When rumors of a new Thomas Keller cookbook began to circulate earlier this year, I struggled to contain my heady excitement.
I carefully rearranged my cookbook collection, carving out space next to Keller’s previous luscious tomes—The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, and Under Pressure—well-worn and gathering dust in a sunlit corner of the kitchen.
All were published by Artisan under the critical eye of the amazing editor Ann Bramson, and all garnered awards and praise from the foodie community. But while I greedily devoured every page—enjoying the writing, the sumptuous photography, and the thrill of being vicariously in the kitchen with America’s leading chef—what I didn’t do is cook much from these books. I found them variously too complicated, too intimidating, too exotic and, in the case of Under Pressure, requiring too much expensive equipment for the average home chef.
So when I got my hands on Keller’s newest, Ad Hoc at Home, I read it cover to cover in one night, propped up in bed until the wee hours like a giddy teenage Twilight fan. Ad Hoc is every bit as stunningly produced as The French Laundry, with one critical difference: This is a book designed for you and me.
Chefs’ recipes are often labor–intensive processes and pages of ingredients that are then whittled down by erstwhile editors into something that, while more accessible to home cooks, yield results that only vaguely resemble that can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head dish you ate in the restaurant.
Though Thomas Keller is perhaps most famous for his culinary innovation and meticulous preparations, Ad Hoc—Keller’s family-style restaurant in Yountville, California—serves comfort food that runs the gamut from American classics like fried chicken, bread pudding, and short ribs to traditional favorites like duck confit and herb-crusted rack of lamb.
The recipes are accompanied by step-by-step instructions that focus on core culinary techniques and basic ingredients. With Deborah Jones’ artful photographs, illustrated how-to spreads for dummy–proof chicken trussing or pork loin preparation, and clever “Light Bulb Moments” to demonstrate tricks of the trade, readers find themselves gaining confidence in basic skills and relaxing under the steady tutelage of America’s best chef.
Keller’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken is a standout example of what makes this book special. I started a day ahead, brining the chicken, cutting it into the precise 10-piece basket, frying without setting the kitchen on fire, and even executing an elegant chef-style garnish—herbes frites. (That’d be French for “throw herb sprigs into hot oil, then feign modesty as friends and family gasp in wonderment at your culinary prowess.”) Best of all I had fun, maybe the most fun I’ve had in the kitchen in years, accomplishing something that was easy but technically perfect and sort of astonishingly delicious. This is the recipe you serve with a smile to your nobody–can–do–it–like–I–do mother-in-law.
A lot of cookbooks come across my desk, but Ad Hoc At Home is this year’s must-have. It won’t be joining its beautiful cohorts in that sunlit kitchen corner—this one won’t have time to gather dust.