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Richard Leach's Sweet Seasons: Fabulous Restaurant Desserts Made Simple
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Reviewed by Joelle Moles

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Review
November 2002

Richard Leach is a virtuoso. Named Pastry Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1997 and twice recognized as one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs of America by Chocolatier magazine, Richard Leach is indeed one of the leading pastry chefs in the country. As with many celebrity chefs, Chef Leach's fame stems from his creativity and innovation. Desserts at the Park Avenue Café, where Chef Leach resides as Executive Pastry Chef, are aesthetic masterpieces - sugar and chocolate garnishes balance atop pyramids and cones, sauces are drizzled and dotted, and tuiles are shaped and layered to awe inspiring heights. Considering the level of difficulty of producing Chef Leach's impressive desserts, it is surprising that he chose to author, Sweet Seasons: Fabulous Restaurant Desserts Made Simple, a book that attempts to simplify his culinary masterpieces for the home cook. My question is - what does he hope to gain from the simplification of his life work in order to cater to dilettantes? Does Chef Leach believe that by breaking down his recipes and by using simple language he will somehow bridge the gap between the inexperience of a home cook and the virtuosity of professional chefs?

Chef Leach will certainly gain a following of admiring gourmands that will salivate over the beautifully photographed desserts in Sweet Seasons. In doing so, however, he may lose the respect of many of his peers. When one attempts to simplify one's art for the general public, a certain integrity that is earned by being world class is undermined. Take, for example, Beethoven or Picasso. Would these great artists ever have considered writing Music for Dummies or World Class Art Made Simple? Probably not. Their purposes in life were to create great music and art, not to cater to amateurs. This is not to say that world-class craftsmen and artists like Richard Leach ought not to pass on the wisdom that they have learned - the difference, however, is in the method. Were Richard Leach's book an instructional manual, it would be far more useful, informative, and certainly more worthy of respect, than it is as a book of simplified recipes used by the amateur as a means to wow one's friends.

The purpose of Richard Leach's book, Sweet Seasons, is not to teach people how to make great desserts but to break down restaurant desserts into simple steps for the home cook but - the Pear and Pistachio Torte with Pear Fritters and Roasted Pear Puree, for example, is followed by 8 separate recipes for the different components for the dessert, four more recipes for the garnishes, and an assembly list of 10 items. Granted, one need only make the components one desires, but then what is the point of creating a restaurant dessert that isn't anything at all like the dessert in the restaurant? The recipe descriptions are indeed simplified, but how does the simplification of a description help the home cook but by making it even more of a guessing game when attempting to produce the desired effects? Lastly, where in the world is the home cook going to find the many restaurant ingredients or the necessary molds, templates, and equipment that are used throughout the book?

Ultimately, Richard Leach's book is a beautifully photographed album of desserts that is useful as an expensive coffee table book (for the home cook) or as a generator of ideas for the professional pastry chef.


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