The Thomas Keller Challenge

Back when I was working at Cooking Light, I used to get lots of free cookbooks. Publishers sent us advance copies of new stuff, the editors put them on the “freebie table,” and I filled up my bookshelves. Most of those just sit unused; it’s much easier to use Google then to search through piles and piles of actual printed books.

Well, last Saturday while I was volunteering at Magic City Brewfest, Nadria decided to make chocolate chip cookies and pulled out my copy of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. And damn if they weren’t the best cookies I’ve ever had.

Ad Hoc at Home came out last November and made a big splash: It won this year’s James Beard Award for Best Book-General Cooking. Which makes perfect sense; Thomas Keller is almost inarguably America’s best chef. He is the only American to have two restaurants (The French Laundry and Bouchon) earn three Michelin stars each, and The French Laundry consistently makes lists of the best restaurants in the US and the world.

Keller’s newest restaurant, Ad Hoc, serves comfort food, family-style, but that by no means means simple or not fancy. Keller doesn’t mess around with these recipes. Everything’s made from scratch, using time- and labor-intensive methods—his fried chicken features 12 hours of brining, plus two different fry sessions.

But the recipes in this book are really good, and as I’m unemployed I have plenty of time. So here’s my plan: Once a week or so, I’m going to make one of Chef Keller’s recipes and report back here. (Look for the first post, on Roasted Beet and Potato Salad, in a few minutes.) Maybe I’ll even graduate to The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon. (If someone wants to buy me this boxed set of both, I’d be forever grateful, and even reward you with a meal of your choice from either book.)