Picks and Pans Review: The Video Cooking Series: Madeleine Kamman Cooks

updated 03/25/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/25/1985 01:00AM

Volumes 1 and 2

More than most chefs, Madeleine Kamman combines the esoteric with the earthy. Born in Paris 54 years ago, she mastered classic haute cuisine at Cordon Bleu, Julia Child's École des Trois Gourmandes and her own grandaunt's Michelin-starred restaurant in the Loire Valley. She also mastered something most creative types would just as soon ignore—the physics and chemistry of cooking. At the same time she became a champion of cuisine des femmes, the unpretentious, satisfying, time-honored fare that she absorbed from her mother and went on to codify in her third book, When French Women Cook. Impassioned, opinionated, exacting and, as the late James Beard described her, "often peppery," Kamman has trained and inspired students on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now she is on video, a medium that activates her the way sugar activates yeast. Cheerful and motherly in a hairdo that looks like a silver turban, she whisks the viewer along with the swift, Gallic cadences of her surprisingly girlish but confident voice. She reassures everyone right at the start that "We're going to, as they say in the good English language, goof up a little bit. But he who doesn't goof up, doesn't cook up."

The 60-minute Volume 1 begins with a simple Caribbean salad of whole sauteed shrimp with cantaloupe, avocados and an imaginative dressing combining lime juice, rum, mustard and cream. No slave to tradition, she says she prefers blended over hand-made vinaigrettes, because they "have a tendency not to separate." In a later recipe she praises the food processor as the perfect tool for incorporating herbs and liquid essences into compound butters. Kamman also demonstrates the proper way to chop with a chef's knife and crush garlic cloves with the side of the blade—techniques most experienced cooks will already know.

The rest of the first volume is devoted to a more useful lesson in cutting up a duck, from which two tasty dishes, with accompaniments, are prepared.

In Volume 2, which is 90 minutes long, Kamman shows how to remove the sirloin and tenderloin from big half loins of veal and lamb. People who are not serious meat eaters may find this instruction irrelevant, especially since the prize cuts are easily obtained prepackaged at a butcher shop. But the lesson shows that Kamman is not talking down. These are butchering skills any well-trained cook would want to have as a matter of course. She also makes the point that nothing goes to waste—the bones flavor the stock, while meat trimmed from the flap ends is browned to build a base for the sauce. (She warns that adding more than the recommended one carrot and one onion to a stock will make it "too sweet.") In addition to an elementary lesson in roasting, Volume 2 includes a demonstration of pasta-making and a method for coping with custards.

The videocassette turns out to be an apt medium for this type of message. Being able to look and listen repeatedly, sometimes in slow motion and even freeze frame (to examine, say, Kamman's artful arrangement of the shrimp salad), adds to the utility of the lessons, which are aimed at beginning and intermediate cooks. In some places the camerawork could be closer, and once or twice it misses small things, but generally it's fine. Kamman herself bubbles with tips (a pinch of salt will prevent garlic from sticking to the knife while it is being chopped) and never-overbearing explanations of the chemical processes at work under her sure hands.

Kamman's English is excellent, but her word choices can be charmingly off kilter. Of french fries prepared in rendered veal fat, she ventures, "They are absolutely delicious but extremely annoying for your health." A chatty informality leavens her exactitude. "I know it's not quite in the books to use your hands," she confesses while strewing vegetables on pasta. "But it's your hands, it's your food and, you know, what difference does it make?" Negotiations are under way to bring Kamman to PBS sometime this year. She has the ingredients to be TV's next Julia Child. (Baffico/ Breger Video, Inc.: Vol. 1, $39.95; Vol. 2, $49.95)

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