Masterpieces of French Cuisine

Masterpieces of French Cuisine

When I moved to France a number of years ago, the hardest things to part with were my cookbooks. (And San Francisco burritos.) Some I shipped ahead – which, as readers of my Paris book know, I’m still waiting for today. Some got boxed and put in storage, and the rest were sold or given away. One of my favorite books of all time was brought to my attention by a woman who ate in the kitchen at Chez Panisse a few times a week. Back then, it wasn’t trendy to be seated where the cooks were working, which are now called “chefs tables” and they’ve become so popular that restaurants actually put tables frequently in the kitchens and guests can reserve them. She just preferred to be back in the kitchen with us, rather than with the rest of the diners.

breton broiled lobster

Since we all liked her a lot, and not just because she regularly brought us in French pastries and Belgian chocolates, but because she was a lot of fun. She held court at that table for perhaps a decade and she even entered through the kitchen door when dining with us because she wanted to be “part of the gang.” She loved to eat everything, especially lobster and frais des bois (or anything with butter, really), but she had a soft spot for pastries and her table was next to where I worked, so I spent a lot of time talking about food with her. Knowing I liked cookbooks, one day she brought me in a copy of a large-format cookbook from her collection to read – Masterpieces of French Cuisine.

paris-Masterpieces of French Cuisinesatisfied guests
croquemboucheFrench regions

I’ll get to the content of the book in a moment, but inside the jacket, her name was inscribed in pen. I held onto her copy of the book for a few weeks and eventually (and with great regret) I gave it back to her. Sadly, her health started fading and her visits became fewer and fewer. We sent goodies and edibles to her over in San Francisco until one day we got word that she couldn’t really eat any more of the foods that she loved. Then she passed away.

chef and copper cookware

A couple of years afterward, I was combing through a used book store in San Francisco and came across a hefty copy of Masterpieces of French Cuisine, and pulled it off the shelf. When I opened the cover, inside was her name, written in pen, evidently sold as part of her estate, and that same book somehow percolated up to this bookshelf and was now in my hands.

satisfied guests smiling chef

When I moved to France, due to its size, it was one of the books I left behind in San Francisco – or it got sold, or is still lost somewhere between here and there…but I had fond memories of that book reading about styles of French cuisine that are long-gone – from swank Parisian restaurants, to rustic auberges in the woody forests, to grand seaside restaurants on the Mediterranean when seafood from that sea was bountiful.

The eateries and restaurants were from an era when local ingredients weren’t just plentiful, but used by chefs who took regional pride in their cuisine. Leafing through Masterpieces of French Cuisine today is a wistful snapshot of the glories of classic French cuisine before diets, onerous labor rules, and industrialized products crept into the culture. The text, recipes, and photos on those pages show what made French cuisine magnificent.

foie gras and grapes

It was a time when chefs presided not only over the kitchens, but the dining rooms as well. Most were owners and often their wives kept a watchful on on the dining room, the staff, and the till. Although it’s been argued that the best days of French cuisine are in the past, there’s no denying that once you take a look into the past, it’s easy to see what happened to make the rest of the world so utterly fascinated by French cooking.

pork chops (yes, really)

Back in those days, dishes like La côte de porc avesnoise, a repast of two pork chops fried in butter which get topped with half-pound of Comté cheese, enriched with heavy cream, then gratinéed, until it’s finally finished with additional butter, may not have been on everyone’s table, but it’s a dish that I think Paula Deen couldn’t even dream up today.

crayfish flambe woman dining alone

The book is divided into chapters, each one categorizing a region and its specialties. I was once thinking of giving Madame Darroze’s Pastry Cake a go, which is layers of sugar and buttery pastry, folded repeatedly (similar to Kouign Amann.) And it calls for a nice shot of Armagnac to finish it all off.

tart darroze

But the third step requests the use of a goose feather pastry brush, and the dough requires two people to lift simultaneously. And it also needs to be cooked in “..a mold with a cover and put charcoal embers on top and underneath.” So I had to skip it.

duck heads

La pâté de truites Saint-Wandrille, the caption asserts, “will leave no diner indifferent.” But makes no mention of how the cook feels who has to assemble this behemoth of a dish.

trout pate

And what stylist these days could get away with propping food with rifles, or duck heads? Yet I love it, and think it’d be fun to resurrect this for a cookbook.

rifles and cake calves head dinner

But these days, I am pretty sure that it’d be hard to imagine a chef proposing to his or her editor a recipe for a stuffed calves head, with a photo of the beast alongside. Or a vaguely wan-looking bouquet of daisies to buffer brioche stuffed with foie gras. Still, the whole thing evokes an era of cooking that I pine for today. When cooking wasn’t about ‘contests’ or trends or television shows, but was really just about eating locally and seasonally, not because those were catchwords but because that was simply how people ate (and lived) back then in France.

fois gras terrine

Like, for example, perhaps you lived where there were partridges available. So why not use a taxidermied partridges as a prop?

partridge garnish

I also love the discord within the photos, as in, who is hitching up their rowboat and returning to a dockside silver platter of petits fours and a cake garnished with tiny, wild fraises des bois bolted upright with an anchor of buttercream ? But on the other hand, wouldn’t it be nice to step off a French train and be greeted by a dashing garçon hefting a heaping platter of pâté and ham?

fraises de bois cake garçon

But my favorite pictures in the books feature food served poolside, because…well, we all know the first thing you want when you step out of a pool in the middle of the summer is a rich platter of Le pennequet aux fruits de mer (seafood pancakes), doused with sauce Béchamel, truffles, and a modest one-and-a-half cups of full fat heavy cream.

poolside dining

Since I’m in the midst of a move, I’ve been revisiting some of the cookbooks in my collection here in Paris, but picked up this copy at the Strand Books on my last trip to New York because when I found it, everything came flooding back to me and I realized that I just couldn’t live without it in my collection and in my life. To me, it shows the pinnacle of French cuisine; the regions and their various (and specific) dishes, the grand chefs surrounded by walls of gleaming copper cookware, and waiters with starched black aprons and bow ties serving exquisite food not just with pride, but with the skill from a time where waiting tables was full-fledged career, taking years of study to master.

pooliside vacherin

When I stood at the register in the bookstore, the cashier opened my copy of Masterpieces of French Cuisine to get the price and we both noticed it had been inscribed, in the same fashion as the book I previously owned. Unfortunately it wasn’t my long-lost copy from our departed guest and friend back in San Francisco, but the note was written back in 1971 from one friend complimenting another on his French cuisine.

The writing is in French, so it’s hard to tell if they were French or Americans – although the names lead me to believe the latter – but it was charming to know that it must be some sort of tradition to write something inside the book on the first page. Since this one is already inscribed, I never took my pen to it. But if I ever see another copy lying around, with a blank front page, I think I’ll write a note in it for the next person that picks it up.



Masterpieces of French Cuisine has text by Dancis Amunategui, photographs by Gabrielle Adrion, Philippe Degoy, and Michel Holtz. It is out-of-print, but used copies can be found online and at used bookstores, or at shops or resellers specializing in vintage cookbooks.



Related Links

Masterpieces of French Cuisine (Amazon)

How to Find Items Mentioned on the Website

Vintage Cookbooks in Paris

Five Places to Buy Vintage Cookbooks Online (Chronically Vintage)

Cookbook Stores Around the World (Cookbooker)

103 comments

  • Such a sweet story about the lady who ate in the kitchen.

    I think we can all take something away from the food styling! I got a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for Christmas and the front cover is… interesting. Very retro.

  • FYI – after reading your newsletter from (so early it’s still february) March : the small window of a cave is a soupirail (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soupirail)
    Cheers!

  • What a nice story! I’m a collector of books too, and I just added this to my wishlist. I would love to peruse it, poolside, with a silver platter of petits fours and a strawberry cake…

  • Wonderful story that brought a small tear to my eye, I’m not going to lie!

    I love looking at vintage cookbooks to marvel at the styling, hairdos, and crazy captions. I’d love to rifle through that one! Pun intended :)

  • I will look at my very first cookbooks and the pages, recipes and photos make the past so explicit and present. Your story will stay with me a long time. Appreciation, friendship and food are triple joys.

  • We gave a cookbook to some friends as a housewarming gift: “La Cuisine à l’Électricité”
    Emmaüs is great for secondhand books.

  • You seem to be surprised by the inscription in the cookbook. It is a common practice, at least where I come from to inscribe a blank page of the book you give as a present. Sometime it is only “to —, from —-” and a date. Sometime an occassion is noted; like B-day or Christmas, etc. Or a personal note.
    Besides telling you years later who gave you the book it also helps to get the book back when you let your friends borrow it.

  • gotta love the old school! i cherish the old time-life french cooking book by mfk fisher that i dragged in off the street.

  • The strory about this book is really touching. I’m so in love with books. I cannot imagine my life without them. Even if it’s very pratical to have an e-book reader, with tons of books on it, I can’t give it a shot. To me, it’s so important to actually touch the thing… To pass it on to a friend for a couple of week… Even, it’s important to me that these books get stains… It means that they are used by people. If I happen to see this bookm I’ll certainly check on it, and check on the inscription.

  • I can’t believe the way the French have taken to mass-produced cooking, chain restaurants and generally let their standards slip over the past 40 years. If you’d told me, back in the early 1970s when I lived there, that this was going to happen, I so wouldn’t have believed you. Okay McDos arrived in the early 1970s, but that was actually a fun place to eat because it was American and different…. but now we have Quick and Hippopotamus and Le Campanile and…..

    Mind you, the cafés all sold the same types of food: croque-monsieurs (in those days toasted ham and cheese; no nonsense about béchamel sauce) and variations thereof, hot-dogs, oeufs au plat with or without bacon or ham, omelettes with a variety of fillings, and your only choice in sandwiches was basically ham, cheese, both, rillettes or salami. But they were made fresh, to order, on site, and very good they were too. You knew whose hot-dogs had the most or the least mustard, whose croque-monsieurs were apt to be skimpy on the cheese, and so on…..

  • That book is a great find and time capsule. I love coming across out of print cookbooks that are enthusiastic about meat and game and covering them in a layer of puff pastry or aspic whenever possible. How did all the fun end?

    My favorite example is a two page photo spread and instructions for poached and sliced brains in a book on Salads that was part of the Time-Life Good Cook series edited by Richard Olney.

  • impossible de vous joindre autrement,désolée !

    – un soupirail (des soupiraux) in : Le Petit Robert 1 1991
    http://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/soupirail

    Bonne installation…

  • Thanks David, for being such an enabler. I just went to Amazon and bought this book. Can’t wait for it to arrive!

  • I remembered what you had said about never receiving your items mailed from the US so I am really gun shy about mailing anything to my daughter in Paris….there are many things I would love for her to have (like some family silver & china) but haven’t figured out how to get them to her without paying a gazillion dollars….
    Many of my cookbooks are inscribed, mostly from my mother and I wrote in those I gave to my daughter…and marked various recipes with comments…..Now I have my mom’s cookbooks too (many of them duplicates of mine) and would love to know what to do with them….I hate to just give them to charity shops…..although I guess most young cooks now just go online for recipes

  • Amazing story, I am sure she had it in her mind to give it to you but was unable to.
    What you write reminds me of ‘frontier’ markets which are currently relatively unexposed to int’l influences. Whats eaten and how its presented/served would shock a lot of outsiders. The food quality may not be on par with the French cuisine but the unrestrained style is there, for now anyway until McD’s and others make their mark.

  • wonderful story and wonderful book.
    My mother had books like this…
    Gourmet magazine used to be like this…
    Such another time.
    Thank goodness for the Strand and Amazon used books
    Evocative post.

  • Thank you for a wonderful story – you always make me fall in love with food all over again in your posts! I love cookbooks, and know exactly what you mean when you say that you couldn’t live without it.

  • What a wonderful story. It gave me goosebumps!

    I love the thought that your ‘new’ book was gifted to someone in 1971. It makes me smile to think of it being in someone else’s kitchen and picture them cooking from the recipes.

    They sure knew how to style food back then!

  • What a delightful and heartfelt story. I always ask those who give me books to write in them since the memory of the gift is as precious as the book.

  • “She loved to eat everything, especially lobster and frais des bois”
    Lobster? At early Chez Panisse? This post will be a scandal in Berkeley

  • How nice to be reminded of this book–and others that sent me into the kitchens of restaurants in the first place: Raymond Oliver’s La Cuisine, Great Chefs of France by Blake and Crewe, La Belle France, Chez Maxim’s (talk about your kitschy propping!).

    I picked most of these up back in the day when you could get them used for a song, so I was kind of shocked when I moved to SF in 1982 to see how much Black Oak on Shattuck was selling these books for–until I realized that all the cooks from Chez Panisse were hunting for them so they raised the prices to take advantage of the demand!

  • You should tell us the name that is inscribed in your old book – then we can keep an eye out for it for you! :-)

  • Beautiful, this is simply beautiful! Maybe someday that first book will make its way back into your possesion?

  • I loved reading this post. It made me both tear up and laugh. I want to find this book! Thank you for sharing.

  • What a lovely post…and tribute to your dining pal! Merci!

  • What a lovely, sweet story. I have some old copies of Gourmet like this. If I am in a used bookstore and have to choose between two books, one with an inscription and one without, I always buy the one with the inscription. I love to wonder about the previous owners, what they were like, and did they like the book as much as I do. And when I’m thinning out the piles of books that accumulate around here (especially on the cookbook shelf), I never get rid of the ones with the writing in them :=))

  • I love this post David.

  • I was looking at the sidebar of my blog and wondering which link of my list of favorites I wanted to check on for news before I went to bed. I thought, “David always has something interesting to say.” I was right. Thanks for the post. I love that part about the poolside meal with heavy cream. Food styling and photography has certainly changed since then!

  • I think that is a lovely story about the lady, and her book was obviously meant for you, for a time anyhow.

  • What an amazing story, that you bought (and unfortuantely lost) that book! The pictures in the book really take you back to a different time, amazing how much cook books have changed over the years.

  • It’s a word not used much anymore, which explains why your French friends don’t know about it but soupirail is the right spelling for “sousperaille” .
    Good luck in your new abode.

  • Strand Books – 25 miles of books or whatever they’re up to now! That is the place in NY I miss the most. Last time there, my husband picked up our copy of The Italian Baker.

  • Your story reminds me of my frined’s Danish mother who inspired me to buy my first set of The Time-Life Cookbooks: Foods of the World series, one-by-one at used book stores for about $2 a book. I donated them and regretted it and then bought them again at a library sale (a different set). They have a very similar feel photographically as Masterpieces of French Cuisine and the recipes are similar (1 lb. of butter and 12 eggs for 1 cake). It was really the photos and reading the history of the region that I loved.

  • I loved reading about your friend from the kitchen table, and the serendipity of you coming across her very copy of the book, some time later.

  • I love love love how that book made it back into your hands. Makes me teary.

  • Dear Mr. Lebowitz,

    Well, thank you so much for that charming (a word I use rarely, but sincerely) and productive (for me, at least) posting.

    You just reminded me of one of my favorite “French” cookbooks……Ann Hughes-Gilbey’s “French Country Cooking”. I came across it in my parent’s kitchen ten or so years ago. Predictably enough, they had no recollection of how it’d entered the house (I should emphasize that my mother is such a resolute NON-cook that, as I prowled her cookbook shelf for the first time since childhood, I wouldn’t have been surprised if a bat had flown out).

    Given the photography and several other aspects of the book’s production, I’ve always assumed that it was from the late 1970’s. Your posting just prompted me to google it for the first time, however, and I find that it was published in 1983 (In England, which might account for its marked lack of cutting-edge, graphic-design hip-ness, even by 1983 standards)…and that there are three copies of it available on Amazon (there were five, but I just bought two of them for friends). Looking into the matter, I’ve also just realized that the book was the product of an English writer-wife/photographer-husband team, and the pictures were taken over ten years of trips throughout rural France. Then, the book’s publication was delayed by the husband’s untimely death.

    In any case….the book’s a delight (also very useful). The design and production (particularly the “set-ups” of food for the photographs) are wildly, but amusingly, dated. That said?…The text is marvelously informed and helpful; Hughes-Gilby is quite similar to Claudia Roden in that both extremely knowledgeable women write as fully about socio-historical influences as they do regional variations on a standard dish. In short, I love this book, and I’m so glad to have discovered that I don’t have the only copy on earth.

    And just for the record? Those of your readers who have a yen for Kitsch would enjoy a gift I received last year, for no particular reason, from a 91 year old neighbor (who, like my mother, has NEVER cooked, but has made a not-particularly-convincing point, over many decades, of equipping her kitchen so that it LOOKS as though she just might prepare a meal…someday). I have the 1969 edition of “The Better Homes & Gardens Meat Cook Book”. The photographs are exactly what you’d expect. Among its chapters (all of which are hyper-enthusiastically punctuated with an exclamation point)?…..”Clambake for Everyone!”, “Fish Fry over a blazing Campfire!”, “Chuck Wagon full of Western Favorites!”, “American-Style Luau!”, “Food Fun With Action Meals!” (I kid you not), and the ever-useful “Brighten the Budget & Spark Mealtimes with Sausages and Frankfurters!”

    My Mother-in-law (a French professor of 17th century literature who’s perfectly fluent in English) recently sat at my kitchen table, looking through this cultural artifact…..laying her hand against her cheek every two minutes or so and appalledly murmuring “Oh, la la……”.

    Advisedly yours as ever, and thanks for the very fun posting.

    David Terry
    http://www.davidterryart.com

  • What a great story! I love old cook books and love how the fashion for styling and photographing food changes with the times, the old cookbooks are always my favourite! The cooking and preparation of food says so much about the time they were written.

  • What a delightful woman! Thanks for sharing this story with us. I think she must still fondly look upon you and this book is her way of letting you know how much she adored her time with you at Chez Pannise. When I see a book of this caliber, it makes me think of Princess Grace and the tour she gave Merv Griffin of the Monaco palace kitchen where the chef was making deep fried potato bird’s nests and she popped one her mouth.

  • David,

    Thank you for your blog.I can’t tell you how much it takes me back to Paris when I read this.I love your writing style as well.Thank you for visiting and writing about my friend Kristin Fredrick’s burger truck Le fumi too.Quite a thrill.

  • Thanks for this lovely article! Your description of Madam Darroze’s Pastry Cake and having to “put embers above and below” brought back a lot of memories. I used to be an occasional cook for safaris in Botswana/Zimbabwe. I had to cook over coals and learned the fine art of cooking with glowing embers and how to “control” the temp especially when cooking pot bread or rolls. I haven’t cooked over coals for years! Thanks again for the great blog site.

  • Lovely story. If you want one, I would be happy to send you a goose feather pastry brush from Budapest as a house-warming gift from this happy reader.

  • i loved reading this. it immediately brought me back to my copy of Pelliprate which i have carted all over the world with me . thank you for sharing the fabulously dated photos with us, as well.

  • As a lover of cookbooks, who’s schlepped her share around the world and back again, this post left me grinning ear-to-ear. What a beautiful story about your friend and finding her book again. What a shame you don’t still don’t have it, but at least it came back to you in some form. The photos remind me of two vintage French cookbooks I had — equally full of indespensible techniques and culinary history as they are dated and fantastically over-the-top.

    Thanks for another great post, David :)

  • Love this post, David! Made me think of why I love my Food & Cooking of France (MFK Fisher for Time-Life, I believe) and Larousse … it’s fun to know the history.

  • Another fabulous post and this one was so sentimental……..just love, love, love reading every letter, every word, every sentence of every post……..Best, JR

  • David, I grew misty-eyed reading your post. You captured the reason why certain cookbooks are more than just ‘cookbooks’ – they evoke an immediacy, a longing that is both soulful and heartful. The story about the woman dining in the kitchen represents all of us, doesn’t it? Wanting to be in the middle of things, in the burning heart of the kitchen, delighting and indulging in the pleasure and passion of creating and making food! Love, love, love your post, my friend – thank you for sharing your life and heart.

  • Lovely and hoping your Ripe for Dessert which I bought on Amazon from a bookstore in San Francisco arrives with a handwritten note.All the best with your move.

  • awesome cookbook. lovely post.

  • Passion and love for books is a beautiful thing to see. Wouldn’t be the same on one of those electronic abominations would it? No…not quite the thing, really. Books, especially old cookbooks, seem to hold a bit of spirit of the previous owners.

    I’m happy for you that you found this particular, evocative treasure.

  • That’s exactly the luscious sumptuous French cuisine that enchanted Julia Child and inspired her to start the revolution that has propelled the American food scene to where it is today.

  • Beautiful story about the power of memories. Thank you.

  • I am a S.F. foodie that eats up your words. Please write another book like The sweet life in Paris. I am a painter and food stylist(for my paintings which are all food related.I hope you get the attention you deserve for keeping us all entertained with your life.sincerely,Diane Devine

  • How touching! It’s very inspiring and memorable

  • One of my favorite books and actually the one that got me started in trying to duplicate the dishes of the Masters is “Les Recettes Secretes Des Meilleurs Restaurants de France” by Louisette Bertholle. It is a little more contemporary than the one you mentioned so is more adapted to the way we eat today. A few of the dishes in there are absolute masterpieces. I lost it during my move to the United States along with everything else in that container – as well as all my pastry molds from Dehillerin – but still remember it vividly.
    Thank you, David, for bringing back sweet memories of France (as well as the not-so-sweet which still make me cringe!) in my email every day, I love your “sens de l’humour” and feel like a little part of my heart resides with you in Paris. Sincerement!

  • I very much enjoyed this post. A few months ago I purchased a 1955 copy of a Sovier era professional cooking manual “Kulinaria” from a used book store. As I sat at home leafing through the hefty volume, a few handwritten notes slipped out. I took a closer look at them and discovered that they were written in Farsi. It turned out that they were a young woman’s love letters. How did these love letters ended up in a Russian cookbook? Was her paramour a chef at the Russian restaurant? I tried to contact the seller to find out if he knew where the book came from, but he had no idea.

  • Imagine how many memories you brought back to us talking about our long time friend, eating in the Chez Panisse kitchen bringing along pastries from my Patisserie! We also are reminded of the many meals eaten in the kitchen, talking with you and the gang. Thanks for all your marvelous stories and hilarious escapades with your remodel. We wish you great luck in your move.

  • What a lovely story, David! I’ll have to keep my eye out for this beautiful cookbook.

  • Hi David! I want to make your vanilla bean ice cream for a dinner party but I want to make 2 quarts. Can i just double everything? I know you’ve answered this question about some of your other ice cream recipes but I just wanted to make sure it applied to your vanilla bean recipe as well. Thanks! -Meg

    Yes you can, it’s just there aren’t many machines that can freeze 2qts at a time. Happy churning! -dl

  • Sweet nostalgia, but really, doesn’t the food end up looking like road kill in those back-in-the-day photos? Check out Amy Sedaris’ books on entertaining – she still features such glazed, off-color edibles. Tongue in cheek, of course!

  • Loving food and books and France. What a wonderful story.

    Back in the 60’s I had an aunt who subscribed to the Time-Life series of international cookbooks for me. Like you, I’ve moved several times and each time my cookbook collection has been pared down, but the Time-Life books with their campanion recipes in spiral binders have always made the cut. I think it’s time to get them out and have some fun with the old pictures and the stories about food from around the world.

    Thank you David. I’m watching your move with fascination. Bon chance.

    • I, too, loved those Time-Life international cookbooks. The photos are great and so are the layouts. They’re great reading – and certainly from another era…

  • I have to admit – I stopped reading when I got to the part that you lost track of the cookbook during your move ‘due to its size’. How do you NOT make a sacrifice to hold on to that book? What an extraordinary coincidence (or fate?!?) that it ended up back in your hands after she passed!

    And I’ve moved internationally, so I’m well aware of the sacrifices that need to be made. That one surely would have made the cut!

  • David,

    I have to say that, while you are a wonderful writer and I love reading all your posts, this has to be one of the most beautiful, compelling and heart-warming stories of yours that I’ve read. It’s filled with intimacy, honesty and romanticism. And I so appreciate what you had to say about current trends in food and the dominant paradigms–diets, contests, competitions and TV shows–it’s sad that this is what we have come to. I hope that cream and butter haven’t become our enemies.

    I’m grateful for the food movement taking place here in San Francisco, focused on eating and cooking local and sustainable products. Let’s hope it’s not just a trend and that it’s here to stay.

    Cheers, and I’m glad you found a copy of your beloved book.

    Dante

    • It is kind of funny to see cooking becoming ‘competitive’ – although it seems like everything is on tv these days, including raising kids, getting a job, and finding a husband (or wife.) So I guess it’s natural that cooking is as well.

  • Great post David – thank you for this, as for so many others.
    I had quite forgotten about the book; your piece sent me to retrieve it from a dusty shelf, and it brought back a sadly almost-vanished world. I first started to eat in France in the late seventies, and I think I just caught the tail end of the era evoked by this marvellous book; l’Auberge de l’Ill, Pic, Girardet near Lausanne, Baumaniere, were all still producing wonderful food still heavily influenced by tradition, the seasons and locality; though cuisine nouvelle was beginning to lighten things up, its influence was still limited, and aberrations such as ‘fusion’ cooking and ‘molecular gastronomy’ had not been heard of.
    I vividly remember being astonished at my first three-star meal (Pic, Valence, circa 1979) when I saw that a neighbour was eating a large piece of sea bass covered completely by a good quarter inch of caviar. (Not exactly local to the Rhone Valley though!)

    The great Nico Ladenis, his cooking still much missed in London, in his book ‘My Gastronomy’ pays tribute to Masterpieces of French Cuisine as the inspiration of his early career – he taught himself to cook by working through the book, and in fact the chicken with vin jaune and morilles (page 149) became the star dish at Chez Nico.

    What I find odd about the book is the colour printing, which seems to come from a much earlier time than 1971 – my mother had a ‘Good Housekeeping’ general cookbook, which must have dated back to the fifties, in which the photos are astonishingly lurid and unrealistic, very like the ones here.

    Now where’s that old duck press of mine……

  • Lovely story; all of my mother’s books had inscriptions and she always wrote something special in the cookbooks that she gave me as well. I thought everyone did.

  • That’s funny that you’re still waiting for your cookbooks to arrive. In 2001 on our first trip to Paris, my husband and I bought a case of wine and had it shipped from a respectable store to our home in the states, and we’re still waiting for that to arrive. I feel your pain. Lovely story; thanks !

  • Someone once told me the books we lend out and/or lose we find in heaven. I’m hoping if there is such a thing, the kitchen is well stocked and equipped too. I’m culling through books this week; I think I can’t give up the cookbook which was my dad’s favorite, or some of my mom’s (in french which she could not read), but maybe it makes memories that much stronger when the object is gone – I don’t know. I do know I’ll remember your telling of the friendship in this post which so enriched the cookbook.

  • Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, i guess you are meant to have this book :-) … the on-line used copies are quite pricey :-(

    • I paid $25 US for this book at the Strand and I did see quite a few copies online recently for the near $10 market, so it pays to hunt around. It’s a rather hefty book with lots of photos. So if you can find a reasonably price copy – snatch it up if it’s of interest!

  • What a beautiful story. I hope someone reading your posts finds your book. That lovely lady knew a good thing when she saw it. She is surely beaming with extra sunshine as she listens to your memories.
    :)
    My day is made.

  • Last time I visited my friend Gaetan, we went out for a ride – motor cycles – and eventually arrived at St Wandrille, just across the Seine from his place at St NIcolas Bliquetuit. Before crossing the pont de Brontonne, we visited the local trout farm. Run by a viking (big on their norse past, the normans!) he only needed horns and a battle axe and he could be off pillaging. the water running straight out of the chalk scarp clean and icy cold into the troughs where the fish had to swim hard not to get squashed against the grille at the end. Each size had its own stream. Odin showed us how he adjusted the sluice to give the fish just enough work to do to keep them fit.
    You walked along the top until you got to the size you needed, pointed at the ones you fancied and he scooped them up and into a plastic bag to take home – just like at the fair ground. Asking for some of the fresh watercress that was all over, we were given an armful. This made a huge turene of soup and big sandwiches using homemade sourdough.
    Riding home, not far, but was interesting. Gaetan managed to fit the cress down his jacket. The trout were very cooling down mine. As well as wriggly.
    Gaetan never does things by half. The barbeque was lit in an old wheelbarrow, he kept throwing on big logs, no tiny bag of shop charcoal for him. Of course the wood took ages to burn down to embers. There was nothing else to do but to try a few vintages from his cave. Fortunately his Dad has spent many seasons working in the vinyards of Vouvray so there was no danger of being stranded.
    Just up the road is a goose farm which produces breasts for a sort of magret, the livers are just a by product as the geese are not subject to le gavage, so small but excellent. Toast the sourdough over the fire, thick slice of foie gras and a glass of sweet Vouvray, nectar. Freshly grilled trout with potatoes just dug from the garden, delicious.
    Some areas/regions have lots of fantastic places to eat. Others, they are harder to find. Many restaurants have closed, especially those which didn’t modernise and lighten their cuisine.
    But the ingredients are still available and still superb quality and by UK standards – cheap. Fruit and vegetables, cheese and pate and charcuiterie, meat and fish, bread (sometimes) and pastries, either as a picnic or as I do more often now, rent a gite and cook up a storm.

  • Lovely. I have found some of these down-home restaurants in Provence, with the chef and his femme running the kitchen out of their home. But that’s le sud for you, despite everything, still bursting with traditional French charm.

  • Well, you may be pleased to know that France will toujours be France. WIthin the past past three months, I DID meet with a chef who proposed a cookbook featuring shots of the finished dishes paired with artful photographs of the living pre-cooked beast on the facing page. I had to turn him down, but there is a chance that the book will see the light of day. Shall I reserve a copy for you? Plus ca change…

  • You’ve worked your way into being a writer, you know. Such a delight to watch since the early days progress into sophistication and art. And your usual photos – ooh la la! Thank you for value given.

  • I know this post is ostensibly about a cookbook, but tonight I’ll be dreaming of a dashing garçon with a plate of pâté and ham.

  • Nostalgia all the way. I just can’t get over those duck heads. I mean in a way it is so respectful and in another it makes me uncomfortable. I’m not sure I would be eating a lot of animals if they were served that way.

  • Beautiful essay! I am impressed with the respect you show for the history of cookery. A dear friend made me a delicious pineapple daiquiri on her Sedona deck at sunset. When I inquired for the recipe, she promptly ordered a copy of ‘Dining With My Friends’ , by Crosby Gaige. It was published in 1949 and is a collection of recipes gathered from the author’s friends, acquaintances and notable people of the time. My friend’s mother had entertained widely and passed the book on to the next generation. What fun to peruse and that is one fine pineapple rum drink!

  • The mention of a goose feather pastry brush and all this nostalgia has had me rummaging through my books and magazines and after reminiscing, reading and happily remembering where I was and when I bought many of them I picked up the last magazine et voila!…there it was on the cover of the July 1991 issue of Gourmet — a gorgeous frangipane tart with strawberries and rasperries next to which is a Pyrex measuring cup of raspberry glaze in which is sitting a goose feather pastry brush. This issue, among with many other July issues featuring recipes using summer berries, was acquired for the princely sum of $.50 at the Gullah Flea Market on Hilton Head Island, SC.

    • the mention of the goose feather pastry brush is so poignant . I have one I’ve used for 15 years and it is my favorite thing in my kitchen. it is really worn out now and I think I would give up almost anything if I could find another one. If anyone has any idea where to find 1 I would really love to know about it .

  • I enjoyed the essay very much, especially the part about the lady in San Francisco. Did she want you to keep the cookbook? If so, it was probably because she wanted to be remembered. You have done more than that; you have given us as well a chance to appreciate her generosity and joie de vivre.

    Thank you for the recipe for chocolate sauce in your book, The Sweet Life in Paris. I have made it twice and really like it. Merci mille fois!

  • what a cool book and what a lovely story. such a fun blast from the past.

  • Such a touching story………….David….. reading it actually brought tears to my eyes………I have a cookbook inscribed to me from my father who was a chef of 50 years……it is the old White House
    Cookbook………………
    ….. WONDERFUL memories of having lunch with you in Napa a few years ago.

  • I love this story–

    My mother has a two volume cookbook set that she bought in the ’50s when she was getting married. It’s an A-Z of everything that was considered essential in 1950s American cooking–there are instructions for how to hard boil an egg, how to make chicken croquettes, how to make a basic butter cake and how to make Beef Wellington. There certainly are a lot of outdated recipes (any kind of gelatin salad, of course), but also so a great deal of very practical information (measurement charts, temperature charts). Each volume has sections of color photos that remind me of the ones in the book you highlight above, plus many sets of step by step black and white photos. My sister and I have spent hours looking through these since we could read. My mom says we can have them–and we both want them. Looks like it will be one volume each…

  • I would be heart broken if my Cookery books went AWOL ! All my husbands boxes of small furniture, books, ornaments and crockery went AWOL when he moved from the UK to S.Africa. The company then had the cheek to try and bargain with him over the insurance. Eventually he got full payment but there were some things there that were irreplaceable. A few more boxes went missing when we moved back to the UK…. Diane

  • Clearly your talents go way beyond cooking David :-)

  • That is a great story.
    It touched me.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • What a touching story. I love looking through old, vintage cookbooks and getting inspired. Maybe I should start looking more closely at the first page :) Thank you for sharing!

  • I hope serendipity intervenes once again and that you will one day be reunited once again with the book that has your friend’s name inscribed in it. You were meant to have it. Lovely post.

  • What a wonderful story. Indeed, it seems people have lost pride and conscientiousness in their careers, doesn’t it?

  • What a wonderful story, it gave me Goose bumps.this book was meant to be yours!

    whenever i think about leaving my country (almost every day) the thought about living my cookbooks behind is making me really sad, i have been collecting them for many years ,how can i let them go?

  • Hi David,

    ’bout the newsletter, it’s soupirail. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soupirail

    Strange the french guys did not know this…

    Cheers!

  • In the late sixties, my wife and I had lunch at a bistro/restaurant called Cartet in Paris. The head chef was Madame Cartet who during a lull she would come out and talk to each table. Never understood that since the restaurant was always filled to capacity. She’s long passed away and I’m not even sure that place still exists but she represented the old style of dining. Can you imagine these days the chef floating through the dining room and talking with each diner?

  • Usually I can guess an “outcome.” But I never dreamed you would find HER copy of the book in a used bookstore. That is a used-bookstore-lover’s wet dream. How incredible was that? I would have fainted right in the store. Very nice post, and now I’ve got to get that book!

  • A very nice post David. Nostalgic and evocative. I too wish I could re-experience a bit of to those days.

    I wonder, if somebody opened a French restaurant that created this ambiance – where you stepped back in time when you walked through the door, would it have any success?

    Thank you for this wonderful bit of gastronomic time travel.

  • Daveed, Daveed!!!
    First I bought that FABULOUS kitchen scale you recommended [even got the 10% discount, merci] and as soon as I saw this cook book I knew it would fit right in with my ancient copies of Larousse and Simca’s Cusine. I bought it from Amazon for $18 delivered and now I see the final two available copies are going for $120! Daveed, you are an economic force to be dealt with! :) BTW, you should have filmed your apt purchase and renovation as a reality show. Food Network would have…eaten it up!

  • Salut,
    je viens de trouver votre blog, il est hyper intéressant.
    allez faire un tour dans le sud ouest de la France, région oú j’ai habité pas mal d’années et oú la gastronomie y est trés intéressante. Puis á part les écoles de valrhona ou de Caillebaut , il y a une excellent ecole du chocolat á Bayonne, un fleuron de la chocolaterie francaise.

    Je vous remercie pour toutes vos recettes.
    un grand bonjour d’Amérique du Sud.

    Maria Sanchez

  • I just managed to grab one of the few remaining copies here in England and does that book have a wow factor. Merci, David!

  • my mouth is watering just looking at those…. wonderful story.

  • This was utterly delightful — I intended only to glance at the post, but then I got drawn in to looking at the layouts. The daisies with foie gras, the waitress who looks like a nun. It reminded me how much we like to see people (or at least feel their presence) in photo shoots, and yet so much food photography these days is simply a preparation on a plate or counter. I got all kinds of ideas from reading this. Merci.

  • I just got a copy from Amazon, thanks for sharing the story. I got it for my son who loves to cook and lived in France for two years. I’m sure he will make use of those recipes.