Cookbook Reviews

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Cookbook Reviews

Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, & Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking

by Anthony Bourdain, with José de Meirelles & Philippe Lajaunie

Bloomsbury Books, 304 pp., $34.95

Bourdain has done it again. He's written a brilliant cookbook of the best of authentic classic French bistro cuisine that manages to also be hilarious, illuminating, wryly acerbic and profane, and most of all, entertaining. If you never cooked a single recipe from this collection of 110, you would be missing out on some fantastic food, but you would still gushingly recommend the book to complete strangers. The book is printed Euro-style, on thick paper with a hardy and flexible binding that's meant to be cooked from: This book is built to handle kitchen abuse. Titles are large, and the recipes are logically organized. It's written in a casually spoken voice, as if Tony were there in the kitchen with you, coaching over your shoulder. Indeed, the whole approach is that of a patient drill instructor, bent on convincing the reader that they have the pluck to master each and every one of these recipes. If ill-paid workers with no training (the majority of the corps in most high-end kitchens) can outshine the French at their own game, why can't you? He takes the pro kitchen approach to organization, demystifying the dishes by breaking them down into manageable steps and specifying the stages of advance prep. Through it all, he maintains his humor. In referring to cooking snails: "[S]nails ... occasionally like to explode, spitting a boiling, napalmlike mixture of snail fluid and molten butter at your face and genital region. ... If you are accustomed to cooking while naked, I would strongly suggest covering strategic areas." Bourdain makes it easy and fun. He proves in Les Halles that mastering bistro fare isn't a stuffy prospect – it is a process that transforms ordinary ingredients into extraordinary cuisine – and that with a modicum of will and persistence, anyone can do it.

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