Saturday, January 31, 2009

#19 - 31 January 2009 - "That'll do Pig."


Tomorrow is a picture taking day at The French Laundry, so I'll have some shots for y'all... In the meantime enjoy my friend!
~R

Friday, January 30, 2009

#18 - 30 January 2009 - Earning What You Deserve

What is "The Need to Feed"...? Is it cooking? Is it sharing your dreams and aspirations? Is it standing toe to toe with your brethren for hours at a time... Yes. Yes. Yes, and yes. Being a cook is that and much more. Having developed a penchant for the philosophical side of Ma Cuisine I submit the following for your perusal...

Carpe Diem.

An oft used and ignored phrase of symbolism. What we do today defines us tomorrow. So - what are you doing today that makes tomorrow a better experience than today...? My today is a succession of long days and nights at The French Laundry that will, in my tomorrow, define who I will be in the months and years to come. I know not what will actually happen tomorrow...that is up to God and fate, but my efforts today (and in the past) will shape and mold me as I morph into the future...

I've gotten much out my professional life. I was once just a skinny kid at Pleasant Valley Country Club in the mid-1970's. I lived ego-inducing and passion-building days in my apprenticeship with Chef Esteban Colon in the Grand Canyon and served as group leader and the "old man" (I was just 27...) at the Culinary Institute of America in the 1980's. I cooked, cheffed and built my business in the 90's. I learned about patience, mentoring and stretching my boundaries in this first decade of the 21st century. Where will I be in 2015? Or 2025? Or beyond that...? I know what I know, yet I know that I don't know enough nor will I ever know enough - and so on...

With that in mind I pay homage to Charles Kelly, who brought this to me several years ago:

DANCE as though no one is watching you...
LOVE as though you have never been hurt before...
SING as though no one can hear you...
LIVE as though heaven is on Earth.

Thank you, Chuck. An unknown quote of incomparable understanding. Much like Carpe Diem; reach for stars, brass rings and dreams. It isn't about actually grasping or attaining the goal. Life and the inalienable rights to the pursuit of happiness are relative to your effort and a sense of place. One must understand that we are defined by where we are at any and all times. We are affected by place. I am totally immersed in my learning and am in a "place" - figurative and real. I live on these pages (if the computer-generated script can be called a "page") as a way to open my spirit and allow the free reign of ideas to explode and cascade across the vastness of technology until you read this and get a sense of how important our lives are and how important it is to seek the unreachable stars, to quote Don Quixote. The journey to our end is that which defines us on a colossal scale. What does this have to do with the stage, the sabbatical and the mosh pits of kitchens across the culinary universe...? Nothing. It has nothing to do with that trinity. Yet - it has everything to do with the spirit, the persona and the self. Be true to what you do. What you attain is what you pursue and never will you truly earn what you don't deserve in our world. It takes a lifetime, sometimes, to live for a day. The earned may be deserved but the earned without deserving is false and under scrutiny by those around you. Be patient, work hard, work clean and help others along the way, for that is truly the way to gain the rewards that being a cook - a really good cook - and a chef are what our passion is all about. Get it?

Mentoring.

Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Pay it forward. Nourish your culinary family tree. Share your spirit and knowledge. Do, and teach. Not only is it rewarding but it is amazing how much learning there is in teaching... And finally, as my day at TFL now begins at 5:00 a.m., I leave you will a parting quote, taken in the above vein it may make sense to you budding and blossomed chefs and cooks;

Cooking is like love. Enter into it with reckless abandon, or not at all.

There is much to comprehend, ruminate and express. When I attack the keyboard I'm never quite sure what will jump onto the screen yet somehow I always find the blogging experience to be cathartic and cleansing. Time to dream of Foie Gras and Chateau d'Yquem. Peace.

~R

Thursday, January 29, 2009

#17 - 29 January 2009 - La Truffe



















A great day at The Laundry...

The above pictures tell the whole story. 40# of fresh black truffles from Provence, France. I won't even disclose how much they cost, that would be unfair to the restaurant. However, this single experience of cleaning, shaving and working with these beauties is totally worth the effort to be in Napa...seriously. More on this tomorrow. Gotta sleep. 4:00 a.m. comes early. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


~R

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

#16 - 28 January 2009 - Menus

Chef's Tasting Menu
Prix Fixe $240.00 - Service Included

"Oysters and Pearls" *
"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

Salad of Butternut Squash Confit
Swiss Chard, Black Truffles from Provence and K & J Orchard Chestnuts

Moulard Duck "Foie Gras en Terrine"
Sunchoke Glaze, Hazelnut "Crunch", Hosui Pears, Frisee and Madeira-Vanilla Reduction
($30.00 Supplement)

Sautéed Fillet of Japanese Suzuki
Broccolini Fleurettes, Green Grapes, Red Radish and Spanish Caper Vinaigrette

"Lamelles" of Pacific Kanpachi
"Jardiniere" of Winter Vegetables, Petite Lettuces, Hass Avocado and Yuzu Essence

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail
Hon-Shimeji Mushrooms, Clemintine Segments, Watercress and "Sauce Japonaise"

Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit
Melted King Richard Leeks, French Prune and Hobb's Shores Bacon Emulsion

Corned Marcho Farms Veal Tongue
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Rye Bread Puree, Pearl Onions and Grain Mustard Sauce

Snake River Farms "Calotte de Beouf Grillee"
"Pommes Sarladaises", French Laundry Garden Spinach, Nantes Carrots and "Sauce Bordelaise"

"Idiazabal"
Pimenton Pepper, "Pain Perdu", Globe Artichokes and Arugula

Ruby Red Grapefruit Sorbet
Pistachio "Pain de Genes" and Mascarpone

"Mousse au Chocolat Amedei"
Gros Michel Banana Ice Cream, Candied Cashews and Curry "Arlette"

Braised Golden Pineapple
Spiced Sweet Rice Beignets, Dark Raisin Coulis and Long Pepper Sorbet

Mignardise

#15 - 28 January 2009 - Game Plan

The following quote is from a culinary student doing their externship at The French Laundry; "I'm working on being organized and pushing myself as hard as I can, all the time. My goal is efficiency of movement. Right now it permeates my entire being."

It permeates my entire being... Huh. I love it when younger cooks proclaim to the world their passion and goals... We spoke about the necessity of having a game plan and then following through with it. Without a focus there is little chance for success. To be a complete chef and manage time, product and people there must be a plan. With that, here is the secret - in order:

Game Plan
Mise en Place
Cook
Serve

A cook cannot digress from that methodology. Good lessons to be learned by all cooks that were precipitated by a young cook, full of raw passion with a future in someone's kitchen (or perhaps, their own).

A side trip.
Working hard in any chosen field requires some down time, some recuperation. As a culinary instructor and business owner, the day-to-day operation of a restaurant kitchen is mostly behind me - my days are different, now. Now, when I produce an event for a client it is easily an 18-20 hour day (plus the shopping, pre-prep, packing and travel to and from the site - an average of 27 hours). I have the complete luxury of creating menus and curriculum, inspire passion, provide education, taste food and give the requisite critiquing of food. Now I am one of the minions, a stagier. I'll get used to the hours, the work and the travelling to and from the restaurant...back in the ballgame, so to speak. The end result is that I was pretty tired after the first week and took yesterday completely off...
However, today was different. I took a journey to Bodega Bay, just 35 minutes due west of Santa Rosa. The drive towards the coast was refreshing and rejuvenating. I could smell the salt air and it brought me back to the ocean of my youth, the Atlantic of Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts. The land gave way to the silent black sentinels of wave-beaten rocks. The descent down the bluff was on yellow flower-lined wooden steps, filled in with wind-blown sand was quite exciting. With Crocs in hand I walked along the chilled tarmac of sand and stepped into the crashing surf. O.K., that was cold...! Couldn't have been more than 35 degrees. The beaches were assaulted by white sea foam waves and the gulls amassed as if in an Alfred Hitchcock inspired movie, a la "The Birds" (which, btw, was filmed in this exact spot...). Kites, kids, clouds and fog were the action being framed by this panorama. The breeze washed away my pent-up anxiety of the previous week and my senses were awakened and I felt a joyful skip in my step as I smiled broadly on my way along the Miwok Beach. Time stopped and I was once again my old self, now ready to face the new challenges. My Game Plan has been reset...
The alarm is set for 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning for the trip to Napa Valley and a 5:30 a.m. start at The French Laundry. With a week of acclimation behind me I am confident and rearing to go - to learn new things, to stay current and continue my work with empowered, passionate, intelligent cooks with the same beliefs and commitment as myself. Peace.
~R

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

#14 - 27 January 2009 - Menus

Tasting of Vegetables
Prix Fixe $240.00 - Service Included
"Bloody Mary"
Tomato Pickle, Celery Branch, Horseradish, Brioche Croutons and Smoke
Salade of English Cucumbers
Compressed Asian Pear, Heirloom Beets and Red Ribbon Sorrel
"Topinambours en Persillade"
Eggplant Confit, Pine Nut Puree, Parsley Shoots and Nicoise Olive Oil
Butternut Squash Porridge
Black Truffles from Provence and Siscilian Pistachios
Gratin of Yukon Gold Potatoes
Meyer Lemon "Glacege" Garden Radish, Romaine Lettuce, Crispy Capers, Aged Balsamic Vinegar and Shaved Bottarga
Tamari-Glazed Abalone Mushroom
Tokyo Turnips, Carred Scallions and Mizuna
"Fricassee" of Globe Artichoke
"Jamon Iberico", Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Piquillo Peppers, Cilantro and "Sauce Pimenton"
Hand-Rolled Parsnip "Agnolotti"
Swiss Chard, Pearl Onions, Dijon Mustard Emulsion and Napa Valley Mustard Blossoms
"Vermont Shepherd"
Caraway Seed "Pain Perdu", Sweet Carrots and Brussel Sprout Leaves
"Blu del Monsenisio"
Medjool Dates, Fennel Bulb, Marcona Almonds and "Piment d'Espelette"
Cranberry Sorbet
Buttermilk "Granite", Toasted Oats and White Honey
Fuji Apple "En Feuille de Bric"
Brown Butter Gastrique, Chestnut Ice Cream, Streusel and Shaved Black Truffles
"Coupe de Chocolat Amer et Cafe"
Passion Fruit, Condensed Milk and Caramel
Mignardise

#13 - 27 January 2009 - The Food

The food. I'm sure that you, the avid Chef Corey blogger, are waiting for something more tangible from me - away from the philisophical and managerial predilictions and into that which has made The French Laundry so attractive to cooks and diners... O.K., I agree - for now.

Note: Pictures of the kitchen (as I have been asked about) will have to wait until my schedule changes back to nights. This thursday is a 5:30 a.m. start. I will not be able to provide you photos of the plating, as a camera is not allowed until my last day in the kitchen. The kitchen pictures will be available in a week, or so.

Here goes. Items on the menu denoted with an * are featured menu items. They are Thomas Keller and TFL classics and are expected to be served...

Chef's Tasting Menu
Prix Fixe $240.00 - Service Included
"Salmon Cone" *
Salmon Tartare with Red Onion Creme Fraiche in Black Sesame Seed Tuile Cones
"Oysters and Pearls" *
"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
"Salade de Chou-Fleur"
Green Grapes, Marcona Almonds, Red Chili, Cilantro and Verjus"
Moulard Duck "Foie Gras en Terrine" *
Pear Relish, Compressed EndiveWatercress and Hazelnuts
($30.00 supplement to the price of the tasting menu)
Satsuma Mandarin-Glazed Bluefin Tuna
Purple-Top Turnips, Brilled Scallions and Black Sesame
"Anguille de Mer Legerement Frite"
Hobbs' Bacon, Sweet Carrots, Pearl Onions and "Gastrique Bordelaise"
"Beets and Leeks"
Maine Lobster tail "Poche au Beurre Doux" with King Richard Leeks, "Pommes Maxim"
and Red Beet Essence
Four Story Hill Farm "Poularde"
Crispy salsify, San Marzano Tomato Compote, Swiss Chard and Dijon Mustard
"Chateaubriand" of Nature-Fed Veal
Bluefoot Mushrooms, Sunchokes, Piquillo Peppers, Arugula and "Sauce Pimenton"
Kuroge Beef "Saucisson en Croute"
French Laundry Garden Lettuce, Radish and Black Truffle "Ravigote"
"Fouchtra"
Celery Branch, Cherries and Black Pepper Sable
Ruby Red Grapefruit Sorbet
Pistachio "Pain de Genes" and Mascarpone
"Mousse au Chocolat Amedei"
Gros Michel Banana Ice Cream, Candied Cashews and Curry "Arlette"
Braised Golden Pineapple
Spiced Sweet Rice Beignets, Dark Raisin Coulis and Long Pepper Sherbert
Mignardises *
Jellies, Truffles, Mini-Eclairs, Nougats, Lemon Curd Meringues, Petite Fruit Breads, Hazelnut Petite Fours, White Chocolate Cremes, Creme Patissiere-filled Profiteroles

Monday, January 26, 2009

#12 - 26 January 2009 - Wisdom

"Be aware of everything around you during the dance. Be aware of costs. Let's make sure we are ordering properly and utilizing our ingredients correctly. Everything has a value. Don't take it for granted that we have extraordinarily expensive ingredients and have the best of everything to work with. Be appreciative of this opportunity that we have". -Corey Lee, Chef de Cuisine, The French Laundry, to his staff during a planning session deep into the night, seated at the pass in the kitchen of TFL...

Words of wisdom, indeed. Even the greatest restaurants on earth have the same communications between chefs and staff, the same as we have had all our lives, in sundry other establishments and businesses. The common bond between us all is - that we are charged and ordained to create interesting, innovative, nutritional and wholesome food and dining options for guests to enjoy. We exist to provide "an experience".

"Have you noticed how nice and accomodating everyone is here? This would never, could never, work in my restaurant". -Fellow stagier at The French Laundry making an observation and commentary...

There is so much more. More to see. More to taste! More to smell and experience. More to practice. More to cook. More to enjoy... Too much to digest since I began tasting the plates just the other day... A couple of days worth to bring to you, but will have to wait until tomorrow. Peace.
~R

Sunday, January 25, 2009

#11 - 25 January 2009 - Pictures

The pictures are of The French Laundry back entrance, Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery, just south of TFL on Washington Street in Yountville...









#10 - 25 January 2009 - A Day In The Life...


Note: The picture at left is the emblem on The French Laundry chef jacket...
Quick story... It was 9:00 in the evening and the second seating had just begun. I was in the kitchen supporting the chef de partie on cheese when I was asked to procure mustard blossoms. I inquired as to where I would find them and I was told, pretty matter-of-factly, that they are in the garden across the street. Remembering that the night was well into its third hour of blackness – I know that my eyebrows went up and I almost laughed out loud – I gladly rose to the challenge. As I rounded the back of the restaurant and headed towards the gardens (remember the 42, 30’ x 30’ plots of tillage…from a previous blog, that is) I wondered aloud how the heck I was going to FIND ANYTHING IN THE DARK. I was not provided with a light nor was one offered. As I rummaged I thought of bringing my car around to shine on the field but that would not have illuminated enough acreage. It was then I had an “Ah hah!” moment. My cell phone. Sure enough, when I opened it, it cast enough light so that I could cruise up and down the paths between the plots. Of course, I had to bend over and hold the phone about six inches away from the growth… It must have been a funny scene.
I found the necessary mustard blossoms and was ecstatic with myself for solving the problem. I wonder if it was just a test to see if the new guy could get it done…

Notes on the food from my pocket notebook:
· Virtually everything is vacuum-sealed in cry-o-vac. A beastly machine that sucks the air out of specially designed bags containing anything from foie gras, truffle coins or Wagyu beef to bean paste, peeled cucumbers and vanilla ice cream base. Gotta get one of those. Beats the hell out of my seal-a-meal from Costco.
· 90 egg shells cleaned every day. The whites and yolks vacuum packed. The eggs are cut with the egg topper; tops removed, and then soaked in hot water and vinegar bath to remove the lining. Used for egg custards. The attrition rate is about 20-25% but getting better.
· Butter rounds have been mastered. 36 g of specialty butter from Andante Dairy shaped into perfect discs inside cheesecloth, which is later removed, for bread presentations.
· Brunoise fine (1/16t” x 1/16t” x 1/16”) carrots, leeks and turnips. Blanched, shocked, and dried. Every day. 2 deli containers (each container is one pint).
· Garlic confit is blanched 5 times, in new water each time, and then cooked until very soft in clarified butter…
· Sous vide lobster tails, claws and knuckles in beurre monte at 59.6 degrees C until meltingly sensual. This was part of family-meal yesterday. It is as good as it sounds…
· Burn skins of red bell peppers with blowtorch in order to just remove the skin and apply no direct cooking to the pepper meat. Outside skin will peel off under cold running water. Brilliant.
· Muscat de provence. A dense, melon-sweet pumpkin from northwestern Italy. Use for hundreds of parisienne rounds. Vacuum pack the remainder for soup, tomorrow…
· Crones. A tiny (one-inch or less) tuber that resembles a grub-worm, in shape only…. The very thin skin must be wiped off with a green 3M pad and then brushed with a paring knife. 2 deli containers took two of us 2 hours to peel, pare and wash. Cooked last evening in clarified butter to caramelize and they are delicious. Just 5 on a plate, among other components.
· Black trumpet mushrooms – UMAMI – for garnish and vegetables. Trimmed, washed, squeezed and air-dried on a rack, draped with linen, and suspended over a sheet pan atop five over-turned deli containers. BTM are black chanterelle mushrooms (or Girolles).
· The various mignardise (chocolate candies, chocolate and nut truffles, tiny √©clairs, jellies, mini-fruit breads, lemon cured-filled meringues, macaroons and other sundries – are breath taking. I am allowed to work in the patissiere and delight in handling these wondrous creations (more on this in another blog, I’m sure).
· Diane St. Clair butter as an accompaniment in the cheese tasting. Nutty, rich, smooth and totally lingers on the palate. INCREDIBLE.
· Rendered 35# of wagyu (domestic Kobe beef cattle) fat. Freeze the fat and grind (through a small die) and then cook clarify in a rondeau, topped off with water until the fat separates from the impurities. As I was grinding the fat a front-of-the-house employee inquired as to what I was working with. He said he wondered why I was grinding the fat - and then he remembered where he was working. Fat is good.
· Petite Rabbit Racks. Think rack of lamb only reeeeeaaallyy small – with the little ribs protruding just like the big boys do… Three bones per rack on a serving. Probably 25 g… Very cool.
Peace.

~R

Friday, January 23, 2009

#9 - 23 January 2009 - Clean With Enthusiasm

Clean with Enthusiasm.

These were the first words that I said to myself when our first tasks were assigned on Day 1. I rememebered Chef Michael D'Amore at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park... It was a Buffet Catering & Garde Manger class. He was a wild-eyed enthusiastic instructor and instilled in me a concept: Own it, Enjoy it, Relish it. Be it cleaning, peeling turnips or roasting the whole Foie Gras beast - these are all aspects, among one hundred-thousand or more, that need to be completed in order for the restauarnt to be complete, as well. OWN IT. ENJOY IT. RELISH IT. Thank you, Chef.

Work Clean.

A mantra. A mindset. A necessity. The French Laundry kitchen is the most completely clean and precise environment I have ever entered into. Form follows function. The manicured grounds outside are a breath of fresh air. From the racked gravel paths and pebbled lots that are reminesent of a Japanese rock garden, to the trimmed and coiffed bushes and small shrubs at the interior patio and flower beds, this is an establishment that cares about the senses. The congenial atmosphere that greets guests and the stylistic display of a multitude of courses on fine porcelin and china plates makes a diner feel special and taken care of. The development of an experience is a complete understanding of all that is good in our industry. It is the level of care and attention to detail that is a mind-blowing observation to those that are keyed into that, despite what the price on this meal will become. $240.00 before wine and beverages must be understood in the vein of the expense in time, ability and care that this theatre of dining brings forth. Just to be cognizant that the smallest of details in food preparation will eventually become synthicized into a larger perspective is challenging and requires complete commital. It starts with working clean.

The kitchen at TFL is completely cleaned three times each day. The prep area, where I was enconsed for 10 hours on Day 1 is cleaned 5 times each day. Everything. All stainless, brass and glass surfaces are kept immaculate. Cooks are issued three towels - keep track of them! The moment I put on my size 42 jacket with the azul-blue lettering of The French Laundry I was charged with attaining the attitude that all tasks mattered. There is little difference in the party of the whole experience between my efforts and those of the Sous Chef and the Patissiere. Gratitude from these cooks and chefs was never lacking. Thank you's abound. I entertained that what I did mattered and I was not disappointed with the response from the staff. Lesson #1 reiterated itself to me all day and I knew that what I had embraced years ago in my training, my apprenticeships and in my teaching philosophy was right on point. Work clean - and so I shall.

Shaking in and shaking out.

In many large Euro-inspired establishments, as well as in Culinary schools across the spectrum, the students/cooks shake hands with the Chef(s) as a way to connect on a new day - a new beginning. The sins of yesterday are absolved. All staff memebers shake hands with fellow mates as a bonding of like-minded teammates. Athletes high-five, low-five and chest bump each other before gladitorial football, basketball and Rugby Union matches so why shouldn't the gifted craftsman of the culinary playing fields do the same...? The edge of uncomfortableness was relived quickly this way. We are a team. In the kitchen Brigade (the hierarchial components of staff) the Chef/Patron is lord; the Chef de Cuisine is number one in line behind the supreme one; the continuation of status runs through the Pastry Chef, the Sous Chef(s), the Chefs de Partie (station or line-cooks, if you will), and down through the incredibly important dishwashing crew (whom I did introduce myself to very early upon my entrance to the kitchen) until - finally - one reaches the externs and stages. That's me, way down on the bottom... Haven't been in that situation for a loooooonggggg time. And, I might add, I love the learning aspect of that situation. I am surrounded by the youthful and talented future of American cuisine and I find it rewarding, and motivational as well. My fellow stagiers (four of them) represent the United States, Sweden and Mexico. Fine cuisine is multi-national and multi-cultural. We all speak that same mental and physical languages as well as the formal and technical language of the kitchen - culinary French. A shared bond is strong when all elements of technique, method and mental clarity are established. In spite of the unfamiliar landscape when I stepped into TFL kitchen (everything is new and different on anyone's first day) I felt an upwelling of "belonging" by the end of Day 1.

Note to all: Read Michael Ruhlman's literary trinity "Making of a Chef", "Soul of a Chef" and the fantastic piece de resistance "Reach of a Chef" (which when read, provided me with an ephinal moment on South Beach in Miami in December of 2006...). All cooks, young, old, entrenched or otherwise should read these tomes. Chef Keller also provided me with a phalanx of books on his "Oprah" list - more on that in another blog...

Here is the mise en place for the day and list to be completed (for the culinary-minded this is tactically important - for the layman it is linguistically challenging...). Note: I was trained and indoctrinated by a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) extern ("Y.J.") in her first month of an 18-week externship at TFL. She was amazed that I was a CIA alumnus - of 22 years ago which is about the time she was born in South Korea. :)
  • Clean (see above diatribe...).
  • Molded and shaped 36 g squares of plugras butter rounds in cheesecloth (for bread service).
  • Prepped egg shells (with the tops removed using an egg topper), blanched in vinegar water and the interior skill peeled away from the shells.
  • Fine Brunoise (1/16" x 1/16' x 1/16") of carrot, leek, and turnip blanched, refreshed, dried and stored in deli containers with green tape alluding to the contents within (all lableing is done in green painter's tape with precise ends cut at 90 degree angles...).
  • Clean.
  • Stocks strained, cooled, strained again, and loaded into 12" x 20" cry-o-vac bags and then vacuum-packed for easier storage and long-term sustainability.
  • Clean.
  • Maintain the Sous Vide of various rabbit forcemeats, Jus de Veau and the cleaning of thermal immersion circulators.
  • Support the Chefs de Partie with product from the prep reach-ins, cooking oils, ice and sundry aformentioned white plates, platters and silver serving vessels.
  • The ware washing staff delivers the 180 degree cleaned white plates to the prep room where they are layed out to cool to room temperature before they are ultimately delivered to the appropriate stations. Yes, the plates matter; really cool futuristic and classy investments...
  • Clean.
  • Maintain the locker room, dry goods, baskets of shallots, garlic and onions (for good ventilation), the crates of newly dug farm-fresh potatoes, and the "Red Room" (with a newly black-painted but formerly red awning which spawned it's name, apparently). Keep every item on shelves in perfect order and neatness. Roll-up and clean under the black carpets and replace... Neatness abounds. If you take care of the place...the place will take care of you. One must take OWNERSHIP of duties, surroundings and philosophy. Without that, there is anarchy.
  • Oh yes, clean (again).
  • Watch the service. The menus are taped onto white linen station covers at each station with perfectly framed green painter's tape borders (trivets keep pans and other potential grease carrying implements from touching and ruining the aestitics of the pass). Admire, observe and understand the hand-delivered plates and the artistic plating and perfect placement of even the seemingly-innocuous micro-greens, oils, sauces or powders. The pass and all production stations work upon the coarse linen table coverings, taped down to the cold stainless steel benches ubiquitous green painter's tape. Perfect quenelles of sorbets and ice creams utilizing hot water-dipped spoons and hand warmed before a flash of grace places the glossy egg-shaped cream upon it's resting spot...beautiful (and it's wickedly good to eat, too!).
  • Cut, peel and remove the white pith from floral-aromatic oranges to be dehydrated overnight and used for orange powder and orange oil at next service.
  • Protective wrap everything, lable, date and initialize. Mise en place is arranged on shelves in plastic cambros, lexans and deli containers - lables out.
  • Ask who needs help. Avail yourself to any and all tasks. Listen. Absorb. Learn. Write notes to self (I wrote nearly 20 pages in a small pocket-sized notebook).
  • Wipe down all oil jars, condiments and sauces. Everything is labled.
  • Take out trash, wash and sanitize the trash container, wipe down and replace with new trash bags...
  • Buff the tops of the stainless steel benches and stations and wipe down with wet cloth and finish with a dry cloth. Clean with enthusiasm.
  • Sharpen knives and secure all perishable food.
  • Now wait (clean while we waiting, of course...) to be released.
  • But, first we wait for the Chef and staff to finish their meeting which focuses on the next days menu and service. Two bottles of champagne adorn the table at the Chef's pass where the inner circle theorizes and listens to Chef Lee guide them through specific aspects of his creations. Garlic confit. Hache the mirepoix. Farm-fresh mini-turnips. Caramelized baby cabbage. Sturgeon confit. I am mezmorized with the nature of what we do...
  • Clean.

So, ends this chapter. Chapter One (thanks Simon...).

~R

Thursday, January 22, 2009

#8 - 22 January 2009 - Pictures







#7 - 21 January 2009 - Seasonal Cooking & Locovorism


Note: I originally wrote this blog last evening but I encountered "technical difficulties" in posting it... Now I know to write it in a word file and cut and paste to the blog... So, here it is again - to the best of my ability in reproducing it!

The grassy areas between the garden plots was cold and wet with dew. In good spirits, in spite of the overcast skies above, I ventured to the gardens at The French Laundry and toured the grounds on my own. There are 42, 30' X 30' gardens of product in various states of fallow or fullness. Brussels Sprouts, hearty Winter Greens, flourishes of herb bushes, etc. January chill is kept at bay by their saving grace - a 75' X 40' canopied hot house. Hot house may be the wrong word but when I entered I noticed the difference - perhaps the vegetation knows as well... Tree fruits, flowers, herbs, etc. all neatly arranged in rows waiting for the Head Gardner to pick and choose those products that he deems ready for harvest. Ready for harvest and ready for the cooks in the kitchen across Washington Street. Chef de Cuisine Corey Lee works in harmony with the ebb and seasonal flow of product. The Jacobsen Farm in Yountville grows produce exclusively for the TKRG properties in the town, as well. They even harvest their own organic snails (my ExpatArchitect nephew in Brussels says that "Organic is the only way to go..." - thanks for that culinary tip)!

I sat and pondered my own experiences with food. Not just the cooking I have produced but the food that has arrived at the back door and docks of a myriad of operations that I have engaged. From the uber-fresh and totally-chic Boulder Farmer's Market to pricey Whole Foods and their knock-offs to the cold and sterile 40# boxes of far-away grown "stuff" that ranges from un-ripe and tastless to old and unusable... I prefer the first. We all prefer the best quality product because that makes the cooks job easier. Yet, what about those that live in the inhospitable food netherlands of the far north - say, Fargo, N.D...? What's a cook to do, then, eh? If one must ship food then at least be responsible in this day of the carbon-footprint awareness. Write a menu that makes sense to the time, the season, the region and the reason your kitchen exists. Yes, The French Laundry does ship food (ain't Federal Exprees and DHL great for us...! especially Keith who supplies the lamb) to Yountville. The lamb, however, is on the cutting edge of holistic production and fabrication. They do a good thing, there. You have to weigh your reponsibilties.

All this heavy thinking brought me to Ban Barber and Blue Hill at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Blue Hill, as a culinary entity, is a farm in western Massachusetts, a farm and culinary center in upstate New York (30 miles north of the city) and a boutique restaurant in Washington Park on Manhattan Island. The opportunity for cooks to put vegetables in the ground (from seed to soil) and then slaughter the animals that they have husbanded (farm to table) and then, finally after seasons or years, have the opportunity to respectfully cook dinner for guests... Consider that aspect of "The Need to Feed". There are oases of culinary and farming efforts across America and around the globe, yet we tend to think of this as cutting-edge stuff. My great-grandparents (and those before them) did that as subsistance and necessity. We do that as "craft" (or is that still "magic"...). At least someone is doing it.

First service at The French Laundry for me this evening... A fellow stagier ("J.B.") e-mailed me with these haunting tidbits - "There are a lot of rules and systems in place that we all need to memorize- I can see how it makes the place run smoothly but, yikes, trying to remember all of them makes me so inefficient in comparison!! Make sure you work super clean, keep track of your three issued towels, and for goodness sake move as fast as you can."

Oh yeah...."put me in coach, I'm ready to play". See y'all tonight or tomorrow morning, about 2:00 a.m. Peace.
~R

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

#6 - 20 January 2009 - Getting Ready...




My locker is #4. I share it with someone that I've not yet met.

I'd tell you the combination but if that leaked out I'd be in trouble... Someone else is in that locker now, the evening before The French Laundry opens up for it's first lunch and dinner services in 2009. I hope there is room for my "stuff" when I get there on Thursday.

As I stated yesterday, I'm not on the schedule until Thursday @ 3:30. So today and tomorrow are my "weekend" days. Had a coffee @ Peets Coffee & Tea on Chanate Street in Santa Rosa. Read the sports page and soaked up some California sun. The cleaning ladies were in the house that I'm staying at so I removed myself for an hour... Went to Oliver's Market on Montecito Boulevard and shopped for dinner. I've been cooking for P.S. while I wait to "go to work" at TFL. Last night was "Salmon Santa Rosa" and tonight was "P.S. Pork & Pasta" - Olive & Tomato Braised-Roasted ("Broasted" - new word...) 4-Bone Pork Loin with Spagettini alla Pesto (fresh from an incredible array of produce at the market!), Roasted Golden Beets and Butter Lettuces with Olive Oil-Toasted Batard Croutons & Parmigiano-Reggiano. Just a little somethin-somethin... Tomorrow - Bodega Bay.

Shined my clogs. Bought a new can of black shoe polish so they would be Chef-approved. Trimmed my fingernails so I would be happy with them. Sharpened my knives so the food will be be happier... I have my pocket notebook (bought an extra four notebooks in case the others stagiers may have forgotten theirs..), my black sharpie (made sure that it works), my felt tip pen because I write better with it, my white tee-shirts (which I abhor wearing, btw.), my NEW chefwear black classic chef pants, and my black shorty-socks. I'm allowed to bring the following tools into the kitchen (no tool kits, bags, boxes, etc. are allowed in the kitchen because the personal tools are already there - in personal drawers where the chefs de partie keep their mise en place): paring knife, chef's knife, boning knife (didn't specify meat or fish knife so I will have my knife box in the trunk of the Acura), sharpening steel and peeler. Aprons and TFL chef's jackets are in the locker room. Yes, I'll get a picture of myself in the jacket and apron... I'm much more at ease in that uniform than in anything else. I know I feel different and cook with a greater passion and urgency when I have on the apron and toque (however, no toques at TFL - that's o.k., I'm ready for the change). So, my personal mise en place is checked off on "the list". My mental mise en place is always "checked off"...

I had to touch the sign... It was right there on the wall. And then, there it was again on the other wall! You know, under the clock... SENSE OF URGENCY. A blue plastic sign in white letters. If you have been one of my students you've seen the sign on the wall in my lab... There is another sign on my wall. Not from TFL but from Chef Michael Bourdin, formerly of The Connaught Hotel @ Mayfair in London, England. Ready? Repeat after me if you know this; "Good cooking is..." If you don't know it, the full and simple truth is, "Good cooking is the accumulation of small details done to perfection". Brilliant. Wicked. The truth. A simple process to break down the incredible into the manageable. A reminder to cooks. Everything is doable. It is about the basics - skills, methods and techniques. That is, for me, the escence of "The Need to Feed". If it looks good, it will probably taste good. All those hundreds of thousands of cooks in history that have paved the way for me to be here, right now, we pay homage. I'm charged to help pave the way for those who will come after me. That is my/our culinary roots, our culinary family tree. I have something in common with the farmhouse in Arles, the Castille in Segovia...the kitchens of Escoffier..."Ma Gastronomie" of F. Point....of Lutece, The Inn at Little Washington, Chez Panisse, Blue Hill Farms, The Fat Duck & Grinda Wardshus...and all across the culinary map - meandering into a quaintly perfect, two-mile square hamlet called Yountville.

I'm glad I didn't start today because I saw an American dream realized today in Washington, D.C.... But, that is someone else's soapbox. It was, however, like my stagier, a new beginning. Peace.
~R

Monday, January 19, 2009

#5 - 19 January 2009 - The Need To Feed


So, once again why do we feel "The Need to Feed..."? I know why I do. It became clear, as it did this evening (after cooking for P.S., whom I am staying with in Santa Rosa) whilst I sit and communicate my love, philosophy and desire about food with someone who understands; someone who has just received a meal (now known as "Salmon Santa Rosa" that has affected them intrinsically, viscerally, physiologically and spiritually. I know that I do the act of cooking for myself but I create the food for others. I want the food to taste a certain way - the methods and techniques that I follow are created by others, but the food on the plate in front of me is all mine, although I'm cooking for someone else. I won't go out of the way to cook for myself (bologna, pasta and rice works for me as subsistence food...not all together, though!) but add one more person to the mix and now I have "The Need to Feed..." Here's the rub. That's not art. That's not even craft. That's providing a basic human need (eating food) and applying magic to it (through method, technique, attitude...). Yes, I wrote magic. We are Magicians. We can take the basic foods and apply heat, cold, chemicals and such, and then manipulate people to have a reaction - a reaction that we are intending them to have. Manipulation (thank you Chef D. K.). Day 1 @ TFL. This is the reason that you are reading this, now, isn't it...? An incredibly warm and pleasant day in Napa Valley. Sun, people migrating around Washington Street in Yountville, the breeze wafting up the valley... I arrived at the Laundry at 9:15 a.m. Early, of course. Not too exact (meeting was pre-set at 9:30 a.m.). But early. NEVER LATE. Never, never, never, never, never, never. Did I state never? I thought so. It is amazing the lessons we learn in life. Met my fellow stagiers (representing California, Sweden and Mexico...). I am the eldest. I may be older than most of the cooks at TFL. Heck, I am older than all of the employees! I'm learning humility, here. O.K., this isn't about me. This is about the team. Working as one. Take care of the guest and the guest will take care of you (words of wisdom from Mr. Keller related later in the morning). But we know that...! It is sometimes really clarifying when someone you respect says something you already know. Remember, I'm the student, now. I'm on a quest to learn and relearn... The semi-annual meeting of the employees and staff for TFL, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc - the four restaurants that TKRG (Thomas Keller Restaurant Group) own and operate in Yountville. A very young, hip crowd of courteous, caring and gracious people. Cool videos, movies and pictures of the people, food and experiences that are of those aforementioned businesses. The business aspect of our craft is presented by the CEO - the stress on the business - and the stress of doing business in the current economic climate. Then suddenly Chef Keller is in front of us on the stage - elucidating his vision and his philosophy. He answers questions from employees - What did you think was going to happen 17 years ago when you saw TFL property for the first time? What were you trying to create 17 years ago? Where has he come from and where are they (he and his employees, partners and staff...) going is a major theme. He's pretty simple to listen to. I've heard the stories and read the histories. Now he's speaking those words, working himself around the questions and talking with us, thanking many, many people in the audience - personal, heartfelt warmth... We go back to TFL. Take all the usual pictures out front, the facade, the garden across the street with the hothouse waiting to be descended upon by eager cooks ready to uproot the day’s vegetable offerings... Farm to table. Icicle radishes, various beets, turnips, greens and peas just 45 minutes from the ground, washed and presented on your plate at dinner or lunch... We've got the tour. Everything is immaculate. Everything is clean. I said everything is CLEAN. The stoves have been disassembled of various parts and are being cleaned, dried and spray painted silver. I talked to the Hobart repairman and he said they do this every two months. Why? Because they care. It's not just Thomas Keller. It is everyone there. You can feel it. They are charged with something special. I'm realizing the cost of the meal has more to do with the people, the ambiance and the effort before we even speak about the food and wine. The wine room(s) is really cool.... Not privy to them just yet, but from a sneak peak, some old favorites show their labels; Meursault, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Sancerre and others... Now, I'm in the kitchen. Suddenly a stealthy figure appears next to me...now, we are addressing each other as "chef"...now, I'm talking to him and shaking his hand and now, he is gone, off to receive an award in Spain with Adria, Blumenthal and Gagnaire. Then off to Lyons to judge the Bocuse d'Or (his Sous Chef Timothy Hollingsworth is representing the USA - no pressure there...). Cool. No problem. I belong here. I have learned the same values and have the same work ethic. A Good feeling. Below are the Core Values one must possess to work within the TKRG. Do you have them? I'm referring to you, the professionals that are reading this (not you Mom...): Modesty Integrity Respect Responsibility Awareness Initiative Collaboration Consistency Impact Success Legacy I've thought these things - I've taught these things - I've proclaimed these things - I've lived these aspects. Do you? Can you? Will you? I bought into this a long time ago. Now, here's a god of gastronomy talking to me about working within the group, as one, to achieve great things. YES! Of course! It takes the group of like-minded individuals to accomplish what one person has as a vision. Yeah, hard work, etc. is important too. The atmosphere must be fostered, however. The success of the whole depends upon the success of the individual. So be a leader, allow individuals to succeed, mentor them, push, pull and cajole them if necessary...! Learn to dance with each other. I love to dance.... Develop great work habits. Don't hire people without them!!!! I like confident, proud people who take initiative and responsibility. Those who go the extra mile are the ones I want on my side! Oh yeah....WORK CLEAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've not heard anything new today. Not surprisingly. I told you I was old... But I heard it from someone who matters. I do trust myself, but this is my hero. Funny, but I never thought I'd feel this much like a kid again... Rebirth. Relearning. Reinvigorating. "Hardware stores have customers. Restaurants, however, have guests". -Patrick O'Connell The mission statement of TFL is "to represent the most definitive dining experience by means of incomparable cuisine, service, wine, ambiance and memories". Attention to detail. Passionate pursuit. Sense of Urgency. Fresh. Creative. Innovative. Team players. Buy in to those goals and philosophies and the rest is easy... I'm on the bottom rung of the restaurant kitchen brigade here and I'm still a valuable asset to the organization. Humility, remember...? Excellent. I can't wait to introduce myself to the dishwashers. ~R P.S. Oh, by the way. I'm off for the next two days.... It's my weekend! Pretty funny. I've waited a lifetime to be here so I can wait a little longer. 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday. I wish you could grab an apron and ride with me... I've got more to see, say and write. Tomorrow. Peace.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

#4 - 15 January 2009 - Good-Bye Colorado...

Good-bye, Colorado....Hello, California!

The journey begins. 1275 miles to Napa Valley, two mountain ranges and several CD's of Eagles, Steve Winwood and ELO... Tune in on Monday evening, the 19th of January for a review of Day 1 @ The French Laundry...

As Sir Winston Churchill said (during the bombing of London in 1940), "Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning"... I've adpoted that as my new mantra. Thanks Winston.

A bientot.

~R

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

#3 - 14 January 2009 - Work Hard

Work hard.

These were the words I received after posting my first blog, from Chef Lachlan McKinnon-Patterson of the phenomenal Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado. LMP is Chef/Partner of Frasca along with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey. These gentlemen are working alumni of The French Laundry in Yountville, California. Work hard. Chef McKinnon-Patterson should know.... Work hard. Those two words resounded in my mind. How many times have I stated those exact words to employees and students...1,000? 5,000? More? Working hard means (to me) staying busy, for the clock never stops. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. You'll fall behind if you don't stay on task. Get to work on time and start your day with purpose. Pick up the paper on the floor that everyone else has walked over. Work hard and work clean. Finish a job and then move on. There are no small jobs in the kitchen - only small cooks who think they are better than everyone else. Work hard. Now I have become the student... Must have a game plan.... Working hard means staying observant. We learn from what we see, hear, taste, try, fail at, return to and practice. The task in front of us is just one activity that we are engaged in as cooks. How many activities can we attempt at one time? Perhaps 6 or 7, maybe 9. Having to juggle all these techniques and methods takes concentration and stamina. So, working hard is a mind and body experience. One needs to be fully in the moment to cook great food. The incredible Fernand Point of La Pyramide fame in Vienne, France once stated that great cooking begins anew every day. That every day the stoves are started and the process begins as yesterday - fresh and perfect. If we didn't love what we do would we go to these great lengths every day...? Work hard. The sabbatical question I have (and the name of this blog) for all cooks is - why do we do what we do? Why do we cook? Why do we serve? What is it about our profession that makes us have "The Need to Feed"? Will I have a greater understanding after sabbatical? I think I have many of the answers and yet I am totally open to new aspects of our persona. I'm sure it is different for many cooks - men and women across the globe are engaged in this activity every day, all day. Food is what we all, as a human population, have in common - along with oxygen and love. So Batmen and Batgirls, riddle me this...why do we have the "need to feed"?

~R

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

#2 - 13 January 2009 - The Set-Up...

It's amazing that this actually worked...

Moving on. I am on sabbatical from The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Colorado (AiC from now on) and will be a stagier at The French Laundry starting next Monday, the 19th of January until the end of March...and I just turned 50 in November... In other words, you are never too old to learn more about your trade or field of endeavor. This experience is much more than just cooking, however. I began the process to attain a stage in November of 2007. I sent dozens of letters and then repeated the process because my sabbatical was delayed until now. I received some acceptances; most notably from The Fat Duck in Bray, England, Charlie Trotter's and Tru in Chicago, Illinois, Alain Ducasse in Paris, France and Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Colorado. Then on the 10th of October 2008 I received what I really wanted all the time. A stage at The French Laundry. How do I turn down the chef and food that I have tried to replicate, in my own way, since 1999 when I first became aware of "the cookbook" (show to me by a chef-friend, Brad Watson)? So, I'm off to California. Why? Why a stage, why a sabbatical, why now...? These are all the questions I receive from friends, family, students, etc. So, I'll tell you. It began with a question that came to me from Camilo Robledo (a former student and future-great-chef): "What do you love to cook and what do you love to eat?" It's the old chef's game - ask a chef what their last meal would be and then sit back and listen... (check out Melanie Dunea's book My Last Supper - 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals). Ask yourself: 1. Last Meal? 2. With whom? 3. Where? 4. Would you cook? 5. If you could duplicate a meal from the past, what would it be? 6. What do you love to cook? 7. What do you love to eat? 8. What's your favorite restaurant? I never thought that there would be so much learning involved with teaching…I ask students this question all the time. When I asked myself the answer became a search. A search for more in my world. A search for greater understanding. The more that I thought I knew, the more I knew that didn't know very much. I realized that cooks and chefs sometimes do not fulfill themselves away from the stove. Experiences are what enliven us and I needed to do that. Hence, I applied for the sabbatical and with a grateful heart I was granted this time to continue my search. It's not just about the food. The stage is all about observing the finest restaurant in the land. Understanding the philosophy. Seeing, firsthand, how the brigade functions. Witnessing the creative moments. Finding an understanding of why this place is so good and, ultimately, finding where I stand in all of that.... Of course, spending two and one-half months in Napa valley can't be all bad... I will be soaking up all that I can in food and wine and writing each evening (or morning, as the case may be). As I move closer to this time in my life I wish to thank the AiC (faculty, students & staff) for their belief in me and for the opportunity to explore my soul and this experience in California. I wish to thank, posthumously, Chef John Frye for befriending me and guiding my future during my apprenticeship in Arizona, and to Chef Esteban Colon (not-posthumously...!) for igniting the flames of passion in me. Thank yous go to the family as well; Mom, Dad, bro and sis', and to my wife, JoAnne (10,069 days today...) for putting up with all of this, and to Megan & Ryan for whom all of this is for... Love ya.

~R

Monday, January 12, 2009

#1 - 12 January 2009 - Hello Blog World!

Hello Blog World!

I'm not sure what is harder - getting a stage at The French Laundry or setting up this blog... So, in the interest of curiosity I'm going to save htis short blurb and then see if this thing actually works. Blog #2 will contain my reasonings for this experience (in great length and detail) and my itinerary for the months ahead...

~Chef Robert N. Corey