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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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on April 7, 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, the continuation of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' by Julia Child and Simone Beck is certainly in that most unique position among cookbooks written in English and published in the United States.
This volume is truly a simple extension of the material in the original work, which was recently published in a 40th anniversary edition by its publisher, Alfred E. Knopf and its principle author, Julia Child. As told in Ms. Child's autobiography, the original manuscript brought to Judith Jones at Knopf ran to over a thousand printed pages. About two fifths of that material was put to the side and most of it appears in this second volume. All this means is that you are unlikely to really have a full coverage of the subject of French Cooking as intended by the authors unless you have both volumes.
The first chapter has a clear sign that this volume rounds out the work in that it gives soups a much more thorough coverage than the first volume. Most importantly, it includes recipes for that quintessential French dish, bouillabaisse. To complement this subject is coverage of seafood such as a tour of the anatomy of a lobster that would put seafood specialist cookbooks to shame.
The biggest single addition to the subject in this book is its coverage of baking and pastry. Here is one place where the book may be seen to diverge from its focus of the French housewife's cooking practice. As the book states clearly in the first chapter, practically no baking is done at home, since there is a Boulangerie on every street corner. I generally find the level of detail on baking in cookbooks specializing on savory dishes to be much too light to give the reader an adequate appreciation of the subject. This book covers baking with a level of detail which would make most baking book authors blush. A sign of this deep, quality coverage is the diagrams used to illustrate baking techniques. The line drawings typically succeed where photographs do not in that they can be easily incorporated into the text and the drawing can eliminate extraneous detail and show the reader only what is important in understanding the technique. The section on making classic French bread ends with a 'self-criticism' section we may nowadays call a debugging section. It lists several different things that may go wrong with your product, and how to fix them. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in only baking, let alone the rest of us.
The quality of presentation continues with the coverage of pastry. Some books on pastry give one pie dough. Some good books on pastry may give three or four. This book gives eight, with a clear indication of the differences in when to use the various doughs. Some books on pastry describe how to make puff pastry. This book gives a really complete explanation, with abundant diagrams. I suspect that very few people want to make their own puff pastry, but anyone who uses store-bought pastry will benefit from knowing how it is made. This section is worth five different expositions on the subject on the Food Network rolled into one.
Another major subject untouched in the original volume is the long chapter on Charcuterie. That is, the techniques needed to make sausages, salted pork and goose, pates, and terrines. Like the description of puff pastry, this chapter contains a lot you may never need, but then again, I am a great believer in serendipity. You never know where you may hit upon an idea to add interest to you cooking practice. The simplest product you can garner from these techniques is the method for making breakfast sausage, which needs no casing. The subject really wakes up when you realize that the subject arose as a method for preserving meats, just like canning and pickling were developed to preserve fruits and vegetables. If economy and the old hippie / whole earth catalogue ethic are your thing, this is something you will want to check out. And, I have seen this subject covered in recent books such as Paul Bertolli's 'Cooking by Hand', and this book's coverage of the material is more useful.
Another gem in this book is the coverage of desserts, including frozen desserts, custards, shortcake, meringue, charlottes, and on and on and on. The guidance on novel uses of puff pastry has probably been a source for more TV shows on the subject than you can count on your fingers. The recipe for leftover pastry dough is just another indication of how practical the material in this book can be.
The appendices contain 'stuff' that virtually no other cookbooks touch. One contains a cross listing of recipes for meat and vegetable stuffings. I did not have enough room in my review of volume one to cite the quality of the material on kitchen equipment. As both books have been updated several times since the early sixties, both contain modern tools such as the food processor and the latest heavy-duty mixer attachments. Aside from being as complete a catalogue of hand tools I have ever seen, I find the presentation done with the kind of good humor which was the hallmark of Julia Child's PBS shows.
The last major feature of this volume is a two-color index that covers both volumes. Please be warned. These books have neither simple cooking nor low calorie dishes. The object of this style of cooking was to make the very best of inexpensive ingredients.
Each page offers more reasons to be impressed by this work. Any true foodie should be ashamed if they do not own and read these volumes.
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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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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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on October 19, 1998
Julia Child is a master in the art of French cooking. I read this book after reading her biography. I am 15 and all I have seen of Julia Child is her in her old age.... I highly suggest buying thid book and also Volume I which has a phenominal recipe for French Onion Soup. Jen
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With the help of this book, I taught myself to cook using the basic French cooking instructions in the book. Thirty some years later, after two-year's work/study in a small (then non-accredited) cooking school, I still refer to it. I refer to it for many reasons, least of which is to jog my memory. My ancient copy (circa 1960?) is coming apart at the binding, so I need to replace it. This book is inspiration!
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on September 22, 1999
I became interested in cooking when I moved out of the dorm in 1970. The quest for good food led to a life-long passion for honest good food. The French approach eating with a sincereity Americans lack. Julia has been able to present classic French Cuisine to generations of Americans. This set of two volumes contains the essence of French cooking that will serve as a foundation to wherever one travels on the food road. Mine is almost disentegrating from years of loving use, and I am replacing one for the library, but plan to continue to use my dog-eared friend!
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on December 12, 1998
I discovered this cookbook several years ago and, at least gastronomically, it changed my life forever. The recipes are broken down into the absolute simplest steps possible. The sauces are phenomenal. One can finally appreciate the notoriety that French cooking has (deservedly) earned by preparing and tasting any of these recipes. Julia has confirmed me as a French cooking fan!
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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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on August 17, 2001
Every serious home cook should have a good collection of Julia Child's recipes in the kitchen. Although many of the recipes are elaborate and time consuming, they are all clearly explained and easy to follow. I have never had a Julia Child recipe fail. I refer to this book constantly for basics such as pie crust. It is also my first line of defense for company meals.
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