I may love to cook, but I admit it—I'm quite sloppy. I've never worked in a restaurant kitchen, never gone to culinary school, never even taken a cooking class. In short, I'm fuzzy on the basics. So I figured I'd be the perfect test subject for a stylish little book (Black cloth cover! Gilded-edged pages! Red ribbon bookmark!) that comes out tomorrow called The Basics, the U.S. version of La Base, a self-published book by Belgian food writer Filip Verheyden and photographer Tony Le Duc that sold more than 100,000 copies in Europe last year.

Verheyden's idea of "basics" run the gamut from breakfast rudimentaries (how to poach an egg) to molecular gastronomy (how to make foie gras foam). I asked Test Kitchen Associate Melissa Rubel what I should attempt—and whether she could watch over me while I did so. She chose two seemingly simple recipes: how to make caramel sauce and how to make mayonnaise. Surprisingly scant in instruction (there were no time estimates for the caramel sauce) for a book geared toward novices, both recipes also yielded slightly soupy results. So while I probably won't be making recipes from The Basics anytime soon, I will, however, keep it nearby as a handy reference to understand techniques like peeling "à vif" and "mounting with butter."