AMERICA'S appetite for French cooking may have been whetted by Julia Child, but Pierre Franey has adapted it to America's fast-paced life style. For a generation of upwardly mobile, busy young people just beginning to explore the horizons of good taste, his weekly column in the New York Times has become part of their panache. His two ``60-Minute Gourmet'' cookbooks were runaway best sellers, invaluable to working women and men. Mr. Franey has emerged as one of America's top chefs.
``Cuisine Rapide'' is both the name of his new cooking show on public television and his 11th cookbook (Times Books, $22.50), written with Times restaurant reviewer Bryan Miller.
Don't let the title fool you: ``This doesn't mean I'm trying to beat the clock,'' Franey said in an interview here. ``You don't need to speak French to translate the title, but `Cuisine Rapide' does not mean `fast food,' American style.''
Though his background is French, after 50 years in this country Franey considers himself half American. ``My recipes are of course based on sound French techniques, yet the flavors, ingredients, and style are completely American.''
Franey started his ``60-Minute Gourmet'' column with Craig Claiborne (former food editor of the New York Times) in 1975, when women were heading back into the work force and food preparation time was at a minimum.
``I set to work analyzing and formulating things to be done to facilitate cooking for people who want to set an impressive table,'' he said.
``People here in the United States have developed an enthusiasm for home cookery that surpasses anything that ever happened in France or on the Continent,'' he continued.
`OVER the years my approach to food, my style, has changed as cooking has evolved. I am cooking lighter, simpler food with an emphasis on quality. My recipes have always called for fresh ingredients. Now I use less salt and flour, and many of my sauces are made with olive oil and vegetable pur'ees.''
Butter is still an essential ingredient in many French dishes, however, and this chef insists that it's not necessary to eliminate it altogether in order to make foods lighter.
``My approach to butter has been to use it wherever its flavor is central to the character of the dish,'' he said, though he uses it sparingly. ``Often I add it at the end of the preparation to be sure the flavor will `hold on.'
``A tablespoon of butter or a dash of cream will add a silky texture to a sauce that cannot be achieved any other way,'' he explained. He probably uses one-third of the butter he did years ago, he said.
Franey's approach has one other requirement: no nonsensical food combinations (popular in nouvelle cuisine dishes) such as swordfish with blueberry sauce, or black pasta with green beans and coconut. Still, there is a good measure of inventiveness.
``Cuisine Rapide'' marks the debut of Pierre Franey in a national television series. The show presents ``a way of cooking at home that's simple, accessible, elegant, and refined,'' Franey maintained.
Chef Franey cooks several recipes based on a particular theme on each half-hour show. He also visits a landmark restaurant, introducing the chefs and owners of places such as the Four Seasons and Lut`ece in New York, Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia, and Jean Louis at the Watergate in Washington.
A seafood program shows the chef cooking scallops with endive in saffron sauce, and scallop and zucchini brochettes served with turmeric rice. Another features salmon burgers in brown butter sauce and salmon baked in foil.
A cast iron skillet is used on another show as he demonstrates steak with shallots and red wine sauce with pommes frites, and a Cajun-style skirt steak with French-fried sweet potatoes.
AMONG top chefs, Franey stands out as a restaurant-caliber cook able to choose recipes suitable for home cooks and explain them clearly. Often the most creative or talented professional chefs are unaware of problems that can defeat the home cook. A less sympathetic cook may direct you simply to ``cook until done''; Franey will give an approximate time.
Franey grew up in a small town in France. ``I was born in a rural area where the clock simply didn't count when you were cooking, but one of my pleasures at an early age was dining well,'' he said.
When Franey turned 14, his father shipped him off to Paris to be a chef-in-training. ``Four years later I came to New York to work at the French Pavilion at the  World's Fair.''
After serving in the US Army during World War II, Franey returned to New York to work at Le Pavillon, under famous French chef Henri Soule. His tenure there caused critics to call it the best French restaurant in the US.
Franey met Mr. Claiborne in 1959 at Le Pavillon when Claiborne was a food and restaurant critic.
The two became friends and worked as a team, turning out five best-selling cookbooks as well as thousands of newspaper articles.
``There was good chemistry with Craig for many years,'' Franey said. ``We often went on restaurant reviewing trips and would get together for cooking sessions at Claiborne's kitchen. He would write about the things I would develop and cook.''
CHICKEN FRICASSEE WITH LEEKS There are two basic differences between a fricassee and a stew: A fricassee usually has a white sauce or broth, while a stew is dark. A poultry fricassee uses younger, more tender birds; stews use older ones. 1 whole chicken, 3 1/2 pounds, cut in 10 serving pieces Salt to taste Freshly ground pepper to taste 1 tablespoon butter 3 cups finely chopped leeks, rinsed and drained 1 cup finely chopped onion 1 teaspoon turmeric 2 tablespoons flour 2 cups fresh or canned chicken broth 1 bay leaf 4 sprigs thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme 3/4 pound baby carrots, scraped 1/4 cup heavy cream Couscous with raisins
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Melt butter over medium heat in skillet large enough to hold pieces in 1 layer. Cook, skin side down, about 5 minutes. Brown lightly all over.
Add leeks, onion; sprinkle with turmeric and flour. Stir until coated evenly. Add broth, bay leaf, and thyme. Stir and bring to boil. Scatter carrots and stir; cover and cook about 30 minutes or until carrots are tender.
Transfer chicken and carrots to warm platter. Carefully skim surface fat and discard. Stir in cream. Return chicken and carrots to sauce. Bring to boil, remove bay leaf.