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Read All About It : From once-obscure Asian cuisines to classic French to the lastest grain craze, the variety of cookbooks available for gift giving swells as Christmas approaches. To help cull the best from the rest, The Times' Food Staff has reviewed the year's most intriguing cookbooks. : Jean-Louis: Cooking With the Seasons by Jean-Louis Palladin, photographed by Fred J. Maroon (Thomasson-Grant: $49.95, 222 pages, illustrated).

December 17, 1989|BARBARA HANSEN

Recently, I saw two people huddled over Jean-Louis Palladin's book. They were not cooks but photographers admiring the work of Fred J. Maroon, who photographed Palladin's dishes as if they were works of art or architecture.

Palladin is the highly regarded chef of Jean-Louis at Watergate in Washington. There is no quarreling with the caliber of his work, but in this book, the challenges that faced Maroon are almost more interesting. Instead of plates and platters, the food was often placed on acrylic surfaces. And once arranged, it could not be shifted to a more pleasing angle because a highly visible grease spot would be left behind. Furthermore, the acrylic surfaces attracted dust. So the cookbook is witness to Maroon's technical triumphs as well as Palladin's talent.

A native of Gascony in Southwest France, Palladin grew up cooking with the seasons and has maintained that tradition in this book. The format consists of menus divided according to season and recipes grouped in the back. The menus are elaborate. One for winter includes three meat dishes--roasted partridge, salmis of mulard duck and hare a la royale. And individual dishes are complex. The soup course for this menu is consomme of honey mushrooms with roasted breast of wood pigeon, poultry liver flan, breast of wood pigeon and black truffle quenelles and cabbage leaves stuffed with wood pigeon and honey mushrooms. That is more than most home cooks would be willing or able to tackle. And that gives rise to the conclusion that this is a book for admiration, not cooking. Closer evaluation indicates that facets of these multi-part dishes can be extracted and prepared without difficulty. The poultry liver flan that is part of the soup, for example, is perfectly feasible to make, substituting more easily obtainable poultry livers for those of the wood pigeon.

What might make one hesitate to take this book to the kitchen is its size--large pages are required to show off the photographs--not to mention its grandeur, which does not lend itself to humble cooking stains.

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