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
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