Alaine Ducasse’s new book brings sexy to healthy recipes

Simple Nature: 100 New Recipes for Fresh, Healthy Dishes, by Alain Ducasse

Read this cookbook: “Simple Nature: 150 New Recipes for Fresh Healthy Dishes” By Alaine Ducasse with Christophe Saintagne and Paule Neyrat (Rizzoli, $45)

By Wendell Brock

Alaine Ducasse is not just a chef. He’s an empire. More than two dozen restaurants, a cooking school and a pair of Provencal inns all bear his name.

He’s also a restaurant designer and the author of beaucoup cookbooks, including the “Nature Collection” with titles focused on desserts, cooking with kids and healthy eating.

Now the much-decorated French-born chef with multiple Michelin stars joins the chorus for natural, responsible and waste-conscious cooking.

Here are a few thoughts I had as I perused Ducasse’s latest:

  1. These are not necessarily easy recipes! Many of them are chef-y, exotic and require a bit of technique. (Quick, let me retire to the kitchen and whip up Gnocchi With Seaweed, Bottarga and Salmon Roe.)
  2. Many of these dishes are indeed easy and fuss free! Marinated turnips are simply dressed in vinaigrette and chilled. Young leeks are braised in beer and tossed with ham and croutons. A salad of quinoa, avocado and orange takes 20 minutes.
  3. Occasionally, Ducasse suggests a method (rotisserie pineapple), flavor combination (eggplant and chocolate) or idea that is borderline revolutionary (sorrel sorbet).

I love how some recipes are labeled “all-in-one dish” and others “day-after dish.” That’s short hand for one-pot meals and recipes that use leftovers (like chicken or beef) to create something new.

I don’t always love the way measurements try so hard to be all-inclusive. It can strain the eye to read grams, ounces and cups in a single one-line pileup.

And being a gardener with more herbs than I can use, I’m wild about Ducasse’s recipes for mint, cilantro and sorrel condiments. They’d be great for dolloping on roasted meats, tacos, crudités.

Ducasse provides plenty of inspiration for using vegetables in dishes normally meat-centric dishes: beet tartare, grilled-vegetable terrine, even a croque-madame made with summer veggies.

That said, I’ll skip the veal tartare with white peaches and green beans. But corn pancakes with salmon roe, dill and mache? It’s so pretty it almost makes me weep.

Forgive me if I trot out adjectives normally reserved for reviews of novels and plays. But “Simple Nature” is “deeply affecting,” “at once sublime and ridiculous,” and “ravishingly beautiful.”

In sum, Alaine Ducasse is the Justine Timberlake of the fresh-food world. He’s bringing sexy back to healthy eating.

Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).

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