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Paperback Simple French Food Book

ISBN: 0020100604

ISBN13: 9780020100607

Simple French Food

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

Simple French Food "For twenty years Richard Olney's Simple French Food has been one of my greatest sources of inspiration for cooking at Chez Panisse." --Alice Waters "I know this book almost by heart. It is a classic of honest French cooking and good writing. Buy it, read it, eat it." --Lydie Marshall "I need this new edition badly because Simple French Food is the most dog-eared, falling-apart book in my library. Here it is newly bound to enrich...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

An Important Book on French Cuisine, Alton Brown prototype

For Americans, Richard Olney is one of the three most influential writers on French cuisine, along with Julia Child and Elizabeth David, although these three all approach their subject from a different direction. Child is the great popularizer who succeeded in communicating `la cuisine Bourgeoise' without compromising on the techniques used by housewives in Paris and Lyon and Provence. David was the `culinary anthropologist', possibly less interested in culinary technique as in rustic culinary traditions and thinkings. Olney is the ambassador of haute cuisine to American restaurant kitchens. He was a colleague of James Beard, who recommended Olney to Time Life to edit their popular series on world food. The California gang, Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower also cite him as the ultimate authority on French cuisine.Olney's notion of `simple' is quite different from what you may expect from modern fast home cooking proponents such as Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee. His explanation of `simple food' requires a rather closely reasoned seven pages in his Preface. Olney's position is like my favorite anecdote of Mario Batali commenting on a trainee's `rustic' dice job, he says `No dude, that's just lazy'. Olney recognizes that what many people call simple is really an excuse for the lazy cook. At the other extreme, Olney dismisses fancy architectural constructions on the dinner plate. This is certainly not lazy, but it is not simple either. Although Olney does not dismiss expensive ingredients like truffles and foie gras, he does indict them as crutches used to replace imagination in the kitchen.Some people may promote being true to simple tastes as being the hallmark of simplicity. Olney rules this out by citing the many rustic methods used to transform base, inexpensive ingredients such as many vegetables into `something transcendental'. Here, he identifies the source of perceived complexity not in the kitchens of the Sun King (Louis XIV) or even in the Lyon three star kitchen, but in the efforts of peasants to turn marginally tasting ingredients into good food. Olney quotes Curnonsky's statement that `In cooking, as in all arts, simplicity is the sign of perfection.' Olney adduces from this the notion that the value of simplicity is not in the method but in the outcome. He is definitely opposed to efforts to make a leg of lamb imitate venison. One of his primary concerns is that we have respect for our materials.In a nutshell, he says `Simplicity-no doubt-is a complex thing' and finally arrives at what he considers the essence of the issue of simplicity and, irony of ironies, ends up sounding like Alton Brown, that glib satirist of the doctrines of French cooks. Olney says that understanding your ingredients and understanding the logic of your procedures is the thing which turns disasters resulting from blindly following recipes into great results. Olney says that like all art, cooking rules can be broken, but they can only be broken to good effect if you

Probably the best French cookbook ever written

Olney is acknowledged by the best in the food field (like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley) as an unimpeachable source of excellence in understanding, tasting, and (by the way) cooking French food. He is, I must acknowledge, opinionated, even arrogant -- he is also almost always right. This book should be read as well as cooked with; absorb it through the skin if you can. My favorites include roasted calf's liver -- absolutely sublime -- and lamb shanks with garlic (unforgettably good). As a european, I acknowledge his view of scrambled eggs as they should be -- soft and creamy, not the overcooked, dried-out buffet eggs of the american breakfast table. And his recipe for poached eggs is perfect -- boil water, turn off the flame, break in eggs, cover, leave.Simple french food doesn't mean simple cooking; it actually takes real work. But this is the best overall treatise I have read (among hundreds). My second copy is falling apart, I have given it to many friends and I will go on buying it until they take me to the great restaurant in the sky. Don't be without it.


I am a true devotee of Olney's food and wine writing and place "Simple French Food" at the top of his list of books, even over "The French Menu Cookbook." No, the word "simple" in the title does not mean that the book contains recipes that are necessarily quick and easy, although there are some. Instead, "simple" refers to the food itself. It's the food (historically, at least) found in french country restaurant and home kitchens - soul satisfying food that has little if anything to do with showy "eye-candy" found in the famed three star establishments. Wonderful gratins, terrines, roasts, daubes ... that truly maximize the flavor of the ingredients listed in the recipes. Olney was an American artist who lived in France for decades and over the years became an expert on French food and wine. Indeed, he was widely respected by the French for his expertise (no mean accomplishment!). He is often cited by now famous American chefs for his influence on their careers (for example, Alice Waters, Mark Miller, James Peterson, Jeremiah Tower). While some might think his writing style verbose, I consider it to be uniquely informative and entertaining. I only wish he had written more books before his untimely death. (This review is based on the hardbound volume printed in 1974)

A classic.

This is a modern classic, and regularly acknowledged as such. Its charm is in several parts. First, there is Olney's distinctive prose, which is a literary pleasure in itself, then there is the way he avoids as much as possible set recipes (though there are lots of splendid recipes here): his idea being rather to communicate an attitude towards preparing good food, illustrated with possibilities (if you happen to have some of this to hand, do this, if you have that, then do the other, alternatively, try something else entirely). It also says something about his definition of simplicity that while he is, to put it mildly, uncompromising in his attitude to food, it is possible for someone living in a shared student flat to learn a lot from him (as I did). I'm currently on my second copy, the first having deteriorated, in the course of years, into a bundle of loose sheets.
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