With Jeffrey Cerciello

With Susie Heller

By Thomas Keller

Photographs by Deborah Jones

With Michael Ruhlman

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James Beard Award Winner

IACP Award Winner

Thomas Keller, chef/proprieter of Napa Valley's French Laundry, is passionate about bistro cooking. He believes fervently that the real art of cooking lies in elevating to excellence the simplest ingredients; that bistro cooking embodies at once a culinary ethos of generosity, economy, and simplicity; that the techniques at its foundation are profound, and the recipes at its heart have a powerful ability to nourish and please.

So enamored is he of this older, more casual type of cooking that he opened the restaurant Bouchon, right next door to the French Laundry, so he could satisfy a craving for a perfectly made quiche, or a gratinéed onion soup, or a simple but irresistible roasted chicken. Now Bouchon, the cookbook, embodies this cuisine in all its sublime simplicity.

But let's begin at the real beginning. For Keller, great cooking is all about the virtue of process and attention to detail. Even in the humblest dish, the extra thought is evident, which is why this food tastes so amazing: The onions for the onion soup are caramelized for five hours; lamb cheeks are used for the navarin; basic but essential refinements every step of the way make for the cleanest flavors, the brightest vegetables, the perfect balance—whether of fat to acid for a vinaigrette, of egg to liquid for a custard, of salt to meat for a duck confit.

Because versatility as a cook is achieved through learning foundations, Keller and Bouchon executive chef Jeff Cerciello illuminate all the key points of technique along the way: how a two-inch ring makes for a perfect quiche; how to recognize the right hazelnut brown for a brown butter sauce; how far to caramelize sugar for different uses.

But learning and refinement aside—oh those recipes! Steamed mussels with saffron, bourride, trout grenobloise with its parsley, lemon, and croutons; steak frites, beef bourguignon, chicken in the pot—all exquisitely crafted. And those immortal desserts: the tarte Tatin, the chocolate mousse, the lemon tart, the profiteroles with chocolate sauce. In Bouchon, you get to experience them in impeccably realized form.

This is a book to cherish, with its alluring mix of recipes and the author's knowledge, warmth, and wit: "I find this a hopeful time for the pig," says Keller about our yearning for the flavor that has been bred out of pork. So let your imagination transport you back to the burnished warmth of an old-fashioned French bistro, pull up a stool to the zinc bar or slide into a banquette, and treat yourself to truly great preparations that have not just withstood the vagaries of fashion, but have improved with time. Welcome to Bouchon.


I used to joke that I opened Bouchon, styled after the bistros of Paris, so that I’d have a place to eat after cooking all night at the French Laundry. The truth of it is that bistro cooking is my favorite food to eat. Roast chicken and a salad of fresh lettuces with a simple vinaigrette. Frisée salad with crisp, chewy lardons and a poached egg. A dense steak with lemon-herb butter and frites. Ask chefs what their notion of a perfect meal is and nine out of ten will name dishes such as these. These preparations, almost universally appealing, represent what’s true and durable in the expanding field of the culinary arts, and are forever satisfying to eat.

I love foie gras. One of my most favorite things to eat is white truffle. To poach a lobster tail in butter or to place a crisp-skinned rouget against the vivid green of a parsley coulis is galvanizing to me as a craftsman and cook. But in the daily routine of my life, I enjoy a perfectly cooked quiche with bacon and leeks every bit as much. I am thrilled when an onion soup, with the perfect proportions of broth to onions to crouton to cheese that’s molten beneath a golden crust, is set before me. The sight and aroma of a perfectly roasted chicken never fail to excite me.

Why is it that we are drawn to bistro food throughout our lives? What qualities make it excellent rather than good? What are the critical techniques in the kitchen that elevate these seemingly “ordinary” dishes? Why do we keep coming back to that bowl of mussels steamed with wine, garlic, and thyme, or to that lemon tart? And more, what is their impact over time as we eat them again and again? In sum, why is bistro cooking one of the most important kinds of cooking, and what’s the source of its power? These are the questions I sought to understand when I opened Bouchon, and the ones we explore in this book.

Whereas The French Laundry Cookbook is about using the ideas and techniques of classic cuisine as a springboard for the imagination to create new dishes, Bouchon is about maintaining classic traditions, renewing our respect for those great dishes, holding them up to the light to understand them, in order to perfect them. To that end, the recipes detail the important qualities to strive for in each dish—whether it’s the ratio of ingredients in onion soup, the size you cut your lardons for a beef bourguignon, the texture of a crème caramel—and the techniques you’ll need to achieve them.

The recipes in this book fall into a category of food served at what we think of as a bistro, a type of restaurant with origins in nineteenth-century Paris that has become all but universal. Yet in a way, the bistro and its food have become victims of success. The word bistro is used so pervasively in so many different ways that it’s in danger of losing its meaning altogether. Indeed, I use the name Bouchon, which is a similar type of restaurant that continues to flourish in Lyon, France, because in America, bistro doesn’t really mean anything more specific than “casual.”

Bistro dishes have become somewhat debased as well by overuse and lack of understanding. The quiche, for instance, never had a chance in America because we were told to make a quiche in a pie shell. You can’t make a proper quiche in a pie shell; it needs a deep tart crust. Bistro food is not about specialized ingredients, rather it is about precision of technique brought to bear on ordinary ingredients. It’s easy to make foie gras and truffles taste good. But how do you combine lettuce, salt, vinegar, and oil in a way that is elegant and exquisite? Indeed, the very fact that these dishes have fewer main ingredients, typically common inexpensive ingredients—chicken and salt, let’s say—only raises the bar.

And this in a way renders moot the question why write a bouchon cookbook now, rather than further exploring cutting-edge haute cuisine. I don’t distinguish between the two in terms of quality. The success of any kind of cooking is determined by technique, and its ultimate quality is determined by the standards you bring to the execution of that technique. The standards for bistro cooking are no different from the standards of the French Laundry, though the ingredients and presentation are different.

My love of this food didn’t begin in France, where I spent a year in starred kitchens, or, for that matter, in Manhattan, where I ate at my first bistro. I really connected with this kind of cooking at a place called La Rive outside Catskill, New York, in the Hudson Valley, where I worked for several years in my early twenties before I ever set foot in France. There René Macary, who owned it with his wife, Paulette, served traditional French comfort food in a country setting.

All kinds of hors d’oeuvres were set out across a vast table in the dining room—beets, radishes with butter, céleri rémoulade, lentil salad, cornichons, pâtés, and bread, ready to be brought straight to the table. On the piano, all the desserts—the custards and chocolate mousse and tarts—were also on view, waiting to be served. This was my first experience not so much with French cooking but rather with the ethics and aesthetics of the French way with food. One of my great memories is of watching René make a salad. He would salt it, then put on the oil, to coat the lettuce and protect it from the acid, and then he would add the acid. He would never combine the two then pour them on; vinegar was the seasoning element. What made watching him exciting was the anticipated joy of eating that salad, the richness of the oil, the sparks of vinegar that would come through.

I’d been taught the basics of this kind of cookery at a big club in Rhode Island under a Frenchman named Roland Henin. There I learned how to turn inexpensive cuts into elegant stews and how to properly cook vegetables. But my three years in upstate New York marked a time when I was learning on my own and cooking by myself, in what was really a kind of idyll in my career. I learned how to let time and cooking work their natural manipulations, to let the food be what it is. I was very happy there and I associate this food with happy times.

And that, ultimately, is what makes us cherish and revere French comfort food—our emotional connection to it, the feeling we get when we see a perfectly roasted chicken or a beautiful steak and a pile of frites or a dozen perfect oysters waiting to be shared. This kind of food makes us feel good just looking at it. This food makes people happy.


One 2- to 3-pound farm-raised chicken

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)

Unsalted butter

Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.

Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird. Trussing is not difficult (see Roast Chicken—Poulet Rôti for an especially easy method), and if you roast chicken often, it’s a good technique to feel comfortable with. When you truss a bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly, and it also makes for a more beautiful roasted bird.

Now, salt the chicken—I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon). When it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.

Place the chicken in a sauté pan or roasting pan and, when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven. I leave it alone—I don’t baste it, I don’t add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don’t want. Roast it until it’s done, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove it from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Remove the twine. Separate the middle wing joint and eat that immediately. Remove the legs and thighs. I like to take off the backbone and eat one of the oysters, the two succulent morsels of meat embedded here, and give the other to the person I’m cooking with. But I take the chicken butt for myself. I could never understand why my brothers always fought over that triangular tip—until one day I got the crispy, juicy fat myself. These are the cook’s rewards. Cut the breast down the middle and serve it on the bone, with one wing joint still attached to each. The preparation is not meant to be superelegant. Slather the meat with fresh butter. Serve with mustard on the side and, if you wish, a simple green salad. You’ll start using a knife and fork, but finish with your fingers, because it’s so good.


Jeffrey Cerciello, chef at Bouchon, is an elemental part of this book. He and his staff cook this food seven days a week. He executed every one of these recipes with Susie Heller to ensure they translated to the home kitchen without compromising any of the intricacies that make them work so well in the restaurant. Jeff’s and Susie’s experience and intelligence infuse every page of this book. Here they are in their own words.

JEFFREY CERCIELLO: In 1994, on the advice of a friend, I spent a day off from my first post-culinary-school job at a new restaurant in the Napa Valley called the French Laundry. I knew already that it was a tiny kitchen doing interesting food, but after a single night there it was obvious: This was not like any kitchen I’d known. The environment was so clean, the vocabularies of the cooks so precise, and the food was perfect. For the first time, it seemed, I saw people really cooking. To be a young cook and land there was lucky.

Having worked previously with Ferran Adria at El Bulli, and then with Thomas Keller, two of the world’s most forward-thinking chefs, ironically, I find myself responsible for a kitchen that is retrograde by design.

While these two directions may seem diametrically opposed, in fact there’s a perfect symmetry to my course. Neither I nor Thomas thinks of the food I do at Bouchon as being different in any fundamental way from the food of the French Laundry or Per Se, because all of our food relies foremost on close attention to basic techniques and excellent products.

At the French Laundry, Thomas taught me how to work with raw ingredients and how to put those ingredients together on a plate. At the French Laundry, the creativity of coming up with new dishes on a daily basis was a way of life. At Bouchon, creativity runs in the opposite direction, though with equal energy: We take ideas and combinations of ingredients that have been around for decades, even centuries, and try to make them better, not so much to rediscover or reinterpret them, but rather to understand what makes them such a durable part of a great culinary tradition.

The French Laundry is all about inspiration, interpretation, and evolution. Bouchon is all about exploring traditional bistro cooking in order to perfect it. These dishes are made and served in home kitchens and restaurants throughout the world, so what distinguishes one onion soup from another, one lemon tart from another, is not a recipe so much as a standard of technique. What is a perfect beef bourguignon, for instance, and how do I achieve that? Such beef stews are often gelatinous; the flavors can be muted. Therefore, some of the critical techniques in making a great beef stew are straining the sauce and finishing it with enough acid to make it bright and exciting. We take as much care at Bouchon to make a sauce clean for a beef stew as the French Laundry does for its braised short rib. The finished dish, the quantity, and presentation are different. The standard is the same.

My biggest challenge as chef at Bouchon, and one of my greatest sources of pleasure, is maintaining those standards perpetuated by the French Laundry. The dishes in this book are a broad representation of that work.

SUSIE HELLER: To record the recipes for the dishes served throughout the year at Bouchon, Thomas Keller and Jeff Cerciello came into my home kitchen and, with infinite care, prepared every dish in this book while I weighed and measured ingredients, kept track of cooking times, noted methods and techniques, all the while patiently answering my questions. It was not always easy for them. At the restaurant, they use professional equipment to cook individual orders as they are taken, measuring by sight, cooking intuitively, reacting to the sight, sound, smell, and taste of a dish. In my kitchen, they cooked four portions at once, using equipment available to a home cook, working diligently, never diminishing the integrity of the food.

Watching the two of them is a testament to how proper technique separates the good and the great; I have witnessed how small steps make big differences. Ladling stock from a stockpot rather than dumping it into the strainer results in a clearer stock, therefore a cleaner sauce. When braising, separating the meat from the aromatics with large pieces of cheesecloth is a technique I always use now: The meat absorbs all the flavor of the aromatics but is kept clean; it doesn’t get coated with vegetable fragments.

I have learned so many preparations that I now rely on and use with seasonal variations. The quiche, lighter than air—the careful blending of the batter puts it on a level of its own. Parisian-style gnocchi are always in my freezer for unexpected guests (and they are perfect for vegetarians). Sautéing them at the last minute adds a crisp outer layer that I love. I most often serve them with the brown butter sauce, but in summer I toss them with a bit of vinaigrette. I love to make the gratins, and I know the secret of my favorite, the cauliflower gratin: The florets are in a sauce made of cream and cauliflower puree. And I am never without garlic confit, tomato confit, tapenade, or marinated olives. All of these staples are simple to prepare, and it is amazing how many dishes they enhance.

Versatility is part of what defines this food as bistro cooking—food intended for everyday cooking and eating, satisfying a range of appetites. Too, the recipes can most often be partially or fully prepared in advance, with little work left to the last minute. Furthermore, many of the recipes can be used in a variety of ways. A roast served one night can become a tartine, or open-faced sandwich, for lunch the next day. Onion soup makes a first course, lunch, or late-night snack. A pain perdu is delicious for brunch or dessert.

The techniques and tips you learn throughout the book are lessons that can be applied to other recipes in your repertoire. Most important is to enjoy the process of cooking. This is not food that should be rushed. Use high-quality ingredients and don’t compromise. If you take pleasure in cooking it, the final dish will be more rewarding.

Most ingredients used in these recipes—for example, garlic sausage, boneless short ribs, and high-quality canned snails—can be easily purchased. Take advantage of the Sources to find purveyors who can help make your meals exceptional. And if you have good relationships with your fishmonger and butcher, these experts can help you find the right cuts as well as do much of the work for you.

Last, learn the varying sounds and smells of food as it cooks. Pay attention to the way a piece of lamb or sole feels as it cooks. Don’t rely just on your eyesight.

To me, the glory of these recipes is that they have withstood time and the vagaries of fashion and become classics. They are an invitation to sit down with friends, open a bottle of wine, tear into a crusty baguette, and share not only the wonderful food but a piece of history and a way of life.




I wonder if I love the communal act of eating so much because throughout my childhood, with four older brothers and a mom who worked in the restaurant business, I spent a lot of time fending for myself, eating alone—and recognizing how eating together made all the difference.

If there’s a single underlying thread that explains my love of the dishes in this chapter, it’s that they’re communal: They are meant to be shared, and the best meals are the ones you eat with the people you care about.

If bistro cooking embodies a culinary ethos of generosity, economy, simplicity, and excellence, it may be that these first-impression dishes best exemplify it.

From a chef’s point of view, this is food that’s easily prepared and can be made in big batches from inexpensive ingredients. And that, for me, is part of their excitement—that something so easy and economical can produce such pleasure.

Marinated Olives.



Big terrines filled with pâtés; lentils with shaved onion, a little vinaigrette, and parsley; beets roasted in the oven, peeled, sliced, salted, and then drizzled with some vinaigrette; a traditional céleri rémoulade; and radishes with sweet butter—some of my best memories from La Rive are of the hors d’oeuvres we’d prepare. They embodied the generosity of the place, the spirit of sharing, which truly defined the restaurant.

As you entered the dining room, you’d see a table first, packed with platters and bowls of salads and vegetables and dry-cured ham and sausages, as if to say, “This is for you, have as much as you want, and return for more.” It was wonderful to behold the bounty of that table.

Bistro food, especially bistro hors d’oeuvres, is not about lengthy, intricate preparation. Most likely a bistro owner buys his dried sausages and hams from a charcuterie. He doesn’t have the space to grind, stuff, and hang a variety of sausages, or the time, especially given that the charcutier, or pork butcher, down the street probably sells excellent products. The saucisson and jambon are quickly sliced and served to guests. Many items are simply brought to the table as a matter of course, with little strain on the kitchen, such as olives and cornichons, with the tart, salty taste that whets the appetite and complements the charcuterie that begins a meal.

A lot of these dishes are not only relatively easy to make in large batches, they’re best made in large batches, because they get better with time. A salad of lentils or chickpeas or celeriac made in the morning will only improve throughout the day. Potted foods often don’t need to be refrigerated if they’re made with such preservation in mind. That they’re ready to serve at a moment’s notice is key to a bistro and an advantage to the home kitchen as well.

The foods here represent, perhaps more than any other recipes in the book, the quintessential nature of bistro fare: easy food that is perfect for sharing.


1 orange

1 lemon

One 6-inch rosemary sprig

2 to 3 thyme sprigs

2 oregano sprigs

1 pound (about 2½ cups) mixed olives—about ½ cup each Picholine, Luc, Niçoise, Moroccan oil-cured olives, or other varieties

1 bay leaf

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

12 cloves Garlic Confit

I am fond of many olives, but the Niçoise is my favorite. I love its shape, its size, its deep black color, and its element of sweetness. We blanch Niçoise—as well as Picholine and Luc—olives first so that they can absorb the marinade. Soft oil-cured olives such as Nyons and Moroccan don’t need to be blanched; they’d become mushy. Our marination includes garlic confit, which in turn absorbs the flavor of the olives.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest from half the orange and lemon in long strips. Trim off any white pith. Bang the underside of the zest with the back of a knife to release the oils. Lightly crush the sprigs of rosemary, thyme, and oregano with the back of the knife to release their oils. Pull off and discard any olive stems.

Put the zest, herbs, softer olives, bay leaf, olive oil, and garlic confit in a bowl.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Put the firmer olives in a strainer that will fit into the pan of water, drop the strainer into the boiling water, and boil for 1 minute. Lift out the strainer and drain the olives well, then add them to the bowl. Toss to combine.

Cover the olives and allow them to marinate at room temperature for at least 2 hours to combine the flavors. (The marinated olives can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks.)




1½ pounds (3 to 4 large) red beets

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

About 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

½ red onion, peeled

1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

1 tablespoon minced chives

Beets are about the best vegetable in the world, hot or cold, even as healthy as they are, loaded with iron and vitamins. Roasted, just out of the oven with some salt, a beet gives you ten times the pleasure of a baked potato.

This salad couldn’t be simpler: Beets are roasted, sliced, and served with a vinaigrette and fresh herbs. We use fresh-squeezed orange juice for part of the acid component because we want a light citrus flavor, and orange goes well with beets. Make this at least a couple of hours before serving to allow the flavors to develop. Some red onion tossed in with chives and tarragon shortly before serving adds texture, flavor, and visual appeal, but beets with just a little vinaigrette drizzled on top, nothing else, are great too.

Buy beets with their tops still attached, an indication of their freshness. And be patient when roasting them—they should be cooked until tender all the way through.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Wash the beets and trim the stems, leaving about ¼ inch attached. Place them on a large piece of aluminum foil and toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil, 2 tablespoons water, ½ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper.

Lift up the edges of the foil and squeeze together to form a packet. Place in a small baking pan and roast for about 1½ hours, or until the beets are tender, offering no resistance when pierced with a knife. Carefully unwrap the beets and let stand just until cool enough to handle.

Rub each beet with a paper towel to remove the skin. Cut off and discard the stems. Cut the beets into quarters, then cut the quarters crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices and place in a bowl. Season with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add red wine vinegar, orange juice, and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Toss and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Let the beets marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to a day, in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before finishing the salad.

About 30 minutes before serving, cut three or four ⅛-inch-thick slices crosswise from the onion and separate the slices (reserve the remaining onion for another use). Toss the beets with the onion, tarragon, and chives.

Just before serving, check the seasonings and add additional salt, pepper, and/or vinegar to taste.





½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup crème fraîche

2 tablespoons minced cornichons

2 tablespoons minced drained nonpareil capers, preferably Spanish

2¼ teaspoons Dijon mustard

About 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 teaspoons minced Italian parsley

2 teaspoons minced tarragon

2 teaspoons minced chervil

2 teaspoons minced chives

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound (1 large) celeriac (celery root)

Fresh lemon juice (optional)

Céleri rémoulade


  • "It may be the best cookbook ever about bistros and bistro food."
    —The New York Times

On Sale
Nov 15, 2004
Page Count
360 pages

Thomas Keller

Thomas Keller

About the Author

Thomas Keller is the author of The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, Under Pressure, Ad Hoc at Home, and Bouchon Bakery. He is the first and only American chef to have two Michelin Guide three-star-rated restaurants, The French Laundry and per se, both of which continue to rank among the best restaurants in America and the world. In 2011 he was designated a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, the first American male chef to be so honored. In 2017, as part of the Ment’or Foundation—established with chefs Jérôme Bocuse and Daniel Boulud—Keller led Team USA to win gold at the Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon, France, for the first time ever.

Learn more about this author