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The quintessential cookbook

Le Repertoire de la Cuisine

Le Repertoire de la cuisine At The List we talk about great food from good people. We tell you where to find great food. We talk about food and we talk about cooking. We don’t do recipes. The Internet is full of them as is the local bookshop. The proliferation of New Zealand recipe books is one of the factors that encouraged us to start The List. We don’t plan to compete with the recipe writers.

I want to talk about a book my friend Keith of Heron Hill Lodge in Kerikeri gave me and inscribed: “I am sure you’ll enjoy this book. After all, it is what you wanted! With best wishes Keith Mar 2003”

It’s called just “Le Repertoire” and whilst it claims over 7,000 recipes, in fact it is a comprehensive list of everything French in cooking. The beauty of Le Repertoire is that it doesn’t tell you how to cook anything. It also doesn’t try to detail or mention everything. Like The list, it’s targeted, focused and moderated.

In early pages, le repertoire discusses “duxelles”. It notes: “chopped onions lightly coloured in butter, add chopped mushrooms, cook until complete evaporation”. No quantities, no time, no temperature, no pretence.

What would you do with duxelles you might ask and the answer’s simple. Keep the duxelles in the fridge and use it with forcemeat for a meat loaf, for chicken stuffing, with vegetables of many sorts, as a flavour enhancer. It won’t keep forever, but kept mostly dry and cold, it’ll last long enough.

The book has no index or contents. It has sections. Happily the “F” section is about poissons or fish so some correlation here just like the “E” section is for oeufs or eggs.

How much fun to consider a page and a half of compound butters, more garnishes than you imagined existed, sauces you hadn’t even dreamed of. Yes, I did find one of my favourites, espangole that starts as a brown sauce and ends up with tomatoes and mushrooms and lights up a roasted scotch fillet like fireworks on Guy Fawkes night.

The meat section is fabulous if you’re a carnivore. There are two pages on quail. These include 50 ways of preparing quail from the sublime to the ridiculous. Only thirteen pheasant dishes though, but slightly more for grives et merles, thrushes and blackbirds. None of Mrs Beaton’s “first catch your hare” here.

One of the things I love about this little compendium is that it treats me as though I am an adult. Le Repertoire assumes I’ve handled food a bit. It doesn’t give a damn what kind of tomatoes I use. It assumes I can make my own mind up whether I use organic poultry. It imagines I have a sense of smell and taste and I can work out how big a bunch of herbs to use. It’s a repertoire of known dishes, of ideas, of concepts. It started with Auguste Escoffier and delivers the power of a culinary magician into the hands of us ordinary folk. Le Repertoire is an inspiration for cooks old and young. I recommend it for anyone who loves to cook.

by Toby Warren

International / French food / The quintessential cookbook

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