Have you ever watched the furiously paced cooking on Top Chef, or another culinary competition, and wondered about some of the terms tossed about with such confidence and authority? What exactly is beurre blanc, or maybe even more perplexing, beurre noisette? • Or maybe you've been at a restaurant and wanted to order the Italian appetizer bruschetta. You know what it is — grilled bread drizzled with olive oil and topped with diced tomatoes, garlic and basil — but how to pronounce it is something else. You've heard it said many ways. (It's broo-SKEH-tah, not broo-SHET-ah.)
Local chef and cooking instructor Gui Alinat has written a unique reference book that will get you out of your jam and have you talking like the chef you're not. It's called The Chef's Répertoire (American Technical Publishers; $36), and it describes hundreds of sauces, appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts that are commonly seen on menus and cooking shows, in magazines and cookbooks. Though Alinat, who wrote a column for the Taste section in the mid 1990s, is a classically trained French chef, the book includes dishes from cuisines around the world.
The Chef's Répertoire is similar to a 1914 text book that Alinat used in culinary school in France in which the recipes were simple descriptions rather than the very specific instructions we are accustomed to in contemporary cookbooks.
He first imagined The Chef's Répertoire as a guide for chefs but as he worked on the book, he realized it might have broader application.
"Turkey tetrazzini, minestrone, cioppino. People have an idea of what they are, but it's nice to have a refresher. I am a chef and I am looking at it all the time," says Alinat who teaches at the Art Institute of Tampa and Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy at Tarpon Springs High School.
That said, it is not a book for novice cooks, though perfect for armchair foodies. For instance, to make the aforementioned beurre blanc, which is a classic French sauce pronounced burr-BLAHNK: "Reduce shallots, cracked white pepper and white wine. Salt and pepper to taste. Finish with lemon juice." How much? That's up to you.
(For beurre noisette, pronounced burr-nwah-ZET, "Heat butter on low heat until solids turn light brown. Pass through a chinois." That would be a fine-mesh, cone-shaped strainer. Beurre noisette is more commonly called brown butter sauce in American kitchens.)
Though packed with information, the 175-page volume could easily fit in a purse or a chef's apron pocket, as Chicago restaurateur Rick Tramonto points out in the foreword. To some, the book might feel a bit light for the $36 price tag. And cookbook consumers used to glorious color photos might be a bit disappointed. There are no photos at all.
That is by design, Alinat says. His aim is to encourage creativity and not have home cooks feel they need to match a photograph, which most people know is near impossible anyway.
"It's not that I didn't want any photos, but it's that they are not useful," he says. "There are 60 million people in France and that means there are 60 million recipes for ratatouille and then there would be 60 million different photos."
Ratatouille, something else to look up. You'll find it on Page 50.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.