To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this next title. The cover reads “easy recipes and kitchen hacks for rookies,” which to me, can mean one of two things: either the book is a bunch of common kitchen knowledge and bland recipes, or it is a treasure trove of kitchen tips to create quick, tasty, meals for the whole family.
Well, let’s just say I should know better than to judge a book by its cover, but I did, and I’m disclosing my misstep because this book is literally a hidden gem I think everyone should have in their kitchen.
The cover isn’t flashy, and if you don’t know the author from elsewhere on the internet, he probably just looks like a sweet, goofy guy eating noodles with chopsticks. Which, sure, he’s that…but he’s also a brilliantly innovative, self-taught chef who makes one of the most difficult cuisines in the world (looking at you, France), accessible and fool-proof.
“Just a French Guy Cooking: Easy Recipes and Kitchen Hacks for Rookies” is Youtube chef, Alexis (Alex) Gabriel Ainouz’s first foray into cookbooks and if I could describe it in one sentence, it would be: “this does not disappoint.” The self-confessed “food geek” not only loves to try new things in the kitchen, but also enjoys exploring the science behind it.
The forward is written by acclaimed chef and restauranteur, Jamie Oliver, who applauds Alex for making food “fantastically fun…simple but delicious, and always delivered in his brilliantly quirky way.” The recipes are written in a way that you feel like Alex is there alongside you, reading off the ingredients and giving you helpful suggestions along the way. It’s not one of those cookbooks with a list of ingredients and rote instructions that leave you feeling unsure if you’re doing this whole “cooking” thing right.
I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles young adults face today: when it comes to cooking, it’s not fun. You’ve got these cumbersome recipes, you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out, and even with food delivery boxes like Plated and HelloFresh, the effort may not be worth the convenience (and added expense) of takeout or frozen pizza.
Well, after reading this book cover to cover and trying a smattering of recipes throughout it (I did everything from simple eggs and toast, to a pasta, and even a dessert), I don’t feel the same apprehension I previously did about cooking.
Yeah, sure, I do lots of recipe tests on the blog, but this is one of the first cookbooks I’ve gone through where I actually feel like, “wow, I just made gnocci and it didn’t taste like playdough.” This book makes you feel empowered to get in the kitchen and whip things up; and if you need some extra encouragement, Alex has SO many videos on his channel, you’re bound to find something that intrigues you enough to press play and cook along with him.
If you’re partial to traditional recipes, you may not like some of the shortcuts Alex uses (e.g. using pre-made dough for a dessert, or swapping ingredients that simplify the cooking process). But if you’re like me, someone who is always short on time when I get home from work, I want to make dinner and would rather opt for something homemade instead of frozen or takeout, but with what time…then I would highly recommend giving this book a read (or gifting it to a friend who could use a little encouragement in the kitchen).
The book’s organization is very clean and easy to navigate. The table of contents highlights different “hacks” found throughout the book, like: “12 dried spices that will make you a chef,” “6 magical microwave winners…& 1 epic failure,” and “a crash course in making a Neapolitan pizza,” among many others.
There are ten chapters in total, starting with eggs and finishing with desserts. I hadn’t watched Alex’s YouTube channel prior to reading this book, but as I worked through some of his recipes, I popped over to his channel and was really impressed with how seamlessly his book’s writing reflects his same quirky humor and love of food that he has in his videos. I mean, this shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, but I have seen some chefs translate better on one medium over another, but that’s not the case here.
Being the pessimist that I am, I approached each recipe with doubt that his hacks would actually turn out better than the traditional approach to whatever I was cooking. French food is known for its intricate, oftentimes laborious, steps; but these dishes are the complete opposite. I tried five recipes in total, and each time I was blown away.
YOU’VE-BEEN-DOING-IT-ALL-WRONG SCRAMBLED EGGS (p. 13)
I know what you’re thinking, “why try scrambled eggs, they’re all the same.” Well, you’d be correct if you also live by the motto, “judge a book by its cover.” This is precisely why I tried this recipe – it looked too good to be true. Well, again, I was wrong and these eggs are fantastic. Not only are they dairy-free (which is great if you have an intolerance or allergy), but they were some of the creamiest, most delicious eggs I’ve ever made; a close contender would be the way Gordon Ramsey makes his eggs, but those use milk, and for someone who’s lactose-intolerant like myself, Alex’s recipe wins by a long shot.
The ingredients are super simple: eggs, butter, salt, and pepper. Alex includes options for dressing the eggs, like salmon roe, butter, and chives…but the key to this recipe is essentially making your own double boiler. You’ll have to read the recipe to see exactly how he does it, but I’ll leave you with this: I made some for my mom and she was in complete disbelief that I didn’t use heavy cream and/or milk…they’re that creamy!
AN OPEN-MINDED SOUPE AU PISTOU (p. 25)
This is a French version of a classic minestrone soup. Hearty, full of vegetables, but instead of a tomato base like a traditional minestrone soup, this one can be done with either vegetable stock or water (so it’s vegetarian/vegan friendly!). I really like the fact that this dish didn’t leave the vegetables mushy like most vegetable soups; Alex’s “hack” for this is to not stir the vegetables, just let them simmer until cooked, and then to add seasoning at the very end before you serve it.
Overall it’s a super easy dish to make and great for upcoming holiday parties if you’re looking to serve a large party, but don’t want to spend a lot of time or money on just one thing.
TWO TARTINES: NYC vs PARIS (p. 56)
This is one of the items from the “snack” section; again, super easy to make with a great flavor profile. The tartine featured in the photo is the “NYC” one – a little like an American “bag and lox.” The Parisian tartine is a bit more unexpected, mixing asparagus spears, ham, and radishes together. Again, this is a very manageable recipe that could be replicated on small toasts for a party appetizer, or made full-sized on toast for breakfast or a snack.
Prior to this recipe, I’d never put cream cheese on toast. I was one of those sticklers that thought it only belonged on bagels, but oh was I wrong. This is another example about how this book encourages you to think outside the box when pairing things together…but if ever I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone and unsure if it’d turn out okay, take a look at the next recipe!
POTATO GNOCCHI WITH BUTTER (p. 86)
If you’ve ever ordered gnocchi at a restaurant, it’s usually an expensive dish because it’s made from scratch and can take a while to prepare. Well, Alex’s recipe is neither expensive nor requires you to make dough from scratch! In fact, the main ingredient is…instant mashed potatoes! Say what? Yes, I was skeptical too that the dried packet of spuds I buy at the grocery store could magically morph into delicate gnocchi, but again, if you’ve read this far, not surprisingly, I was wrong.
I made this dish for my family, and my sister, who is the biggest instant mashed potato lover, told me that (1) it was some of the best gnocchi she’d had outside of Italy, and (2) the gnocchi tasted better than using the packets as they were intended…to make mashed potatoes! If that’s not a brag-worthy recipe, then I don’t know what is.
The recipe also comes with four suggested butter pairings, and in theme with the rest of the book, Alex makes these options taste like five-star dining on a college-student budget. Also, I think it’s worth noting that this recipe took less than twenty minutes from start to finish!
MILLEFEUILLE ON THE CHEAP (p. 157)
This is one of my favorite desserts to order at bougie French bakeries, but when I saw I could make this for waaaay cheaper, I put my skepticism to the test and added it to my list of must-try recipes for this book review. Alex discusses in the book whether or not it’s sacrilegious to French cooking if you use pre-made dough and custard for this recipe. If I’ve learned anything writing all these cookbook reviews, it’s that presentation is important, but taste is the king. If your food doesn’t taste good, no one, including yourself, is going to eat it.
That being said, if you’re pressed for time and don’t have hours to painstakingly make the puff pastry required for this recipe, it’s okay to roll out some pre-made dough so you can still get the recipe done and have a dessert on the table for your family. I’ll have to try my hand again at this recipe solely for the icing design, but I was pleased with my Jackson Pollock-inspired zebra design. This recipe again, like all of the others, was a hit to the people I shared it with…and it didn’t take me hours to prep and assemble it.
All in all, I really like the personality in this cookbook. The recipes that I tried all tasted great, were easy to make, and dishes I’d easily incorporate in my own kitchen. If you’re curious to learn more about Alex and his cooking, check out his YouTube channel here, and since we’re on the topic of food, this is a live video he recorded with comments and all for the gnocchi recipe I tried in this review!
I received this book complimentary on behalf of the publisher, but all thoughts and opinions in this post are my own. All photography featured in this post is my own unless noted otherwise; please seek permission before copying or reproducing the images.
Book Stats: Just a French Guy Cooking by Alexis Gabriel Ainouz
Page Count- 176
Binding- Hardcover with color photography