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The Piglet2013 / First Round, 2013

Canal House Cooks Every Day

Canal House Cooks Every Day

Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

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Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel

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Judged by: Meredith Erickson, David McMillan & Frédéric Morin

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Meredith Erickson has written for The New York Times, Elle, The National Post, and Lucky Peach. She has also been Managing Editor (Maisonneuve), Project Editor (Phaidon) and Production Manager (Spafax) for various magazines, campaigns, and television programs. She is the co-author of The Art of Living According to Joe Beef (Ten Speed Press) and the upcoming Le Pigeon Cookbook (Ten Speed Press). She also project-edited Ferran Adria’s The Family Meal (Phaidon Press). She splits her time between Montreal and London.

David McMillan is the co-owner/chef of Joe Beef and Liverpool House. Born and raised in Quebec City, David has been holding court in many of Montreal’s classic restaurants for close to twenty years. He still practices the cuisine Bourgeoise he learned from his mentor, Nicholas Jongleux, and from living in the Burgundy region of France. When David isn’t at the restaurants, he can be found painting at the studio in Saint Henri or spending time at his cottage in Kamouraska, Quebec, with his wife Julie and their two daughters.

Frédéric Morin is the co-owner/chef of Joe Beef and Liverpool House. He attended L’Ecole Hoteliere des Laurentides, worked at Jean-Talon Market selling peppers and onions, and served as garde-manger at Toqué! and chef de cuisine at Globe before opening Joe Beef. When he’s not gardening or tinkering in his workshop, or at his restaurants, Fred can be found at home in Montreal with his wife (and the third partner in the restaurants) Allison, and their two sons.

The Judgment

Our judgment wasn’t supposed to happen like this. All three of us anticipated the alternative conclusion and pre-judged these books not the by their covers “per se” (nudge, nudge) but by the overall Davey vs. Goliath vibe. We made a preconceived assumption, and it was wrong. 

But let’s get down to it:

Canal House Cooks Every Day is a seasonal compendium of a year at the Canal House. This gem of a space is where the two Ms. H’s cook, make art, shoot photos of said food and art, drink booze and all in all, appear to have a great time. We’ve been fans of these women since receiving their first volume (or maybe it was just our first?) of recipes: a small orange gem of summer recipes that the Joe Beef staff ooh-ed and ahh-ed over.

The pages of this book are warm, simple and down-home. This book makes us want to hang out at the Canal House, get drunk with these ladies, jump in the canal, and then cook and eat their food.

Their mantra “home cooking by home cooks for home cooks” is reflected in their recipes, none of which are too daunting. In the spirit of the book, the recipes tested were all from the "Autumn" chapter: Chicken Broth with Spinach and Little Meatballs, Agee’s Pecan Pies, Butternut Squash and Candied Bacon on Fresh Pasta, and Milk Punch. We had no trouble and all of the recipes worked per their instructions 100%. Everything was tasty (especially the milk punch) and we’re already eyeing up Sister Frances’s Potatoes and looking forward to our own Northern version of The Garden Giveth.

The design of this book is the similar to the smaller volumes: it’s very pretty and approachable. If there was one thing we hoped for, it was a bit more voice, and more stories -- The Canal House After Hours, if you will -- to give us even more of feel for who these women are. Still, there is no doubt that Canal-ians far and wide will eat this book up.

And now we move from “for the people, by the people” to a different plane altogether. 

When Bouchon Bakery book arrived, we began to flip through the pristine, white, glossy pages and our first reaction was that it made us feel very very dirty. Our fingers looked grimy on the white gloss, on the clean lines of brown text, and on the pages among pages of perfect photos of perfect food (Sebastien Rouxel in the kitchen in Napa, Keller piping butter nutters, or Cygnes a la Chantilly -- even the pictures of “Keller the cow” made us feel backwater and a bit shameful of how we spend our time.) Bakery is in the same visual vein as Bouchon and The French Laundry Cookbook. Design-wise they’re all stunners, but for us, it’s in the same sort of formulaic way. 

But then there are the recipes. Good god, those recipes.

These recipes are so well practiced, so well considered, so thorough and yes, so technical, that they make you sit down and softly say “holy shit” over and over. From beginning to end, this book is a complete master class in baking -- we see it perched on the shelves between Traité de Patisserie Moderne and Le Compagnon Pâtissier.

We tested the croissants, the Devil’s Food Cake, the Toasted Almond Streusel, and the Sugared Doughnuts. As expected, everything worked (of course everything worked!).

And though it’s not a book you can really read cover to cover, there are notes like "The Vagaries of Dough" by Rouxel that wax poetic about the alchemy of dough, and almost all of Keller’s openers are impassioned. His words on the baguette speak for themselves: “You can’t hide anything about the bread [or yourself] when you’re making a baguette. Every aspect of bread baking is represented in the baguette…I love that. The baguette speaks clearly and it never lies.”

To hit you with the climax: we chose Bouchon Bakery as our winner. 

What sums up our decision is really something Keller says: “We need to consider what we may be losing in our perpetual quest for convenience. Once we lose the knowledge of something learned and refined over centuries, it’s gone for good.”

Bouchon Bakery will be a reference book not only for ambitious home cooks, but for restaurants too. It’s the kind of book that will take everyday bakers, B&B owners, cooks and pastry chefs to a heightened level. And we’ll all be the better for it. 

And the winner is…

Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

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Do you Agree? (32 comments)

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over 3 years ago Melissafitz

Bouchon is a revelation in baking. It inspires me to clean my KitchenAid after every use. Like, *really* clean it.

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over 3 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

Favorite review so far and great comment thread, including the comment from the Canal House ladies. :))

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over 3 years ago Sauertea

Well I have and love Canal House Cooks. I now want Bouchon. I think this was difficult choice

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over 3 years ago jenniebgood

I have loved Bouchon since I bought it and read it cover to cover (one tiny disagreement I have with the esteemed authors of this great review)! The recipes are amazing and it's the kind of cookbook that offers techniques that a cooks can (and should) adopt in other baking recipes. Congrats to Msrs. Keller and Rouxel. I also love the Canal House Ladies - your publications are amazing as well. I look forward daily to your awesome CH Cooks Lunch email! They are inspiring!

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over 3 years ago Midge

After perusing its glossy pages, I too found Bouchon Bakery a little off-putting, but you all have inspired me to pick it up again and actually bake something from it. Thanks for an awesome review.

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over 3 years ago Wendy Miller 1

Well now I want both.

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over 3 years ago ATG117

I've really enjoyed and continue to enjoy all the reviews this year.

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over 3 years ago sel et poivre

I love this review. I'm new to baking and this review has made me even more determined to take the plunge and enjoy the dive.

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over 3 years ago mainecook61

Excellent review.

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over 3 years ago The Fiery Epicurean

Excellent review! Looking forward to exploring both of these books!

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over 3 years ago Lynne Faubert

I own all of the Canal House cookbooks (except for Lunch, which is only a matter of time before I order). And I had no intention in heck of buying Bouchon. I don't bake, you might even say it scares me. But after reading this review — and the comments —, you make me want to reconsider. That's saying a lot.

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over 3 years ago Dina Moore-Tzouris

i'm just so happy it's only tuesday-and i never say that! the piglet is so much fun and inspiration!

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over 3 years ago PetetheBaker

I have and use Bouchon Bakery cookbook on a weekly basis (at least.) I love to bake sourdough bread and my go to book had been the Tartine cookbook. While I still love that book I find Bouchon so much more educational and diverse. Can't recommend the book enough.

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over 3 years ago Naomi Manygoats

Thank you for the excellent review. I quite agree, I looked through Canal house books many many times, but for some reason never felt compelled to buy them. I will buy this one however, it sounds lovely! I also hesitated to buy another huge, perhaps over designed Keller book, but finally did buy this. It is totally amazing!

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over 3 years ago The Canal House

That hardly hurt at all. We expect to see you Joe Beefs and the Food52 crew down here at Canal House for a jump in the canal and some good eating and drinking. We'll send an invitation to the Bouchon Bakery team too. Congratulations Bouchon Bakery!--The Canal Ladies

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over 3 years ago sheimoon

La classe!

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over 3 years ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

The most gracious.

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over 3 years ago iowafran

As always - so lovely and generous!

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over 3 years ago Tabledeckers

I am one of the 5 "disagrees"! I own and cook from both books (actually I own all the books published both CH and TK) and while there is no question that Thomas Keller is a master and the recipes are spot on, every time, Canal House is like reading a favorite novel over and over, with wonderful prose, beautiful photographs and lovely illustrations. I read these books time and time again. I disagree that anything is these books is "lost to convenience" (if that is what the reviewer was implying). I had the wonderful pleasure to visit CH this past November for their Open House/Book Launch. I was not disappointed! It was truly a feast for every sense and the ladies of the house could not have been more gracious! I have had a small catering business for the past 12 years and I am also a bookbinder. My visit to CH got my creative juices flowing again and I have embarked on a project to write and bind my own cookbook (that will probably take many years)! Thank you CH for the inspiration!

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over 3 years ago Alexandra Holbrook

So lovely and gracious, Canal House!
Recently, when asked what my dream profession would be, I responded without hesitation, "Whatever-you-call-what the fabulous Canal House ladies do!" I'm a charter CH subscriber, and love the inspiration and warmth CH inspires!

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over 3 years ago Alexandra Holbrook

Wonderful review! In looking at the 2013 bracket, this round was the toughest! I own and cherish both books, and love them both for different reasons. The Canal House recipes read as if the CH ladies were right there with you, divulging a fun family recipe over nibbles and a glass of wine. Bouchon, on the other hand, offers the concise, exacting precision I adore in a baking book. A very, very difficult choice indeed! Ultimately, I admire the clincher that determined the winner: “We need to consider what we may be losing in our perpetual quest for convenience. Once we lose the knowledge of something learned and refined over centuries, it’s gone for good”, which at their core, both books strive to achieve. If only the Piglet allowed a tie…both books are winners to me!

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over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Wow, such a wonderful review. I love that the Joe Beef authors tested so many recipes and wrote about their experiences in such a funny, thorough and thoughtful way. I drank up every word. I too think that I need both of these books in my kitchen. This is my favorite Piglet review so far this year!

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over 3 years ago sheimoon

And that is an excellent outcome. Joe Beef is number 1 of 3 things I miss about the city after 8 years in Montreal.

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over 3 years ago kak6154

Can't say that I disagree, per se, but owning a cpy of the Canal House Cooks Every Day, I can tell you I'm not sorry that I bought it. I LOVE it!

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over 3 years ago EmilyC

Great, great review -- very informative and fun to read. It makes me want to buy three cookbooks -- Canal House, Bouchon Bakery, and The Art of Living According to Joe Beef!

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over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Oh wow. I vaguely wanted Bouchon before, but now I may need it. Great review.