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Review of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home

The quality of a cookbook depends on who you ask. I’m told this is the hot new cookbook. On Amazon.com, it’s on back-order until February 2, and you can hardly find it in any bookstore for the same reason. Though, friends of the family saw it on the sale rack at BJ’s for $25 (a steal when you see the retail value!) and snatched it up. (Start the car! Start the car!)

At Hoc At Home - Thomas Keller

I was intrigued by what it said on the back, “…a big collection of family meals and everyday staples, delicious approachable food, recipes that are doable at home. No immersion circulator required. No complicated garnishes. I promise!”

Sounds like my kind of chef! But careful, first impression are hardly ever correct!

In the first section “Becoming a Better Chef” he describes tools, techniques and ingredients that even I can put to use. For example, there is so much I didn’t know about how to use salt. So here’s what I’ll do when I learn something new:

Lesson One: “Salt steaks, chops, and other smaller cuts 15-20 minutes before cooking them…”
Lesson Two: “Salt enhances flavors that are already there–if you can taste the salt in the dish, it’s too salty.” (Page 5)

This is the part that particularly concerns me. “If you don’t have good kitchen tools, you have to be a more skilled cook to compensate for that.” Right you are, guv-na!

My pots and pans, with the exception of the fallen All-Clad, were purchased at the local secondhand store. My hand-tools? Picked up on sale from the grocery store aisle. I didn’t go to Gourmet Chef, but then I don’t believe I need to. It’s possible to make amazing food without the designer kitchen.

So, in light of that, Keller says I need to be prepared. I have knives, cutting board, pots and pans, which he deems necessary. Although, I am without the “Big Four”, a Vita-Mix (very powerful blender), a standing mixer, a scale, and food processor. He even uses a blowtorch on prime rib roast on page 56! What?!

As I flip through the recipes, I WANT to make everything. I have no doubt in my ability to say, flip a potato pancake a la Julia Child with the “courage of my convictions,” but for a cookbook that is supposed to be “approachable” this looks beyond my means. If I had the twine to wrap a boneless pork cutlet I would! Piment d’Espelette isn’t exactly something I have ready-to-go in my cabinet either. I’m glad the internet can’t “hear” my blog, because I totally fudged Piment d’Espelette.

[Pause button] When I don’t know something, I find out. There might be someone reading who doesn’t know French either.

Lesson Three: Piment d’Espelette is pretty much French chile powder. Similar to paprika, which you can substitute with. Piment d’Espelette means “Pepper of Espelette,” a town in southern France.

So, Ad Hoc At Home is an amazing cookbook to flip through. As I looked and read, I wanted to try everything in it! Cheffies and foodies alike are drooling over this book for good reason.

However, I now feel much like I did when I was 14. At Christmas I had wanted a particular coat, very chic and high fashion from Anthropologie very badly. To my excitement, I opened the box and there it was! I put it on and being honest with myself it fit but it didn’t, fit. I was too young for it. This beautiful coat belonged on the shoulders of some fabulous woman much older than I was. So the coat stayed in the closet for years afterward.

This cookbook is much like my coat. Perhaps when my kitchen is older, and I am out of college and have a food processor? I’ve taken ideas from it and plan on applying them in my wee kitchen. Other online reviewers seem to agree Keller’s recipes sometimes require preparation a day ahead of time, and when you work, and have a family, that can be difficult to fit in. The book takes home cooking to a more professional level. I’ve learned a lot from it, but just can’t do it all right now.