Thomas Keller’s books have long been popular with chefs on this side of the pond and his most recent work looks likely to be no different. The reassuringly hefty tome explores the relationship between his two most famous restaurants: The French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley and Per Se in New York, which both have three Michelin-stars and are constantly linked via live video
Published way back in 1999, Keller’s French Laundry book is a modern classic and among the world’s bestselling cookbooks, shifting an impressive 600,000 copies. It can still be found on the shelves of many a high-reaching UK chef and is famously complex and exacting: it is first and foremost a manual for professionals.
The French Laundry, Per Se is no different. It would be an intrepid home cook that attempted the chef’s ‘French Onion Soup’ which has four different elements including a 12-ingredient consommé and requires a chamber vacuum packer, a waterbath and a foam siphon.
In fact , it seems with Keller and team that the more straight forward-sounding a recipe is the more complex it will be. This certainly isn’t a criticism. Keller is a master of his craft and his dishes are in no way overwrought. Like the chef’s restaurants themselves, the recipes strike a good balance between classicism and innovation.
Stand out dishes include salt and rye-baked lamb neck; celery root ‘pastrami’ with pumpernickel melba, petite lettuces, Persian cucumbers and Burgundy mustard; and caviar with chocolate-hazelnut emulsion, which was apparently inspired by one of his chefs dunking a chocolate and nut cookie in caviar mid-service.
Celery root 'pastrami' Images from ©The French Laundry, Per Se/Deborah Jones
A basics section that details the building blocks of Keller’s dishes will be of particular interest for chefs, with definitive recipes for everything from stocks to Parmesan mousse and tomato water. The 400-page book is interspersed with mini essays about kitchen design, the future of fine dining, a particularly scholarly piece about ‘the classic roux and the evolution of liaisons, and - most interestingly of all - a discussion of ‘inspiration versus influence’.
The French Laundry, Per Se is essential reading for chefs cooking top-end food, and especially those of a more technical mindset.