Regarded by many chefs as their guide and inspiration, French-born Madeleine Kamman (1931–2018) grew up cooking in her aunt’s two-Michelin star restaurant in Touraine. She moved to the US in 1960 and launched a career of more than 40 years as restaurateur, author, television cook, and, most of all, as a demanding teacher of master classes.
When French Women Cook (1976), Kamman’s third book, really gets at the ethos of her life’s work, foregoing the characteristic tough-minded pragmatism of her first, The Making of a Cook (1971). Part memoir and part cookbook, When French Women Cook offers profiles of eight cooks, followed by samplings of their skilled and often imaginative recipes. It was they, the home cooks, who provided the backbone to the country’s impressive body of culinary achievement. Among those to whom she dedicates the book is the grandmother of the great Paul Bocuse—perhaps an unsubtle jab at Bocuse who had once said, “Women lack the instincts for great cooking.”
Kamman felt French women cooked primarily on instinct. She says most of the recipes gathered for When French Women Cook had not been previously written down, as a French woman rarely is at a loss for what to cook for dinner. She simply takes a walk through the market, selects the best and freshest ingredients, and allows that to dictate the progression of the meal.
The recipes vary in skill level but will be most approachable for those already quite comfortable in the kitchen. The Alsatian Eugenie shares her quenelles of frog legs dressed in an herb sauce; Victoire of Auvergne has a suckling pig stuffed with spinach and forcemeat; the Provençale Magaly offers an apple and lemon pie. All delectable fare.
Our copy is a Near Fine first edition of what we believe to be a collector’s essential. It is as much of a book for reading with a glass of wine by your side as it is for establishing a French culinary repertoire.