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More About This Title I KNOW HOW TO COOK


With all due respect to the late, great Julia Child, it's worth noting that the best-known and best-selling French cookbook in America is written by an American. Yes, Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a masterwork, but one can't help but wonder: what cookbook do French cooks use?

That is, French cooks in France?

The answer is Je Sais Cuisiner, used by three generations of French cooks, and recently released by Phaidon Press in a long-awaited English translation. I Know How to Cook by Ginette Mathiot has sold six million copies in France since it was first published in 1932, making it the French equivalent of The Joy of Cooking.

Author Ginette Mathiot, who died in 1998, is still regarded as the supreme authority on French home cooking, and that's part of the beauty of this revised classic: it's for home cooks rather than chefs. The publicists for the cookbook are dead-on when they say that "I Know How to Cook doesn't just teach you how to cook French. It teaches you how to cook, period."

In fact, Mathiot may even have it all over Julia Child when it comes to her masterful boeuf bourguignon, for the simple reason that Mathiot's dish has only five steps. What takes an hour or more of prep work to make Julia Child-style is closer to 5-20 minutes à la Mathiot.

And this is no slipshod boeuf bourguignon, either. This is the boeuf bourguignon that has been cooked in French households for over 75 years, making it about as authentic a version as possible, especially for those who want to duplicate French home cooking. (Julia's, on the other hand, is a more professional version of authentic, one that food writer Julia Moskin says "has chefly fingerprints all over it.)

There's plenty to love beyond the boeuf bourguignon, too. This is a gorgeously huge, photo-illustrated cookbook, weighing in with more than a 1,400 recipes, and fatter than the Larousse Gastronomique, making it a refreshing antidote to those celebrity cookbooks that are all photo shoot and few recipes.)

With what amounts to three years worth of French cooking even if you made one a day (try that on, Julie Powell), it's hard to know where to dive in. A classic sauce like bordelaise or velouté? A hearty French dish of steak à l'alsacienne or braised duck? No one will blame you if you skip straight to pastries: from almond éclairs to jam tarts, the recipes are all duplicatable in your home kitchen.

Bringing the cookbook up-to-date was the task of Clotilde Dusolier, the expert on French cooking that you may already know from her sumptuous blog at Chocolate and Zucchini. I Know How to Cook is the fourth cookbook from Phaidon in their series of what they call "culinary bibles," including the noted translation of Italy's The Silver Spoon and Spain's 1080 Recipes.

According to the publishers, "The lofty title was Mathiot's response to the French notion that cuisine was the preserve of men." She wanted to bring French cooking to women in their homes. Now, more than seven decades later, to those who believe that French cooking is the preserve of the French, it has come to American homes.


Ginette Mathiot (1907-1998),
Officier de la Legion d'Honneur, taught three generations how to cook in France and is the ultimate authority on French home cooking. She wrote more than 30 best-selling cookbooks, covering all subjects in French cuisine. Je sais cuisiner was her definitive, most comprehensive work, which brings together recipes for every classic French dish.

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