I got given this book by Jacques Maximin back in 1986 when I dined at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Chantecler, at the Hôtel Négresco in Nice. What I like about it is that the recipes provide a real classic Mediterranean flavour with a twist.
It's a very simple and interesting book. There's nothing terribly complicated in the dishes, but Maximin does use a huge variety of produce - and although he relies on local ingredients, the book suggests alternatives where these are genuinely difficult to find for anyone not based in south-western France.
Actually, Maximin was born in north-eastern France, but got immersed in Proven‡al cooking when he moved down to Nice in 1978. He was one of the first chefs, if not the first, working in the late 1980s who looked back to a simplicity and depth of flavour and brought us all back down to earth when we were getting a little carried away with overcomplicating dishes. Sometimes, with uncomplicated recipes, as a chef, you think, "Oh God, I can't cook something as simple as that. I can't put that in front of my customers when they're paying £30 or £40." But, in fact, if you get the basics in place with the food and cooking, those dishes can be lovely to eat.
Even today, I still don't think that we keep our restaurant dishes simple enough sometimes. Chefs are often interested in impressing each other rather than the public. We need to stop and look at what we're doing as chefs sometimes. We need to understand that if we buy an honest piece of meat or fish then there is very little we need to do with it to produce a fantastic dish.
A lot of younger chefs might sneer when they see the recipes in Maximin's book, but it will help them to get back to understanding the fundamentals of what food is all about. The recipes have five main ingredients at the most, and that's how it should be.
The book is actually divided into eight chapters: Appetisers and Soups; First Course and Salads; Fish and Shellfish; Meat, Poultry and Game; Pasta and Vegetables; Desserts; Iced Desserts and Accompaniments; Conversion and Temperature Tables. No shortcuts are taken in the instructions given for preparing each dish.
I particularly like his chapter on pasta and vegetables. Of course, Maximin's restaurant was in Provence, so there is a lot of Italian influence in the cuisine and lots of vegetables. He's married the vegetables and meat in his recipes nicely, without going over the top with protein.
I have looked at the book often over the years, particularly when I felt I was going over the top in my cooking - it's great for getting your feet back on the ground again. You know, it's easy in a small office to come up with amazing things on paper that are going to look good on the plate, but that's not what the people paying the money to come and eat in your restaurant always want.
My most successful dishes over the years have always been my simplest ones - ones that deliver what they promise and don't confuse the diner. For instance, linguine with peas, garlic, shallots, mint and white wine. It's simple from every angle. Simple to prepare, simple to cook, and it costs almost nothing to put on the plate. Yet everybody loves it. You can eat it over and over again and it doesn't date. Maximin is great for inspiring these sorts of dishes.
I would not hesitate to recommend The Cuisine of Jacques Maximin to young cooks to look at. I have done so, in fact, over the years. And I've often recommend it to keen amateur cooks, too. There's so much passion in its pages, and the food is uncomplicated and easily achievable but sophisticated at the same time.
Anton Edelmann, principal chef at Sodexho's Directors Table
The Cuisine of Jacques Maximin
Edited by Caroline Conran
Severn House Publishers