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Wolfgang Puck's first book, written before he became wildly famous as the owner-chef of Spago and Chinois, offers more than 160 complex, innovative recipes that employ elements both familiar and surprising. Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen focuses on the basics of French cooking rather than the self-consciously avant-garde fusion food that Puck helped to pioneer. But, as Wolfgang himself says, he is "never intimidated by tradition" and the recipes in this book are hardly ordinary. Dishes such as Zucchini Flowers Filled with Shrimp Mousse, fresh and nontraditional from conception, set the tone. Bold flavors are the rule here; even simple-sounding recipes prove to be rich and intricate. Lobster with Herbs, for example, is served with both a tomato-basil béarnaise and a beurre blanc with herbes de Provence. Illustrated with clear and helpful drawings and succinctly laid out, intimidating gems such as a Sweetbread Torte (baked in puff pastry with ham, black olives, cream, and port) seem almost straightforward. Throughout the book, Puck interjects vignettes from his childhood, musings on different ingredients, and his opinions on the philosophy of cooking. His enthusiasm is infectious; before you know it, your copy will be dog-eared and slathered in butter. -- David Kalil