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Bon Appetit

French food demystified by the chefs themselves.

French food demystified by the chefs themselves.

Top French chefs are serving up a feast of hefty cookbooks this winter, packed with mouthwatering photos and recipes for everything from gourmet party snacks to yummy homemade cakes.

But the recipes aren’t the only attraction: There are plenty of quirky, attention-getting formats—including pairings of food and literature and edgy layouts resembling trendy fashion magazines. At the heart of this crop of books, though, is an attempt to demystify French cuisine and make it less intimidating for the average cook.

Take, for example, Thierry Marx. The dynamic chef, who is based in Pauillac and could be mistaken for Bruce Willis’ long-lost brother, has come out with Easy Marx (Minerva) as a follow-up to Planet Marx, which focused on such inscrutable and experimental dishes as liquid quiche lorraine. Designed to resemble a school workbook, complete with space in the margins for scribbling notes, Marx’s 500-recipe book is aimed at young people who know the inside of a nightclub better than a kitchen, and at busy professionals who might need to fix a quick dinner for unexpected guests with inexpensive fresh products. A delicious Hong Kong street beef will take 15 minutes to prepare and an apple brioche only 10 minutes. Marx even includes photos of children cooking the dishes, suggesting that if a kid can make it, anyone can.

If you’ve ever wished your menu at home resembled that of the Hotel Crillon, Jean François Piège has come to the rescue. His Côté Crillon, Côté Maison (Flammarion) features 41 recipes from his two–Michelin star hotel restaurant, Les Ambassadeurs, and 41 easy-to-make recipes for the “at-home” part of the volume. “Everyone should be able to use this book,” says the 37-year-old chef. The index is organized so home cooks can mix and match elements of different dishes, and there are step-by-step photographs alongside Simon Grant’s sumptuous shots. While ambitious cooks might enjoy the challenge of the two-page restaurant recipe for sweetbreads with crawfish and truffle vol-au-vent, most readers will prefer the home section and whip up a simpler ham and Emmental cheese soup with crusty croutons.

Maestro chef Pierre Gagnaire and prominent chemist Hervé This have chosen to explore Nicolas de Bonnefons’ 1665 book Les Délices de la Campagne for their volume entitled Alchimistes aux Fourneaux, or Alchemists at the Stove (Flammarion). De Bonnefons, chef for Louis XIV and an advocate of lighter meals, already was encouraging people to eat vegetables and balanced proportions centuries ago. The duo revisited his advice in modern language, exploring gourmet cuisine through the prism of science. “Cooking is a result of chemical reactions, like everything else,” says Gagnaire.

Written like a conversation between the chef and the chemist, the book answers questions like, “Depending on the texture you are looking for, at which temperature will the egg be best cooked?” or “Is it best to cook rice with or without salt, with or without oil, with how much water and at which temperature?” Their creation goes beyond a cookbook and is more like an gastronomical encyclopedia.

Oscar Wilde famously spent his last days at l’Hôtel on the Rue des Beaux Arts in Paris, a legacy that inspired its current young and talented chef, Philippe Belissent, to add more than a soupçon of bon mots to his book Littérature et Gourmandise (Minerva). Collaborating with professor François Desgrandchamps, also a literature and food lover, Belissent pairs recipes with text extracts from famous classics. For instance, the madeleine recipe comes alongside two pages of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, and the tomato omelet with a piece from Marcel Pagnol’s The Castle of My Mother. All photos are shot in the hotel and the recipes are easily made in five to eight steps.

Alain Ducasse doesn’t seem to worry about having too many cooks in his kitchen. For his latest, Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse—Tour du Monde, the superchef enlisted a team of 60 for the fifth volume of his Grand Livre de Cuisine collection. Those who participated in the book work in various Ducasse restaurants worldwide, and each brought his own sensibility to the 1,100-page volume, which includes 500 recipes and as many photos. The reader can travel to Paris, London, Tokyo or Las Vegas via the coconut and curry sea scallops or the raspberry and chocolate tart.

Globe-trotters themselves, three–Michelin star chefs Jacques and Laurent Pourcel decided on a hip and colorful book, In’sensé (Solar), that includes cocktails and snacks, catapulting haute gastronomy onto the party scene. The festive volume features catchy and graphic headlines with titles like “Total extravagance” or “Cocaine champagne tube.” The twin brothers are helping to take chic snacking international by also providing an English version of their recipes.