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A French Laundry Dinner at Home

For the second year in a row, I cooked a French Laundry inspired meal for my wife's birthday - for her and 11 friends! - mostly using the FL cookbook. For the second year in a row, everything turned out great, but required a ridiculous amount of work and being able to adjust a few things as the cooking times don't always hold true. Cooking from this cookbook makes you really appreciate the depth of technique and detail that goes into these dishes - the flavors, combinations, creativity, and visuals are all incredible in these recipes.

Rather than typing up a full accounting - I'll simply point to a flickr set of photos I posted (including a lot of the prep work that went into the dishes). The are detailed descriptions for each photo to help explain what they are!

The dishes I did this year from the cookbook included...
"Peas and Carrots" (lobster crepes!)
"Surf and Turf" (monkfish and braised oxtails!)
"Coffee and Donuts" (cappucino semifreddo and donuts)
"PB&J" (PB chocolate truffles and concord grape "jellies")
one I called "Eggs" (white truffle custard w black truffle ragout)
and "Chips and Dip" - a recipe I found online from Keller for fingerling chips and green goddess dip

All turned out great


And to see last years meal (which included Kellers' crab salad, "Fish and Chips," the amazing cones with salmon, and a truffle version of the "Chips and Dip" - see http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr... )

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  1. Your wife is a lucky lady! Fabulous pics, fabulous effort. Did you pull this off all yourself? Or did you have a sous-chef? Last summer, I made a five course meal for DH's birthday (just the two of us) using a couple of recipes from the French Laundry and recipes from other sources. I've got to say that FL's recipes were the most labor-intensive recipes I've tackled. It was a lot of freakin' work for just five courses for two people. I can only imagine how difficult it was to do this for 12!

    And I've been too intimidated to make the cornets. I just used toast points. How difficult were they?

    And not to steal your thunder, have you checked out this blog?


    1 Reply
    1. re: Miss Needle

      Thanks, last year I did it all by myself (same deal, for 12), and this year I had two friends join me during the meal who mainly helped with plating, serving, and cleaning up. It is a lot of work! They were a huge help. These are indeed the most labor-intensive recipes I've ever been through.

      The cornets are a bit tricky, but I think they're worth it. I didn't even have a mold, but used a wooden cone type thing and wrapped aluminum foil around it to form homemade molds.

      And, yes, I have seen the blog - it is very good reading!

    2. I'm impressed. Not only did you make all those courses, but you were able to photograph play by plays. I was given Bouchon for Christmas and this has gotten me motivated to start playing with it.

      1. Wow...beautiful photos! The food looks great. I've never been to the FL, but recently went to Per Se and just loved it. I have a lot of cookbooks by acclaimed chefs like this one, such as Charlie Trotter and love to make things, but always run into issues with the ingredients. There are always so many things I can't find, or you know as a home cook you won't be able to find the same quality of ingredient, such as a beautiful loin of sushi grade tuna, etc. Do you have any of these issues? Do you just substitute? I get frustrated and then decide not to make the dish because it won't be the same!

        4 Replies
        1. re: sibeats

          Getting good ingredients takes some work (I probably hit 5 or 6 different markets for this one meal), but, at least here in Atlanta, everything is pretty much available if you know where to go (I did a combo of Whole Foods, Dekalb Farmers Market, Savor, Star Provisions, and Publix!).

          Last year, I had to special order the fish through a local market. Most places will do that for you if their suppliers can get it to them.

          1. re: biskuit

            Well you are certainly driven! Sounds like you spent a lot of time planning this all out and executing it. I'm impressed...and jealous! I think I'll have to try making the salmon tartare cornets for my next cocktail party. Did you get a special holder for them for presentation purposes like at Per Se?

            1. re: sibeats

              Check out the photo below for what I used for the cornets. You can use any bowl or tray that is several inches deep, fill it with peppercorns or something that looks nice and can hold the cornets in place without breaking them (marbles would be too heavy). It worked pretty well.

              1. re: biskuit

                Great idea...and very pretty. I always marvel at the custom made serving pieces that these great chefs use. I've gotten hooked on "Behind the Bash" on the Food Network, and some of the caterers have some really incredible things that they serve their HD's on...lots of fun!

        2. Those photos are just phenomenal. I want your camera. No, let me rethink that. I want you here taking photos for me. I'd offer to be your sous-chef in exchange, but your knife skills are clearly beyond mine. Those dice! Are we going to have to wait for your wife's next birthday for more?

          2 Replies
          1. re: JoanN

            Thanks! I enjoy the photography, but have a lot to learn still. The mandoline I used helped a lot with the dice - making even julienne strips that you can then dice pretty quickly.

            1. re: biskuit

              What a great idea! It never even occurred to me. And I even have one of those expensive Brons (a gift, I assure you) that doesn't get the use it deserves. Thanks heaps for that tip. Gorgeous dice, here I come!

          2. Congratulations! I have been to FL once, and your food looks very similar to the one they serve. I bought the book, and read it, but didn't attempt to cook anything from it yet. You are very brave!

            1. biskuit:
              you're certifiably dreamy!!

              1. Those are great photos! it is very hard to photograph food well. The dishes look great too.

                I am very impressed. I have a lot of cookbooks, and I like to cook, but I have never cooked from the FL book because I have been too intimidated by the recipes. The only thing I made was the parmesan Tuiles (not even a full recipe!) Whereas I am willing to cook from the Charlie Trotter book. The recipes are complicated and you need a couple of sous chefs, but they seem doable. Kudos to you!

                And Kudos to your wife. She has a keeper!

                1. keller's food is just so labor intensive, but I love it. the most elaborate meal I'v done from his recipes(adding some stuff of my own and modifying a couple of his) was a six course for six people, starting with the salmon cornets(actually served before the table ,then Bacon 'n' eggs(poached quail egg with apple smoked bacon and tomato dice and a hollandaise sauce served in a chinese soupspoon, oysters and pearls, then a cold prawn salad with a raspberry vinaigrette cream, lamb loin and then a mini tarte tatin with apple cardamom ice for dessert. one of the most difficult parts is matching the presentations. I even have a bunch of shaped cutters that I have acquired over the years but it's still hard and intensive. Bravo for your effort.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chazzerking

                    thanks, your meal sounds equally ambitious! what was your favorite dish?

                    I have a hard time deciding on a favorite from what I've made - they are all really phenomenal. I would rule out the "Fish and Chips" and "Surf and Turf" because I simply like crab and lobster better, but the appetizers and desserts are up there too (I had to repeat the PB&J and the Coffee and Donuts that I did last year, those are both exceptionally good and not too difficult to make - at least not compared to something like the Surf and Turf)

                    1. re: biskuit

                      I think that the salmon cornets are simply brilliant. It's hard to pick a favorite. Of all the dishes that I've made from Keller's recipes, though, my favorite is the beets and leeks(butter poached lobster with the aforementioned) It rquires much planning where we live as there are no whole foods, seafood purveyors, etc. in town.

                  2. Lovely! Lovely! Lovely! I really like the way you did the menues--were you purposefully shooting for the "Keller-esque-ness" of the added element of surprise?

                    My aunt once told me you can tell how much a man is in love with a woman by what (and how) he cooks for her. You sure can see the love in those photos. Well done, Sir.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Non Cognomina

                      Yeah, the physical menu was meant to heighten the impact of Keller's names for the dishes. I love the idea of a name like "Fish and Chips" or "PB&J" or "Peas and Carrots" that turns out to be something very different. I didn't want to give it away at the start, so to heighten the curiosity. I went through a bunch of ideas on how to physically do that, and the tabs I used this year (cut outs slipped through two slots in the main menu paper below them) worked a little better than last year (two pieces of paper glued together around the edges, with flaps that lift up to reveal the secrets). Lots of exacto knife fun in either approach.

                    2. That book is pure beauty, sometimes I don't even want to touch it in fear of soiling its glossy pages with my non-sieve owning self. Twice, I have made the goat cheese mouse, which came out light, creamy, and just plain heavenly. That is all.

                      I salute you.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MiloGoestotheCIA

                        Give in - it's kinda like a new sports car, you can't really enjoy it if you want to keep it spotless! Get it muddy, burn some rubber.

                        Mine is unmistakably stained and splattered now. The cover has a bit of a tear in it. Now I can look at the recipes I've made and see a bit of the oil that went into making a memorable meal.

                      2. Holy Shit! I cannot believe you made the salmon cornets and... and you did so successfully! I am duly impressed. These things are heavenly, as is all of TK's tasting menu, but I cannot even fathom trying to re-create it. I hope that your wife's friends truly appreciated the work and the food.

                        BTW, have you read Service Included - Four Star Secrets By An Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch. She worked at Per Se and there is a chapter in the book that describes her reading TFL cookbook and trying to make the cornets w/ disastrous results. It's a great read, particularly for those fortunate enough to have dined at TFL or Per Se.

                        Well done & good for you!!!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: lynnlato

                          Hadn't heard of the book, but it sounds good. Off topic now, but my favorite foodie book I've read is Heat by Bill Buford (a lot of it revolves around Mario Batali and Babbo).

                        2. Nice dice, biskuit! Your photos are works of art in themselves. I've never been to the French Laundry, probably never will, but through your review I sense the truly special experience it is. You had a beautiful setting for your beautiful food.
                          Happy Birthday to your wife, and cin, cin to you!

                          1. Biskuit, I am so impressed with your abilities to cook such a difficult menu for that large of a crowd. I applaud you for taking on such a difficult task! You did a fine job, and its amazing what some people can do.

                            Your eye for detail shows and the placement of the menu, really must of got them going!
                            (nice china by the way!)

                            Each dish was beautiful by the way, and your pictures are really good. Bet your friends and family think you're pretty wonderful!

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              Thanks. Once a year is not too much for such an extravaganza - but I don't think I could do much more than that! The amazing thing is realizing that this is what places like the French Laundry go through every single day, over and over again. I rarely stop to think about all the work that goes into a dish arriving at a table in a restaurant, but trying to do this at home certainly helps one appreciate that.

                              1. re: biskuit

                                First - congratulations - so very impressive - I've been stymied by a single Charlie Trotter recipe on occasion! I'm curious, how many hours do you think you logged in making this feast?

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  What a great job you did ! Are you a professional Chef ? If you say no I will be doubly impressed ! Your choice of Prosecco is my choice also, love Riondo.

                                  1. re: Marilyn

                                    Definitely not a professional chef, far from it. Thanks though.

                                    Riondo Prosecco is a great bargain sparkler.

                                2. re: biskuit

                                  ummm. Okay, but at the French Laundry there are quite a few people involved, pastry chefs, sous chef, and the list goes on and on... don't sell yourself short.
                                  You are very talented!

                              2. When are you getting divorced?

                                Just kidding.

                                1. This is incredible. Did you really do it all without help? Serving and clearing, too?

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: doctor_mama

                                    Yea, Biskuit... inquiring minds wanna know????

                                    1. re: lynnlato

                                      If you scroll up, you will see that he has already answered this question.

                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                        Miss_Needle's got my back... thanks.

                                  2. Simply amazing. Thomas Keller is my favorite chef and I'm oogling your dishes! Congratulations on a successful meal and a gorgeous presentation.

                                    1. I thoroughly enjoyed the vicarious sharing of your wonderful dinner through this post and your great photos. Makes me want to get my butt into the kitchen and get to work.

                                      1. After reading your post I got the French Laundry cookbook out of my library. I am overwhelmed that you created that menu. Just reading most of the recipes exhausts me, and I'm a pretty accomplished home cook. It doesn't help that ingredients like truffles and quail eggs aren't in the aisles at my local A&P! I am incredibly impressed. I may try a couple of the "easier" ones (ha) (one at a time, and when I have a whole day to do it); was considering "Fish and Chips" or the sea bass with ..... and saffron vanilla sauce or the "Clam Chowder". We'll see; I'll have to rest up first!

                                        Did you get to eat any of this wonderful food, or did you just cook?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: DGresh

                                          I did get to eat, though in the kitchen, not at the table. Made enough for the guests plus me and my two friends who helped plate, serve and clear.

                                          There are some relatively easy recipes - the desserts I've done were fairly straightfoward (relative to the entrees at least). From the "frenchlaundryathome" blog, some recommended starter recipes that are on the easy side are:

                                          Gazpacho, Gougères, Black Sea Bass with Parsnips, Salmon and Celery

                                        2. Another year, another French Laundry cookbook inspired meal. This one for New Years.

                                          This cookbook continues to impress - you will learn things, you will be challenged, and you will be rewarded with great results. It is definitely for special occasions, but it is worth it.

                                          Lots of photos of the meal at http://flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr/set... but here's the rundown...

                                          Fennel Grissini (not FL) and Gruyere Gougeres, served with Sang Royale cocktails (homemade pom grenadine, sparkling rose, pernod, a bit of lemon juice and bitters - not FL) - great stuff. The gougeres are wonderful warm out of the oven. Not too hard to make, and great as a starter.

                                          Next, an appearance from the Alinea cookbook - "dry caramel" with maldon sea salt. This is a very fun eating experience - a dry "shot" of caramel that basically rehydrates and gets chewy in your mouth. Fun stuff.

                                          Cream of Walnut w poached pear Soup - delicious, hot, nice sweetness but not too much. A good winter dish. Not quite as sublime as I hoped, though.

                                          Tasting of Potatoes and Black Truffle - again, not quite as great as I hoped, but still excellent - I think the difference was that I used jarred truffles instead of fresh since I didn't want to spend crazy amounts of money. The mushroom potato ragout in this is superb, based on a truffle infused mushroom stock. Great depth of flavor.

                                          Black Sea Bass w Vanilla Saffron Sauce - wow, this is among the best dishes I have ever made certainly, and maybe ever eaten anywhere. The sauce is spectacularly good, based on a mussel stock, plenty of vanilla and saffron, reduced, then butter whisked in. The parsnip puree and orange scented spinach served with it all meld together perfectly. Not too hard a dish at all, and definitely a winner.

                                          Bittersweet Chocolate Veloute w Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream - among the best desserts I've ever made, great combo of flavors and textures. This is lots of work, with four major components (sauce, ice cream, cookie, veloute) all required prep separately. Great delicious dessert though.

                                          Lemon Sabayon Tart w Pine Nut Crust and Honey Mascarpone Cream - delicious, even better cold the next day!

                                          That's it! Another great French Laundry meal at home. Thanks Thomas Keller.

                                          12 Replies
                                          1. re: biskuit

                                            Impressive, as with last year. Are there fights now to get on the invitation list? I can only imagine how much talk there is with your dinner. Your wife is very lucky.

                                            1. re: biskuit

                                              I remember reading your post last year; I got the French Laundry book out of the library and was completely daunted by nearly every recipe; either in the amount of separate "components" that needed to be made, or in the difficulty I would have in finding *all* the necessary ingredients. I am definately impressed by your achievement! I seem to recall that the black sea bass was on my "potentially possible" list though I never tried it. Is it in the FL cookbook?

                                              1. re: DGresh

                                                The sea bass is in the cookbook, and it's really not hard at all. A bit time consuming, but not high on the difficulty scale. And the ingredients are pretty straightforward too. Definitely give it a shot.

                                              2. re: biskuit

                                                Simply amazing... your wife is a lucky woman. Makes the $240 price tag seem like a bargain, seeing how much work goes into making a meal like this. Makes me want to go out and buy the book. Also makes me want to pick up the phone and make a reservation... only if it were that simple.

                                                How much planning did it take? I assume you had to schedule out the shopping/prep/execution/service so are you planning out the menu a month or more in advance and doing your shopping/prep done for several days prior to the event? Also, is it really frantic in your kitchen as you get closer to service or are you so prepared that it's calm as a Buddhist temple? Somehow it seems unlikely that food this elegant should be prepared in complete chaos.

                                                Also, did you have any professional training or simply learn by doing?
                                                Sorry if these questions are too probing. I aspire to be able to do something like this.. although it's a tall order.

                                                1. re: soniabegonia

                                                  I did put a good deal of planning into this - ordered the truffles a few weeks in advance from zabars, plotted out everything i needed and when i would cook what. Started cooking on a Sunday for Wed night, but did most of the work on Wed itself. The fish and the potato dishes did require a good amount of "live" cooking which was time consuming during the evening, but most of the rest was ready to go. It was somewhat chaotic, especially w everyone drinking wine in the kitchen!

                                                  No training, just having fun.

                                                  1. re: soniabegonia

                                                    By the way, I definitely think the cookbook is worth it, even if you only try a recipe or two once a year. It's a great way to learn some good techniques and get insight on how top tier restaurants make their magic happen (reductions, butter, layers of flavor, etc.)

                                                    1. re: biskuit

                                                      Ha! I actually ordered the book a minute after I posted the above. I can't wait to get it. Thank you for your response and thanks for posting your pics.

                                                    2. re: soniabegonia

                                                      Thanks for asking the scheduling questions, soniabegonia... I am in awe of the variety and complexity of each recipe as well as the outstanding photographs. Can't stop thinking about those lobster stuffed crepes. Biskuit, thank you so much for giving us all something to aspire to!

                                                      1. re: ideabaker

                                                        Thanks, the lobster crepes are wonderful. You can do it, too!

                                                        1. re: biskuit

                                                          Biskuit, I will try (just had the courage to order the French Laundry cookbook after salivating over all those dishes you made) but I will have to be very forgiving with myself if I can't pull them off as beautifully as you did!

                                                    3. re: biskuit

                                                      Hi biskuit- I have the FL cookbook on reserve (again) at the library, but I'm iced in today and wanted to place a Penzey's order for vanilla beans. How much is required for the Sea Bass recipe? I'd only be making it for 3-4 people.


                                                      1. re: DGresh

                                                        you only need one vanilla bean if i recall correctly. and a 1/4 tsp of saffron.

                                                    4. i made the lobster crepes, fig and red pepper salad, and the banana ice cream with fudge for some of my friends last spring. the lobster crepes are fantastic and i've been poaching my lobsters that way ever since!

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: jeniyo

                                                        Jeniyo, congrats... I am awaiting my copy of the book from Amazon.com. Can't wait to try those crepes! Let us know what else you try!

                                                      2. Ok, my copy of the cookbook finally arrived. Are the lobster stuffed crepes you made the same as the "Maine Lobster Pancakes" ? If so, did you do any variations for yours? And did you also make the Lobster Glace?

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: ideabaker

                                                          I thought it was called Peas and Carrots actually. Which makes no sense at first, but makes for a nice surprise if you tell your guests that's what they are having.

                                                          I did make the lobster glace - a lot of work for a little bit of magic - and kept pretty close to the actual recipe.

                                                          Photo at http://flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr/218... should be pretty similar to the photo in the cookbook.

                                                          1. re: biskuit

                                                            Oh, and a photo montage that shows several of the components as well - that's the crepe on the top in the middle.