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Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cookingby Anthony Bourdain
Magic. That?s what cooking has always been about. Whether we?re talking about a one-lung ?bouie-bouie?, or a three-star Michelin, it?s all about transformation, taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. And as any chef, speaking honestly, will tell you, you don?t necessarily have to be a magician to make magic. What happens to a soup or stew overnight, completely independent of what cooks may or may not have done, is magic. What happens to bread in the oven is magic. Boeuf bourgignon and coq au vin, once the ingredients are thrown together in the pot, will become magic all by themselves ? as long as you don?t mess up the heat. Beloved old warhorse elements of French cuisine like duck or goose confit, which any conscientious cook can easily make, can have an unearthly power over the most cynical culinary professional. All you need is fat, some herbs, garlic, salt and pepper. You do not have to be a genius to cook good French food. You need be neither prodigy nor to the manor born, and you don?t have to live near a Dean and De Luca or be pals with Alice Waters. So what do you need to cook good French food?
You need the will.
You need desire.
You need the determination to go on ? even after you?ve scorched the first batch of stew, burned the sauce, mutilated the fish filet and lopped off a hunk of fingertip.
You need persistence, the ability to understand that with every mistake comes valuable information. I?ll tell you what I tell every rookie cook in my kitchen, after he ruins a perfectly good consomme. ?Throw it out. Start over. Do you understand what you did wrong? Good. Now don?t do it again.? Screw-ups are good. Screw-ups ? and bouncing back from screw-ups ? help you conquer fear. And that?s very important. Because some dishes know when you?re afraid. They sense it, like horses, and will ? as my friend Fergus Henderson will tell you ? ?misbehave?.
Eventually, your hands, your palate, even your ears will learn, they will know when things are going right, and will sense in advance when things are in danger of going wrong.
Do not be afraid.
You will need a pure heart, and a soul, meaning you are cooking for the right reasons.
You don?t collect and cook recipes, or compile dining experiences like a butterfly collector. You must enjoy what you?re doing. If there is any real sin in the culinary universe, it is the sin of snobbery. If you?re afraid of a little grease on your chin, of eating with your hands, are squeamish about bones, fish heads, guts, are ambivalent about garlic, are too precious with your food, then buy another cookbook. You need passion, curiosity, a full spectrum of appetites. You need to yearn for things.
You need love. Hopefully it?s love for the people you?re cooking for, because the greatest and most memorable meals are as much about who you ate with as what you ate. But love for what you?re doing, and for the ingredients you?re doing it with, will more than suffice. You must ultimately respect your ingredients, however lowly they may be. Just as you must respect your guests, however unappreciative they might be. Ultimately, you are cooking for yourself.
Excerpted from Les Halles Cookbook Copyright © Anthony Bourdain 2004
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