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ISO The Holy Grail of Cookbooks

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First a bit of a story:
Last year, I was working as a salesman for a gourmet foods purveyor. About this time in 2005, we participated in a Fancy Foods show. My shop decided to strut its stuff a bit and had me (the former chef) prepare some bison rib-eye that we would be carving at our booth over the course of the day. Our warehouse did not have kitchen facilities, so we went to one of our customer's kitchens- the excellent Callihan Catering in Chicago- to do the butchering and the cooking. Chef Dave, while I was waiting for the 15lbs of bison to reach the oh-so-delectible 130, let me browse his cookbooks.

I was paging through his signed El Buili copy (OMG WOW!!!) when he said, "If you liked that one, you'll appreciate this..." and placed before me the best cookbook I have ever seen.

First of all, it was big- the size of a huge textbook- if I had to guess through the veil of time, maybe 11-12 inches by 10, between 600 and 800 pages. Its design was simple and elegant- white cover w/photo, glossy pages- I would suspect it was published sometime in the last 5 years. The contents were arranged alphabetically by chief ingredient, and each recipe had a photograph of the finished dish. The chef mentioned the book was quite expensive $300+

Each recipe, however, was about 2 pages long- not because they were absurdly complex (they were) or because they were extremely descriptive (they were), or because they were technically difficult (they were)- but because unlike many modern cookbooks, they weren't trying to make the recipes easy. I recall a roast duck recipe that involved a sauce that went through 5 distinct strengthening and reduction processes. There was an asparagus recipe that the prep took 3 hours. It seemed to me like a modern Larousse Gastronomique- the recipes were classic and modern, but the techniques were timeless.

The tragedy: I had to leave the book almost untouched while I prepared the rest of our presentation and never had the chance to get down the bibliographical info. I have since moved on from that job, and don't have a direct way to get ahold of the chef. Does anybody out there in the CHOWsphere have anyidea what this book could be?

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  1. I'm an interlibrary loan librarian and a cookbook matching your description came through here last week. It was "On Cooking: A textbook of culinary fundamentals" by Sarah Labensky. About 1,000 pages with some great photography, but I didn't have the time to check out the recipes. Not 100% sure its what you're looking for but the physical description is a match.

    1. Except for the price, it sounds like the CIA's "The Professional Chef."

      1. Could it be the Ducasse cookbook, Grand Livre de Cuisine? Just a shot in the dark...

        Was your book written in English?

        1. Robert:
          Sorry, nope, not that one (already got it)
          Dippedberry:
          I can't be absolutely certain, but I think I would have remebered if it were a work from a single well known/respected chef. The book was entirely in English, but all of the recipes were in weights, both oz. and mL- so I don't know if it was US or European...

          I'm headed to Amazon to check out Grand Livre.

          1 Reply
          1. re: lunchbox

            lunchbox, Good luck to you. The problem is that there are very few cookbooks in the US that are that expensive (+$300). In fact, other than the El Bulli volumes and some wacky Dom Perignon cookbook (which is British and retails for 1000 pounds) I can't think of any. But maybe I don't know nothing. ; )

            Maybe it was British? (English language with weights points to it.)

          2. inquiries@calihancatering.com

            Would you be comfortable emailing the chef with your question?

            Good luck. I'm very curious now!

            1. Labensky is 1080 pages, $93 on Amazon.

              1. I just looked up Labensky

                http://www.powells.com/biblio/65-0130...

                and it sure looks like what the OP remembered. The publisher describes it as intended for professional chefs and those in training to be--I get the impression it bears the same relation to our familiar amateur cookbooks as an automotive engineering textbook does to the little Owner's Guide in my Toyota glove box.

                1. Publishers' Weekly's account of nearly 530 million cookbooks and wine books
                  sold in 2000 pretty much indicates there's no such thing as the Holy Grail of Cookbooks. But we sure do keep hoping and buying!

                  1. Thanks all- after looking at all of your referrals, I'm pretty certain the winner is the Ducasse. What the heck- as long as we're early in the week- I'll try to call the catering company and get the chef.

                    Thanks for your input, everyone- sometimes I catch myself being a food snob but since I'm not working with any amazing chefs on a regular basis right now, I am eager to learn more. The CIA book and On Cooking are both great books- I think I'm ready to spend more on the books than on the ingredients.

                    For the record, now that we're back on this board, if I had to give up all but one cookbook, I'd keep Culinary Artistry- very few recipes, but inspiration on every page!
                    http://www.amazon.com/Culinary-Artist...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: lunchbox

                      Ya' know how if you're in a bar and some guy asks a sports trivia question that no one can answer and he doesn't know the answer, either. And everybody gets mad? Don't be that guy. If you do find out the name of this book for sure, please let us know. I'm sure there are other people besides me who haven't posted but are real curious. Thanks.

                    2. The CIA just came out with the 8th edition of The Professional Chef in August. It's on my wish list!
                      I have 3 of their books -- Cooking at Home, Baking at Home, and Book of Soups. They have reliable and tasty indeed recipes. Prof Chef let's you look behind recipes and instructs on basic techniques, something after years of cooking from recipes I was just beginning to get a glimmer of (oh, now we saute . . .)
                      I loved the cooking class I took there recently.