Saturday, April 21, 2012

Learning about a Great Chef

Thomas Keller's The French Laundry and Ad Hoc at Home
A few months ago my sister gave me a gift of two books by Thomas Keller. If you don't already know, Chef Keller is an American chef, restaurateur, and author in California.  His restaurants in Napa Valley and New York City are destinations for food lovers all over the world and is the only chef to be awarded 3-Michelin Stars at the same time for 2 different restaurants. Chef Keller is a major force in the food scene to say the least.

Chef Keller’s book, The French Laundry Cookbook [Artisan, $27.33], is an amazing book that is more than a collection of delectable foods and informative cooking methods. Chef Keller presents, as he often accomplishes with his food, memories of food and glimpses into what makes him a wonderful chef.

Chef Keller gives us a history of his past and tells us stories that show his passion for his food and how each experience has effected him as a chef.  He talks about his first job as a chef at a yacht club and how he had learned to make and was in charge of the hollandaise sauce each morning for two years. Chef Keller reveals that this was altogether the hardest thing he had to make during his day as well as being the high point of his two years in that kitchen.  He goes on to describe his next job as a cook charged with cooking the staff meals at a restaurant in Rhode Island. There he learned the fundamentals of how to really cook. He learned about how to be passionate about the food you are preparing and how it effects you as a chef even when you were cooking for the staff using left-overs.

One of my favorite stories in the book is when Chef Keller tells about his job in North Palm Beach at Café du Parc. The crazy French chef was enraged to learn Keller didn't know how to truss a chicken. I mean really, what chef doesn't know how to truss a chicken? lol.  The Chef screamed and threw his knife at Keller. How could Keller call himself a chef? Keller no longer took it for granted that he knew everything and learned that if he was really going to be a chef, he’d better be prepared to teach people everything they needed to know to run a kitchen.

"Fish and Chips"
Thomas Keller is a chef of great talent and creativity. Reading his book, though, one realizes that he is also a person that has great respect for food. Food should not be taken for granted and should not be wasted. A simple lesson for all of us.

In another story, Chef Keller talks about working in a small restaurant near Catskill, New York where he asked his rabbit purveyor to show him how to kill and skin a rabbit. The purveyor brought back twelve live rabbits and showed Chef Keller how to kill, skin, and eviscerate one of the rabbits and promptly left. When Keller tried to kill the first rabbit he did a horrific job. The rabbit screamed and broke it’s leg trying to get away. The next ten went somewhat more smoothly but Keller learned a valuable lesson from that first rabbit. Because killing the rabbits had been such a terrible experience, he would not waste them. He would use all his powers as a chef to make them into beautiful dishes. He learned that a cook should never squander anything, ever. Something that all of us should take note of as we cook as well as when we eat.

The French Laundry Cookbook contains a wonderful variety of dishes that define what gourmet cooking is all about. It includes 150 recipes from Poached Quail Eggs with Smoked Applewood Bacon to Pan-Roasted Maine Jumbo Scallops with Morel Mushrooms and Asparagus Puree. Even if you never make a single recipe from this book, you can't help but share Chef Keller's passion and exuberence for good food

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