Thu 7 Dec 2006
I like cookbooks written by (or organized around) famous chefs and have willingly enslaved myself to concocting dinner parties with menus taken from Charlie Trotter or Joaquin Splichal or Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The New Year’s Eve that I did Jean-George’s sauteed foie gras and potato terrine and a salt-crusted pheasant with foie gras sauce (a recipe that had been in The New York Times) remains an epic in the annals of my chefdom. I seem to remember washing a pan and then realizing that the sauce for the pheasant was in it. Big Oops.
I also like cookbooks that provide wine recommendations with recipes. Too often in their books even great chefs simply ignore the fact that the best foods and the best wines go together, a matter they would not ignore in their own restaurants, where of course they make tons of money on wine mark-ups.
So I was pleased to see, released in September, Ducasse Flavors of France (Artisan, $40), a monument to the ingenuity and enterprise of Alain Ducasse, the French chef who has won more Michelin stars than most rooms-full of his colleagues put together, for Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, Restaurant Alain Ducasse in Paris and La Bastide de Moustiers in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Though he had to retool his restaurant at the Essex House in New York, from which patrons left scorched by the after-burners of high-octane pretension — diners were offered a choice of pens with which to sign their checks and so on — still, Ducasse is probably the world’s most successful chef-entrepreneur.
Anyway, I was looking through the book when my eye fell upon the first recipe that carried a wine recommendation, the “Mediterranean Vegetable Tourte.” Suggested Wines? “A lively Chenin Blanc, such as a Vouvray Sec Le Mont 1995 from Domaine Huet, or a Washington State Hogue Chenin Blanc 1996, from the Columbia Valley.” Whoa, I thought, those are pretty esoteric choices. First, where would you get such wines? And, second, no criticism intended of Hogue Cellars, but my estimation of a 10-year-old chenin blanc from Washington state would be a resounding, “No way.”
Next recommendations, for the “Tart of Young Lettuces and Tomato Confit”? “A flavorful, slightly spicy red wine, such as Chateau de Calisanne 1989 Cuvee Prestige, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, or a Napa Valley Merlot, such as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1994.” “Say what?” I said.
For the “Lobster Ragout with Potatoes”? “A big chardonnay, such as a Pouilly-Fuisse ‘Les Carrons’ 1992, R. Denogent, or a Mondavi Chardonnay Reserve 1995, from the Napa Valley.”
“Chicken Fricassee with Morels?” “An elegant, not too concentrated red wine, such as an Aloxe-Corton 1990, from Tollot-Beaut, or a Pesquera Crianza 1991 Ribera del Duero, from Spain.”
“Roast Veal with Vegetables in Garlic Shallot Butter”? “An elegant Pinot Noir, such as a Clos de Tart 1986, Bourgogne Grand Cry Mommessin, or a Pinot Noir Reserve from the Te Kairanga Vineyard in New Zealand.”
By this time, my mind is reeling, and I’m checking wine websites to see if any of these wines are actually available anywhere and if their prices could be anything less than astronomical. I mean, talk about impossibly pretentious! A cookbook published in 2006 that doesn’t make a recommendation for a wine dated after 1996?
And then it occurred to me — and you’re probably way ahead of me here — to look at the book’s copyright page, where we learn that this present book is the second edition of the volume first published in 1998. Repackaged but with the wine recommendations left intact from eight years ago. In other words, these wine recommendations are largely useless. Did an editor at Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing Co., decide that up-dating the wine recommendations (originally made by Gerard Margeon) was too much trouble or would take too much time or cost too much or that even people who care about food and cooking and wine — the people who would purchase this book — really don’t give a damn?
Whatever the case, the matter stinks of cynicism and neglect.