Le Bernardin Cookbook : Four-Star Simplicity

By Maguy Le Coze
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At Le Bernardin, seafood is always the star. From the day this posh restaurant opened in New York City, it was recognized for revolutionizing the way fish was prepared. Chef-owner Gilbert Le Coze and his sister, Maguy, quickly gained an exalted four-star rating for their original, impeccable, exquisite food, which you can now reproduce at home using their recipes.

Le Coze avoided using classic sauces because, lacking professional training, he did not know how to make them. Instead, he created Carpaccio of Tuna, a kind of paper-thin sashimi on a plate, Baked Sea Urchins, and Roast Monkfish on a Bed of Sautéed Savory Cabbage with Bacon, a dish that is both rustic and rich. When Gilbert died in 1994, at just 48, his chef de cuisine, Eric Ripert, stepped in and has continued to dazzle with his own fish dishes. Ripert, who had a classical chef's training, is especially innovative in his Poached Lobster in Lemongrass-Ginger Bouillon. If following three pages of meticulously clear instructions for handling the lobsters, puréeing their coral, and much more is not for you, try the salmon fillets served in a magically cream-free but creamy lemon sauce, the Roast Cod Niçoise flavored with basil, capers, and black olives, or the saffron-and-orange-perfumed Fish Soup.

Le Bernardin's desserts are famous, too. A reasonably competent cook can create ecstasy with the Bitter Chocolate Soufflé Cake, lavish with dark chocolate, butter, eggs, and just one tablespoon of flour.

If you read mostly cookbooks, the spirited dialogue between Ripert and Maguy, their anecdotes of culinary adventures, and characteristically Gallic commentary may divert you. Typically, Maguy says, "My favorite way to eat calamari is with a nice green salad. How American!" Seems the French only ate a lettuce salad with meats until nouvelle cuisine came along in the 1970s, and Maguy still considers it an aberration with seafood. Just as her taste has changed, this book may open you to new experiences with seafood. --Dana Jacobi