September 18, 2005

Trip to Chicago coming up...

...and I've got my restaurant wish-list lined up!

TRU, Tramonto and Gand
Topolobampo, Bayless
Alinea, Achatz

Grant Achatz is a protegé of Keller. He has also worked under Adriá of El Bullí. (or Señor Foam, as I refer to him. Affectionately, of course.)

I have worked at a place here in Los Angeles where the chef uses foams and emuslions and bakes eggshells in bread dough covered with ash to serve things in the shells. He serves things up on rocks and slate and in test tubes and candle holders. People go nuts over it.

In my little corner of the industry, though, I haven't had anyone ask for foams, gelées, emulsions, or other esoteric treatments. My creations are ususally eaten from plates, with forks. (oh the horror!)

People who hire me want real food, delicious food, good-sized portions, and things they recognize. Nobody's asked for young coconut shreds enveloped in a sheet of carrot gelée. I have fielded no requests for foie gras with broiled filet of peach in vanilla-chili sauce. The other day I made cookies with white chocolate chips and pink peppercorns and couldn't give them away. (they were delicious, really!) I have a hard time getting people to choose the more adventurous appetizers when I'm doing a cocktail party!

I try to put my passion into juicy roast chicken and creamy mashed potatoes and perfectly-cooked green beans... but then I have to explain that chicken that is wet-looking inside is not raw, it's MOIST. No, there is no wasabi or garlic in those potatoes, just a bit of butter and salt, like nature intended. And I'll toss those beans with a bit of salt & pepper and some really nice olive oil; they do not need anything else, they are perfect.

Then the other side of the coin - I get asked, "what do you do that is exciting with beef?" and my answer is "I will cook it perfectly over an open flame or on a grill-pan, maybe serve it with a compound butter...or sautéed mushrooms...what did you have in mind?" and they want wellingtons, they want sauces, they want something DONE to that hunk of beef, or else they don't feel like it's "special".

So you can't win for losing.

Find out what your client wants, and serve it up. Buy good ingredients. Charge a fair price. Wash your hands. Pay your workers. Wear good shoes. Be excellent to each other. It's a simple business, really.

I have a slight problem with the holier-than-thou attitudes of chefs who drop farmers' and ranchers' names on their menus. Do customers TRULY care if you use Niman pork? Will a customer actually notice if your raisins came from a private farm on the central coast or from Sysco?

After all, now you can buy Emeril-brand heirloom tomatoes at Ralphs! (They have no smell and little flavor, but oooh, the colors!)

Make the food with love, don't make love to the food.

I shop at the farmers markets whenever I can, and I admit to using a bit of gelatin here and there...I'd give culinary aromatherapy a shot if a client was into it, but I draw the line at feeding grown adults by hand because I want them to experience the bite as I intend for them to experience it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to Alinea in October! Just because my clients don't get off on weird experiential food doesn't mean I won't!

Last thing I ate or drank: a dish that has turned out to be an Enchilada-like concoction, but it wasn't baked. and I added rice. Kelly liked it a lot. Oh. then I ate peanut M&M's with my right hand, which I used to pull the ribs and seeds out of the chilis I used for dinner, and my mouth was all tingly from the peppers!. Pretty fun!

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  1. Loved this post! I'm deeply suspicious of any product that has a TV chef's name attached to it or in fact any chef....

  2. Could I have the white chocolate chip/pink peppercorn cookie recipe, please?

  3. Not many guests use to appriciate the sience of cooking, I've noticed. Many times when I had something really cool at the menu it just end up not selling at all, and that freaking ceasar sallad just slams. Life is so un-appreciated some times *smile* .


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