Tuesday November 3, 2009
From Wall Street Journal's Katy McLaughlin: Thomas Keller is widely regarded not only as the top chef in the country but as the food world's reigning perfectionist. His restaurants, The French Laundry and Per Se, are among the country's most expensive and exclusive temples of haute cuisine.
Now the chef has written a cookbook for regular folks, with recipes for "everyday staples" such as hamburgers, chicken-and-dumpling soup, and creamed corn. The book, "Ad Hoc at Home," is Mr. Keller's "most accessible," says publisher Ann Bramson of Artisan Books, with the words "family-style recipes" emblazoned on the cover.
The concept is tantalizing: four-star flavor in the comfort of home and with less expense (the prix fixe dinner at Manhattan's Per Se is $275 per person without wine). There's just one problem: After one spends the time and money to buy the ingredients and equipment and then cook through the multiple steps in some of the recipes, dinner at Per Se starts looking like the cheap and easy route.
It's a frustration food fans are likely to encounter as more cookbooks are published that celebrate the unfettered complexity that the world's top chefs bring to their cuisine. These chefs include New York's David Chang, whose book "Momofuku" was released earlier this week, and British star Heston Blumenthal, who this month is publishing a $50, 528-page version of a $250 cookbook released last year. While Julia Child made her career by breaking down classic French cuisine into steps the average cook could execute, these top chefs don't make concessions for home cooks. Instead, they write recipes that require the equipment, ingredients and techniques they use in their restaurants.
"It's my point of view that cooking is a process and something you should enjoy doing. You have to embrace and enjoy that process if you want to become a good cook," Mr. Keller says.
Recognizing that chefs often write recipes over the heads of average people, the Food Network says it no longer seeks out well-known restaurant chefs and has instead changed its business model to promoting home cooks with good personalities, says Michael Smith, Food Network's senior vice president of marketing. Cookbooks from Food Network stars are hugely popular: Of 38 cookbook best sellers last year, five were from Paula Deen, Giada de Laurentiis and Rachael Ray, all Food Network stars, says Simba Information, a media researcher in Stamford, Conn.
But there remains an audience that craves teaching from the industry's top masters. Mr. Keller's books are Artisan's biggest sellers, Ms. Bramson says. Nearly 400,000 copies of "The French Laundry Cookbook" have been printed; the company has ordered 100,000 copies of "Ad Hoc at Home" for its initial run. Overall, cookbook sales have been strong relative to the book market overall, and publishers released nearly 14% more cookbooks in 2008 than the year before. Wall Street Journal