Divided into five main sections (Stocks and Soups; Eggs; Shellfish and Fish; Poultry and Game; Meat), Pepin’s book serves more as a textbook than a cookbook. Step-by-step photographs (more than thirteen hundred) are reminiscent of Time-Life’s series, THE GOOD COOK--TECHNIQUES AND RECIPES, a novel concept for cookbooks. These step-by-step lessons offer a very helpful way to teach cooking techniques, but this same method becomes very disturbing to the weak-stomached when graphic photographs detail the skinning and gutting of baby lamb, rabbit, eel, and frog. Descriptions accompanying the photos are equally upsetting: “Hold the frog by the hind legs and hit its head on a rock to kill it.” It is enough to make one become a vegetarian.
The emphasis here is on technique. The cuisine is classic French (a disappointment to loyal Pepin followers who are familiar with his more innovative dishes). Unfortunately, the recipes do not highlight fresh ideas or ingredients, current trends in cooking today. Nor are the recipes helped by the photographs which, although plentiful, are void of creativity. Aside from the photos of Pepin himself (six of which grace the book jacket), the dominant color in the food photographs is brown. Most dishes lack the colorful vegetables, garnish, or china that aid food appearance and stimulate one’s interest.
JACQUES PEPIN’S THE ART OF COOKING was intended to provide easy-to-follow instructions of the complex preparation and cooking of French cuisine. It is a gallant effort, but, realistically, no one cooks this way (and no one ever will). This book is thorough but has limited appeal. For the average cook, it has very useful tips on making soup stocks and boning fish and meat. At $35.00, however, it is an expensive bone to pick.