I like collecting cookbooks, and a great many are lining my bookshelves. Nevertheless, there are a few that I find myself returning to over and over again. Somehow the recipes feel just right. Over the years the pages show the signs of heavy use: sauces splatter the pages, dried parsley enhances the photography, additional clippings and notes augment and document my cooking journeys. So, island-bound, if I were—reluctantly—to be pressed into picking just my favorite cookbook, I think I know the one:
The French Culinary Institute’s
Salute to Healthy Cooking
by Alain Sailhac, Jacques Pepin, André Soltner, and Jaques Torres
1998, Rodale Press
The book is out of press, but you can find it easily enough on Amazon or through any number of used book dealers. Even without the greatly reduced cover price you’ll likely find, this gem is worth the effort of making part of your cookbook collection. Here’s why:
- The collection of recipes is grounded in the French cuisine. You can say what you want about the you-know-who, but I feel that French cooking is an excellent foundation for so many classic recipes. And these authors made a certain effort to lighten the approach. Instead of drowning in heavy, fat- and calorie-rich sauces, we learn to create flavorful meals that maximize taste while going easy on our hips.
- This cookbook has the right amount of recipes. You get grounded in the basics and learn about important kitchen equipment. The core section of the book is organized by the seasons and consists of little menus. These seasonal three- or four-course meals work well, but more often than not I pick-and-choose my favorite recipes to create my own dinner.
- In addition, I have a romantic reason to love this book. Today the French Culinary School is called the International Culinary Center. Many moons ago, when I had just moved to New York and was needing to fill my weekends with productive activity (a need that has since greatly dissipated…), I signed up for a 6-month weekend class at the French Culinary School called “La Technique.” A version of this class is still offered and you can find it here. Not only do I have fond memories of that time, but I still benefit tremendously from the skills I acquired back then, walking—at 8:00 AM and with a hangover—into their kitchens.
Do yourself a favor and add this book to your collection. You will become a better cook.