Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Où est le Garlic" -- French Cooking Codified

Do you ever think about a topic (say, French cooking) and feel as if you could boil it all down to a few simple principles -- a flowchart or two, a basic explanation of the equipment and materials needed, a few simple examples that would enable someone to grasp everything? In other words, one of those moments when everything is clear and your mind is enlightened?

Then do you wake up?

Two Deighton spy novels -- the first ones I found on our
bookshelves this morning. I admit that I haven't read them.
Reading Où est le Garlic: French Cooking in 50 Lessons by Len Deighton made me think of this kind of fantasy. Much better known for his spy novels, Deighton, in this short book, purports to tell you everything -- yes, EVERYTHING -- you could possibly need in order to be a skilled French home cook. "The really important things are all here," he says, though "some steps will require practice and sometimes the first attempt will be short of perfection." (page 8)

To me, the title tells you a lot about the author's attitude. It's so pretentious! The words "Où est le" are in student-level French, while the word garlic is English (the French word for garlic is ail, pronounced like the pronoun ). Ouch.

The central approach of the book is to codify French techniques and recipes into a series of comic-strip lessons and summaries, along with text explanations, notes, and even flow charts. The illustrations were published as a newspaper column prior to being collected as a book. I think they would have been amusing when they appeared a few bits at a time. As a book, the whole comes across to me as vastly overreaching -- one of those fantasies that suddenly everything makes sense!

Some Sample Pages

Everything you need to know about French cooking equipment.
How to make choux pastry.
This one might work! You know, as easy as boiling water?
In addition to the mushroom hunting techniques he lists here, Deighton recommends that you buy a book
"that has coloured pictues to give you confidence." He warns "Most of the ones listed as inedible are
merely unpleasant to eat ... (but it's true that there are poisonous mushrooms)." Oh my!
I recently bought a copy of this book, which is long out of print since its publication in 1977. I'm curious about cookbooks by authors who wrote in very different genres, especially by mystery authors.


Pam said...

Great! Just what I need - a flow chart for cooking! :-) Actually, the sample pages are interesting, and informative. I love spy novels and Deighton writes some of the best, and now to check out his cookery also.

Kitchen Riffs said...

I've read a lot of Deighton's spy/thriller stuff, and knew he wrote a cookbook or two. But never saw one. So thanks for the intro! Actually, though, in theory one can kinda/sorta reduce things to first principles and a few rules, and go from there when it comes to cooking. I've never really completely read Escoffier's The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery, but he kinda/sorta does this. Read his chapter on garnishes -- when I read that, a light bulb went off. (The cooking techniques for many dishes are very similar; it's the finishing ingredients -- the garnish (not meant here as a decoration) that give the dish its soul.) Which isn't quite the same thing that Deighton meant, I suppose. I do tend to ramble sometimes. :-) Anyway, fun read -- thanks.

Vagabonde said...

This books sounds a bit peculiar to me. I’d buy his book if he was talking about British cookery - that would be a nice change. I saw he also wrote a book called “Len Deighton’s French Cooking for men” and the cooking cartoons in the book are called “cookstrips” I guess as a jeux de mot for comic-strip – so clever ….