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

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

#31 - 12 February 2009 - "Dinner Service"















Sous Chef Anthony Secviar expediting at The Pass (above).














The kitchen (above) looking across The Pass into Pastry.














Assemblage (above and below) of Moulard Duck "Foie Gras en Terrine" (Marcona Almonds Glaze, Sunchokes, Arugula and Sour Michigan Cherries).




























500g tin of Caviar (above) for Quenelles of Caviar on "Oysters and Pearls" (Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar).













Sour Michigan Cherry Puree (above) being spooned onto plates.













Mise en place at The Pass (above and below).




























Sous Chef Anthony Secviar (above) expediting at The Pass.













Canapé and Fish stations (above) with Sous Vide mise en place for Lobster Tails.














"Oysters and Pearls" waiting (above)...













Chefs des Parties at Salad and Cheese stations (above) with Salmon Tartare Tuile Amuse.

There are many more images of the February 11, 2009 dinner service at The French Laundry that need to be added to this pictorial. It takes quite a long time to upload them, so I will continue to embellish this particular blog throughout the day.

As a chef I am obviously engaged in kitchen operations yet one cannot dismiss the efforts of the front of the house staff during the service hours in the kitchen. This is a titanic undertaking every single day. The duties of runners, servers, captains, etc. are a determining and defining element of what service is all about. There are particular jobs for everyone and all are expected to act and react with precision and determination. I quietly smiled in complete appreciation of the quick acknowledgement of individuals as they are called to The Pass (the call is "Hands, please") to receive their numbers (the table number and the place setting ) and thusly, hand-carry the finished plates to serve guests one of the thirteen courses during the Chef's Tasting...
The desire, the impeccable attire, the grace, the focus and teamwork of the FOH (front of the house) staff is more than just their training. It is who they are. Having spent many years in the theatre I can absolutely make the case that this is live theatre "par excellence". My observation point allowed me to feel the pulse of the kitchen, the efficient interplay of hands at The Pass and the constant pace of the action. Goosebumps - it is that special.

There are actually three Passes. The heart of the operation. Stainless steel counters with slip-proof mats lined with white porcelain plates, covers, and specialty service ware. Like surgeons in an operating room, the overhead lights illuminating the white linen-lined Passes where craft become art. Tweezers are produced to remove the slightest imperfections on the plates... One Pass for canapé, fish, meat, and vegetables - including an entire VIP menu last evening - another Pass dedicated to salads, cheese and amuse, and lastly, the Pastry Pass for desserts, Chocolate Confections and Mignardise. Each Pass is replete with wiping cloths for plates, napkins for hot plate usage, salts of various nomenclature, plastic deli containers with appropriately labeled sauces and condiments for that evenings menu, "magic spoons" (my name for the silver spoons in white crocks that every chef de partie provides themselves with), menus severely taped onto linen with the ubiquitous green painter's tape. The list of VIP guests dis-likes and allergies to re-route certain flavor profiles as to make the guests experience safe and personal. Ah, mise en place...it also makes me smile and all cozy and warm inside.

Two observations that have nothing to do with service but have everything to do with impeccable service - twice I noticed small spills of salt and food, once at the meat station and once at the pass. I was nervous that I noticed them and was waiting for CDC (Chef de Cuisine) Corey Lee to also notice them... I counted the time that each spill laid in wait...5 seconds...10 seconds...15 seconds. 15 seconds! Both were wiped away and their existence lost in my memory. CSI wouldn't have known they were ever there... That is, to me, just one singularly important event in a litany of important acts that happen all the time in the kitchen of TFL. Peace.
~R

#30 - 11 February 2009 - "Sous Vide"

















Sous-Vide/Precision Cooking.

(The following is taken from my notes on Sous-vide as it is taught in a class called Art Culinaire at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Colorado in Denver, Colorado. The sources are; Harold McGee, Robert L. Wolke and Thomas Keller. (Note: This blog may be long and technical for some...).

The Freddie Mercury-led rock-band “Queen” and the eternally–interesting David Bowie (and/or “Ziggy Stardust” to the Baby-Boomers…) collaborated in 1981 on several songs for an album that the band was looking to produce and release. The song “Under Pressure” became a standard of the 1980’s and has nothing to do with The French Laundry, except that the title of the song is the English translation of a controversial cooking method known by its French name – Sous-vide. I attended the semi-annual meeting for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group when I arrived in California and the video montage included a session on the Thomas Keller book, “Under Pressure” and the song played in the background – which was all quite amusing and entertaining.

Of all the ingredients in the kitchen, the most common is also the most mysterious. It’s hard to measure and hard to control. It’s not a material like water or flour, to be added by the cup. In fact, it’s invisible. It’s heat. Every cook relies every day on the power of heat to transform food, but heat doesn’t always work in the way we might guess. Cooks typically heat food to somewhere between 120 degrees (for fish and meats that we want to keep moist) and 400 degrees (for dry, crisp, flavorful brown crusts on breads, pastries, potatoes, or on fish and meats). At the bottom of that range, a difference of just 5 or 10 degrees can mean the difference between juicy meat and dry, between a well-balanced cup of coffee or tea and a bitter, over-extracted one. And as every cook learns early on, it’s all too easy to burn the outside of a hamburger or a potato before the center is warm.

The trickiest foods to heat just right are meats and fish. The problem is that we want to heat the center of the piece to 130 or 140 degrees, but we often want a browned, tasty crust on the surface, and that requires 400 degrees. It takes time for heat to move inward from the surface to the center, so the default method is to fry or grill or broil and hope that the browning time equals the heat-through time. Even if that math works out, the area between the center and surface will then range in temperature between 130 and 400 degrees. The meat will be overcooked everywhere but right at the center.The solution is to cook with more than one level of heat. Start with very cold meat and very high heat to get the surface browned as quickly as possible with minimal cooking inside; then switch to very low heat to cook the interior gently and evenly, leaving it moist and tender. Another solution is to cook the food perfectly with low heat, let it cool some, and then flavor its surface with a brief blast of intense heat from a hot pan or even a gas torch. More and more restaurants are adopting this method, especially those that practice sous-vide cooking, in which food is sealed in a plastic bag, placed in a precisely controlled water bath and heated through at exactly the temperature that gives the desired doneness.
Microwaving food was once unfamiliar territory. French for "under pressure", sous-vide is a method of cooking that is intended to maintain the integrity of ingredients by heating them for an extended period of time at relatively low temperatures. Sous-vide is the 21st C. version of the 19th C. bain marie. Food is cooked for a long time, sometimes, and often, well over 24 hours. Unlike cooking in a slow-cooker, sous-vide cooking uses airtight plastic bags placed in hot water well below boiling point (usually around 60°C or 140°F). The vacuum-packed bag is immersed into the water bath, heated exactly to the optimal cooking temperature.

In the USA and other English speaking countries, the technique of vacuum packaging may be known as cryo-vacking. Sous-vide is a professional cooking method which employs plastic oxygen barriers and precise temperature controls to reduce oxidization and extend the useable shelf life of inventory by diminishing contact with aerobic bacteria. The result is a final product with superior texture, amplified flavors and enhanced textural qualities. Professional cooks and chefs devote their time and energy in the pursuit of nutrition, food safety, and operational benefits of sous-vide in a restaurant environment. The vacuum-packed bag hugs the food, protecting it from contact with the water while transferring heat directly from the hot water. The bath is regulated by a device called an immersion circulator, a combination of thermometer, heater and pump that monitors the temperature, heats the water just enough to maintain the temperature you set it to, and moves the water around so the temperature is even throughout the bath.

“Sous-vide” isn’t really the best name for this method because the vacuum-packing - the term actually refers to - is less important than temperature control. “Precision Cooking” would be a better term. The heart of sous-vide cooking is the controlled application of low heat – just enough to cook the food properly, no more. A pot of boiling water or a hot oven cooks food at a higher temperature, so that by the time the center of the food reaches the proper temperature, the outside is at least partially overcooked. If you don’t get the timing just right, meats end up dry and vegetables mushy. But, if you heat food in water maintained at exactly the temperature you want the food itself to reach, it will end up cooked properly throughout. A greater appreciation of the term a point: The perfect doneness of any particular food from meats to vegetables.

Sous-vide Equipment & Foods.

Chamber Vacuum-Packing Machine
Thermal Immersion Circulator (heats the water, maintains precise temperatures, and circulates the water).
All-Purpose .003-inch-thick bags (regardless of the material, the bag should be rated for use with food products and for use at boiling temperatures).
Sous-vide may be applied to the majority of foods. However, the color of green vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, peas, etc.) is harmed by sous-vide.
Grains & Cereals (rice and pasta, for example) do not benefit in any appreciable way when cooked sous-vide.
Sous-vide allows the aware cook to achieve the exact internal temperature – medium in lamb loin, medium-rare in squab breast, every time.
With sous-vide you can achieve the same temperature throughout the entire cut, not just at the center, if that is the desired result.

Uses for Sous-vide.

a. Tough cuts of meat.
b. Fish.
c. Seafood.
d. Hard Root Vegetables.
e. All Non-Green Vegetables.
f. Marinating.
g. Compressed textures and coloring.
h. Shaping (i.e., gentle shaping for roulades).
i. Pre-cooking to allow efficient a la minute cooking during service.
j. Frees up oven and stove space.
k. Requires less “on-hands” time.
l. Consistency.
m. Immersion Circulators are portable, requiring only an electrical plug.
n. Storage space.
o. Increased shelf-life (cooked and raw), i.e. custard pasteurization.
p. Efficient service.
q. Nutritional benefits addressing food.

Food Safety Issues and Proper Handling Procedures.

By identifying critical control points and establishing hurdles to microbial growth, all of the safety concerns related to vacuum packaging and sous-vide cooking may be virtually eliminated:
· Only the freshest, highest-quality ingredients must be used when preparing sous-
vide packages. This can significantly lower initial microbial levels, extending shelf life and product freshness.
· It is also critical to calibrate equipment on a daily basis and quality-check all seals and packages for leaks.
• Raw packets must not be stored for more than two days before pasteurization above 60 C (140 F), and must be cooled below 3 C (37 F) within two hours.
• Pasteurized inventory should be stored below 3 C (37 F) and consumed or frozen within a specified time period.
• The date and time of packaging, pasteurization, and expiration must be documented and labeled on the package.
• The entire production process must be governed by a Hazards Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system to ensure compliance and corrective actions.

The most critical factor in restaurant food handling is temperature control. No other restaurant handling procedure has a greater impact in suppressing bacterial reproduction than ensuring that perishable items, especially proteins, stay out of the ‘danger zone’ of 3 C (37 F) to 60 C (140 F). Under ideal conditions, bacterial counts can double every 20 minutes. In a mere 12 hours, a single bacterium may multiply exponentially into a colony of over 9 billion.

Chilled sous-vide items must be stored within walk-in coolers in covered pans with alternating layers of ice in order to maintain strict temperature control. Walk-ins are typically accessed several times per hour, which can bring the ambient temperature – and everything inside – as high as 14 C (57 F). Since the sous-vide bags are packaged and hermetically sealed, there is no certain way of knowing the core temperature of the packaged product unless it is buried in ice at all times.

Sous-vide is a cooking technique that exists at the cook’s disposal; the same as sauté, roast, grill, etc. Three basic principles that govern sous-vide cooking are;
- pressure
-temperature
-time
The fundamental advantage of sous-vide is precision. The degree of precision that sous-vide allows is extraordinary, but you still have to know how to cook. The craft of cooking is the striving precision of execution - daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute. Sous-vide has consistency at its heart. Sous-vide technology is a thoroughly modern application of an ancient, cross-cultural cooking practice- applying long, slow heat to enhance flavors while preserving texture. Industrial food producers have embraced sous-vide as a safe, effective method of packaging wholesome, minimally processed food with superior sensory characteristics. Restaurants have been slower to adopt the technology, due to the complexity of the technique, a lack of training, and the cost of the equipment.

Sous-vide cooking brings multiple benefits to restaurants in the form of increased service efficiency and lowered food costs. Preserving inventory in vacuum sealed bags is an excellent way of extending the shelf life of a product, provided proper handling procedures are followed. Precision heating and cooking offers unprecedented control over texture and flavor. Consequently, there are more textures and flavors to choose from. Cooks can now choose from an unprecedented range of ingredients from all over the world. Cooking is becoming less traditional – thus, cooking is becoming more personal and more and expressive of each cook’s individual imagination.

Sous-vide should not define a dish – the goals of the dish should be first defined and then techniques chosen that help to achieve those goals. Sous-vide is not the answer for all products and perceived uses. Eliminate the need to pay attention and you eliminate the craft. When you eliminate craft, you eliminate some of the spiritual rewards and soulfulness of cooking. Some dishes are still wrapped up in the emotions of cooking itself and help us to appreciate what it is we do. Sous-vide is thus, a part of professional cooking repertoire.

~R

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

#29 - 10 February 2009 - "Habits" - Aristotle

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." – Aristotle

The Greeks have had a civilized culture far longer than most societies and the quote above was certainly not intended for use in my web blog – but here it is appropriately titling this stream of conscious thought. Btw, one blog reader noted that “I do tend to ramble on”... What! Me? I’ll try to stay on course.

I absolutely am having passionate nirvana in my position as a stage at The French Laundry. The food, the plates, the staff…all top-shelf embodiments of our business. Yet, the small details are constantly finding me dumbstruck in the complete acceptance and performance of tasks from Chef to dishwasher. Complete and unwavering adherence to the fact that the details matter. Did I say complete adherence...? Yes. The habitual refinement of not only the food but the careful proclivity to be organized and to maintain their mise en place is paramount. I have been practicing these “concepts” of mise en place, organization and cleanliness for what seems like a lifetime. In my culinary school days I was duely noted as being clean and organized. I have letters of recommendation stating and confirming my adeptness at maintaining those standards. In the culinary classroom and kitchens I am always preaching and guiding students through the concept and practice that “Good cooking is the accumulation of small details done to perfection” - which absolutely includes the concerted practice of “WORKING CLEAN”. I work in private homes with my business, 12 Seasons Personal Chef and Sommelier Services, and we are always effecting our abilities to do all of the above... Fast forward to now. Yountville, California. 2009. The French Laundry kitchen! I am an invited visitor into the gastronomic temple of food in America and some of my own “attention to detail" is just not enough! It’s their home and I need to remember that I am a temporary holder, and passer, of their torch. So, in my quest for perfection (and to quote Emeril), it is time to “kick it up a notch”! Thank you Chef Johnny for helping to unknowingly clarify the lesson. The issue is not important – although, it had to do with cleaning the rendered Wagyu fat container. My standard - my habit, as Aristotle admonishes - my par excellence was not good enough. Small beans? No! My own arrogance betrayed me and I realized that I’m not in charge here, but a temporay guest. It is a huge learning lesson. Being a stage has allowed me to look at the kitchen and the restaurant from a totally different perspective. A perspective that had I publicly acknowledged might happen, has happened. I learned patience as a Culinary Instructor and I am learning to be humble as a stagier… Yet the profundity of it all is cleansing. There is no greater personal lesson, for me, the seeker of perfection. As Chef Keller has stated “the closer one comes to perfecting something the farther away perfection becomes”.

Finally a quote from the 20th century Italian writer Cesare Pavese; "We do not remember days, we remember moments". Peace

~R

P.S.
Thank you, JoAnna, for the inspiration in all that I do.

P.P.S.
I will be documenting an entire service and Chef’s Tasting Menu on Wednesday, the 11th of February. I’m looking forward to sharing that experience with you… Stay tuned.

Monday, February 9, 2009

#28 - 09 February 2009 " Lombardi in the Kitchen"

Vince Lombardi was a bespectacled and gap-toothed iconic coach of the most successful team in American football lore, the Green Bay Packers. If one wanted to "be-like-Vince" they'd need to study the emotions, passion and labor-of-love that is Vince Lombardi. Cooks are craftsman yet they are also athletes. One needs not to know a left tackle from a right guard in football terminology but you may see the parallels between athletics and the culinary arts. Within the fabric of a successful sports coach there can be a simile understanding of what it means to be a leader, a coach, a teacher, a confidant, a disciplinarian, a figure-head and a guide. These are the hats that chefs also wear, and the symbolism between coach and chef is highly evident in the kitchen of TFL. Here lies the essential parallels between a revered coach of a game requiring the cohesive tasks of many players to the Michelin-starred kitchens of the world's finest restaurants - and even to the boardrooms and management teams of successful businesses across the globe. In business as in life, they key is how you treat people. One must be motivated in order to motivate. Care and attention to detail are success's greatest allies and apathy and sloppiness are failures best friends...

Quotes from, and about, Vince Lombardi (when reading these words try to imagine the professional playing fields of any penultimate sport and its greatest combatants, feel the need for leadership in the corporate business environment, and for the culinary blog-readers seek to find your inner Lombardi in the kitchen that you toil. Ruminate on the words...):

"I firmly believe that in any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."

When Lombardi said 'sit down,' we didn't look for a chair." - Forrest Gregg

"He made us realize that if the mind was willing, the body can go." - Forrest Gregg

"He made us all better than we thought we could be." -Jerry Kramer

He pushed you to the end of your endurance and then beyond it. And if there was reserve there, well he found that too." -Henry Jordan

All he wanted from you was perfection." - Jim Taylor

"Coach Lombardi showed me that by working hard and using my mind, I could overcome my weakness to the point where I could be one of the best." - Bart Starr

He prepared us so well, and he motivated us so well, I felt he was a part of me on the field." - Fuzzy Thurston

The fear in my mind was not him but that for some reason I would not be a part of this team and be with this man." - Forrest Gregg

So, what do we take from this today...? "What would Vince do". Peace.

~R

#27 - 08 February 2009 "Tools of the Trade"

“My day is really bad without a sharp knife. If, in the morning, I have to choose between eating breakfast and sharpening my knives - which takes about an hour for four knives – I sharpen my knives”. This from a conversation with a chef de partie (“B.R.”) at The French Laundry.

As with virtually everything that I see and hear at TFL, it was an elemental yet thunderous exclamation. The tools of the trade. If you take care of your knives, they will take care of you. This is often said, heard and practiced in kitchens across the miles. A cook’s tools begin with the very basic and essential chef’s and paring knives. To clarify about those knives; I write about, and work within, a European heritage of “la batterie de la cuisine”. I am not an Asian–influenced chef. Although I have the essential cleavers as used in Japanese and Chinese cuisine, they are not my chosen implements. However, the personality of a cook is often evident in their choice of steel, composites, handles and style of knives. Consider the traditional full-tang rosewood handled knife with carbon steel blades that are as sharp as any knife I have ever held, yet they require a constant cleaning; to composite steel blades that hold a great edge yet are more difficult to hone; and to the new-age of knives – ceramic and full-metal weapons that seem more suitable – to my eye, that is – in a Star Trek episode. Cooks may be partial to Swedish steel or German manufacturing or to a particular price structure. Whatever the make, model and esthetics one truth needs to hold court at all times; the knife must be sharp.

The stone that your knife is sharpened on must be smooth and nick-free. The stones at TFL are first preened over like a mother attending her newborn child and then smoothed on an abrasive stone pad as if readying the chalice of communion - before the knife itself gets any attention at all. It is ritual. It is personal. It is a craft. “A poor craftsman blames his tools”. Can’t cut the tomato? Don’t blame the gardener. Look in your hand and feel the edge of your knife. Can you make an incredibly sharp slice in a fingernail? Can you shave a bit of hair off you arm (sounds ugly, eh?). Can you slice a sheet of paper with one fell-swoop and see no rippling effects of dullness in the paper cut…? Steel to steel is one of the sounds that allows us to travel back in time...

Often, the last task in the evening before the lights are dimmed in the kitchen is the protracted swishing of knife to stone. The sound is eerily ominous. This is a time-honored expression of a personal relationship between a cook and cold forged steel. It conjures up medieval images of warring bands of marauders preparing to do battle, or of knights on battlements readying to defend the castle walls. Whatever the imagery, the knives are still sharpened by the one who is using them. An extension of the dance in a previous blog, the student of the culinary arts cannot go far awry if their blades and edges are “on point”.

Take care of your knives and they will take care of you. Peace.

~R

Saturday, February 7, 2009

#26 - 07 February 2009 - "The Dance"

They come from across the American landscape, from Korea and Ireland, far-away New Zealand, Germany, and Sweden and from our border friends of Canada and Mexico. These are the men and women who have come to The French Laundry to "dance". The dance is a symbiotic relationship between cooks and the front of the house staff. An intimate and personal Maginot Line between cooks and other kitchen personnel. A twisted battle between cooks and their own personal space of mise en place, organizational habits (or not...) and the always-moving and never-stopping tick-tock of the clock on the wall... The dance is mobile poetry. The dance is a "pas de deux" of all that exists in the kitchen that moves or is rooted in place. How well you maneuver through the timeless space of the kitchen and amidst the modern cacophony of orders, call backs and cries for needed product determines your level of expertise and success. Most hot food kitchen pros relish the dance. The bakery and patisserie is a different mind-set and the dance is more solo - a self-driven Zen of inert flour brought alive by yeast or a love for chocolate, almond paste and vanilla bean.

Part of what we do as chefs is please people, especially our clients and guests, in a visceral, spiritual and restorative manner. We cook to please ourselves, as well. We imitate the techniques of the thousands who have come before us - our way of "returning to the past" as Chef Keller has been quoted. We strive to impress the chef under whose guise the kitchen either flows seamlessly along the continuum of tasting menus and a la carte services, or perhaps flounders upon the rocky shores of unrest and disarray. Are there moments of stress and angst in all kitchens? Without a doubt. It’s never personal, nor should it be construed that way. Its business. It’s the guest who is our ultimate consideration. Check your ego at the door...

The quest is often towards "the perfect service". Those days can sometimes only be counted on the digits left on our scarred and wounded hands... The perfect service is sometimes like the "perfect storm" of silver-screen fame some years back. The kitchen could be considered the outer arms of a hurricane-like frenzy of action while the dining room exists within the "eye" where everything is always calm and quiet. What the guest experiences is the result of that syncopated effort. It requires dozens of people providing a live theatre and dancing in the maelstrom community of the kitchen. You gotta love it if you are a fan of "the dance".

The funny thing about the dance is that is it the same every day - yet, its completely different every day, as well...the players are the same and the time frame is the same but the events as they play out are those days moments that belong to no other. Like the "break a leg" platitude behind a rising theatre curtain, the kitchen lore requires a "have a good service" and handshake-greeting before the six or seven hours of service begin... Staying focused and having your mise en place in order allow a cook to stand and man the stoves for hours at a time. The dance is a multitude of efforts that allow our guests to feel that something special is happening around them, and most importantly - for them. Enjoy your dance. Peace.

~R

Friday, February 6, 2009

#25 - 06 February 2009 - Kitchen & other pictures...















Wine casks, above, at CIA Greystone in St. Helena, California














More wine casks @ CIA...














Sauce organization in reach-in @ TFL... Note the labels.














Everything has a "kit"...














Organization. Mise en place. Neat.














And finally - chocolate confections, "Mignardise"....

~R

#24 - 05 February 2009 - Notes #2

Un-edited notes (#2) from the kitchen @ The French Laundry

1. Mirepoix usage: carrots, leeks and onions.
2. Mushroom stock infused with truffle peelings and steeped overnight.
3. For the Mushroom stock:
450 g coarsely chopped button mushrooms
135 g coarsely chopped carrots
90 g coarsely chopped leeks (white and light green only)
125 g coarsely chopped onions
6 g Flat-leaved parsley sprigs
60 g Canola oil
1.5 g Curry powder
1 ea. Bay leaf
1 lag. Thyme sprig
3.75 L Water

1. Finely grind separately, or pulse in a food processor (scraping down the sides of the bowl), the mushrooms, carrots, leeks, onions and parsley.
2. Heat the oil in a stockpot.
3. Add the vegetables, parsley and curry powder. Sweat for two minutes.
4. Add bay leaf, thyme and 2 L of the water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes.
5. Strain through a chinois, pressing down the solids.
6. Return the vegetables to the stockpot. Set the stock aside.
7. Add the 1.75 L water to the pot. Return to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes. Strain.
8. Combine the two batches of stock in a pot and return to a boil. Reduce to 650 ml.
9. Strain and cool over an ice bath.
10. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze in small batches.

4. Stations in TFL kitchen:
Canape
Fish
Meat
Vegetable
Cheese
Pastry
Baking (product is produced at Bouchon Bakery and delivered fresh daily)
Prep
Dish
The Pass
5. Egg shells, tapped with topper. With a sharp paring knife remove the egg tops. Separate egg yolks and egg whites, cryovac @ 93%. Soak egg shells in hot water with vinegar for
10 minutes. Peel out the interior egg shell lining and store the egg shell upside down in their containers.
6. Gastrique – 1 L Red Wine Vinegar and 500 g Sugar
7. Vegetables medley – Mini individual florets of Romanesco, Cauliflower and broccoli.
8. Smoked cippolini onions - “under glass”
9. Nicoise sauce – Rinse nicoise olives of brine. Blanch. Oven-dry or dehydrate and puree until absolutely smooth, no texture.
10. Fruit & vegetable coins – “tournee”.
11. Corned Beef Tongue.
12. Confit of Beef Heart shaved thin.
13. Black trumpet mushrooms – Washed in successive batches of clean water 3X. Squeeze lightly and spread on linen towel on a rack suspended over sheet pan. Air dry. Store in perforated lexans.
14. Brioche toast – Toasted on line under radiate broiler for guests.
15. Whole baby octopus sous vide for 2 ½ hrs. @ 76.9 degree C. Olive oil & salt. Let sit for one hour. Cryovac in juices and set over ice. Store.
16. Petite Sale - Braised slab bacon @ 74 degrees C for 12 hours.
17. Hazelnut gelee – 700 g hazelnuts puree with 1 L water and tighten with gelatin.
18. Sturgeon - “Confit a la minute” with thermal circulator.
19. Lobster blanching: Uncooked shelled lobster. Sealed with beurre monte sauce. Butter poach @ 59.5 degrees C (139.1 degrees F). 15 minutes (could hold it for another 10 minutes).
20. Seasoned duck breast wrapped with blanched napa cabbage or chard. Wrap in plastic to make a roulade. Poach 6 minutes.
21. Sole Veronique – with brioche and sultana raisins.
22. Milk-soaked chicken breast – Bring milk to a boil, take it off the stove. Drop chicken breast into milk. Cover. Place pot in a food warmer.
23. Sous Vide applications – Pressure, temperature and time. Must have a solid understanding of cooking techniques and methodology. Sous vide is just another tool to be chosen and used wisely. Food storage is neat (no mess), efficient and compact, cooking, vegetable and fruit color retention, slowed oxidization and food texturing (compressing). Portion wrapped foie gras for longer shelf life.
24. Sous vide custards – control variables, ideal consistency and custard is pasteurized.
25. Barigoule – Artichoke hearts cooked in stock and olive oil (@ 85.0 degrees C.) with aromatics and herbs.
26. Consistency & precision: execution from the ritual of repetition.

27. Taken from press reports on the 2009 Bocuse d’Or - French Laundry Sous Chef Timothy Hollingsworth placed 6th place out of 25 international contestants @ 2009 Bocuse d’Or. USA was one of twenty-four teams from around the world; each presenting one fish and beef dish, in elaborate platters and individually plated portions.
Competition medals were awarded to Norway for first, Sweden for second, France for third. Denmark ranked fourth, followed by Switzerland ranking fifth.
"I am thrilled to have been able to represent the United States at the Bocuse d'Or," said Timothy Hollingsworth. "It has been a truly amazing experience on the ground in Lyon. All that I've learned working with Team USA has been invaluable, with so many people having contributed to the achievements our country has made here. Competing amongst these great chefs today has been truly an honor."
Bocuse d'Or USA was created as a non-profit organization, to recruit, train and support the American team. Chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Jerome Bocuse and several other leading chefs developed the organization.
"We are truly proud of our two talented chefs," said Daniel Boulud, Chairman, Bocuse d'Or USA. "The strides we have made are a significant accomplishment for the American culinary industry, as well as an amazing personal achievement for Timothy and Adina."
Hollingsworth's menu presented in Lyon included Olive Oil Poached Loin of Norwegian Cod and Roasted Aberdeen Angus Beef Rib-Eye.
Timothy Hollingsworth and Adina Guest won the honor to represent Team USA at the Bocuse d'Or USA in October 2008. Hollingsworth competed against seven chef teams from around the nation in the two-day competition, held before a panel of judges including Michel Bouit, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Traci des Jardin.
Hollingsworth was awarded a three-month paid sabbatical to train at a specially constructed training center in Yountville, California, mentored by Team USA Coach and Master Chef Roland Henin.

28. Sous Vide Beef Tendons – for stocks
29. Risotto with sous vide oxtails.
30. Bananas are frozen, cut or balled and sous vide with sherbet ingredients, sealed and cooked.
31. Compressed food – ham and mackerel. Chicken thighs and chicken farce.
32. Musquee de provence melon (not muscat de provence as in an earlier note).
33. TFL 1999 - $95.00. TFM 2009 - $240.00.
34. Foie gras with brioche toast, poached pear, fig and truffle.
35. Marinate 500 g foie gras with 9 g of salt, 1 g sugar and 1g white pepper. 24 hours. Poach. Let sit for one day.
36. Foie terrine: marinate foie scraps. Roll in cheesecloth. Poach 90 sec. push through tamis. Pipe into terrine. Glacage.
37. The importance of staff meal…
38. Blanching – 1 C. kosher salt to 1 gallon water.
39. Fish – “Cradle it like a child…”
40. Rue – not often used in kitchen. Blueish-gray shrub. Floral with nutty undertones.
41. Wedge-cut Anjou or asian pears.
42. Degustation de pommes.
43. Jasmine rice sherbet.

Have agreat day!

~R