Recently, we made two additions to our cookbook shelf; Mastering The Art Of French Cooking volumes 1 and 2. For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about: you need to get your act together! Mastering is probably my favourite tome in general. Written by Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck, and (everyone’s favourite) Julia Child, it originally aimed to bring the French-style of cooking to America in the 1960s. Most people would know of the more modern adaption-esque of Mastering in the Movie/Book combo of Julie and Julia, but for me it goes back to watching Julia Child throw a knife around (horror-movie close), while slicing potatoes, deboning a chicken, and talking about the benefits of Butter and Cream… all at the same time.
I do have experience with Mastering, but only as a young child growing up in the kitchens of my grandmothers. Through one I learned the art of baking breads and sweets by memory, and through the other I learned how to read a cookbook. The latter woman was in possession of an original copy of Mastering (which I believe was published in 1961.. if you know the actual date please feel free to correct me!). This edition was so worn through the years that by the time I was old enough to work up the gusto and ask if I could have it when before she passed (I was not allowing that to be donated somewhere!), the duct-tape spine that had been fashioned after the first ‘incident’ has crumbled away. I would only come to own a copy years later when a hardcover reissue of both volumes 1 and 2 would fall within my price range. Here we are!
Surprisingly enough, Rob is actually aware of whom this kitchen queen is, and remembers watching her on cable like me. This purchase was big for us as it means something to each for once. It’s probably because of that fact that we’ve decided to teach ourselves some albeit basic French techniques. I don’t want to say that we’re going to pull a Julie Powell (ala Julie and Julia), in that we go through the entire book in one year, but we’re going to put in a good effort to try every recipe within.
Some rules we’ve set out for our Challenge, and have determined are akin to the Commandments;
- Each recipe will be completed to the best of the cook’s ability, and that cook will follow each step exactly. They were written for a point, and the goal of the women was to teach everyone the basics. We should honour that.
- While each recipe will be completed, not all of the variations will be. As there are sometimes 3 or 4 different skews on one dish, and some dishes are rather small, it doesn’t make sense to do each version. If there are monumental differences (such as Pâte à Choux), then the variations will be done.
- Recipes will be done in order. Yes, that means that we’re going to have a lot of soup and then a lot of something else, but in repeating the similar steps involved within each recipe and style, they are certain to be more easily remembered when the challenge is completed.
- The same ingredients written in each recipe will be used for execution in the kitchen. No substitutions unless absolutely necessary. In the beginning, forward section of the book, is a passage on ingredients in which the writers explain some of the more tricky foods or processes done to said foods. Prior to the listing of ingredients is written “… all the ingredients called for in the book are available in the average American grocery store.” We tend to agree. We are young, rather fit young men, and as such we can afford to indulge in the butters, cheeses, creams, and starches that are so prevalent in Mastering.
- All recipes will be trimmed down where available. There are only two of us, and each recipe is written for 6+ servings. Some can’t be, so we’re calling on all of our foodie friends to help us eat some of this stuff! Dinner Party Club?
- Both the First and Second Volumes will be completed. Yes, that’s a lot of food to cover, but we’re up to the challenge.
- There won’t be an exact timeline for completing the recipes, but we are pushing to do one a week. That will give us time to eat any leftovers, mull over things learned, and shop for the next culinary endeavor.
All of this brings us to the explanation that we have already started our challenge! As you can see in the image above, I made soup! The very first recipe included in this version of Mastering is Potage Parmentier; Leek or Onion and Potato Soup.
Shopping for this one was super easy, as it’s a simple recipe. While I’m used to potatoes, I had never eaten a leek before, let alone cook one! I honestly had to google it to figure out how to use it, but all in all we really liked the soup! I think it’s a win, and I can most likely make it by memory now!
Do you have any history with Mastering? How about memories of Julia? Feel free to start a discussion down below… and remember to cheer us on; it’s going to be a long challenge!!