How to cook like a French cookery teacher

The doyenne of the French Kitchen distills decades of wisdom into a recipe bible.

IF THE QUEUES SNAKING OUTSIDE hip, no-bookings restaurants in the inner city symbolise a fast-paced, social-media-driven food frenzy, then a discreet but lengthy list of Melbourne people who keep their names on a waiting list at a certain second-hand bookstore in Malvern in the hope of obtaining a weighty, treasured 30-year-old guide to French cooking must be the slow-paced, old-media version.

It's Twitter and thrilling food innovation versus an ancient Provencal village drowsing in the sun, where recipes reside in the collective memories of ordinary cooks and are practised and honed without fuss every day, depending on what is shiny, crisp or tender at the local market.

The proprietor of the Melbourne institution The French Kitchen cooking school, Di Holuigue, has spent a lifetime translating the essence of that village, and of the Parisian bistro, and, of course, the precise rules and techniques of France's culinary hero, Auguste Escoffier, into something that Australian home cooks can learn and love.

So it is perhaps not surprising that about 50 people are continuously wait-listed at Malvern's Books in Print in the hope of obtaining a dog-eared and splattered second-hand copy of Holuigue's encyclopaedic 1983 book The French Kitchen.

And it was a no-brainer for publisher Geoff Slattery, a former restaurateur and long-time fan of Holuigue, to decide that those patiently queueing cooks deserved a whole new edition of the book.

The result is A Lifetime of Cooking, Teaching and Writing from the French Kitchen, a 752-page tome that captures all of the original book's recipes, as well as highlights from some of her other 12 books, a selection of her evocative food and travel essays, and 230 new recipes.

It is a book as solid as the weathered stone walls of that Provencal village, an antidote to tweets and ''Likes'' and trends, and everything else that demands we adjust our attention every few seconds.

Thinking about Christmas? Spend half an hour poring over one of the book's useful ''master recipes'' for roast turkey with apple stuffing, with each of the 11 steps meticulously explained and beautifully illustrated by Robin Cowcher on three of the book's luxuriously large, glossy pages.

This is a book that's solidly beside you in the kitchen, with Holuigue's remarkably precise voice - the product of more than 40 years running Melbourne's most successful cooking school - guiding you every step of the way.

''Understand the logic of the recipes,'' Holuigue says.

''That's always been the theme of the cooking school. Understand that a casserole, say, is really six movements. It doesn't matter what the ingredients are as long as you go through them in the right order.''

Her many decades treading the flagstones of her demonstration kitchen in the heart of her Malvern home have simply strengthened her conviction that to eat well and enjoy meals as the French do, home cooks need confidence in the basic logic and techniques of cooking.

''What I always teach in class is, of course, you have to know the classics, you have to be able to make macarons and do choux pastry by the recipe, but there's an awful lot of things that home cooks have to be able to make up every night with the leftover things they find in their fridge from last Saturday's marketing,'' Holuigue says.

''You really can't look in 14 cookbooks just to find a recipe that goes with your leftover raw ingredients, but if you understand these formulas, these processes, you can make something delicious … you're fine.''

After so many years teaching her estimated 64,000 students and pioneering the introduction of many of the global greats as guest chefs in her school, Holuigue is still full of energy and ambition for enriching people's lives with good food.

''My passion is for the people - exciting them and enthusing them, rather than just the cooking,'' she says. ''It's the teacher in me that loves it. Some of the things that stay with people are not even the recipes, it's how you hold the pot so you're not taking too much weight on your arm, things like that.''

And while she acknowledges those sorts of practicalities are not usually something you learn in a book, this publication is a distillation of her practical wisdom, written in Holuigue's precise, encouraging voice and carefully and clearly illustrated.

The scope of the book is enormous, but it is also well organised in logical sections, with a content summary for each. It is a go-to reference for everything from cheese souffle to coq au vin to creme caramel, but also brims with recipes gathered from Cambodia to Argentina, as well as every French (and Australian, and Asian) sauce you could wish for, glossaries of terms and implements you need, and handy sections such as ''Cakes … where did I go wrong?'', ''Substituting fish'' for overseas recipes, and the many faces of French custard. There is even a five-page tribute to English cook Jane Grigson.

Once upon a time, this lovely read would have been the province of the ''ambitious home cooks'' who attended Holuigue's classes. Now it is there for the new breed of weekend cooks who like to learn from her - many of them young, plenty of them men or couples who cook adventurously for their friends as a satisfying, sometimes bloggable, hobby.

The 230 new recipes are something of a tribute to Holuigue's most stalwart class, a group that has been attending every five weeks for 11 years and refuses to hear of her retiring. ''I keep having to invent things for them,'' Holuigue chuckles, resting tired feet on the blue French sofa beside her kitchen. ''They tell me, 'We're staying for life', and they honestly think they are. Who can give up on that? I go to bed each night smiling up at the ceiling about the day I've had.''

Coffee-rubbed fillet of beef with a green bean salad

A simple roast, with a lovely light green bean salad for the summer season. It may also be barbecued, but you would then forgo the jus, which echoes the coffee flavours of the roast enticingly. You might have noticed that meats served cooked through release more juices to caramelise on the base of the pan than meats eaten rare. Here is a recipe that explains how to better a jus when lack of sediment is a problem - increase caramelisation with a group of sugar-yielding vegetables under the meat to help do the job. Even on a regular roast, chefs often throw in half an onion or carrot (or the not-to-be binned neck or wingtips of a bird), to help build extra sediment during cooking.

1.5kg fillet (tenderloin) beef

THE COFFEE RUB

½ cup black peppercorns

¼ cup sea salt - granular, not flakes. I use Himalayan pink salt, granular grind

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup freshly ground coffee

TO ROAST

5 tbsp mirepoix - diced carrot, onion, celery

50g butter, plus

2 tbsp oil

THE SALAD

225g green beans, stalks off

15 snowpeas, strings and tops off

½ cucumber, peeled and deseeded

15 small red radishes

2 leaves sorrel (spinach if sorrel is unavailable, but sorrel is easy to grow and gives off a lovely citric fragrance)

3-4 tbsp blueberries

3-4 tbsp micro herbs, if available

THE VINAIGRETTE

4 tbsp olive oil

1½ tbsp balsamic white condiment

small amount nam pla (Thai fish sauce) or soy, to taste

Black pepper

THE JUS

300ml beef or well-jellied chicken stock

1 tsp tomato paste

1 tbsp brandy

1. The coffee rub. Place peppercorns in a blender first and whiz for 3 seconds, then add the salt and sugar and pulse a further 2 seconds, then add the coffee and pulse once just to mix. There will still be a small amount of texture in the mixture; it should not be powder.

2. As early as suits you before dinner, but at least an hour before, scatter the rub over a board and roll the beef in it. Cover and set aside until needed. Cut the mirepoix of vegetables and set aside in a bowl or place on a smudge of oil in a heap the length of the fillet along the centre of the baking dish to await the roast.

3. The salad. Make a fine julienne of green beans, snow peas and cucumber. Slice the radishes as finely as possible; shred the sorrel finely to match the mix. Place all in a bowl not more than an hour before dinner and only at the last minute, add the blueberries and microherbs. Place the olive oil, vinegar and fish sauce in a jar; shake and season to taste.

4. To roast. Place the meat on its bed of mirepoix, lightly dot with the butter and oil and bake in a 240C oven for about 25 minutes if the roast is 10 centimetres wide; 30 minutes if 12 centimetres wide. Width, plus how rare you eat meat, is the decisive factor here; increase if you like it more cooked.

To serve: When the roast is ready, remove meat to a board and rest for 6-8 minutes before carving. This will give a rare, tender interior. Meanwhile, transfer the baking dish and its vegetables to the stove and fry a moment, stirring. Add the beef stock and tomato paste, stir to get up sediment and as much flavour as possible, reduce a little. Season with salt and pepper and a tablespoon of brandy. Strain this jus into a sauceboat, pressing the solids with the back of a spoon.

Mix the vinaigrette ingredients together and shake to combine. Toss through the salad and divide among the plates. Carve two or three slices of fillet to fan out on each plate. Drizzle 2 teaspoons jus on each plate, serving remainder in a sauceboat.

Note To julienne beans, I find it easiest to pinch the stalk off the bean, cut the bean in half lengthwise, release the bean 'seed' and then start cutting the flesh into julienne (long, thin strips). String snowpeas and slice to match.

Serves 8

Orange and cedrat parfait, served as a terrine

100g sugar

5 tbsp water

4 egg yolks

20g glaceed ginger

20g mixed peel

20g pecan nuts, split in two

20g pistachios

30g cedrat or mixed peel

20g angelica

¼ tsp cinnamon

300ml cream, whipped

2 tbsp kirsch or Grand Marnier

Equipment

1 litre loaf tin or terrine

1. Put the sugar in a saucepan with the cold water. Stir to ensure the sugar is dissolved before coming to the boil. Boil the water down so it reaches the ''jelly'' stage, 108C, or wait until it boils down to small even-size bubbles all the way across the pot.

2. Lift the syrup from the stove for 30 seconds. Pour a stream onto the egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk with a portable electric mixer until the mixture has cooled, when it will be whitish in colour, double its volume and be nearly as thick as whipped cream.

3. Fold the chopped fruits, nuts and cinnamon through the mixture, followed by the whipped cream. Flavour with kirsch or Grand Marnier.

4. Pour into the tin or terrine and cover with plastic wrap. Leave for a minimum of 8 hours to set. Keeps for up to 4 days. Best served with a garnish of fresh orange segments or slices, preferably toffeed.

Serves 6

A Lifetime of Cooking, Teaching and Writing from the French Kitchen by Di Holuigue (Slattery Media Group, $89.95).

Diane Holuigue will host a dinner with Eltham Bookshop on November 21. There will be a Q&A session and dishes from Holuigue's book. Mercer's Restaurant, 732 Main Road, Eltham, 6.30pm. Couples, $155; singles, $115 (includes a copy of the book).

The story How to cook like a French cookery teacher first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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