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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2004
Rarely are we able to say with certainty that a book is at the top of its subject in regard and quality. This book, 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck is certainly in that most unique position among cookbooks written in English and published in the United States.
With Julia Child's celebrity arising from her long series of TV cooking shows on PBS, it may be easy to forget how Ms. Child rose to a position with the authority that gave her the cachet to do these shows in the first place. This book is the foundation of that cachet and the basis of Ms. Child's influence with an entire generation of amateur and professional chefs.
It may also be easy to forget that this book has three authors and not just one. The three began as instructors in a school of French cooking, 'Les Ecole des Trois Gourmandes' operating in Paris in the 1950's. And, it was from their experience with this school that led them to write this book. To be fair, Julia Child originated a majority of the culinary content and contributed almost all of the grunt work with her editors and publisher to get the book published.
The influence of this book cannot be underestimated. It has been written that the style of recipe writing even influenced James Beard, the leading American culinary authority at the time, to change his style of writing in a major cookbook on which he was working when '...French Cooking' was published. Many major American celebrity experts in culinary matters have cited Child and this book as a major influence. Not the least of these is Martha Stewart and Ina Garten. It is interesting that these first to come to mind are not professional chefs, but caterers and teachers of the household cook. Child was not necessarily teaching 'haute cuisine', she was teaching what has been named 'la cuisine Bourgeoise' or the cooking of the housewife and, to some extent, the cooking of the bistro and brasserie, not the one or two or three star restaurant.
The table of contents follows a very familiar and very comfortable outline, with major chapters covering Soups, Sauces, Eggs, Entrees and Luncheon Dishes, Fish, Poultry, Meat, Vegetables, Cold Buffet, and Deserts and Cakes. The table of contents does not itemize every recipe, but it does break topics down so that one can come very close to a type of preparation you wish from the table of contents. One of the very attractive schemas used to organize recipes in this book is to take a general topic such as Roast Chicken and give not one, but many different variations on this basic method. Under Roast Chicken, for example, you see Spit-roasted Chicken, Roast Chicken Basted with Cream, Roast Chicken Steeped with Port Wine, Roast Squab Chickens with Chicken Liver Canapes, Casserole-roasted Chicken with Tarragon and Casserole-roasted Chicken with Bacon. Thus, the book is not only a tutorial of techniques, it is also a work of taxonomy, giving one a picture of the whole range of variations possible to a basic technique.
The book goes far beyond being a simple collection of recipes in many other ways without straying from the culinary material. Unlike books combining regional recipes with anecdotal memoirs, this book is all business. Heading the recipes is a wealth of general knowledge on cooking variables such as weights versus cooking time and conditions. Headnotes also include general techniques on, for example, how to truss a chicken (with drawings) and many deep observations on professional technique. The notes on roasting chicken instructing one to attend to all the senses in watching and listening to the cooking meat in order to obtain the very best results. This may have easily come from the pen of Wolfgang Puck or Mario Batali.
The individual recipe writing is detailed in the extreme, and recipes typically run to two to three times as long as you may see in 'The Joy of Cooking' or 'James Beard's American Cookery'. The recipes are also very 'modular'. A single recipe may actually require the cooking of two or three component preparations. This is not an invention of Julia Child. I believe she has captured here an essential characteristic of French culinary tradition. The most common of these advance preparations is a stock. More complicated examples are to make a potato salad, a dish in itself, as a component to a Salade Nicoise. What Child may have originated, at least to the world of American cookbook writing, is the notion of a Master Recipe, where many different dishes are presented as variations on a basic preparation. This notion has been used and misused for decades.
This book has become so important in its field that it seems almost irreverent to question the quality of the recipes. I can only say that I have prepared several dishes from these pages, and have always produced a tasty dish and learned something new with each experience. While there are other excellent introductions to French Cooking such as Madeline Kamman's 'The New Making of a Chef', one simply cannot go wrong by using this book as ones entree into cooking in general and French cooking in particular.
The more I read other cooking authorities' writing, the more I respect the work of Julia Child and company. Observations on technique that went right over my head two years ago are now revealed as signs of a deep insight into cooking technique.
As large as the book is, the material presented to Knopf in 1961 was actually much larger and the second volume of the book is largely material created for the original writing. To get a reasonably complete picture of French Cookery, do get both volumes at the same time.
A true classic with both simple and advanced techniques. A superb introduction for someone who is just beginning an interest in food.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2004
There are two reasons to buy this book, along with its companion, Mastering the Art... Volume 2.
First, and most important, "Mastering" is an essential reference book on the French style of cooking. Whatever you're trying to make -- from simple things like chicken stock or scalloped potatoes or coq au vin to something that would try the patience of Job -- it's probably here, and with detailed, step-by-step instructions. Whether you follow the recipies literally or devise your own shortcuts, you'll know what's "right" and be able to make your own choices about what to do.
Secondly, it's a breakthrough book and a classic, capturing the state of French cooking and Americans' knowledge (or lack) at a particular point in time. In addition to the step-by-step instructions, the recipies are full of offhand comments about who taught Julia what and on the nature and source of the ingredients.
There are two aspects of these books which make them not for everyone. First, Julia brooks no shortcuts. Even relatively simple dishes can take some time. Second, the instructions are extremely detailed. This can be a virtue, but it can also be frustrating. A recipie can run several pages. This makes it a bit challenging to see the big picture of how the recipie is structured, or to find your place again once you've cleaned your knives and your hands (for the fourth time.)
That having been said, if you like to cook French and you have any interest in the classic recipies prepared the classic way, this book is indispensible.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2003
I have been a subscriber to high-end food magazines for decades, and have an extensive collection of cookbooks. This is the best cook book in print, without exception. I remember when Julia came on the scene when I was a child. It was, no exaggeration.....innovative. She used words we couldn't pronounce, showed us how to make dishes we were unfamiliar with, and showed us techniques that were unheard of to the American public. Almost 40 years later, the American palette has become more sophisticated and the food options available to us seem endless. This book stills holds up as the best. It is the primer for understanding French cooking, and mastering invaluable techniques in the kitchen.
I love good food and enjoy cooking. The problem is, after twenty something years cooking I still have to admit that I have no natural talent or culinary instinct. EVERYTIME I use this book I am successful. Don't let the title of this book intimidate you. This book was written in large part with the novice in mind.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2002
This cookbook is fantastic, a wealth of basic techniques and tastes. The depth is such that you can spend years with the book and still learn more. If you are an aspiring cook, or know someone that is, this is a perfect addition to the kitchen.
You can take what you learn from this book and easily improvise on the basic themes. Your friends and family will be impressed :^)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2001
After forty years, MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING still remains the best cookbook ever written.
One can toss every other book on technique and on French cuisine, one can ignore the curriculum of every cooking school, and instead rely solely on this massive work. MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING was the book which CREATED America's fascination with gastronomy, long before many of today's readers even were born.
Any aspiring cook who works his or her way from the beginning to the end will be an accomplished chef by the time the project is completed, so thorough are Julia Child's instructions.
Julia Child is a genius. This new edition of MASTERING remains the gem it always has been, and this book proves why Julia Child has earned a unique place at the top of every list of food writers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2001
I have referred to this cookery book - and its sequel, Volume II - for at least 15 years. The recipes contained therein have NEVER failed to satisfy my guests and myself - the latter being the more judgmental critic - and I have referred to the Master Recipes as a launchpad for a variety of culinary excursions. Julia gives the basics and allows you to use your inteligence and flair to improve upon the perfect. For this she has allowed all cooks and chefs and dilettantes cuisiniaires to express their experitise and originality.Tim Wingate from Ottawa CANADA
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2002
I have been using this book for over 20 years. It is my cooking Bible. I learned most of what I know about cooking from Julia, her TV show, and her books, but this one is the best, bar none. The recipes are simple. There may be a lot of ingredients, but the dishes are excellent. Her quiches are unmatched, her Pork Roast melts in your mouth and the Clafouti impresses your guests. My book is falling apart and stained because it has been used so much. I highly recommend you buy it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2011
This is a great book, and a good price. I couldn't find it for less than $50 in store. Cooking wise, if you follow her directions exactly, which are very clear, you can't go wrong. We've had some of the best meals, and you learn little tips and tricks that can improve your cooking in all areas. It's a cooking class far above any public school program. My professionally trained sister is learning new things from it, and she went to university to be a chef.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2011
Excellent Book, and quotes a great price! If you get Volume 2, make sure you have Volume 1 first, because it is often referenced.
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on September 14, 2002
My mom was insistent that we kids learn to cook, and when Julia Child came on public television in the 60's, the whole family was glued to the set. We watched with fascination as she did things with food we Americans didn't know you could do. Mom bought this cookbook then, and I still have it, cover hanging by threads and covered in all kinds of saucy stains. It's still going strong, getting more stains every time I give a dinner party.
We learned how to make omelets, roasts, soups like Vichysoisse (surprisingly simple potato and leek soup), and how to cook the bumper crop of garden green beans in a new and very delectable manner.
I still think that this may be one of the best cookbooks for vegetables that I have on my shelf. I prize it for the meat section, especially a veal ragout that is possibly one of the most luxurious company dishes for a dinner party. It can be made ahead, and in fact, improves if you do. There are a lot of delicious desserts, some complicated (like Creme Bavaroise) and some cakes such as Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba), a darkly moist and modest looking little chocolate cake. This is easy to make, but so rich and delicious it should be banned by the AMA. What's not in here is French Bread. That's in Volume II.
We made French-style green beans and the Reine de Saba cake one memorable Thanksgiving when we were very young, and even the kids (seven cousins, five of which were BOYS) sat politely glued to the table for the ENTIRE meal instead of getting up and running around halfway through the feast. The food was THAT good.
While I don't make French food every day because I watch my weight, I do use this book for the princples of good food preparation, even if omitting cream or substituting lower fat choices.
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