NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Whether it is Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin or Bouillabaisse attempting classic French dishes can be an intimidating experience for any cook.
But in his new book, "French Classics Made Easy," Richard Grausman, a renowned culinary teacher, writer and Cordon Bleu graduate, takes the fear out of French cooking.
He uses his 40 years of culinary experience to demystify 250 famous French recipes and retools them, reducing the amount of salt, butter and sugar when necessary and simplifying techniques, to reflect today's hectic lifestyle, more modern palette and health concerns without sacrificing flavors.
"I consider myself an interpreter of the classics, more than an inventor," he said in an interview.
The founder of the non-profit Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), which prepares U.S. high school students for careers in the restaurant business, spoke to Reuters about his passion for cooking, the joy of teaching and making a difference in people's lives.
Q: Why update the French classics?
A: "When I started the book it was after I was teaching for many years for the Cordon Bleu and people had been asking me for a book ... People were always saying I took the fear out of French cooking. I made it easier for them, and I had to find a way to translate that on to the written page. That was a challenge and in doing so I found ways to simplify instructions ... There are a lot of things that can make it easier for the home cook and the professional when looking at the classics."
Q: What makes French cuisine so special?
A: "When you look at the classics the flavors that are delivered are the end result of a variety of techniques, use of ingredients, cooking methods. There is a tremendous range that one has when you've learned the techniques that go into French cooking.
"I think it is also an approach, looking at the ingredient ... There is a thought process that goes into it, together with the techniques that gives you the ability to use your imagination, use your artistic feel, use your palette to prepare food for others.
Q: You have an interesting background and an economics degree. How did you shift from economics to become a culinary expert and teacher?
A: "Cooking was a hobby and later cooking became more important to me than the import work I was doing. I eventually went to Europe, found Cordon Blue and I studied there. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I changed my view from wanting a restaurant to wanting to teach and the school gave me an opportunity to teach for them ...
"That spawned a 15-year career of teaching around the country and truthfully I thought I would never be happier than being a teacher when you could demonstrate carrots one day and the next day a woman would come in and say, 'My children ate carrots for the first time and loved them. I was having difficulty getting them to eat carrots. I thank you so much.'"
Q: As someone so familiar with French cuisine, do you have any favorite recipes?
A: "Pork Roast with Prunes for me is a fabulous recipe ... It comes from a classic country preparation of pork and prunes which is a saute, like a Coq au Vin. I was trying to rethink it, be more elegant, so I roast the pork and make a sauce with the prunes and red wine."
Q: What advice do you have for people trying to cook some of these classic French recipes for the first time?
A: "Generally I tell people to read through the book and when they come across a recipe that sounds easy and good, it will be. If it sounds a little difficult, skip over it. As you cook through the book your techniques will build, experience will build. Come back in six months to that recipe that sounded difficult and it won't sound difficult anymore."
Poires Au Porto - Pears Poached in Port Wine (serves 6)
6 pears, preferably Comice or Bosc, peeled
3 cups dry red wine
1 1/2 cups port
1/2 cup minus 2 teaspoons (100g) sugar
Peeled zest and juice of 1 orange
Peeled zest and juice of 1 small lemon
1. Place the pears upright in a deep pan just large enough to hold them. Add all of the other ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the pears are tender, 15 to 20 minutes for unripened pears and 5 to 10 minutes for ripened, ready-to-eat pears. Allow the pears to cool in the poaching liquid.
2. Place the pears in a serving bowl and strain the liquid over them. Refrigerate for 2 hours or more. (This can be done a day or two in advance.)
3. Serve 1 pear per person in a bowl or on a plate with some of the poaching liquid.