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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Did you hear about that great party last weekend where they served the most amazing food, including a fantastic fruit salad in a melon swan? Oh, right -- it was at your house! I bet you were cooking from Jacques Pépin Celebrates.
Of all the chefs we see on TV, Pépin has always seemed to me both the most relaxed and the most adept at instructing us on technique. Both qualities are evident in his latest, a companion guide to a new 26-part TV series, as he guides us through 200 festive dishes.
Pépin encourages us to celebrate occasions large and small -- and celebrations always mean food and wine. There are meals for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's Eve, a ski chalet supper, an anniversary dinner, Easter, July 4th, a graduation day buffet, a Valentine's surprise, and a dinner party al fresco. Pépin's daughter, Claudine, provides wine suggestions for the many menus.
With the spotlight on celebration, Pépin's emphasis is, unsurprisingly, on presentation -- and what presentations! An impressive whole ham with peaches and a mustard peach glaze; a stuffed salmon with its outer coating of flaky dough arranged to mimic the fish, gills and all; a chestnut puree in zucchini boats; "swimming swans" in a raspberry sauce with a caramel cage; and a fruit salad presented in a melon swan.
As you can tell, most of these are not dishes you whip up after a hard day at work. Though they are complex, they are not necessarily difficult, thanks to Pépin's thorough step-by-step instructions. The payoff is tremendous. And there are plenty of simple menus, too: a picnic of pies, omelets, roast turkey, and so forth, for an everyday, spur-of the-moment party.
Back to the showy stuff: The pages devoted to illustrated cooking technique are fabulous and show in detail what you need to know. Pépin teaches you how to open an oyster; split a lobster in half; stuff and enclose a salmon in dough; prepare a galantine; make carrot flowers and scallion trees; make caramel cages; pipe meringues; julienne orange skin; and make puff pastry the classic way, the fast way, and the almost instant way.
Pépin, trained in classical French cooking, uses Spanish, Italian, or Asian flavorings from time to time, but for the most part, the dishes have a French base. All of them are worthy of a place at your next celebration. (Ginger Curwen)