It was a decade ago that I sat in front of Prof. Jon Lang in his class People & Urban Space as a student of Graduate Studies at UNSW and through the course he has said a great many things - all of which important and one of which for me, most memorable.
"The role of a critic, is not to judge a body of work by what he (the critic) wishes the work to be but rather what the author, the creator wanted the body of work to be and if he has in fact achieved it, his goal, his dream" - Prof. Jon Lang
Richard Grausman, before being the first US representative of Cordon Bleu to the US, before being a celebrated author, before being the founder of C-CAP, is first and foremost a teacher.
And that my friends makes all the difference in the world.
As most of you know I have been cooking since I was 9 so more than most I understand what it is like to have to be on your own and muddle through a recipe - hoping and praying for the best. Worst of all, after all that effort, the results may either be mediocre or an all out flop! There are a few TV celebrity chefs I admire, who are great cooks but can't write a book. Why? Because they can't teach.
With this book, no more.
French Classics Made Easy is a distillation of Richard Grausman's knowledge, a knowledge that can only be gained through time and true grit experience. If there is a trick to a technique, he shares it, if there is a step that is out dated, he omits it, if there is a method to cut time, he uses it. This isn't a book that was written so it may adorn a book shelf. Here is a book that is meant for the serious amateur - a cook like you and me who wants to create the Classics with that signature French flair without the redundant information from a long lost era.
I came to learn of Richard Grausman through his first book, At Home with the French Classics' - long before he knew of me, long before his comment on my boeuf bourguignon, during my early days of blogging that knocked the breath out of my chest and certainly long before his publisher asked me to do this book review.
Just like Richard Grausman, let me cut to the chase. If you are going to buy a book on French Cooking and you are not Cordon Bleu, Pepin, Escoffier or Alain Ducasse trained, then buy this and here's why -
- Richard Grausman writes simply and with excruciating detail which guarantees that you cannot fail in the kitchen.
- He presents a tutorial on French cooking in an easy-to-follow manner that takes all the mystery out of French cooking.
- What separates his books from the pack is that Grausman's recipes don't require you to search far and wide for some exotic ingredient and he has taken great pains to ensure that virtually everything you will ever need is available at your local supermarket. For example, his brown stock made from easy-to-find beef bones rather than the more traditional and exotic veal bones.
- Along with the recipes, he presents personal anecdotes & sketches of his cooking techniques which means more satisfying 'aha moments' than brain addled confusion.
- If it were possible to write a book on French Cooking for the times, for every household, on every budget and be able to do so without diluting the essence of the traditional cuisine and to do so with respect, then French Classics Made Easy would be that book.
And if you are still unconvinced to run out out and pick up a copy and gift it to your friends and family, then this might just do it for you! It is said, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" and what better way to put French Classics Made Easy to test than with technique ridden, adapted for the modern home kitchen, Bouillabaisse Americaine?
For most people , the very name has them scurrying past the dish on the menu for the fear of having to actually pronounce the word. Those who show courage, save themselves the embarrassment (in front of the stiff upper lipped waiter in the starched white apron) by pointing, using their index finger and saying "I'll have that, please" all the while carefully avoiding the waiter's eyes for the fear of seeing condescension.
I was one of those people - the pointer. Then one day, I grew up and decided life was to short to not make a fool of myself as long as I learned in the bargain so I said to the waiter, "I want to eat this (still pointing) but how do I pronounce it?" There - problem solved!
Bouillabaisse (pronounced bui-aa-besse) has most cooks running for the hills. Imagine cooking a dish where not only can you not pronounce the name of the dish, neither can you pronounce the name of half the fish in the dish nor do you have any idea what the heck those fish are!
Needless to day, for most of us in the real world, Bouillabaisse, takes a back seat.
But thanks to Richard Grausman with his modern adaptation, using ingredients readily available in our neighbourhood supermarket gives us a Bouillabaisse that though makes no claim to being the 100% authentic Marseilles recipe (because unless yours has sea urchin & scorpion fish in it, it's not), comes quite close to the original and in itself makes for one sensational soup!
I think of Bouillabaisse as a tale of 2 soups - It consists of the soupe de poisson (fish soup) which forms the base to the Bouillabaisse. To call the soupe de poisson a fish stock would tantamount to what the stepmother did to Cinderella. And so without further ado I give you Richard Grausman's Bouillabaisse Americaine.