WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.VA. -- At first, it might seem out of the ordinary for someone like Anne Willan, an authority on French cuisine, to do a series of picture books called "Look & Cook." But the founder of the famous La Varenne Cooking School (Ecole de La Varenne) in France knows exactly how people learn to cook: first by watching, then by doing.
When wordy recipes take too much time and TV cooking shows go too fast, how-to pictures in color are the answer for the cook with no time to go to a cooking school.
Whether it's a French bouillabaisse or an Irish stew, there is a correct -- and quicker -- way to chop an onion or peel a spud. And doing it "the right way" is one of Ms. Willan's mottoes.
Each book is a photographic cooking course, tailored for people who want to find their way back into the kitchen. They include step-by-step color pictures of dishes ranging from classic to contemporary. Every piece of equipment, every ingredient, each stage of preparation of each recipe is pictured in color.
With 400 illustrations for 50 recipes, you can figure easily that many steps are pictured. Three cookbooks start off the series: "Chicken Classics," "Perfect Pasta," and "Chocolate Desserts." Publication is set for May (Dorling Kindersley, $19.95).
Three more books in the series will be out in the fall ("Main-Dish Vegetables," "Meat Classics," "Fruit Desserts") and three more the following spring ("Appetizers," "Fish Classics," "Italian Cooking").
Recipes are easy to prepare and call for ingredients readily available in supermarkets. These books will give you clear guidelines of how to do things like slice, julienne and chop an onion.
Having written more than a dozen cookbooks, including the prize-winning "French Regional Cooking," Ms. Willan is no stranger to writing for the home chef or the professional.
But she is best known for establishing the La Varenne school in Paris in 1975, naming it after Francois Pierre de la Varenne, "the most important French chef of the l7th century," Ms. Willan said in an interview on her last teaching day of the six-week program of classes she had been conducting at the Greenbrier resort here.
She addressed more than 80 food writers and talked about one of her trio of cookbooks -- the one devoted solely to chicken.
"Practically every country in the world has a favorite chicken dish," Ms. Willan said. Her selection of recipes for the new series combines traditional cooking styles and ingredients with the wide variety of chicken cuts available.
By following the recipes pictured, the cook learns techniques for each particular recipe and also variations using the same method. For example, following the directions for saute of chicken with paprika, you will learn the basic saute technique for making Szechuan pepper chicken and saute of chicken with flageolet beans and cream sauce.
How-to photographs enlighten the reader as to the correct way to chop herbs, for example, or make chicken stock.
The book also includes hints and little essays that round out the emphasis on learning, such as the author's opinions on using butter and salt and her advice for assuring healthful, wholesome, good-tasting chicken dishes.
Ms. Willan was born in England and moved to the United States in 1965, after graduating from Cambridge University and training at the Cordon Bleu in London and Paris. She became an American citizen, was associate editor of Gourmet magazine in New York and food editor of the Washington Post, and has written more than a dozen cookbooks. She started the La Varenne school when the family moved to Paris in 1975.
Among her enthusiastic sponsors is Julia Child, who says, "Anne Willan is like a window on French cuisine because she's aware of the American student's need to know the state of the art in both classic and contemporary French cooking.
SG "It's so important for students today to learn the basics of French
cooking and to know how to use it in their American kitchens," Ms. Child says.
The Chateau du Fey in Burgundy, which is Ms. Willan's home, is also the location of the La Varenne school, moved from Paris in 1991. Here Ms. Willan directs and teaches cooking courses and advanced professional chef programs during the summer months.
Ms. Willan established La Varenne in Paris to rival the Cordon Bleu school, where cooking demonstrations at that time were taught in French only. La Varenne opened with all instruction by French teachers with English translations, as it is today.
"Students live at the chateau while attending classes so they can immerse themselves in the atmosphere of a 100-acre historic French chateau," Ms. Willan explained. "Classes are taught by talented French chefs and food specialists -- with excursions to markets and shops, a taste of Michelin-starred dining, even hot air ballooning."
Ms. Willan and her husband, Mark Cherniavsky, are always at the chateau, where the students also live.
"I believe firmly that for the total novice, there's absolutely no substitute for learning to cook hands-on and in France with French teachers," Ms. Willan explains. "There's nothing like the smells of the kitchen and the immediacy of pots boiling on the stove and dishes coming out of the oven for a wonderful meal or dinner at our classes in Le Fey.
"Learning from a cookbook is not the same, of course, and that's why we've included enough color pictures that you can look as you are cooking."
As one might say: It's the next best thing to being there.
Chicken with curry
) dressing and saffron rice
Serves four to six.
1 whole cooked chicken, 4 pounds
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup salad oil
1 pound cherry tomatoes
1 to 2 teaspoons paprika
1 small onion
6 tablespoons salad oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 cup tomato juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons apricot jam
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup cottage cheese
salt and pepper to taste
SAFFRON RICE SALAD
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
3 celery stalks
To make the saffron rice, put a large pinch of saffron and a pinch of salt in large saucepan with water. Bring to boil, simmer 2 minutes. Stir rice into water, bring back to boil. Cover; simmer until tender, 15-20 minutes. Stir, taste for seasoning. Set aside.
Make curry dressing by finely chopping onion. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion until soft but not brown, stirring occasionally. Add curry powder. Cook gently 2 minutes. Add tomato juice, vinegar; simmer until reduced by half. Stir in apricot jam. Let mixture cool, then blend in food processor until mixture is smooth, scraping bowl as needed. Add lemon juice, cottage cheese. Blend until smooth. With blades turning, add remaining oil slowly. Taste for seasoning.
To prepare chicken, remove cooked meat. Shred to make 3 cups.
Trim and thinly slice celery. Stir gently into cooled saffron rice with a fork. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Make a vinaigrette dressing: Put lemon juice, salt, and pepper in small bowl; whisk ++ to combine. Add oil in thin stream, whisking constantly so dressing thickens slightly. Pour three-quarters of dressing onto rice; toss gently with 2 forks.
In 2 batches, immerse tomatoes in a colander in boiling water 8 to 10 seconds. Drain and peel. Mix with reserved vinaigrette dressing.
To serve: Toss shredded chicken with half the curry dressing. Pile saffron rice salad in center of platter. Arrange chicken on top. Sprinkle with paprika; add tomatoes. Serve remaining dressing separately.