking).
The result is New Classic Family Dinners. The book is divided into sections: salads and warm starters, soups, pasta and risotto, meat and meat stews, poultry and rabbit, fish and shellfish, side dishes, and desserts. There is also a section of suggestions for combining multiple recipes into full-course menus. The recipes include comfort-food dishes, upscale twists on popular, traditional dishes, and modern versions of dishes that have been done to death and rarely show up on restaurant menus anymore. These include Macaroni and Cheese with Wild Mushrooms, Steak with Anchovy Butter, Monkfish Osso Bucco, Eggplant Parmesan, Beef Goulash, Cornmeal Dusted Pan-Fried Trout, Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce, and Lobster Pie, all of which look absolutely delicious.
Now, having sung his praises, how a chef cooks home-cooked meals is not how most of us cook even moderately fancy home-cooked meals. Peel goes to great lengths to affirm that 80% of success is in the quality of ingredients – and he'll get no argument from us – but these recipes are still generally more complicated and require more ingredients and processes than most of us are used to. Some require as much effort as most home cooks put into their holiday meals.
The book is absolutely filled with information that will make you a better and more knowledgeable cook. But there are other cheffy issues – for example, you'll have to know what chiffonade and mise en place and some other unidentified terms mean. We feel sure his statement that a béarnaise sauce is "almost as easy to make" as Hollandaise sauce is said with tongue in cheek, or at least we hope so, since only about 2% of the population has ever made either. There is also a California-ishness to the ingredient hunt. Peel mentions ingredients that may only be available to him for three months a year. That may mean for many of us, they're only available for three weeks or three days a year – or not at all.
Unless you consider yourself a quite accomplished or gourmet cook, this is probably more of an aspirational cookbook. Instead of Monday night meals, for most of us, this is Sunday afternoon cooking.