Tuesday, November 5, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Le Livre Blanc by Anne-Sophie Pic

      It's a widely documented fact that women are of the vast minority in professional kitchens. For some reason men have always dominated the population, though every once in a while, a female chef rises above the testosterone in a fit of gastronomic brilliance and culinary talent. Names such as Elena Arzak, Alice Waters, Carme Ruscadella and Anne-Sophie Pic come first to mind on lists of prominent female chefs.

     Of those four, only Anne-Sophie had yet to release a cookbook, in English, until this Fall when she debuted her cookbook Le Livre Blanc, sharing the iconic recipes of her 3-Michelin restaurant Maison Pic in Valence, France. While the book offers some background of the family business (the Pic family is one of the most decorated of chef bloodlines, along with the Troisgros family and the Adria brothers if we're talking accolades and not generations) it is clear that this book is written as a document upon which Anne-Sophie is able to tell her story of how she took over her family's restaurant at a young age and returned it to 3-Michelin star status.

     Allow me to get this next point out of the way early; you will very likely never cook out of this book. In fact, I would assume Chef Pic had already made that decision for you when she decided to print the book on shiny silver pages and encased it in stark white covers. Accept the fact that if you spill so much as a dot of tomato sauce on this book, you will be painfully, shamefully reminded of the time you ruined such a nice book with a single act of clumsiness.

      Moving past aesthetics, the recipes themselves have a difficulty gradient that absolutely corresponds with the restaurant's pedigree in the world of cuisine. Full respect to Mme. Pic; she simplifies nothing and provides the exact recipes used at her restaurant. That being said, expect to use plenty of ingredients you've likely never heard of before. The immersion circulator may or may not replace your spouse/significant other as a prominent figure in your life after all the use it will get in this book. I'm surprised Maison Pic isn't receiving commission from Polyscience on future purchases of circulators by readers of this book.

      So let's assume you have all the equipment you need to use this book to some semblance of it's full potential. The good news is that the ingredients are all given in weight; a trend I love seeing in today's cookbooks. I minor gripe; similar to Noma and Coi, the book is separated with the photos of the plates at the beginning of the book, and then all of the recipes at the end. I understand the desire to produce a “coffee table” style book, where the feature is the wonderful photography of the book (and it is wonderful; photos of dishes and ingredients draw on still life inspirations), but at the same time, any book that consolidates recipes in a single section separate from the photos is going to take a hit in functionality.

      Knowing, and having said all of the above, Le Livre Blanc excels at what it was meant to be; a visually appealing (see: gorgeous, adj.) coffee table-style book. Yes, the recipes included offer an unusually steep difficulty gradient, and you will need to invest some money in equipment to make a lot of the the components achievable, but if you can acknowledge that this is an exercise in vanity publishing, sharing the cuisine of one of the most storied restaurants in France, one is able to recognize the true value of Le Livre Blanc.

Review by Kevin Jeung
Former employee at The Cookbook Store, most recently returned from a stint at Mugaritz in Spain and soon off to Chicago to work at Grace restaurant.

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