'Ducasse Made Simple': Uneven Execution

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From left: Sophie Dudemaine, Sirio Maccioni, Gwenaelle Ducasse, and Alain Ducasse. Photograph by Sara Jaye Weiss

On Monday night, Serious Eats attended the launch party for Sophie Dudemaine's latest cookbook, Ducasse Made Simple. Dudemaine could best be described as the French equivalent of Rachael Ray. Bubbly and beloved, she is a French television personality and the unusually prolific author of 17 cookbooks.

With each cookbook, she attempts to render the complicated into 45-minute recipes for fledgling home cooks. When asked why, of all French chefs, she chose to write an Alain Ducasse cookbook, she replied, "I listen to my viewers. I give them what they want."

Asked what the 100 recipes chosen from Ducasse's Grand Livre de Cuisine had in common, she said, "Ducasse uses French cooking to showcase Mediterranean flavors. He combines the raw and the cooked." Pressed for her favorite recipe from the book? "Pork, apples, and sage."

Much has been written about the relevance of this book. True, when comparing the book to Ducasse's earlier compendiums, this book strikes one as lightweight, literally, and metaphorically. Ducasse appears to be lending his celebrity, his name as a brand. When queried about the cookbook, Ducasse shied away from fielding questions, pulling Dudemaine into the fold whenever the topic of the book came up.

But the book's raison d'être is not without precedent. Ducasse himself has attempted to make his haute cuisine simple. By launching Benoit, Ducasse has endeavored to represent his cuisine through French bistro cooking. Dudemaine's book is an extension of this effort, making bistro cooking accessible to the home cook.

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From left: Cream of Garlic Soup, Caramelized Veal Shank.

Unfortunately, the cookbook's shortcomings can be said to mirror those of the New York branch of Benoit. Tone deaf and out of touch, the cookbook presents bistro classics but fails to distinguish itself in design or instruction from its canon of predecessors. Attempts to replicate the book's Cream of Garlic Soup and Caramelized Veal Shank yielded unremarkable results. The eponymous garlic soup tasted barely of garlic. The veal stayed tough in its sour sauce even after a two-hour braise.

Though earnest as Dudemaine's efforts are, this translation is unevenly executed.