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Bouchon by Thomas Keller

Thomas Keller is rightly regarded as one of the world's leading chefs. He is a passionate, obsessive and masterful practitioner who has been delighting diners at his Yountville establishment, The French Laundry for many years. He has also opened a New York restaurant, Per Se, in the Times Warner building.

Jeffrey Cerciello is the chef at Bouchon and collaborated with Keller in assembling this massive work. He trained in the United States but then worked in Spain with legendary Feran Adria at El Bulli and then later worked with Keller at The French Laundry. While it might seem strange having worked at two such trend-setting establishments, Cerciello himself sees it differently.

In the introduction he says "At the French Laundry, the creativity of coming up with new dishes on a daily basis was a way of life. At Bouchon, creativity runs in the opposite direction, though with equal energy: We take ideas and combinations that have been around for decades, even centuries, and try to make them better, not so much to rediscover or reinterpret them, but rather to understand what makes them such a durable part of a great culinary tradition."

This large format book is 341 pages in length. It is studded with colour and black and white photographs. The book is divided into five sections. The first covers hors d'oeuvres, charcuterie and the ingredients for a raw bar. The second, named Anytime, looks at soups, salads and a range of quiches along with a mini-treatise on the making of the custard. The third covers entrées (in the French sense of the word not the American sense). The fourth describes the main courses and the last is for desserts. There is also a chapter devoted to basic preparations such as vinaigrette, stocks and other essentials.

The term bouchon comes from the traditional eateries of Lyon where marvellous food is dished up at affordable prices.

While Thomas Keller pushes the boundaries at The French Laundry, his associate Jeffrey Cerciello serves up traditional fare at nearby Bouchon (there is another Bouchon in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas). At The French Laundry Keller strives for perfection as he invents new dishes. At Bouchon he and Cerciello try to work out why the perennial favourites of France have appealed to us for so long and then to cook those dishes in a way that uncovers their inherent perfection.

The two have collaborated on this amazing book that is packed with recipes and mini-treatises on technique.

One of the reasons why we think that Keller has so much to offer as a writer is that he doesn't insult the intelligence of his readers. He explains why he does everything and sweeps you up in his passion for perfection. Too often these days recipe writers try to strip a recipe bare and repackage it with as few ingredients and as little time at the stove as possible. Keller doesn't do this. For example, he devotes two of the large pages to a discussion of the making of a vinaigrette. Another two pages are devoted to the technique for making a delicious rabbit pate. Three pages are needed to make a classic Boeuf Bourguignon.

So, what are our favourite recipes? Well, we like all of them, starting with the marinated olives moving on to the roasted beet salad and then to the brined roast chicken and the boeuf Bourguignon and then finishing with the crème caramel.

They authors have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that all of the recipes can be recreated in the home kitchen.

In summary, this is a large book but not a daunting book. It is cutting edge in its explanations of technique but the recipes are deeply-rooted in hundreds of years of tradition. There is nothing faddish about any of the recipes so you will be able to return to these recipes year after year as you explore the delights of the magic cuisine of France.

Published 2004

Publisher: Artisan

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Bouchon by Thomas Keller

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