Artisanal Cooking: A Chef Shares His Passion for Handcrafting Great Meals at Home
A review by Georgie Lewis
The subtitle of Artisanal Cooking is a fairly typical one: A Chef Shares
his Passion for Handcrafting Great Meals at Home. And yet I couldn't have
said it better, "sharing" being the perfect word to describe the inclusiveness
one feels reading Chef Terrance Brennan's recipes.
Brennan introduces the book with his philosophy of artisanal cooking -- incidentally
Artisanal is the name of one of his famous New York restaurants (the other being
Picholine), and the name of his Premium Cheese Company (www.artisanalcheese.com).
To Brennan artisanal is not just "handcrafted" food, but connotes
tradition, attention to detail, ingredients with quality and integrity, and
pride in the craft. What follows that introduction, written in what I find to
be generous, lovely prose, comes close to running the gamut of cooking from
chutneys and comfits, hors d'oeuvres, salads and starters, fish and meat, as
well as desserts. And most recipes are accompanied by superb photos. I'm a sucker
for heavily illustrated cookbooks -- I love to see what I'm hoping to replicate.
Of the addictive little notes at the end of each recipes, broken down into
Terms and Techniques, Embellishments, and Variations, I particularly like it
when he specifies The Reason. In simple terms Brennan explains why you puree
soup hot before chilling it, why to add a splash of lemon to mushrooms, or why
you should avoid bringing a sauce containing mustard to a boil. Call me a cooking
nerd, but these details really help me understand the process.
Sometimes, for all the lovely pictures, creative ideas, and elaborate recipes,
I simply don't share the same palate as an author. An exceptionally good book
for technique is Cooking
School Secrets for Real World Chefs by Linda Carucci. Luckily for me, Carucci
and I share a similar taste, a similar palate, and her recipes are ones I cook
-- or use as springboards for my own cooking. It is a fairly simple cookbook
for recipes, but one I find essential. She cooks a rack of lamb the way I like
to cook a rack of lamb; whereas one of the most popular cooking series -- The
Best Recipe series by the editors of Cook's Illustrated -- does not.
I've found that when I've followed Cook's lead in the past, often enough
they weren't "the best" for me.
While Cook's Illustrated and Carucci are terrific at explaining food
science and technique, Brennan's book gives you some insider info of a different
kind. Brennan is a cheese connoisseur and he has a really useful chapter on
his passion: some of his favorites, wine and cheese pairings, and a great guide
to serving a cheese course. His enthusiasm for cheese is contagious (he swears
he's never met a cheese he didn't like) and various types of cheeses appear
in his recipes -- sometimes as a twist on a classic (Creamed Spinach with mascarpone
and Parmigiano-Reggiano) or as an essential ingredient in an entrée (Breast
of Chicken with Comté-Scallion Polenta, where the Gruyère-like
Comté is slipped inside the chicken to both tenderize and infuse with
But this is not a cheese-themed cookbook, and it is not a French cookbook (although
the French influence is indisputable). It has many gorgeous recipes for vegetarians
from Butternut Squash and Prune Gratin to Panisse or Gougères, and yet
also half of his recipes are meat-based. I would possibly buy this book for
the soup recipes alone. All can be cooked vegetarian, none have cream and yet
many are thick and creamy, and the combinations are truly creative. Pumpkin
Bisque with Wild Mushrooms features a cranberry compote; while a white gazpacho
that is made from grapes and cucumbers is served with a scoop of Red Gazpacho
One day I hope to eat at one of Brennan's acclaimed restaurants, but until
then his wonderful cookbook is going to be a true staple in my kitchen.