Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thomas Keller & Barbara Lynch: earnest summations

I had to go back and search through the blog to ascertain that I'd never actually summed up my experience with Ad Hoc at Home. I didn't, did I? This wasn't meant to be a Keller-Lynch horse race, but since they're both chef books, I'm reviewing them together.

I made 36 dishes out of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home:

Worth the price of the book -- 1 (fried chicken)
Great -- 13 (biscuits, mint chocolate chip ice cream)
Good -- 10
So-so -- 11
Flat-out bad -- 1

I made 40 dishes out of Barbara Lynch's Stir:

Worth the price of the book -- 2 (eggplant salad, stuffed tomato)
Great -- 15
Good -- 17
So-so -- 6
Flat-out bad --- o

I think as time passes a lot of really wonderful recipes tend to fade in my memory. Looking through my margin notes in the Keller I had written "fantastic" beside dishes I only vaguely remember making and loving, like mint chocolate chip ice cream and his mother's coconut cake. So some of his "greats" might have been "worth the price of the books" if I'd done this summary in a more timely fashion. In any case, at the high end, I really think these two books shine equally brightly.

But I didn't have as many disappointments with Lynch. That I'm sure of. Thomas Keller's iceberg lettuce salad was a time-consuming flop. The roasted halibut, the roasted game hens, the pomegranate-glazed quail -- not hits. A lot of these recipes are attempts to show how to make impeccable, very simple, down-home food which would be fine, except they didn't consistently work. I don't need a $50 cookbook to show me how to make boring food that doesn't taste amazing. I can do that on my own. The exception: his Santa Maria tri-tip was simple and fabulous and that "boring" recipe might have been worth the price of the book. On the fence about that.

Barbara Lynch wraps her chicken in bread dough and puts caraway gnocchi in her soup and whipped cream in her risotto. She taught me how to stuff gnocchi and tear up pasta dough and make a pizza out of brioche topped with honey and pistachios. Even when I didn't absolutely adore the results, the experience was always interesting. Mostly I adored the results.

If you have unlimited cookbook dollars to spend on fat, beautiful chef tomes, buy both books. But after cooking 76 recipes from these two fine volumes, I would say if you have limited funds, buy Stir.

Very excited to move on to a new book. I've got something a little different in mind for the next month or so. I'll save that for the next post.


  1. I agree that Stir is much more approachable. Although, Keller's recommendation for letting the whole chicken sit uncovered in the refrigerator for a day is spot on. The skin crispity-crackally-crunchy, indeed

  2. Plus, Barbara Lynch stole a MBTA bus when she was 13.

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