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COOKBOOK WATCH

The Best Cook You Never Heard Of

May 17, 2000|RUSS PARSONS

Anne Willan is one of the best cooking teachers around; her La Varenne cooking school in France is legendary. She has had a PBS cooking series and she has published more than a dozen well-regarded books. But still, almost no one in this country seems to know who she is.

That is a shame and yet, leafing through her newest book, "From My Cha^teau Kitchen" (Clarkson Potter, $45), it is difficult to work up too much sympathy. After all, if one must labor in semi-obscurity (or, more accurately, less-than-celebrity), one could certainly find worse places to do it than the Cha^teau du Fey. That's the 17th century Burgundian pile Willan and her husband, Mark Cherniavsky, share with her cooking school, and it is the subject of this long, loving look.

It seems we've been here before. The book is one of those lavishly photographed (by Langdon Clay) odes to la France profonde that were staples of the cookbook industry until we discovered Tuscany. Both the food and the house seem forever bathed in a kind of golden light. The recipes seem familiar too. Most could be described as refined hearty: rich, satisfying cooking raised to an extremely high level.

In some ways, of course, we have been here before. Last year's excellent "The Cook and the Gardener" by former La Varenne student Amanda Hesser centered on her relationship with M. Milbert, the Cha^teau's crusty old gardener. This time we're seeing things from a different angle. But it looks just as appealing.

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