According to culinary lore, each fold in a chef's toque -- there are supposed to be 100 of them -- represents a different way to prepare an egg. And in case you're curious about what those preparations are, look no further than the newest edition of George Auguste Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire, a book was about as revolutionary for its time as Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking was in 1984. As chef Heston Blumenthal writes in the introduction, "As well as creating new dishes...he also revised and reinterpreted the entire canon of haute cuisine, getting rid of finicky garnishes, heavy sauces and over-elaborate presentation."
The book is equal parts culinary textbook, recipe overview, and historical curiosity. In many ways, this is the opposite of most modern cookbooks. The recipes are brief -- no step-by-step walkthroughs or list of ingredients, only terse instructions ("Prepare and shallow poach the sole in a buttered dish with 1/4 cup white wine and the same amount of fish stock"), and there are no glamour shots of, say, Escoffier indulging in a pot de creme a la Nigella Lawson. But there are lengthy discussions of method and preparation, and about the basics (sauces, garnishes, and so on). And in case you were wondering, according to Escoffier there are 256 ways to prepare eggs -- which would make for one wrinkly chef's hat.
It's no surprise, then, that this book has a foreword from two important names in professional chef-dom right now: Heston Blumenthal, chef of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck, and Dr. Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary Institute of America. But for civilians like me who won't be working on a chef brigade (which Escoffier invented, by the way!), this book is still a gold mine of inspiration: 5012 individual entries, sections on everything from hors d'oeuvres to libations, and even a few sample menus in the back in case you just can't figure out what to serve at your next big gathering, from melon balls and tomato soup all the way to the six dessert courses (yes, please!). For a hundred-year-old book to still remain a definitive standard in its field -- as another well-known culinary personality would say, it's a good thing.