Comments: You don't cook this way, and neither do we. But once in a while we should.
Thomas Keller, probably the most celebrated American chef, says this book (and the restaurant behind it) represents "the food that is important to me – the food that embodies the pleasures, support, and nourishment we get from family." This is the food they cook at ad hoc, his prix-fixe, no-menu restaurant in Yountville, Calif., that has a single new offering each night, consisting of a salad, main course, starch, vegetable, cheese, and dessert.
The recipe chapters focus on poultry; meat; fish; soups; salads; vegetables and side dishes; breads, crackers, and cheeses; desserts; "lifesavers" (jams, jellies, nut butters, oils, preserved fruits and vegetables); and staples (sauces, stocks, spice mixes, brines, pasta dough, dessert sauces, and grilling instructions).
Even though it's meant to represent family food, this is still a chef's cookbook, relying on access to hard-to-find ingredients, prepared sauces, stocks, and other foundational ingredients, and the equipment of a professional kitchen (among only four countertop appliances that he suggests you own, one is a Vita-Mix, a $400 to $500 blender that is a fixture in restaurant kitchens).
As an example, there is a glorious picture of the Iceberg Lettuce Slices, which absolutely calls out to you to make and eat. But in addition to olive oil, parsley, salt, and pepper, it asks for baby iceberg lettuces (unobtainable unless you have a garden (which Keller does)), applewood smoked slab bacon (somewhat easier to find), Oven Roasted Tomatoes (a recipe that takes a good 6 hours), Brioche Croutons (another recipe that you have to start yesterday), and Blue Cheese Dressing (a recipe that requires 10 ingredients, the first of which is Aïoli, a homemade mayonnaise made with garlic oil from Garlic Confit, which is another recipe that takes an hour to prepare). Now seriously, who has a whole day – a whole weekend – to shop for and prepare an iceberg lettuce salad? Even the béchamel sauce for the pot pie is cooked for 30 to 40 minutes (until reduced by a third), and it has to be stirred periodically to keep from scorching. Who keeps watch over a béchamel sauce for 40 minutes? Not a soul that we have met outside a professional kitchen.
The meat and poultry recipes are the most complex. The simplest dishes are found among the seafood, vegetables, breads, condiments, staples, and desserts. There is source information for hard-to-find or specialty ingredients, and they are many.
There are wonderful tips and lessons to be learned. There is a whole chapter on Becoming a Better Cook, which is filled with useful information on ingredients, techniques, and equipment. The book is also peppered with "lightbulb moments," bright ideas that might have sprung up in the restaurant kitchen, but are also useful at home.
We keep going back and forth, saying, "this is an amazing, charming, inspirational, excellent book," while wishing that someone in the writing/publishing process had said, "this book is almost impractical." At the very least, we wish there were an acknowledgement – however modest – that these recipes, in the guise of all-American family cooking, are almost all restaurant recipes.
This book will be happily received by many as a gift and snatched up by "foodies," and a good cook will master the seafoods, desserts, and some other recipes. But for many, it will either be frustrating or unused.
You don't cook this way, and neither do we. But we wish we did.