Friday, October 25, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Daniel: My French Cuisine by Daniel Boulud, Sylvie Bigar, Bill Buford and Thomas Schauer

Let us put this in perspective, shall we; over the entire history of cuisine, hundreds of chefs have become known by only their last names. Escoffier, Keller, Trotter, Ramsay, Passard, Pepin... the list goes on. Now let us consider how many chefs have become familiar to most of us on a first-name basis. The list shortens; Ferran, Rene, Emeril, Marco and Daniel. I like to think there is a correlation to these names and why they are referred to in such a way. Ferran (Adria) and Rene (Redzepi) revolutionized, modernized and inspired the way food is seen today. Emeril (Lagasse) brought food to the general people with charisma and flair. Marco (Pierre White) is widely regarded as the very first of the “rock star chef” generation. And Daniel (Boulud) was the French-born chef who came to the biggest city in North America and built a bastion of restaurants that blended old-school French technique with a bold, youthful, New York state of mind.

Thought Monsieur Boulud has published many cookbooks, spanning decades of his career in restaurants, he has (perhaps purposefully) neglected to create his piece de resistance in the form of a cookbook dedicated to the masterful, critically acclaimed and Michelin starred food prepared at Daniel's namesake restaurant in New York and flagship of his global restaurant empire. Perhaps, like any great restauranteur, he was waiting for the opportune moment. Perhaps he was waiting for the year when Daniel faded from the upper echelons of the San Pellegrino Top 50 Best Restaurants list, or the year that the New York Times relieved him of his perfect 4-Star status. Perhaps he was waiting for the perfect moment to remind the world of the greatness he has achieved and of the legacy he holds. On the 20th Anniversary of Restaurant Daniel, Daniel Boulud finally releases his magnum opus upon the world; a day many young cooks, such as myself, have waited patiently for, for a very long time.

While most will see the name Daniel Boulud printed on the front page of the book, the intriguing and exciting news is shared just below it. Daniel Boulud commissioned his good friend Bill Buford to write the many essays and passages strewn throughout the book. Bill Buford, as many of you know, is one of the most accomplished food writers ever. His prose propelled his book Heat onto many must-read lists not only for cooks, but other interested parties as well. The fact that Boulud can so easily convince one of the foremost writers in the culinary field to write his book speaks volumes about his charisma, influence and camaraderie amongst peers.

The book is divided into three sections; the first highlighting dishes directly from the kitchens at Daniel, the second featuring deliciously old-school French dishes that no one ever makes anymore (think Canard a la Presse, Poularde en Vessie, Turbot Souffle), and the third offers simpler recipes designed to be cooked at home. While I pored over the restaurant recipes, drinking up as many new techniques and concepts as I could, the section featuring classic French dishes really grabbed my attention. We're not talking about French Onion Soup or Quiche Lorraine here either; Buford declares in the preceding passages, the history and procedure of each dish and immediately one realizes that these recipes aren't ever meant to be replicated, but are described so as to convey the difficulty of re-creating dinosaur-era French classics. Though, if one is game to debone an entire turbot, replace the spine with lobster tails, pipe a mousse on top and roast it in the oven, I would certainly like a dinner invite.

Fittingly, the very first recipe in the book is for Peekytoe Crab, Celery and Apple. This dish may, above so many other signature, iconic and memorable dishes, be the most representative of the cooking at Daniel. Clean plates, elegance and a strong backbone of French technique. Recipes are difficult, yes, but when it comes to a chef such as Daniel Boulud, I would rather have the true recipes, no matter how difficult or complicated, over simplified farces of such great cuisine. The photography is stunning, and in addition to each recipe including a full size photo, various stills of the team at Daniel, friends of the house or even just beautiful raw ingredients are used with generosity.

So to end this review with the cliche “Good things come to those to wait” would be redundant, I think. But how else to describe the release of such a quality piece of work? Just as he is in his kitchen, Boulud has produced a book radiating elegance, class and prestige. No detail has been overlooked and the additions of the classic French recipes as well as the simpler home recipes really push Daniel: My French Cuisine above and beyond what I'm sure anyone (except perhaps Mr. Boulud himself) was expecting. Make some room on your bookshelves next to The French Laundry Cookbook and Eleven Madison Park, because they deserve to inherit such a prestigious and legendary neighbour.

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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