A Long Tradition: French Chefs in Britain, or, Daniel Galmiche’s French Brasserie Cookbook: The Heart of French Home Cooking

Britain, much to the chagrin of her more patriotic sorts, has long enjoyed the the food of France. In The British Housewife (Prospect Books, 2003), Gilly Lehmann explains this by pointing out that French haute cuisine dominated upper-class British kitchens in the early eighteenth century. She points to Massialot (Cuisimier Roïal et bourgeois, 1691; translated as The Court and Country Cook, 1702) as one of the more obvious sources of this trend, but she also makes it clear that Robert May’s more traditional British culinary repertoire still impacted chefs and cooks alike. Lehmann acknowledges a culinary dichotomy between male and female cooks, with the women leaning more toward traditional British cookery because of household ledger receipt books and the like.

What followed bordered on comedy sometimes; for example, think of the shenanigans of the Duke of Newcastle trying to retain a French chef named Clouet.

And still, in spite of all the years since then, in spite of the surge toward British cookery (and the poor reputation of that in certain circles), French chefs still migrate to Britain and cook.

That’s exactly what a young French chef from Gascony,  Daniel Galmiche, did.

Pundits dub celebrity chef Daniel Galmiche, a Frenchman working in England, “gastronomy’s best-kept secret.” Overseeing the kitchen of The Vineyard restaurant in the quasi-rural England of Stockcross, Berkshire, Galmiche takes advantage of his traditional culinary apprenticeship – he started working in professional kitchens at age 15 – and trained under Michel Roux. Galmiche grew up in the region of Franche-Comté, influenced by the cooking of his Great-Aunt Suzanne and the proximity of Burgundy, a region known for superb rustic cuisine. He’s earned four Michelin stars in his tenure at top British restaurants, cooking an exciting version of traditional French brasserie dishes. French Brasserie Cookbook: The Heart of French Home Cooking is his first cookbook.

And lovers of French cooking will find Galmiche’s French Brasserie Cookbook: The Heart of French Home Cooking a welcome addition to their culinary libraries. Behind the usual recipes – and many of the recipes reflect those found on menus across France – the offerings in this gorgeous, beautifully illustrated book not only inspire fledgling cooks to grab an apron and a mandoline. The recipes provide challenges and surprises for the experienced cook as well. Unlike many cookbooks penned by chefs, Galmiche’s French Brasserie Cookbook both promises and provides do-able, delicious recipes.

After a brief introduction to the concept of “brasserie,” Galmiche delves into a short glossary, defining some technical terms used extensively in French cooking. Then comes a chapter on the basics, filled with such essentials as stocks, sauces like hollandaise and vinaigrette, and pastry doughs. The six chapters that follow supply the cook with a wealth of straight-forward recipes and guidelines for creating scrumptious French food without all the fuss inherent in a professional kitchen.

The chapter “Appetizers” includes various classic soups like fish soup with saffron and lighter, more traditional rendition of onion sup, complete with a cheesy crouton. Tapenade, anchoïade, asparagus with parsley vinaigrette, and terrines round out the rest of the chapter.

Moving on to “Meat, Poultry & Game,” Galmiche satisfies the longings of readers yearning to recreate the memorable meals they ate while inFrance. Steaks and stews, pork in various guises, cassoulet, charcuterie, chicken in red wine, spatchcocked chicken, duck, rabbit, and even game like venison show up in this chapter.

Fish lovers naturally expect some of their favorites in the chapter titled “Fish & Shellfish,’ likeDoversole and salt-crusted sea bass, and Galmiche doesn’t disappoint. From pan-fried red mullet to bouillabaisse, many of the classics tempt the cook.

Vegetarians generally don’t fare well in France, where there’s never been a real tradition of vegetarianism except that associated with religious heresies. But Galmiche inserts a “Vegetarian Dishes” chapter right after the meat and fish sections. Quiches and omelets, crepes and risottos, as well as various tarts, ought to please vegetarian readers.

And all cooks will turn to the following chapter, “Side Dishes & Salads,” to find many simply prepared dishes using zucchini, green beans, peas, potatoes, and tomatoes.

The final chapter, “Desserts,” consists of many tarts – including the ubiquitous Tarte Tatin made with apples, as well as Great-Aunt Suzanne’s pound-like cake and various other treats, particularly chocolate mousse and crème brulée.

Of five recipes tested – Onion Soup with Comté Cheese Croutons, Pork Steaks with Mustard & Gherkin Sauce, Zucchini with Olive and Thyme, Creamed Mashed Potatoes, and Spatchcocked Chicken – all turned out remarkably well, even when cooked by a somewhat inexperienced 32-year-old male cook. Directions read smoothly, concisely, and clearly. Some extra fussiness slowed down the finishing of dishes; for instance, in the recipe for the mashed potatoes, the recipe called for boiling the potatoes and then baking them at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes to dry them out. This step might be eliminated, if time is short, but the resulting mashed potatoes tasted creamier and smoother than the usual fare.

Chef Daniel Galmiche (Photo credit: Vineyard Restaurant)

Perhaps the words of the chef himself will suffice to sum up the nature of this excellent cookbook:

“In this book, you will find some lovely, uncomplicated recipes that come from all overFrance. Some are traditional with a twist (for example, I have made them lighter or more-up-to-date); others are specialties from particular regions but made my way. … Hopefully, once you’ve tried them, you will make them again and again. I wanted to create a book that’s not too “cheffy” (the kind only chefs can follow), a straightforward home cookbook that’s fun to read and inspires you to cook some really terrific French food … “

In French Brasserie Cookbook: The Heart of French Home Cooking, Daniel Galmiche has certainly succeeded in making French cooking accessible to cooks of all skill levels.

© 2011 C. Bertelsen

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