The Time-Life Picture Cookbook was one of the dreambooks of my childhood. I’d balance the oversize book into the kitchen and hopefully show my mother the pages on homemade candy. I’d admire the chic women in their sleek modern kitchens, and I’d study the graphic layout of lunchbox sandwiches.
And I’d will myself into the pictures of the elegant restaurants. I imagined what it might be like to eat food that looked more like jewelry than sustenance, what the soft breeze on the patio dining room felt like, and the kind of life one would have to arrange to eat at these restaurants.
So what a delight to see some of the same restaurants reprised in A Gourmet Tour of France . And what a delight to see that some things have changed, but not too much. The views are still postcard, the silver still polished, and the food as haute as ever. Sure, there are few more Asian-inspired flavors and the fashion is to stack the food rather than piece it together like a mosaic. The biggest change appears to be the butched-up décor.
Even with the fashion for regional and peasant dishes, haute cuisine survives. The book profiles 39 restaurants noted for their food and settings—jewel box all around. Each one has a story and an admirable team of committed perfectionists. Some you’ve heard–Alain Ducasse, Bernard Loiseau, Taillevent (these links are here to torture you!)–but others are less known. All are carefully renovating rooms and dishes in a way that updates luxury.
And yes, there are recipes, not any that you are likely to cook however. Certainly not in their entirety. I love the kitchen, but I’m not attempting Pierre Gagnaire’s Prat-Ar-Coum Oysters from Brittany and Simple Scallops, Grated Pink Radishes with Horseradish, Watercress Disk, and Smoked Parsley Water. Yes, smoked…parsley…water. Nothing simple about it. These guys are not Meilleurs Ouvriers de France for nothing. But I have a renewed appreciation for their work and can see it’s worth paying for.
I’ve managed to get myself to a few high end restaurants (none of these, alas) and while my kitchen is not sleek, it is productive, but I’ll still be thinking about the rhubarb ice cream and sweet bechamel cake from Les Pres d’Eugenie and how difficult can smoke parsley water be–it’s water after all! I think I’ve found a new dream book.