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"Haute cuisine" high cooking or high cookery, the style and method is distinguished from more simplistic styles of home cooks, casual bistros and brasseries. Haute cuisine is the style of cooking and presentation found at very high-end French restaurants and hotels, particularly in France.
The style is characterized by opulent presentation, (typically) complex cooking methods and high-end ingredients. Much of the early work in codifying and organizing dishes and recipes for haute cuisine was done by Marie-Antoine Carême in the early to mid-19th century. This work and Carême's methods was later refined and simplified by legendary chef Auguste Escoffier in the late 19th and early 20th century. A good place to start on learning about haute cuisine would be to study the dishes, techniques and kitchen organization principles of these two chefs.
Some Recommended Reading:
Le Guide Culinare (Auguste Escoffier): This is Auguste Escoffier's seminal work and is a highly influential text even today -- in fact, many cooking schools still use it as a primary textbook.
French Food: On the Table, On the Page, and in French Culture (Lawrence Sherhr and Allen Weiss): An excellent book that looks not only at French food, but also the cultural impacts and influences surrounding French cuisine. Look especially at Chapters 1-3.
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