French lessons from a master to transform your cooking

French Lessons by chef Justin North

By Robyn Lewis
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French Lessons by chef Justin North, Becasse Restaurant, Sydney

French Lessons by chef Justin North, Becasse Restaurant, Sydney [©Becasse 2008]


I find cookbooks inspirational, and am prone to reading them like novels, dreaming about exotic dishes I feel I may never have time to create and places that I am currently unlikely to visit (I have a young child). However, French Lessons  is destined to move out of the pile of dreams and become a much-used kitchen classic.

French Lessons by Becasse chef Justin North is an exception, not because is it lacks inspiration - far from it - but because this is a book primarily devoted to cooking techniques and their application - those which aspiring home cooks secretly wish they had learned years ago, before bad habits set in, like a poor tennis serve or a less-than-perfect golf swing.

Fortunately for us non-professional chefs, where there is a will and perhaps some basic culinary nous, there is a way, and - unlike sporting deficiencies (of which I possess many) - cooking techniques can be learned or updated from excellent recipes put together by someone who knows what he or she is doing, and is prepared to impart their secrets. And if you are going to learn, learn from a master, as Justin North proves himself to be.

French Lessons is a book I wish I had received many years ago, and is destined to become a food-spattered classic of my kitchen, and not a languishing book of culinary dreams. It starts with The Essentials - golden rules, chef's notes, measures and the batterie de cuisine - that is, selecting the right tools for the job, as I have to refrain from telling my husband when he attempts to employ, say, a teaspoon in lieu of a ladle, or a paring knife when a cleaver is called for. (As painful to watch as someone putting with a 9 iron).

Twenty-four chapters of lessons follow, from the next most basic: "taste what you are cooking" - and what makes up tastes and flavours; through the full repertoire of stocks, sauces and soups, and thence to the main cooking techniques. Steaming, fricaseeing, braising, grilling and roasting, applied to everything from clams to duck, chicken to venison - there is something here for every level of culinary aspiration. Not only will your prowess increase, so will your adventuring into the world of modern cuisine and techniques, as Justin moves onto desserts, preserves, chocolate, pastry and finally to cheese. There are even menu suggestions from barbecues and picnics to dinners for two and a full degustation.

As befits the style of the publisher, Hardie Grant, French Lessons is well-seasoned with sumptuous photographs and is laid out in a modern, easy to read style. Look no further for a wedding gift, for a culinary-minded bride OR groom.

It is no coincidence that this beautiful yet practical book now resides pride of place next to my well-thumbed copy of Raymond Blanc's Cooking for Friends, source of many a dinner-party triumph in the days before my daughter was born. She is now four and I long to wean her - and indeed ourselves - from nursery teas and back to more complex cuisine to match our wines and tastes (perhaps I'll start her on lemongrass jelly). I'll also be leaving French Lessons strategically beside my husband's plate.


French Lessons by Justin North is published by Hardie Grant  Publishing (Melbourne, 2007; hb) and retails for A$59.95. Subscribers of and Winepros Archive can click here to purchase French Lessons from our book partners Seekbooks at a discount of 12.5% (postage extra).


  • Sydney (NSW)

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June 04th, 2008
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