It was over a year ago that I ate at Ad Hoc in Yountville, CA. It’s one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants, but this one is unique in that there’s no menu and the food is served family-style. Unshackled from having to adhere to a static menu, the chefs are free to feature the best of whatever products are available to them each day. I had such a wonderful meal there so I was incredibly excited when I heard Michael Ruhlman was going to be working with Keller on a cookbook featuring Ad Hoc’s family-style recipes. Well, I’m thrilled to announce that Ad Hoc at Home has just been released and I received my copy this week:
The book is absolutely stunning in every way. The first thing you notice is the heft, weighing in at probably over 3lbs. Visually, it’s the most impressive cookbook I’ve seen since Ruhlman and Keller’s other collaboration, The French Laundry Cookbook. As you can see from the picture above, the photography is so beautiful and vivid that this would make a fine coffee table book. But don’t be fooled by its good looks, this book is meant to be used in the kitchen. Unlike The French Laundry Cookbook which has gorgeous photos but dishes that are too fussy and elaborate for the average home cook, Ad Hoc at Home contains a wealth of practical information, tips and easy, sensible recipes.
As I did an initial skim through the book, I was struck by how many little gems of insight it contained. Not just raw facts and recipes, but also a peek into Keller’s mind and how he thinks about things in the kitchen. Why we should ditch our tongs in favor of palette knives. Why cooking asparagus in water washes out the flavor and what to do about it. Using vinegar as a seasoning tool. Basic categories of techniques home cooks should master. Versatile items to stock your pantry and refrigerator with. Dishes for the home cook’s repertoire which offer possibility for variation and creativity. Even the difference between the two major brands of Kosher salt. There were just so many excellent little a-ha! tidbits and insights.
When you think about it, what do you really want in a cookbook? Some are great as reference books for specific recipes. Others provide great illustrations of technique. Some include valuable little tips. But for me, especially when it comes to books written by great chefs, what I’m looking for are any nuggets of information to help unlock the mysteries of why their cooking better is so much better than mine. Why is it that when I taste a carrot at Charlie Trotters it is practically life-changing, but when I cook one at home it is just a lifeless veg? That’s the sort of thing I’m always in search of, whether it’s from cooking shows, magazines or cookbooks. And you know what? Ad Hoc at Home delivers on all of that and more. Great recipes, clear instructions, gorgeous pictures, helpful tips and even philosophical insights. A cookbook that is every bit as practical and usable as it is gorgeous to look at. Is it the best cookbook ever? As Kanye West might say, “Imma let you finish, but Ad Hoc at Home is one of the greatest cookbooks of all-time!”