Les Halles Cookbook: strategies, recipes, and techniques of classic bistro cooking, Anthony Bourdain

13 December 2004
Les Halles Cookbook: strategies, recipes, and techniques of classic bistro cooking, Anthony Bourdain

In case you don't know, Les Halles Cookbook is written by the man who gave us Kitchen Confidential, that fly-on-the-wall look at life in an American kitchen. In it, he told us about the colourful personalities and lifestyle he encountered in kitchens across the pond, but, uncannily, his anecdotes seemed to stretch over the Atlantic. They spoke an international language of chefs.

Kitchen Confidential is a hilarious read, and if it's passed you by until now, do yourself a favour and buy it at the same time as picking up a copy of the new Les Halles Cookbook - Les Halles, of course, being Bourdain's famed New York restaurant.

I can generally tell how good a book is by leaving it lying around in the King's Arms kitchen and letting a couple of my chefs have a look at it. The yardstick is to see how long it takes for the book to disappear - and then reappear. If it's good, the time-span is about two weeks. Which brings me to Les Halles.

I (and my chefs) love this book. The recipes in it are great big, fat French bistro classics. Recipes which, a recent trip I made to Paris showed, even the French have forgotten how to do properly. If you cook them the Bourdain way, you will greet these recipes as if they were a long-lost commis chef whom you met on your first job (when you were both being tortured by the head chef and his sidekick the sous!) but haven't seen for years.

You'll find a recipe roll call of brandade de morue (salt cod and potato pur‚e with olive oil); c"te de boeuf (roast rib of beef for two with fries and b‚arnaise); and clafoutis (cherry pie). I can just hear Bourdain saying "F* me, what a menu."

As you might imagine, the Les Halles Cookbook is written in the same style - and with the same wit - as Kitchen Confidential. Bourdain's "voice" hasn't changed at all and the pages are given a tell-it-like-it-is energy by his recounting of further kitchen adventures to illuminate the recipes.

To give you an idea of the genius of his writing, take a look at his description of c"te de boeuf.

He writes: "Serve it with French fries and a staggeringly expensive bottle of Burgundy in a cheap glass. Just to show them who's the daddy."

All I can say is, f great book. Go and buy it.

Peter Robinson, chef-proprietor, King's Arms, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire
Les Halles Cookbook: strategies, recipes, and techniques of classic bistro cooking
Anthony Bourdain
Bloomsbury, £20
ISBN 0-7475-6688-7

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