Press releases drop into my mailbox daily and I usually give them a glance but rarely read them unless they’re addressed to me by name with some sort of request that’s unique to me. When I received a mass-mailed release from Group Alain Ducasse, however, the first few lines…well… if the goal of a press release is to grab your attention, this one worked. I found it immediately and viscerally infuriating.
Chef Alain Ducasse’s Recipes Adapted for the Home Cook by Cookbook Author Sophie Dudemaine Ducasse Made Simple by Sophie aims to bring fine dining and the art of entertaining back into the home
(New York, New York – September 2008) This October with the release of French cookbook author Sophie Dudemaine’s newest title, Ducasse made Simple by Sophie, home cooks will be able to effortlessly recreate the world-class cuisine of renowned Chef Alain Ducasse in their own kitchens.
My first thought was, Ducasse made simple? Why on earth would you want Ducasse simple? What makes Ducasse preparations Ducasse prepartions are the details, and it’s the details that make a dish increasingly less simple.
But really it was this statement angered me most: “home cooks will be able to effortlessly recreate the world-class cuisine of renowned chef Alain Ducasse in their own kitchens.” It’s this kind of claim on which many cookbooks stake their reason for being and that I find fundamentally dishonest—that anyone can do this food quickly and easily, and, that quick and easy are what we most want in a cookbook from a Michelin-starred chef.
Do people actually believe this? I don't know the author, Sophie Dudemaine, but I certainly have nothing against her. Though I’ve never met Ducasse, I have only the highest opinion of his work as a chef, restaurateur and businessman. And I must also add that what I’m writing here is not a review of the cookbook itself, which may well be filled with delicious easy recipes—I wouldn’t know, I haven’t seen the book.
What I’m criticizing here is the conceit of this cookbook, and all others that claim to make refined cuisine simple for the home. It makes me crazy not because it’s fundamentally a lie, though that’s never a good thing, but rather because publishers don’t seem to recognize that it’s a lie, and they want to keep on telling it to us.
Can you imagine a book called The French Laundry Cookbook Made Simple? Such food would cease to be French Laundry food.
In my experience excellence and ease usually don’t go together.
There’s nothing wrong with easiness—a poached egg with a little shallot-lemon butter and a good piece of toast can truly excellent. But to try to combine the two ideas, Ducasse and “made effortless” or the “four-star cooking at home” premise—this idea is harmful to home cooks. It encourages them to believe that every kind of cuisine can and should be made easy for them. This is simply not true. Some recipes are easy. But many recipes are excellent in direct proportion to the labor that goes into them.
If what you want is quick and easy recipes, buy a cookbook comprising recipes that use five ingredients or fewer.
Or try this: buy better food. That’s the quickest easiest way I know to quick and easy meals.
Here is a quick and easy recipe. Pair it with roast chicken, with a grilled steak, a crisp salad or simply a very good glass of red wine.
Pasta with Parmigiano-Regianno
Kosher salt as needed
1 pound dried pasta
4 ounces/1 stick of butter cut into four pieces
1 cup coarsely and freshly grated, excellent Parmigiano-Regianno
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (salted, meaning that it tastes nicely seasoned). Place a large oven proof bowl in your oven and turn the oven to 200 degrees F. Drop the pasta in the water and cook it just until it’s tender, then drain it. Remove the bowl from the oven and toss the butter and pasta in the bowl until the butter is melted and the pasta is evenly coated with the butter. Taste the pasta. If it needs more salt, add it now (remember that the cheese you’re about to add is salty). Divide the pasta among four to six bowls and sprinkle each with the Regianno. Serve with a delicious red wine.
That's an honest, quick and easy meal.