This is a monster of a celebrity-chef coffee table cookbook that defies everything one thinks of when we think of such objects. First, it's been a terrific commercial success--generating a second, third and fourth printings in its first six months. It's been a critical success and has earned some of most respected culinary awards in the business. It's a coffee table book that's compulsively readable (I'm biased, of course, but some people have said that it reads like a novel, and one writer suggested it deserved consideration for a Pulitzer, if Pulitzers were given for such things). And it's a celebrity chef book that provides beginning fundamentals in equal measure to advanced technique; it's a great teaching cookbook, too.
The French Laundry Cookbook's chief importance, though, in my mind is that it is an accurate documentary of one of the country's great restaurants, how it is run, the food it creates, and the kind of work and intelligence that a chef must bring to the pursuit of an American restaurant that ranks with the great three-star restaurants of Europe. Its recipes, all tested and written by Susie Heller, the woman who put this whole book project together, are exact documents of the way the French Laundry creates dishes. There are no short cuts or ingredients left out. The photography, by Deborah Jones, a San Francisco photographer of extraordinary compassion, is rich and exquisite, capturing both the daily life of the restaurant as well as the artfulness of the ingredients themselves, not to mention the finished presentations.
Ultimately, the book attempts to describe the mind of one smart man who has devoted a quarter-century of his life toward a single purpose: becoming a great chef.