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Essential Cuisine
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Essential Cuisine
by Michel Bras
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Reviewed by Eren Guryel

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November 2003
Michel Bras is a three-star Michelin chef and owner of an extraordinary inn located in one of the most beautiful spots of France. It is on the plateau of Aubrac, close to Laguiole, near the Spanish border. The plateau sits at about twelve hundred meters above sea level. With no mountains to obstruct the view, all you see are the clouds in the sky and the rolling hills in the distance. You almost look down at the horizon. This abstraction in nature makes its way into Michel Bras' establishment. Imagine the aforementioned view and dot it with some 18th century farmhouses and stone fences, and then set a Frank Lloyd Wright type of building on a hilly perch. That's Maison Bras at Puech du Suquet.

The book goes into detail about the ways of Michel Bras. He enjoys running and cycling regularly. He is a family man, a responsible businessman, and a perfectionist. Photography is a hobby in which he has much interest. So much so, that every recipe has its own two page layout. Eighty-four of them! I haven't seen plates this sexy since the 'French Laundry' cookbook. In the latter section of the book, there is another collection of photos he has taken of his travels around the world.

Michel Bras, the chef, never formally trained under another chef and has taught himself everything he knows as if he were a culinary virtuoso like Câreme. Not bound by a set of rules ingrained during a typical apprenticeship, his cuisine has a very unique approach. He has the natural ability to make stuff up. For instance, page 83, Steamed Sea Bass…with Jus of Bread. Bread sauce? He teaches his cooks that nothing is forbidden when you want to create. It is intriguing to imagine having that kind of freedom in your thinking at that level.

He employs sixty people during the high season. He doesn't call them "employees"; he calls them "performers". Performers for his orchestra are all selected based on the one-on-one relationship they develop with him as soon as they walk in the door. After a conversation, a look, and a handshake he can decide if the person can do the job. "Michel has the gift to quickly assess someone's untapped potential", suggests Serge, the sommelier and maitre d' of eleven years. Régis, second in command for eighteen years says that, "Michel knows how to select a team in a way that all their shortcomings cancel each other out, even personalities compliment each other. During the off-season, the number of performers goes down to twelve. Mostly family and very close friends who have been there from the beginning.

After the Foreword, the sections are 'Mises en bouche' 'Soups' 'Appetizers' 'Fish' 'Vegetables' 'Meat' and 'Desserts'. My favorite was the 'Vegetables' section, particularly the "gargouillou of young vegetable in early summer". Many unadulterated baby vegetables cooked perfectly and artfully presented. I'll order it…one day.

This is an outstanding book and would only recommend it to the serious cook. The procedures are clear, concise, but complex. There wasn't really anything I didn't like about the book. The binding could have been of better quality, my copy is already showing wear. Otherwise, go out and buy this book!

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