Friday, April 3, 2009

#67 - 03 April 2009 - The End

This is the last post. I'm going to quickly finish the last five "Commandments for Kitchen Survival" (you can fill in the spaces with your own words...) and move on to new and exciting things. The last three months have been a professional revelation. It will take some time to process it all, maybe the rest of my life, yet - I found answers and substance to my initial question concerning "The Need to Feed." I found that I still have that need. I realized the importance of soul in good food. I re-learned the quest for perfection in the kitchen - in our scarred lives at least we have that space to attempt to be perfect and wonderful...

The space between real life and my stage at The French Laundry, also called "vacation", is nearly over. I will not be checking this web blog anymore so, should you wish to contact me, feel free to send me an e-mail at thefrenchmanner@comcast.net.

"Commandment #6 for Kitchen Survival": Have a Game Plan.

"Commandemnt #7 for Kitchen Survival": De Decisive.

"Commandemnt #8 for Kitchen Survival": Trust Your Intuition.

"Commandment #9 for Kitchen Survival": Get Experience.

"Commandment #10 for Kitchen Survival": Pay Attention.

That's it. The rest is up to you. Peace.

~R

Sunday, March 29, 2009

#66 - 27 March 2009 - Lake Tahoe to Colorado...and home"

The snow-capped mountains literally fall into the deep ice-blue waters of Lake Tahoe. The wind whips up white caps and we motor around and then away from that high sierra gem. Out of California and into Nevada we speed along in relative quiet along I-80. There isn't too much but natural beauty out there. The landscape is punctuated every one hundred miles or so with a dot of a town. We stop for lunch in Elko and then find our way into western Utah. Our dining needs are just that. We eat to sustain our need to drive, not to entertain our palates... Utah is unbelievably flat - the Bonneville Salt Flats and Speedway are just the prelude to the Great Salt Lake Valley... Around Salt lake City to Provo, we finish the day in Nephi, exausted from the monotony of driving.

I stretched in the morning after feeling the miles in my back forming knots and tightness. Something pops and moves across my lower lumbar and nestles it's pain in my lower left back. The next 12 hours are cycles of drug-covered muscle ache to surges of muscle spasms and intense red-hot jabs of pain... O.k., maybe I over did the work thing in California and now just too much driving is causing this pain. I could drive but I could barely walk! Finally we reach Colorful Colorado, the familiar mountain communities of Glenwood Springs, Vail and Frisco. One last stop for herbal medicine (which worked great!) and we were home by 7:00 p.m. 1,600 vacation & tourist miles from the Pacific.

I know that people will ask me... "So, how was it?" I need to wrap my brain around the last two months and will report my answers to you on a regular basis. This morning is, as I hobble around in my post-drive pain, a day to shower, shave, unpack and begin my life - all over again in beautiful Superior, Colorado with my wonderful family, great friends and a slew of business and professional goals... Peace.

~R

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

#65 - 25 March 2009 - "Napa to Lake Tahoe..."

The past week has taken me from a final day as a stagier at The French Laundry to a California Wine Country tourist!

Just to catch you up - finished my "Laundry" at 2:00 a.m. on the 21st and drove to Napa, California to meet Colorado friends (Mike & Judy and I slept in the car overnight in the parking lot at their Inn!), took a shower and had breakfast with them and then it as off to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to pick-up my wife and daughter... and then off to Ghiradelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf (had a great lunch at Capurro's with owner Paul C. - Cioppino, of course!), across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and a Fika (Swedish for Coffee break with Pastry in the afternoon - around 4:00 p.m.) at the Sausalito Bakery & Deli and then back to Napa Valley.

Sunday, the 22nd we toured Yountville and had coffee and breakfast at The Bouchon Bakery. Me - and Almond Croissant. So good...! Walked the grounds at The French Laundry for the last time, as well... Took pictures of the garden and the restaurant that proved I actually was there... I will write a blog in the future to put that experience in perspective and to give my thanks to a select group of people.

Left Yountville and tasted at Stag' Leap (loved the 2004 Chase Creek Cab), gnoshed at the Oakville Grocery and then on to Opus (2003 and 2005Cab/Merlot). We lunched at Taylor's Refresher (featured in an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives...) in St. Helena. Next stop was Beringer (very good 2004 Nightingale - Semillion and Sauv Blanc) and then down the road to the CIA - to walk the grounds, visit the store and talk with the desk clerk ("Sam"). As a 1987 graduate of the CIA at Hyde Park he led us upstairs and we were allowed into the kitchen to talk and take pictures. I had spent some time at CIA at Greystone several years ago... I'll have to add all those good pics in a future blog as well.

Next on the tasting trip was Charles Krug and really loved the Zinfandel Port (tasted with a Scharffenberger 62% chocolate). Dinner that evening at Barndiva in Healdsburg, California - Modern Country Food. Pretty good...had Goat Cheese Croquettes, Quail Breast, and Beignets.

Monday the Corey's drove to the coast - Bodega Bay up to Jenner; lunch at River's End... Rte. 116 to Alexander Valley and found Jim's Town...10 years later. Tasted at Alexander Valley Winery. Loved their Bordeaux blends... Back to Santa Rosa and cooked seafood dinner. The last meal with P.S.(Cajun-style Catfish, Petrale Sole Meunier, Steamed Clams in Chardonnay, Shallots & Butter and Potato-wrapped Salmon - with Asparagus, Broccolini, Cucumbers, Butter Lettuce Salad, Roasted Tomatoes, Oven-Warmed Pears and Strawberries with Balsamico and Creme Chantilly).

Took the young Miss Corey to SFO on Tuesday and R & J travelled to Mendocino County and found a gem - Roederer Estates!!! The offspring of the house of Roederer Champagne in Reims, France. Wonderful. Loved the MV 2000, the Rose 2000, the 1999 Hermitage and bought several... Roederer was the first pour at my 24-course dinner at TFL on February 27th... I guess I could have bought a 1999 Cristal, but it was $595.00...

On to Mendocino, Ft. Bragg and then landed in Westport at Howard Ranch Inn at the headwaters of the Howard Creek and the Pacific Ocean and among the quail, sheep, llamas, horses and wild berries. A delightful Country Inn (which was once a 1960's hippie commune) with service provided by Sally and Sunny and a killer breakfast by CCA graduate Josh (good luck in Maui, my man!)...fun, fun, fun!

Across the Central Valley of California and up into the Sierra's... In Lake Tahoe tonight and off to Nevada and Utah tomorrow. Along the way I have been planning my April 20th Q & A event and I am re-visiting/re-reading Fernand Point's "Ma Gastronomie" with the forward by Thomas Keller. The one may be a re-incarnation of the other. My culinary hero and my culinary hero's hero....

There is much more to write, so stayed tuned. I also owe you several more commandments. I have them all planned out but I'm enjoying touring right now! I have much to say and do. To paraphrase F. Point - he said, "One must taste everything, cook everything and see everything in order to retain just a little bit." Peace.

~R

Sunday, March 22, 2009

#64 - 22 March 2009 - "Just catching up..."

Good evening, y'all...

Yes, I've finished my stage at The French Laundry. However, I've missed a couple of days of blogging whilst dealing with friends and family flying in to California; my mother having to fly back East and subsequently become admitted to a hospital because of a fall she took (hope you are feeling better, Mom!); and then, of course, my final days at TFL \; and - now, just being a tourist in Wine Country...! I'll be back...soon. Peace.

~R

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

#63 - 18 March 2009 - "Commandment #5 for Kitchen Survival"

#5 "Get it Right." Know what you are doing at all times (at any time the Chef might just ask you what the heck you're doing). Seek out the top experts on any subject and learn everything they know. I spent an amazing afternoon with Thomas Keller today, so and I know that learning from the best is very important... Find a mentor for everything that you do. Also, remember to "Do it right - or do it twice." - Devin Knell, Executive Sous Chef at The French Laundry (and others). Peace.

~R

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

#62 - 17 March 2009 - "St. Patrick's Day"

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.


Peace.

~R

#61 - 16 March 2009 - "In The Garden"

Monday was my scheduled day in the garden...

Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration. ~Lou Erickson

My Sunday evening ended on Monday morning at 1:30 a.m.. One hour drive to Santa Rosa in the rain, fog and dark. I realized then, at 2:30 a.m., that I wasn't going to make a scheduled 7:30 a.m. or even 8:00 a.m. shift in The French Laundry garden. I called and left messages to say that I would be late... In bed at 3:00, I "slept" until 7:45 a.m.. Refreshed (!) from my 4 1/2 hours of REM-deprived horizontal-ness, I showered, packed for my weekend (Angel's Camp, California - home to the "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Samuel L. Clemens - with my mother, brother and sister-in-law) trip and hustled into Napa Valley, arriving at TFL at 9:00 a.m.. Yes, I was late. I knew I had to atone for my belated start. As much as the schedule said I was to be there earlier, I didn't think that a 6 1/2 hour turn-around was really appropriate...or, possible. My apologies were accepted and I went to work. My day consisted of: trimming and scissor-snipping the green onions, removing the brown withered tops and giving them a "spikey-funky" haircut...; weed all the newly-sprouted fennel seedlings; tend the beds of micro-greens and weed them accordingly; spread the thyme, cabbage and greens beds with new straw bale for the expected weekend crowds during the Taste of Yountville; rake and keep the grassy areas between the plots clean and orderly; tend, hoe and weed the Spring Onion bed...

What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it. ~Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, 1871

Ouch. I begrugingly tended gardens as a child in Sutton, Massachusetts and have home-gardened at various places that the Corey's have lived. The difference is - now I'm 50... however, I went at my tasks with new-found excitement. I really enjoyed the elements and the work. The stretching every 15 minutes or so was necessary, and saw others doing the same... "Tonight is going to be a four-Ibuprophen night", I remember thinking...and, it was. Especially after the five hours I spent night-driving south to Angels' camp. That's another story...

There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling. ~Mirabel Osler

I found myself outdoors for more than eight hours. Eight hours of driving rain, sunshine, wind, drizzle and a continous flow of passers-by who were eager to walk among the well-manicured plots and stop to, like Ferdinarnd The Bull, "smell the flowers (or herbs)", take pictures of their loved ones or aimlessly stroll from one end of the garden to the other - all with smiles on their faces. I smiled, too.

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it. ~Author Unknown

I respect those that grow things. It fulfills their soul and takes all their time. Time to do it well. It takes passion. Think of the possibilities. Heirlooms. Flowers. Seeds. Earth and soil. Water. Sun and natural fertilizers. Earthworms, ladybugs and the micro-geography of the garden. The quiet solitude in the garden belies the physical effort it takes to till the earth with bare or gloved hands and toil under sun or clouds to grow the flowers, herbs and plants that we use as food. My day was just a small contribution to the efforts that are put forth by TFL Head Gardener and staff. Lovely to look at, the sundry plots of vegetables and herbs are a necessary part-of-the-whole-experience that is, The French Laundry.

It was, in spite of my back pain - a great day. Peace.

~R

Sunday, March 15, 2009

#60 - 15 March 2009 - "Commandment #4 for Kitchen Survival"

"Beware the Ides of March." -from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

#4 Learn from your mistakes. And...every one makes them. Your smarts in the kitchen has much to do with experience and learning from your mistakes. Your intelligence is in recognizing them and doing something about it to correct them - now or in the future. Expertise often comes from having failed in small ways and using those experiences to get it right.... Peace.

~R

P.S.
It's Tax-Time! So, my available moments have been crunched; and I have family in Califiornia, my wife and daughter are coming in on saturday, other frinds (Mike & Judy) are coming in on Friday, and I'm working on plans to meet Chef Keller on Wednesday, and planning is under way for an event in April at The Art Institute for Q & A about my Stage and Sabbatical experience, and am planning events for 12 Seasons - and now I'm cooking for the Govenor and 30 of his closest friends... Oh, and I have to go to work, too... The blogs may be short in the next week, or so (is what I'm trying to say)... :)

Friday, March 13, 2009

#59 - 13 March 2009 - "Commandment #3 for Kitchen Survival"

#3 "Know what you are getting into." Expect anything and everything to happen in a kitchen, or a restaurant - every day. Have a plan. Be excited. Get going right away. Stay focused. Pay attention. And, heed these immortal words; "Work fast, but go slow." - John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach. Peace.

~R

Thursday, March 12, 2009

#58 - 12 March 2009 - "Commandment #2 for Kitchen Survival"

#2 Get your ego out of the way. Athletes and high powered executives are often bred to believe that they can handle anything - no matter how difficult a situation may be. Many of us have little training to face such difficult situations. Some chefs and managers may possess the capabilities to be very good tactitions in their particular fields, but very poor in an understanding of processes and management styles. Intimidation is not a management style but more of an egotistical fault. I once worked with a wise and sage man who said to me, "Rob, you have to get out of your own way." Ouch. He was right. I learned that it wasn't always about me; issues are a larger consideration in the day to day of a business. Il Ling New, a self-defense guru, proclaimed that "You do not rise to the occasion - you default to your level of training." Remember that. You may be hard-wired to react at a perceived level, but until you are trained for that level of expertise and are indeed are met with those situations, you'll not be totally ready for success. Keep learning and hone your mind. Get trained to the highest skill levels in everything you do. Rehash events and get better at what you do... Peace.

~R

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

#57 - 11 March 2009 - "Commandment #1 for Kitchen Survival"

This blog may sound somewhat like the Biblical Moses (with apologies to all believers...) descending from the mountaintop with tablets denoting moral and ideological codes for social behavior. However, the following Decalouge is inspired by an article that I read in The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday, March 8th, written by Tom Stienstra. His musings contemplated the rules by which backwoodsmen and outdoor enthisiasts should follow when trekking into wilderness areas - survival training, if you will... He opened his article with a first paragraph recitation of an old Waylon Jennings song, "If you live on the edge, You can be subject to a fall." I have adopted his 10 Commandments and modified them for cooks and chefs. In other words "Kitchen Survial". I will be using these as a basis for the next ten blogs (one Commandment per day - it's heavy, man...), which will bring me to the end of my time in Napa Valley and at The French Laundry.

#1 Never hope. Crisis in the kitchen? Never try to hope your way through it. Take complete command of the outcome. You have to be in control of yourself, your emotions and others around you. Put out the fires and get back on track. Peace.

~R

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

#56 - 10 March 2009 - "Italian Inspiration" - Dinner for 9

Buongiorno! Preparations have begun for the next dinner party in Santa Rosa, tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. It is Italian-inspired and is based on some of the favorite items from past events through 12 Seasons Personal Chef & Sommelier Services (www.12seasonswinebar.com). Here is the menu:

“Italian Inspiration”
11 March 2009

Fried Hen’s Egg and Prosciutto Sandwich on Focaccia Bread
with Gremolata, Marinara & Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Spinach Ravioli filled with Roasted Butternut Squash Puree
served with Browned Butter, Hazelnuts & Sage

Seared Tuna Steaks in Lemon & Mustard Caper Sauce

Veal, Pork and Beef Meatballs and Sauce Tomate with Pugliese Toast

Spring Greens, Heirloom Tomato & Basil Salad
with Roasted Garlic & Balsamic Vinaigrette

Macerated Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries & Blackberries
with Lemoncello Zabaglione & Polenta Crostata




Ciao.

~R

Monday, March 9, 2009

#55 - 09 March 2009 - "The Commis Kitchen" - Pictures

These are pictures of the Commis Kitchen (just off the main kitchen at The French Laundry) and the interior garden that is visible through the windows from our workplace. Enjoy. I do, everyday...













This just in: Jacob Harkins has written a very nice piece on the stage experience. Check it out @ http://www.examiner.com/x-2954-Denver-Restaurant-Examiner. Look for the article and pictures featuring yours truly... Peace.

~R

Sunday, March 8, 2009

#54 - 08 March 2009 - "Carpe Diem"

Seize the day.

Very busy dinner service last evening. I even got going earlier than usual yesterday afternoon, however, I didn't get to start my own prep list (I was by myself in the prep room) until nearly 10:00 p.m. I loved the interplay between the Chef, Chefs des Parties and myself, for when someone needed something done at the last minute - ta da! That's my bag, man... Service finished, clean-up was complete and meeting ajourned around 2:00 a.m. The hour drive home became a leisurely 75 minute tour and by the time I hit the pillow, I think it was 4:00-ish. Then the time change... Slept until noon. So I'm a bit groggy, achy (remember the old bones!), and in need of coffee!!! Today will be short and sweet as I still need to wash my chef pants and get on the road by 2:00 p.m. So, to everyone out there... Carpe Diem. Sieze your day. Peace.

~R

Saturday, March 7, 2009

#53 - 07 March 2009 - "The Task at Hand."

So, your blogger experienced a magical evening at The French Laundry, last night.

It was the quintessential perfect dinner service. Very busy yet extremely quiet, focused, professional and on-task. This kitchen brigade is a team working seemlessly together, with no mental or physical mistakes, and the food looked gorgeous. It was halfway through the evening when, in the midst of working through my prep list (as the only stagier on duty) when I had a mini-epiphany, of sorts. I realized how close I was to leaving TFL and finishing my commitment on the stage. Yet, I also realized how close I was to leaving TFL - and leaving the experience behind. So, now I need to stay even more focused on the task at hand, continue asking the probing questions of chefs and cooks and stay determined in my goal of gathering as much knowledge and experience as possible. The thought echoed in my mind - "I'm close to leaving The French Laundry." How could this time have gone by so quickly...

At one point I worked with the Pastry Chef on some ideas and questions on specific methods and techniques pertaining to a new dessert idea that was being worked through. One thing I love about this experience is engaging true professionals on questions of the character of a dish, methods, textures, appearances, techniques, colors, flavors, experiences, and the proposed taste of a finished menu item... I also had the opportunity to work next to Chef Keller and he agreed to schedule our one-on-one meeting next week. I will have some time to sit and speak with him privately, as I have a decade of questions for him (if you also have something you'd like me to bring into my conversation, just reply here or e-mail me)!

Later, I in casual conversations with two Chefs des Parties (who I agreed to keep anonymous in this blog), some very clarifying comments came to light:

First, from "B" - this Chef stated in a conversation that "in order to find your greatest learning you need to get out of your element, get out of your comfort zone and test yourself." Brilliant. Push yourself and test your mettle. Get away from the ease of your normal work occurances (specifically in the kitchen but worthwhile in all phases of life) and find the depth of confidence in your ability. Get better at what you do by being pushed. Raise your own expectations and standards. The key is the "comfort zone". It's warm and cozy there, isn't it...? Get away from that place and the steely winds of change begin to blow hard in your face - so, it's a new challenge, a new horizon that needs to be conquered.

Secondly, from "J" - I asked this chef, as I do to everyone I meet at TFL, "Why are you here and what excites you about working here." The response in this case was short and sweet; "Sure, it's hard and the hours are long but it makes me happy." That was perfect. Peace.

~R

Thursday, March 5, 2009

#52 - 06 March 2009 - "The Look"

So, I'm watching the Food Network yesterday afternoon - taking a day of leisure, working on the computer, etc. - and "Semi-Home Cooking with Sandra Lee" was on. Now, it's not the show I usually watch and I'm not sure that is even the name of the show. The point of my story is that an amateur cook was making some sort of lemon curd cake topped with a baked meringue and Ms. Lee asked if she could taste the cake. And here is my point - the young lady with the recipe...her face lit up with expectation as she watched HER FOOD being tasted and eaten and loved and appreciated. The thing is - she knew her food was good, you could tell. She was expecting affirmnation of it's deliciousness and she got it. How cool was that! She was proud of her food and seemed to truly enjoy what she had made for someone. To be able to see the response that your guest has when you've made something incredible is vefry gratifying...hence, the proliferation of open kitchen restaurants. Of course, that architectural feature is more for the guest to see all the action, but chefs and cooks like to see people enjoying the fruits (and meats) of their labor. I especially enjoy the close interation in a private home when guests are feasting, gawking and extolling the virtues of a private chef...Cooking for a response makes you pay attention to details.

As we get one year deeper into the new millenium and the IBM population is "building a smarter planet" and CNN is alerting the American workforce that there are energy jobs available in Colorado and retirement companies hiring in Florida (can you tell I worked on the computer in front of the television...) I realized that I've never been out of a job... The food industry is 365/24/7 with a myriad of possibilities for the adventurous cook. So if you are a Culinary student heed this - as the band Green Day sings on the "Nimrod" CD and in the song "Good Riddance", "I hope you had the time of your life" - when looking at your life and your experiences, make today a learning day, enjoy it for you will be the product of your efforts and make the school experience a great time for you, "the" building block of your life.

Since I'm on the subject of Culinary School, I must give due recognition to the Apprenticeship System. Neither is better than the other - I am a product of both - yet, there are aspects of both that may be more applicable for an individual over another. What they both take is: Courage. Courage to make that first step, the result of an epiphany that led the cook to the gastronomic land of plenty. Then, with a diligent work ethic you can have the "time of your life" and then, maybe you'll have a the lifetime luxury of seeing your guests happily eating and enjoying your food... Peace.

~R

#51 - 05 March 2009 - "Moving Forward"

“Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." -Sir Winston Churchill

I am starting to feel the itch of returning to Denver. In conversations and e-mail discussions with family, friends and business associates, I have begun to feel the transformation from eager culinary adventurer to the seasoned Chef and Educator that I have grown accustomed to being...

I have been asked innumerable times - "Do I miss my family and friends? Will I miss Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and California? Will I miss The French Laundry? Am I excited to return to Denver and Assignments Restaurant?" Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

I'll not be able to put any closure on this experience as it will never be "closed" to me. I assume that I'll be gathering and ruminating upon bits and pieces from this stage and sabbatical for some time...

I will continue the webblog long after I have departed from California for I find it cathartic to write and enjoy the responses from a variety of people from my past and present. It has been a useful tool to document my experience and coelece my thoughts. Yet, by no means am I completely finished here in California. I have a big week coming up at TFL, I will be hosting and catering another event in Santa Rosa next week and then a succession of family members and friends are streaming into California. So....I'll be tour guide in my adopted state for about ten days. JoAnne and I will be auto-touring Northern California and then heading east to Colorado at the end of the month.

There is still much to see and work with at TFL. I have finally compiled all my notes into folders and recipe files. There are over 100 new techniques and methods in my repetoire. The images of TFL are burned into my memory and the lessons learned here in California are completely applicable to me wherever I may land. I look forward to sharing the journey with everyone. That was the intention of this adventure... Peace.

~R

Monday, March 2, 2009

#49 - 03 March 2009 - "Inspiration"



“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." - Albert Schweitzer.

I received that quote as a measure of thanks from a fellow instructor at The Art Institute and it was overwhelming to know that I made a difference in someone else's life. Isn't that what our talents are to be used for...? Whether student, client, guest or cohort - I strive to bring my best qualities to the classroom, home, restaurant and office. Hopefully - every day...

Who inspires you? Your Mother? Father? Spouse? Children? Your teachers, your boss or your neighbors...? Nature - the ocean, the mountains, the plains or the desert? Yes, to all? You never know where inspiration will come from. Just be open to the possibilities. I gather strength from family and friends, for they know me best. I have several chefs who "live on my shoulders", like angels who remind me to work clean and cook with my heart. There are memories of long ago instruction and lifetime of restaurant experiences that I relive and rely on EVERY DAY THAT I COOK. Certainly, for me, my professional inspiration comes from the place that I have toiled for the past two months - The French Laundry. - as it has for the past ten years.

I suppose that one is inspired when they choose to be inspired. I am always thinking about food, looking for new things and re-imagining the old. I try not to stagnate, love a new challenge and happily read about what is currently brewing and simmering in the kitchens of America and beyond. Ultimately, it comes down to method, technique, the quality of your ingredients and your desire. Inspiration, by itself, can't cook - it can't delegate, organize or clarify. The end result of our labor is a direct result of who we are. Get inspired. Peace.

~R

#48 - 02 March 2009 - "It's Simple..."

It's simple for me to be motivated. I'm working at The French Laundry! That thought is, in itself, quite exhilarating and completely daunting at times. But as I think and write I look out into the population of cooks and chefs and wonder about everyone else... What about the student that is logging onto this blog working for eight dollars an hour and not sure about the rest of their life? Or, think about the graduate that is in the working world and has succumbed to the monotonous daily grind of an establishment that doesn't seem to care about cleanliness and inspiration? And lastly, consider the individuals reading these words that are not in the food industry and may not understand the passion and commitment that we possess and endure - how is all this relative to them??? It's simple...

We all need to harness our inner strength. It is there in all of us. It starts with pride. Pride in doing a job and doing it well. It helps when there is a receptive audience, I'll grant you that. So, foster that ambiance. We all have so much power and don't use it to our advantage. Walk with your held high, be confident and shake hands like you mean it. Little things. Go the extra mile. Do it for yourself and someone will notice. And in that one singular minute, you will have succeeded in being the best you can be. Don't do anything for the reward - do it because it is right. Pick up the trash in the driveway or the paper on the floor. Straighten the chairs, the pots, the rugs, etc., because it looks better. See things through the eyes of your customers, clients and guests. Serve. There is such joy in making people happy.

If you are a cook, cook for yourself but cook for your guests. Put yourself in their shoes. Cook with soul. Put something of you on every plate. You are a crafter of experiences and memories. Make the memory of your food a positive one. By all means work clean...! Be the cleanest one in the kitchen and you'll get noticed. Go the extra mile - not to get noticed, but because it is right, and you'll get noticed. Start creating an attitude within your kitchen. Start becoming positive even when others aren't. Stand up for what is right instead of following along with the crowd. That is a lesson in life, as well...

Step out of the crowd and be an individual. Then return to the crowd and fight the fight. The fight against all that is wrong with society, from biases and hatred to selfishness and greed. Be an individual but be a leader for the team. Stand out as a shining example of the power of the human mind and spirit. Lift yourself up out of the masses and be someone! Lead, follow or get out of the way. Do it all and do it all with a smile. Look people in the eyes and speak to them don’t just talk at them, Engage everyone, everyday and always with meaning in your words and in your actions.

The personal power that we all have can make us more successful than we ever thought. It just has to be harnessed. It's simple. Be what you want to be. Reinvent yourself right now. Start now. Start thinking and doing it right now. Why wait. Failure! Who cares! Again, "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail..." Worried about what other people will think? How do you know what they are thinking? Don't worry about it - don't worry at all. There is already so much negative worrying in the world. Go back to the "Attitude" blog. Did you go back? Do it, I'll wait. O.k., now what does it say to you (did you really go back and read it...?). YOU ARE IN CHARGE. It's simple. You have to commit to a self-based mind thought that, when done correctly, can begin to change the environment around you. "Pay it forward" is more than Hollywood theatrics. It is a mindset of how to live your life. "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail." Power words. Really powerful in action. It's simple.

Nike says, "Just do it." Man that is so simple. Think it. Do it. Do it again. And again. Repetition is the single most simple concept I can think about to improve one's station in life and become a more powerful person. "Just do it." Then do it again, and again, and again... I know it sounds trite. I know it sounds like a late night tele-evangelist or an info-mercial for self-help. It is what it is. Go forth and conquer, everyday. Conquer fear and fright. Conquer demons and dragons and dark days of failure. YOU ARE IN CHARGE. It's simple.

Millions of people can have millions of reasons to not do something. It takes ones person to stand up and say "I'll do it - because it's right". Start a revolution. Start small and get bigger. Start working clean. Start smiling and look people in the eyes. Start making it real. It's simple. Just do it. Peace.

~R

Sunday, March 1, 2009

#47 - 01 March 2009 - "Random Thoughts on Food..."

In the year 2009 you can turn on your television and change the channels to find Wine TV, The Food Network, PBS Broadcasting, HGTV, The Travel Channel, Bravo, the morning news stations and specialty Cable Access Stations - these are all places that you can find full-time or part-time cooking classes and lessons, food-science related shows, men-who-eat-everything shows, interesting restaurants and chefs from around the world, food competition shows and chef biographys... Geez, it wasn't like that in 1974...

In 1906, in the forward to his 2nd edition of Le Guide Culinaire, August Escoffier wrote about what he expected from the cooks and staff under his tutelege. He required them to wear ties and jackets in public and to cover their heads with a hat. In the early part of the last century, men dominated the kitchen brigade so he was only gender specific towards one sex. He demanded that his staff deporte themselves professionally in public, as well. That if they were to go out and enjoy themselves about town, they were to demonstrate a level of civility.

Lessons learned... All cooks make mistakes. All cooks have their "off" day. Not all cooks just try to rumble through their day "hoping" that they get it right... Good cooks recognize their mistakes and take the right course of action to rectify them. That may be to ask a question of the chef or sous chef to clarify a bit of expertise on a cooking or science matter. One must have the discipline to ask the question and have the humility to receive the answer. If something isn't right - after you have tested your dish or practiced a course - change it, fix it or modify
it. But, get it right. Your reputation is on the line. Peace.

~R

Saturday, February 28, 2009

#46 - 28 February 2009 - "To Make People Happy..."



The quote, to the left, is from Thomas keller and is posted at several positions within TFL kitchen.

"...To Make People Happy..." Well, it worked on me. The efforts of The French Laundry kitchen and the service staff totally exceeded my expectations of what a dinner there would be like. I am now totally humbled and in awe of what top-notch food is and what it could be. I have laid bare my soul in these blogs and now - now my understanding of why I am here is really clarified. I feel as though I've been stripped naked of all that I have accomplished to be wrapped within a new cloak of understanding about my industry and with a new standard and game plan. If "Good Cooking is the Accumulation of Small Details Done to Perfection" than my dinner last evening was perfect in all of the small details. Subtle and explosive, the clear flavors of food produced by people who love to make others happy. I drove home to Santa Rosa with a multitude of thoughts in my head and I cried from the experience. Best meal ever? It doesn't qualify so much as a best meal but a best food & wine experience - ever. Twenty-four times I was served food (small bites and small courses to follow along the doctrine of "The Law of Diminishing Returns"), often with an appropriate wine, and twenty-four times I was turned inside out in appreciation of what a cook can do with food for an appreciative audience. Six and one-half hours...

How does a stagier repay the chefs and cooks that he's worked side by side with for five and one-half weeks...? By giving all of what is left in this body and mind to show appreciation for a lifetime of lessons re-learned and re-emphasized in just two months time. Every bit of insight gleaned from my observation of TFL needs to be passed on. Passed on to the students and faculty at the culinary school and passed on to my clients who deserve to be made happy. There is not enough time or space to adequately display my thanks and appreciation to everyone that I have learned from or to acknowledge the lessons and direction that I have recieved. I am truly humbled at the torch which has been lit for me and feel honored to pass along that light to others.

I asked that the kitchen "give me their best shot" and thus, received no menu. I was like putty in their hands and course after course was delivered and announced on point. Wines were produced, poured and savored. Plate presentations and profiles of flavor at every turn were familiar, as I see this everyday in the kitchen, but the dining experience brought all of my other senses into play, of which taste and flavor reigned supreme. I may receive a printed menu in the future but I will try my best to remember the sequence of courses, here twelve hours since I last put my fork down, not in surrender but in sublime supplication. Each course was delivered with grace and exactitude by a well-trained staff, a staff that I encounter everyday in the kitchen and now have a greater appreciation for. I should have taken better notes, but in the moment of food ectasy and anticipation I forgot my pictures and my notes. I was carried away in the moment... Here is a quick synopsis of the meal. I will embellish the descriptions of the menu, as well as the wine, at a later time as I probe the staff for more imformation over the next few days.

A Tasting Menu - 27 February 2009

A flute of Roederer Champagne
Oven-Warm Gruyere Gougeres
"Oysters & Pearls"
Scottish Salmon Tuile "Cone" with Red Onion and Creme Fraiche
Egg Custard with Chive Potato Chips and Truffled Mushroom Ragout, served in its shell, with Madeira
A puree of Onion Soup Foam with Dates (poured tableside)
An Ocean Mackerel Sushi with Rice, Perilla and Uni Roe
Braised Green Cabbage & Smoked Trout Roe
Foie Gras Torchon with Brioche Toast
Maine Lobster Tail with Melba Toast & Shrimp Sauce
Baguette with Andante Butter & Diane St. Clair Butter
Braised Pork Belly
Sturgeon Confit "a la minute"
Black Trumpet Ravioli with Mushroom Truffle Broth
Deep-Fried Cod Reproductive Gland (it has a better name for it - can't recall)
Pan-Seared Calotte
Salad of Asparagus, Tomato, carrot, Cucumber, Orange, Grapefruit and Watercress
Green Hills Cheese Quenelle atop Bacon & Spinach Gratin
Strawberry Sorbet with Frangipane and Rhubarb Gelee
Chocolate-Coated Chocolate Mousse
Coffee & Doughnuts (Coffee Semifreddo topped with Milk-Foam and Fried Brioche)
Buddha Hand Parfait with Lemon Cream
Tower of Assorted Mignardise
Chocolate Truffles and TFL Shortbread-in-a-bag, tied with French Laundry Ribbon (for take-home)

I am exhausted just remembering the finest meal that I have ever dined upon. Indeed, I was made happy. Wish you were there... Peace.

~R

Friday, February 27, 2009

#45 - 27 February 2009 - "Meals Worth Flying For..."

Daniel Boloud has published a list of 5 Meals worth flying for. They are; The Inn at Little Washington, Restaurant Arzak, Restaurant Bras, Inn at Blackberry Farm and The French Laundry. Hmmm. Maybe I'll have to dine at The French Laundry while I'm here in Napa... Oh, yea! That's tonight. So, don't miss tomortow's blog. This list got me thinking about my top restauarnts to visit. They are;

1. The French Laundry
2. The Fat Duck
3. elBulli
4. The Inn at Little Washingtom
5. La Pyramid (with Fernand Point at the stove) - M. Point died in 1955...
6. Lutece (with Andre Soltner) - closed...
7. Nobu
8. Arzak
9. Restaurant Daniel
10.Commander's Palace

Some of you may be wondering what all the fuss is over the Michelin Guide and the star-system. I'm attaching my notes from Classical French Cuisine, a class I started and taught at The Art Institute. The rating system may be french-biased and seclusionary but those chefs and mangers at fine food restaurants certainly know what rating system is the most important to them - and that would be THE GUIDE MICHELIN.

The first restaurant guides, such as de la Reynière’s Abnanach des Gourmands (1803) and Blanc’s Guide des Dîneurs (1814), were published in the early nineteenth century in response to the growing popularity of restaurants in Paris. But it was not until a tire company saw the value to its business of encouraging expeditions by car that France’s provincial restaurants began to receive the stimulus of an objective system of rating.

Each year in early March before the new Guide Michelin is published, the whole restaurant world of France is in a frazzle of apprehension. Rumours fly: someone’s sister-in-law is the printer’s cousin; he has hinted that a three-star restaurant in the South is to lose two stars. A girl, whose uncle has had an affair with an inspector’s wife, is sure that the Michelin will introduce a fourth star.

The rumours may not be true, but they are a measure of the importance that restaurateurs attach to their ratings, or possible ratings, in the Guide Michelin. As Alain Chapel says, ‘What other profession is there in which you can be impartially rated, in a manner which you know is just?’

The Michelin introduced a single-star rating in 1926; two- and three-star ratings were added in 1931. The first post-war edition to give three-star ratings came out in 1951, with three in Paris and four in the provinces. There is striking evidence of the way in which the Guide Michelin has inspired country restaurants, in France and around the world, to strive for standards which before were rarely found outside Paris. Another major change is the rise of three-star provincial chefs-patron restaurants, which are owned solely or jointly by chefs.

The Michelin’s main sources of information are letters from the public and reports from their full-time inspectors. The inspectors are usually recruited from the management level of the hotel and restaurant industry and must know how every classic dish should be prepared. Every eighteen months or more, they recheck every listed restaurant.

An inspector eats incognito. After the meal, which is always paid for, he explains who he is and asks to see the kitchen and cellar. He is looking for exactly what a discriminating customer would notice – quality, service and imagination. The wine list is almost as important as the menu. In the case of humbler establishments, inclusion rests solely with the inspector. Much consultation precedes any promotion or demotion at this level; nothing ever happens quickly. No restaurant can get two stars until it has had one, nor three until it has had two. The Michelin will never advise a restaurant how to improve its rating. The taking away of an award is very carefully deliberated, for Michelin realize that this can ruin a business. If a chef has had troubles, they stay their hand, hoping that any decline is temporary. It would certainly be two years from the first doubts to actual demotion.

The Guide Michelin has never taken payment or advertising. They prohibit any mention of Michelin in a hotel or restaurant’s advertising, on its notepaper or its signs. Michelin are aloof, cool – and supremely powerful.

Without the ingenious use of symbols, the information in one year’s Guide Michelin would fill six books of the same size. The most famous symbols are, of course, the good food stars: one for ‘good cooking in its class’; two for ‘excellent cooking, worthy of a detour’; and three—‘here one will find the best cooking in France, worthy of a special journey.’ Crossed fork and spoon symbols rate the amenities: one, plain but good; two, fairly comfortable; three, very comfortable; four top class; five, luxury.

Since 1955, the guide has also highlighted restaurants offering "good food at moderate prices", a feature now called "Bib Gourmand". They must have a menu priced at no more than £28 in the case of the UK, or €40 in Ireland. The name comes from Bib (Bibendum), the Michelin Man, Michelin's logo for over a century.

The guide also recognizes many restaurants without any stars or Bib Gourmands. These restaurants are usually rated solely on the scale of "forks and knives". The forks and knives rating is given to all restaurants recognized in the guide, and range from one to five. One fork and knife being "Quite comfortable restaurant" and five being "Luxurious restaurant". If the forks and knives are colored red they designate the restaurant to be "pleasant" as well. The forks and knives scale is designated to speak of the overall comfortability and quality of the restaurant, however any listing in the guide requires a relatively high standard of the kitchen as well.

Restaurants, independently of their other ratings in the guide, can also receive a number of other symbols next to their listing.

The coins are given to restaurants that serve a menu for a certain price or less. The price depends on the local price-standard.

Interesting view or Magnificent view, designated by a black or red symbol, are given to restaurants that offer dining with a view.

The grapes are given to restaurants that serve a somewhat interesting assortment of wine.

Anyone care to share your list...? 3 hours and 29 minutes until I dine... Peace.

~R

Thursday, February 26, 2009

#44 - 26 February 2009 - "Gone Fishing"

Taking a day off from the blog. I will add more pictures in addition to last night's entry, as well as some descriptive text. Tasting menu on Friday... Peace.

~R

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

#42 - 24 February 2009 - "The Business of Cooking"

I cook and I teach.

Currently, I cook for clients and guests in private venues - homes with incredible kitchens and great wine cellars and large living spaces. I teach at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Colorado. Most recently, in the past year, I have taught introductory classes in Baking and Pastry, Skills, Cost Control, Cooking Concepts and Art Culinaire (weekly lectures, hands-on production and presentation of contemporary chefs in our society that have made a difference). In the past I have cooked for city and country restaurants, French-influenced bistros, large hotels, small inns, country clubs, culinary school restaurants, corporate cafeterias, private homes, in goat-dairy fields, in the mountains, at lakes and beaches, for catering companies and pizza houses and on, and on, and on. How many meals has it been since 1974...? I actually tried counting them years ago. However, it doesn't matter about the number. What matters is why do I cook? Once again, what is "The Need to Feed"...

Cooking is about emotions. It is the apotheosis of our basic need to eat and survive, of sharing our emotions and our passions. Cooking is a time-honored and timeless activity that we engage in for a variety of reasons. I've always wanted to get a response in everything I do. My time in the theatre was about the response from an audience; raucous laughter, thunderous applause, intimate exposure of our psyche, a cleansing cry, a tenuous gasp. These are all basic human emotions. Performing as an athlete was about the physical test of a game and its particular rules and the head-to-head combat against another person or team trained to compete at their own highest level. As a student it was much the same game - playing by a set of rules within a discipline to see how much I could understand and relate the teachings and studies of others who had come before me. When we cook we are connected to the past and exist in the moment. The interplay of other "teammates" within a theatre-like "stage" encompasses all that I find exciting and necessary for me to live my life to the fullest. Teaching all of this is a different battle...

I have cooked innumerable thousands of meals in dozens of venues with hundreds of other cooks and chefs. The days have rolled by and now I am one of the "old guard". My food is entrenched in the old vocabulary but exists in a contemporary venue and stretches into the cutting edge of our discipline. I cook to gain a response from the diner. Great food has a soul all its own. When it is right it empowers every response imaginable. Sometimes the innate simplicity is perfection. Often the intense preparation over days belies the result on a plate and the diner may not understand all that went into what has been placed before them. The tortured way that some food is shaped and reshaped into unknown forms is still craft - some appreciate that and others do not. That is one of the beautiful aspects of what we do. There are rules to be followed and rules to be broken.
There are venues of haute cuisine and joints for burgers and grinders. There are savory, sweet, umami, bitter and sour responses to what we do. Sometimes it is just a smile that we see in appreciation of our efforts. The exclamations of pure enjoyment can push us to new experimentations and brings us back to the kitchen in a forever of tomorrows.

The insanity of the kitchen can be an element of excitement or dismayal. I prefer the gracious attitudes of teamwork and discipline as opposed to the yells and screams of out-of-control restaurant demons. I've existed in both theatres and may even have displayed the actions of both...maybe. I get a wicked rush from cooking "La Grande Cuisine" to rock and roll music...Bruce Springsteen, Steve Winwood, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, etc. That is a dichotomy that I find is at the nature of my being - I love contrasting elements in life as in food; tastes, textures, colors and styles. Too often we do not see the responses of our guests - save for the events that are cooked in private homes or when a restaurant guest hunts down the chef and staff either by visiting the kitchen or beckoning them to their dining table. It is then, when you can see the smiles, hear the chatter, feel the love, and receive the ovation that all seems right in my world. That is my "Need to Feed..." Peace.

~R

Monday, February 23, 2009

#41 - 23 February 2009 - "Attitude"

When my Attitude is right, nothing can defeat me. I am confident, proud, emotionally strong and creative. That is when I know what is important in life - a great family, lots of friends, a unique work environment, life goals and incredible past experiences. When my Attitude isn't on - there exists another mind-set... I was exposed to Charles Swindoll, by JoAnne (my wife of 10,110 days) in 1991. I still have the need to come back to it - often. At some time or another, we all need to get our Attitude right...

ATTITUDE
by Charles Swindoll

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.
Peace.

~R

Sunday, February 22, 2009

#40 - 22 February 2009 - "The Second Half."

Note to blog readers: If it sounded like I was melodramatic (or melancholy) about my first month as stagier at TFL, I must say that it's the second half that matters the most. The lessons learned from the first four weeks (again, like combatants on sporting fields) will determine the successes in "the second half" - the last four weeks.

This sabbatical and stage is about staying current. I remember reading a quote from TFL-alumnus and current chef/owner of Alinea (Chicago, Illinois) Grant Achatz, who roughly stated that "wouldn't it be great if all we had to do every day was to play and experiment with food?" Ferran Adria and company famously spend up to six-months every year travelling and experimenting in preparation to promote new technologies and advanced methods and techniques at the cutting-edge elBulli in Roses, Spain. Eventually, you have to get back into the kitchen and cook - you gotta pay the bills eventually. So, how do we, the non-super heroes and earth-dwellers, stay current?

When I started in this business in 1974 the American restaurant and culinary scene was dominated by European chefs that hopped across the pond and established French-influenced bastions of haute cuisine. The French ruled the American dining menu. In 1971 Alice Waters turned the toque-topped chefdom on its culinary ear when she and friends opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Her influence was in the small French inns and country-side bistros with attached gardens that foraged for local product. Chez Panisse became a restaurant that operated like a dinner party at your home. It was comfortable, they cooked good food and they required local, sustainable, organic, wholesome and fresh product. Simple recipe for success.

Fast-forward into the 21st century and modern technology has penetrated into the heart of kitchens from The Fat Duck to The French Laundry. The jars of salts and peppers above the Garde Manger at TFL sit akin to Simpless, Maltodextrin and Methyl-Glucose. Top Chefs today are well versed in international products, natural-occurring chemicals and cutting-edge technologies in order to craft menus and diners for the now-contemporary dining client. Our industry has become much more sophisticated as has our clientele. Moms, Dads, kids, couples, singles, etc., all have the ability to log onto the internet, find their niche recipes and methods and recreate some of the best food in the world. The onslaught of food network and food travel television programs can take that same population from across Europe to Down Under and the Pacific Rim all before dinner is prepared and set upon the dining room table... Yet, we still need to cook with our souls, not soullessly cook for notoriety or fame.

So, how do you (we) stay current? It really doesn't matter how - to borrow a phrase from Nike - just do it. Television, newspapers and trade publications, dining out, talking amongst yourselves, the internet - these are ways that do not require attaining a sabbatical of applying for a stage. Consider the money that is invested in a stage from some far-way Northern Scandinavian country like...Sweden. It is five figures, minimum. Travel, loss of income while away from the old country, expenditures in rent and food - they all add up. So, thank be for the efforts of the apprentices, stages, and externs at restaurants across the land. The symbiotic relationship is keen, indeed, between "free labor" that has a meaningful opportunity to learn and contribute and the upper-echelon Valhallas that require intense efforts from the future of the labor pool. Some of this kitchen work might not be getting done without those individuals...

Take notes. Take pictures. Ask questions. Discuss possibilities. Engage yourself with icons and fry cooks, alike. You might even get fed in the process. Peace.

~R

Saturday, February 21, 2009

#39 - 21 February 2009 - "Halfway home..."

In the seemingly infinite time that I have spent in California (in reality, it's only been 33 days...) I've been asked virtually the same two questions from everyone: First, "Is it what you thought it would be (the 'it' being The French Laundry and the stage) experience", and second, "What's the most important thing you've learned...?"

I thought on these questions all day yesterday as I prepared to go back to work - the same mental preperation that an athelete goes through in the hours preceeding a match or an athletic event - and it came back to me on the ride home early this morning (home @ 3:05 a.m., btw). In addition, an even more personal question. "What am I going to rememeber about this place."

I was standing in the kitchen last evening realizing that this is what I've thought about (besides my family and friends who are not with me) for these past days and weeks, 24/7, and in the months in anticipation of coming to California. I'm comfortable there, at TFL, now and that familiarity breeds a sense of home and when you leave "home" there is usually sadness and a sense of longing for what you do not possess any longer. Soon, (27 days) I will no longer possess a piece of the restaurant in a personal sense. In 27 days I will then be an outsider, once again (although I can claim some identity as long as anyone still remembers the "old man"...).

Thus, "Is it what I thought it would be" and "What is the most important thing..." - the answers are simple and complex at the same time. #1 - yes. #2 everything. There, that's done.

In a larger sense, the feelings that I have can never been adequately relayed to a reader without sounding too gushy and eventually inept. To simplify things, I have encountered a part of my being that seems to be very comfortable with all of my experiences and I've become the wizened veteran that may hold the answers to eternal kitchen questions for the next generation of cooks and chefs. I'm going to be a teacher for the rest of my life. I will still cook for small parties and friends and family, but everything I see I see as a learning experience. I have an affinity for seeing lessons in everything. Just knowing that "Failure is another way to learn how to do something right" is the ultimate lesson in our quest towards perfection - and that failure can be used as a learning tool - is important to me. So - I will remember to faithfully uphold the doctrine that: "Good Cooking is the Accumulation of Small Details Done to Perfection"; that small things do matter; that there is a "Sense of Urgency" involved in everything I do; that to work clean takes total commitment; that teamwork is more important than ego; that I can never stop learning, never become complacent and get involved in what is hip and current while maintaing my culinary "roots"; that plated food is the sum of many people's efforts and all those efforts need to be acknowledged; that a stage and an extern are valueable commodities and need to be trained and guided along in order to be useful to the team dynamics; that in order for you to know how to prepare and procuce something you need an understanding of what you are trying to accomplish with a particular dish or plating.

I have often quoted the great New York Chef, Yogi Berra (kidding), who said that "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there." I liken that to not having an understanding of methods and techniques and simply throwing random foods together with no inclination towards a concept for your guests. Or this culinary gem, "If you don't know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else." Translation into plain English - have a "Game Plan."

I've been in the industry for three and one-half decades and I have learned all the important lessons. My training at TFL is certainly the culmination of a life's work. The everyday occurances in the kitchen and restaurant of TFL are similar otr the same in many other houses of food and service. But the expectations and efforts are indeed amplified, the imagery and results are truly dignified, the sense of culinary perfection is magnified, the guests are amazingly gratified and some people there have been deified. Rightly so? I can say that those who have had the privilage of entering into that inner sanctum really do know whether it is true, or not. The experience, while only halfway home, is still unfathomable and the learning is of titantic proportions. Peace.

~R

Friday, February 20, 2009

#38 - 20 February 2009 - "The Need to Feed"

Great dining experience! Cool menu, wicked wines (California selections - I'll send those along in the future), a gracious and wonderful host, and fun dinner guests.

I started cooking yesterday at 10:00 a.m. (after shopping for 1 1/2 hours...) and finished serving the last course (#6) at 11:00 p.m. Cleaned and washed dishes until 12:30 and then stayed up (to get back on my work/sleep schedule) until 1:30-ish. Just finished the final clean-up (the stove, the oven, the kitchen island, etc...) and need to get ready for my stage.

Now, a lot of effort goes into a private home-dinner event for clients. I've successfully cooked hundreds of events over the course of my life and the most satisfying one's are the dinners where the food shines and my guests have the opportunity to sit and talk in a comfortable home with their chef about the food and wine. It gives the diners an opportunity to say thanks and have a discourse about the meal they are digesting. I love that interplay between chef and grateful guest.

My "Need to Feed" stems from showing off my abilities and love for the "soul" of a great cuisine. We, as chefs, affect people viscerally, soulfully and spiritually. A part of me is in everything. The theatre of the event is part of my personal joy. Yes, there is ego involved. I'm very confident in my abilities and I strive to make my clients and guests absolutely satisfied.

If you are a culinarian or an avid food lover - I pose the question, again. What is your "Need to Feed"...? You know where to find me. Peace.

~R

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

#37 - 19 February 2009 - "A Burgundian Winter Dinner"

Here is the menu for my dinner party this evening for "P.S. and Friends", in Santa Rosa.

Braised Escargot in Garlic Parsley Butter "Burgundy-style" with Melted Green Chard and Toasted Baguette

Roasted Poularde Breasts with Natural Jus, Pommes Maxim & Slow-Cooked Leek & Thyme Quenelles

Pan-Roasted Beef Calotte with Cabernet Reduction, Fleurons, Turned Carrot, Pearl Onion & Brussels Sprouts Leaves

Poached Petrale Sole Baked in Puff Pastry with Duxelle, Cuisson Cream, Chives & Red Lumpfish Caviar

Chilled Asparagus Tips, Butter Lettuce, Poached Hen's Egg, Lardons, Tomato Compote & Champagne Vinaigrette

Griddled Pain Perdue with Crushed Pistachio Macaroon Crust, Caramelized Apples & Milk Caramel


Have a great day! Peace.

~R

#36 - 18 February 2009 - "A Day of Rest..."

This recent six-day work week made my body a lump of pulsating, bloody flesh and my mind a mass of roasted Haggis-like grey matter... That said, I have no other excuse for the shortness of today's blog. Coffee, naps and a hot shower are the order of the day. I will, however, shop for my Burgundian Winter Dinner that I'll be cooking for "P.S." and friends. I'll shop this afternoon, prep and post the menu. Also looking ahead to posting my menu for Assignments Restaurant at The Art Institute of Colorado (675 South Broadway, Denver, Colorado - 303.778.6625) and extending an invitation to everyone in the Universe to come and dine with us... Peace.

~R

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

#35 - 17 February 2009 - "A Temple and Museum..."

Nine o'clock and I was summoned to The Pass by a Chef de Partie and was asked to sign a copy of The French Laundry Cookbook for a guest. I was puzzled. Yes, I needed to add my signature to the collection of chefs and cooks for the guest who had purchased the book, dined on the Chef's Tasting Menu and wanted a permenant keepsake and memory of their experience. That was an interesting and profound moment. So, with a flourish I took John Hancock's historic premise and signed the whole page! Just kidding. A simple "R.N. Corey" (always signed that way because my father signed his name "N.H. Corey" and my grandfather was known as "C.P. Corey" - a way to pay homage to the two smartest men I've known).

Later in the evening several guests entered the kitchen and were given tours of the BOH. This happens all day long. Some guests are awestruck. Some are obviously restauranteurs and/or chefs so they look more deeply into the frenzied atmosphere of the kitchen. All are deferential. Pictures of the cooks and facility are taken by the guests. Their picture is taken by their host (usually the dining room managers and taken in front of The Pass). This all happens while service is ongoing! Traffic to and fro ceases as the guests are given line-of-sight priority. Their thanks are usually accompanied by some sort of grateful salutory exclamation, such as "This was incredible" or "This was the best meal I have ever dined upon"...

Many times during these "guest tours" I have over-heard great stories about the progenity of The French Laundry or about the refurnishing processes in 1995 and 2004. Last evening I learned that the Bonnet stove was imported from France and arrived in America in one piece. The stove is huge, about 15 feet by 6 feet. The roof of the kitchen was removed and a crane lowered the stove into the kitchen from 1 1/2 blocks away! Btw, the stove works at up to 800 degrees F. and warms the cook area through radiant heat. All the s/s surfaces are hot and it takes a little while to get used to the hot surfaces. As I was exiting the property (in the fifth day of constant rain as this IS the rainy season in Napa Valley) I came upon a group of three guests who had just had their tour. I was the last to leave the kitchen (just soaking up the ambiance and making sure my stocks were cooking properly) and they wanted to take my picture with them at The Pass. I declined, noting that I was not their chef... So, outside in the rain, I explained more about "the Stage". They were entranced and spell-bound after their experience. Gushing, they took more pictures out in the rain and wanted to know "all about my experience at TFL and what I really thought of the restaurant and what will I be doing after my stage... Pretty cool, actually.

I bid them "au revoir" and walked the block and one-half to my car. The rain beat down mercilessly upon me but I cared not in the least. I had a quick rememberence of Gene Kelly "Singing in the Rain", and I may have skipped and splashed and even hummed a little myself (remember to "Dance as though no one is looking"...) in a sort of giddy affirmation that what I am doing is not only good for me and my soul, but for you the reader of this journal and to the guests (remember that "Hardware stores have customers and restaurants have guests") who trek the many miles to eat at The French Laundry.

Like I stated in the title of this blog, The French Laundry is indeed, for some, a Temple and a Museum. Not for old dusty relics but for the status that it maintains in gastronomic lore. The cars whizzing by on Hwy 29 just 1/2 mile due west may not know what lies behind the trees off to their left (or right). There are passers-by who gape and gawk at the well-known brass nameplate on the restaurant. Some just stand and feel the energy flowing from the river rock and placid exterior gardens as if, by osmosis, their own culinary abilities will be improved. Earlier in the day, during the waning afternoon light, I was once again in the garden sniping blossoms and herbs for the dinner service and two seperate "tourist" groups asked to take my picture while I was attending to my task... Each wanted to know "my story" as well. Now, if you know me at all, I'll talk to anyone with half an ear so I graciously relented to their requests.

The guests at The French Laundry are definitely getting an experience they will not soon forget, as am I. I drove the near 75 minute drive in a torrential monsoon, in complete silence, thinking about food, menus, life and the previous twelve hours. I know that what I'm doing is right, as difficult as it is to be away from family and loved ones, existing in a sort of "Groundhog Day" repetition. I was reminded of a quote that my mother e-mailed to be just the other day. From her "life is Good" coffee mug there appears the following - "Do what you love, and love what you do" - a modern adaptation of some eighth century Confucious wisdom. Thanks, Mom! Peace.

~R

Monday, February 16, 2009

#34 - 16 February 2009 - "A Day at TFL"

I've been asked to relate what a day in the kitchen at The French Laundry is like. That will be tough because I don't think I have all the time and space necessary to do so! Here's what I can do - O.k., well it's like no other day I've experienced in the restaurant business yet the ebb and flow is still quite familiar. So, here's a day in my life as a stage at TFL:

First, I've gotten home from the previous evening at 2:30 a.m., so I'm in bed by 3:00 a.m. Up the next morning by 9:00 or 9:30. Coffee - it's the great equalizer between sleep and blogging! Computer work (now, in addition to the blog, I've begun to work on my staffing, preparations and menus for Assignments Restaurant at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Colorado as well as client events for 12 Seasons) until 1:00 p.m. and then get ready to leave Santa Rosa by 2:00p.m. It is a 50-60 minute drive to Yountville.

I arrive on-site and head to the tiny locker room that services 24 cooks and chefs. Lockers, uniforms and aprons are available here.

After donning TFL-insignia I enter the kitchen via the copper-clad back door and from that point on - 10-12 hours later - there is no stopping. I store my knives in the stage/extern drawer and it's time to shake hands and greet everyone. Everyone. It is a daily ritual and you are met with smiles and warmth regardless of what tasks are being undertaken at that time. Sometimes it's a fist bump and sometimes just a pat on the back but there is always a greeting. Very cool.

Then I make myself available to the commis-in-charge that afternoon. We are assigned tasks as necessary because there is always something happening. This is a shift change time so the primary job for those arriving for the evening schedule is to help clean the prep rooms - my primary home until 1:30 a.m. Everyone cleans and this is done very precisely with a ritual of organization that is followed exactly; the rugs are shaken out, rolled up and stored. The floor is swept. The proper cleaning solutions are poured on the counters and the floor. All hands attack the cleaning with gusto! Green 3M scoure pads are used on the counter tops, a deck brush on the floor. Clean wash water is the poured over everything. The counters are then cleaned with a hand-squeegee and then dried with the "blue towels". "Sheila Shine" is applied (also with a blue towel) to the counters and all s/s surfaces (reach-ins, ice-bin, etc.). "Windex" is used to wash the ceramic tile walls. Floors are scrubbed, rinsed, squeegeed and then dried. Rugs go back down and then the process is repeated on the OTHER prep room (there are two). Once all areas are cleaned, only then can the food work begin or resume.

The evening prep crew has specific jobs to accomplish and then others as necessary for each of the stations in the service kitchen. Egg tops need to be removed for "Egg Custards with Chive Chips" - remove the top using the egg topper, seperate the eggs (vacuum pack the whites and yolks seperately), soak the empty egg shells in hot water and vinegar, then remove the egg lining and store for future use. Need 60-90 each day.

Andante Butter is portioned (36g), and stored. The portioned butter is then shaped in cheesecloth to resemble perfect circles of butter with a texture from the cheesecloth on top. They are formed by hand and hardened in ice water. Removed from the cheesecloth they are stored between parchment paper in 2" lexans.
EVERYTHING IS LABLED WITH PRECISE-CUT (90 degree) GREEN PAINTER'S TAPE WITH THE NAME OF THE PRODUCT, THE DATE AND INITIALED... Need 50-60 shaped butters each night.

Brunoise. Not necessarily the shape (it's really Brunoise Fine) but the composition. A Brunoise @ TFL is turnip, leek greens and carrot. Cut, blanched in salted water and dried over a linen cloth. Stored in deli containers (EVERYTHING IS IN A DELI CONTAINER) with c-fold paper towels to absorb excess moisture.

Often the prep list includes; production of lamb, veal, duck and chicken stocks, straining those stocks, vacuum sealing the stocks, storing the stocks, blanching sous vide vegetables and refreshing in ice baths, setting sous vide lexans with immersion circulators, maintaining ovens, maintaining the stock pots (in decreasing size with handles all the same direction - same with chinois), picking various vegetables and herbs and paring them to pre-determined sizes. Retreiving product, organizing and maintaining reach-ins for the chefs des parties. All stations have a mise en place to set as well; c-fold towels, canola oil, salts, pans, pepper mills, various food products as the stations require...

At any time we may be called upon to produce some sort of vegetable cut, tournee, fabricated meat, sauce-on-the-fly, plates (which are laid out on the counter tops to cool before they get to the station chefs), chocolates, or just about ANYTHING. The poularde, uni, lamb, veal, chicken, fish, lobsters, sea urchins, tapioca, oysters, chive potato chips, gnocchi, tagliatelle, vegetables and pastries, etc. are produced throughout the day. Support to the Chef, Chef de Cuisine, Chefs des Parties and Sous Chefs are immediate and need to be attended to in a timely manner (i.e., FAST and ACCURATE).

The service is divided into two seatings - 5:30 and 9:00. Service extends to 12:30 a.m. and cleaning, prep for the next day and the chef's snack continues until 1:00-1:30 a.m.

The return trip is, again 50-60 minutes (depending on the weather...) and then the process begins anew... Need more coffee.

Peace.

~R

Saturday, February 14, 2009

#33 - 14 February 2009 - "Ruminations"

Ruminations (the name I have unofficially issued to my life and thoughts imprisoned on paper since 1992) are by definition: "to ruminate, or a function verb which in the inflected form is ruminated or ruminating". Makes sense. Its etymology is from the Latin ruminatus, past participle of ruminari, or "to chew the cud and even to muse upon", which from rumin (or rumen - relating to animals with four-chambered stomach and digestive systems) is, perhaps, akin to Sanskrit romantha, or "act of chewing the cud". Got it?

So, I’ve chosen to refer to my life’s work as something that a cow spends it’s time doing hour after hour in order to break down the cellulose structure of humanly-inedible grasses... Hmmm.

My version of Ruminations dates from Europe of 1533 and is “to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly (usually more slowly than is normal with me...) and to ponder and engage in contemplation and reflection”. That’s deep man. Wicked deep. Maybe I should call it “Wicked Deep Ruminations, Man”.

Moving on.

Working clean is a conscious thought. When we see an unclean area we notice it. Do you notice the very clean work areas...? Do you praise the very clean as much as you admonish the dirty and unkempt. I hope so. I’ve been in the habit of buffing the stainless steel prep areas every evening. I take pride in making that area shine and when any chef comes through, stops to ponder and then proclaims “nice Buff job”, I am pleased. They do look good under the dimmed kitchen lights, ready for the a.m. crew to get all messed up in just a few short hours...

Being at TFL is akin to being in culinary school all over again. The same disjointedness when entering the kitchen for the first time. “Where is this found” and “where does that go”, etc. You culinary students are all nodding your heads in agreement. It is also that same sense of wonderment and learning going on when new and intriguing methods and techniques pop up during prep or service. The learning is incredible. The culinary landscape is like the San Andreas Fault. Very familiar to the naked eye – things certainly seem the same or similar. Underneath the visible and presented food is a complex layered-phalanx of thought, method and techniques applied using modern contrivances and old-fashioned identities. Still learning...and finding applications across the spectrum to other disciplines in business, the arts and sciences. I think TFL is a training ground for life. More on the exact methods and techniques later, when time allows.

I am particularly impressed with one of the Chefs de Partie (“B”) who apprenticed at the east-coast variation of TFL, per se in NYC. His time there was spent during a six-month externship from my culinary alma mater, The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. “B” stated to me that “going back to culinary school after working at per se was so difficult”. He referenced the fact of how clean and professional per se was. I understand as I am in a perfect environment now. When I return to teaching I know that my instruction will improve, my expectations and standards will be increased and my passion is gauranteed to be infective. That is another blog and one certainly worth visiting; Culinary school versus Apprenticeship. I’ve done both. We’ll ruminate on that one together, eh?

So, my Spanish is only so-so. It gets better when I force myself to ask questions about “What do you call this” or “How do you say that”... Of course, I know how to say that in Spanish, but writing it is entirely different. The dishwashing crew at The French Laundry is all Hispanic speaking. There is no difference in work ethic between the Entremetier, Legumier (vegetable & starch cook) and the dishwashers. There is no difference between the passion to make a beautiful and incredible tasting plate from Canapé and the passion and methodology to provide beautiful and clean steel pans and clean white porcelain serving dishes... The pace at which they work in the back of the back of the house is tremendous. The standards which pervade the rest of The French Laundry also make their home in that steamy and wet environ that is in close proximity to the dumpster and side street. Just trying to make their life a little easier is a conscious thought of mine every time I enter that segment of the kitchen.

Get real, everybody. THAT is the heart of any restaurant environment. No pans to cook with? You’re out of luck, then! They aren’t clean and spotless which impinges their ability to conduct heat...? Won’t be very effective, eh? No plates to serve on? I guess the guests will just have to wait... Crappy, dirty, smudged plates? Well, that’s a great impression. I’m impressed with that part of TFL operation as well. Take heed, all ye current and future culinary and management students – treat your dishwashing staff with grace and courtesy and they will take care of your reputation...

Finally... a thought on sharing. This was precipitated by a narrative typed on piece of paper, very perfectly framed with green tape, laid out at The Pass, for someone in particular to take note of during dinner service, apparently. I don’t know where it came from, from whom or why it was there – but I appreciated the idea, the need and thought behind its use, because I do this as well. It was a part of a larger speech from Teddy Roosevelt (one that I’ve referenced many times, and some of my past and present students who are reading this web blog will remember it, or so I hope) called, popularly “The Critic” or “The Man in the Arena”. It is part of a much longer piece, “Citizenship in a Republic”, a speech by the 26th President of the United States at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910. I will leave you now with its content for you to Ruminate. Mooo.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Peace.

~R

Friday, February 13, 2009

#32 - 13 February 2009 - "A Violinist in the Metro"

I received this piece, this story (below), from a dear friend some months ago ("M.O'D") and filed it under "Aspirations and Expectations", a thoughtful folder on my brain-of-a-desktop PC. I had been struggling at the keyboard "waiting for inspiration" with dozens of thoughts running through my head about cooking, cooks, chefs, food & wine, the students and alumni that I am here to inspire and the faculty that I am here to represent.... It is a dreary, albeit thankfully, rainy day in Sonoma Valley. My drive to Napa Valley over the serpentine and narrow Calistoga Road begins in an hour - and I feel the obligitory tug of my blog promise, that; "to write every day of my experience at The French Laundry". So, here is my stream of conscious thought today, the day after the 200th Anniversary of the birth, in a log cabin in Kentucky, of A. Lincoln, a wise and thoughtful man who may or may-not have inspired me today... It is not directly related to any of the above mentioned thought, yet is deep in thought itself...

A Violinist in the Metro.

A man sat at a metro station in Washington D.C. and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly, he was late for work. The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother pulled him along, hurried, but the child stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.

When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the metro station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception and priorities of people. The outlines were: In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

I've found talent in places I had not thought to look, I've forced nyself to stop in the rush of necessity to appreciate the little things (like Micro-Hyacinths and sheer-sliced Toyko Turnips) and I've come to know that all there is so so much more than all I know. Thus, I have become a contributing member of the staff at The French Laundry; not because of who I am, what I have been, or what I know. I have finally given myself totally to the experience and have stopped to smell the roses, hear the music and give thanks for all that I have and all that may be.

One last parting thought for the day - "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail". - Dr. Robert H. Shuller

Peace.

~R