November 27, 2011
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Paris 1906

by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas with Dave Beran

Available as an eBook from iTunes. Next is a Chicago restaurant with a unique plan that began as a fantasy. Chef Achatz had been diagnosed with tongue cancer and thought his life was over. Business partner Kokonas cajoled him: they were already on top of the food world with Alinea, so what would they do next? Achatz imagined a restaurant that would always be opening, that would have an entirely new kind of menu every three months.

So, Next opened with “Paris 1906”, recreating and reimagining Escoffier at the Ritz. The next menu was “Tour of Thailand.” The current menu, “Childhood”, is said to include a course served in a lunchbox and a course of paté de foie gras served on egg beaters – foie-sting.

This ambitious ebook explains in detail how to recreate each course of Paris 1906. Most of these are going to be out of reach of you and I; Next has a convenient supplier of farmed turtle meat for its potage a lat tartue claire, but your local fish market is not going to help you here. And who has a duck press fore caneton rouennaise a la presse?

Still, this is a fascinating exploration of classic cooking ideas, both in their turn-of-the-century forms and in modern dress. The Sûpremes de Poussin course, for example, was somewhat controversial because some people felt it was undercooked. This was, as I had speculated, the point:

Amazingly, this chicken proved difficult for some patrons. Too often, chicken is overcooked and relatively flavorless. The soft texture and hearty flavor is precisely the intended, correct effect this dish aims for, but it comes as a surprise.

There’s more going on here than meets the eye, because (unusually for this book) we have a taste here of Escoffier’s own cadence. He’s the fellow who begins his Guide by saying, “These culinary preparations define the fundamentals and the requisite ingredients without which nothing of importance can be attempted.”

And how does that little chicken course get put together? You take the chicken, butter garlic and thyme, and you cook them sous vide for 62°C for eighteen minutes. But you aren’t done! You need a blanquette base, which starts with a good chicken stock, and turns it into a double stock with a fresh lot of bones, the dark meat from the chickens, aromatics, and mushrooms. Then you take 200g of that base and add a liter of cream, 80g of foie gras, banyuls vinegar, and egg yolks. That’s your sauce.

This doesn’t look just like what you’d have seen at the Ritz back in the day, but it’s getting the same effect. Time change and we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven –that which we are, we are, and that means foie gras and labor costs are not the same for us as they were at the end of that first gilded age. Our chickens are less tasty and our knowledge greater, and we still wonder “what’s for dinner?” Any $5 eBook that can shed new light on these old questions is a terrific idea.