Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz Put on Play 'Sense of Urgency' for CIA
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Instead of doing a normal demo, they recreated a night at The French Laundry
Well, this is kind of adorable: As part of the CIA's "Thomas Keller Day" celebrations, Keller and company showed up at the CIA to do a demo of sorts for the students. Except it wasn't quite a demo, and more of a play.
According to The Braiser, Keller and his colleagues created a set built to look like The French Laundry's kitchen, including the "Sense of Urgency" clock. They then plated a real nine-course meal, including Oysters and Pearls, and carted it away, to demonstrated how a night in one of Keller's kitchens runs.
In the playbill, which was handed out to the audience, Keller wrote that "We thought about doing a demonstration, but how many cooking demonstrations have you seen? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? The point is: lots."
At certain points during the play, the actors and workers would freeze, allowing a maître d’, sommelier, or supplier to deliver monologues about what they did every day. Watch a brief glimpse of the play below from the Poughkeepsie Journal, then hope that perhaps he'll go into dinner theater. Or that someone will make a movie? Honestly, we're still waiting for an elBulli-inspired dinner theater concept.
Bocuse D’Or 2015: On The Front Lines Of Culinary History In Lyon
History doesn’t follow a recipe. The ingredients of life are too chaotic to predict. But add just the right amount of luck and a solid dash of timing, and history appears right before your eyes. On Wednesday night, I witnessed history in Lyon, France, when Team USA shocked the world and captured second place at the 2015 Bocuse d’Or, the most prestigious cooking competition in the world, which somehow combines the World Cup, the Super Bowl and the Westminster Dog Show into one two-day spectacle.
Huge video screens display ornate trout dishes, and screaming fans blow vuvuzelas and wear identical hats and scarves. Judges in tall toques gaze critically as massive platters of guinea fowl parade past them like freshly groomed schnauzers. All of this happens in a small stadium constructed in the back corner of the SIRHA restaurant trade show. Walking into the Bocuse d’Or after a stroll through the convention floor is like discovering the Victoria Secret Fashion Show in the dressing room of a Macy’s.
At 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a British brass band was warming up, a throng of cameras was following the French team, and U.S. chef Phillip Tessier and his baby-faced commis, Skylar Stover, were going through the last steps of their pre-competition checklist like NASA Ground Control.
The influence of Thomas Keller was evident everywhere you looked. Tessier and Stover both work for him at the French Laundry, and Keller serves as president of the American delegation. Just above the clock was a small sign reading “Sense of Urgency” — the same message you find in all of Keller’s kitchens and his guiding principle.
At 9:20 a.m., Tessier said, “Let’s go, Skylar,” and so began the five-hour-and-35-minute march toward history.
When the countries begin presenting, the Bocuse d’Or transforms from spectator sport to a full-blown theatrical production. Every time a team unveils a plate (first fish, then meat precisely 35 minutes later), ominous music rings down like a culinary interpretation of the Game of Thrones theme song and chefs from the Bocuse committee display the dishes down the line of chef-judges, pausing long enough to make sure each curl of frisée has been keenly observed.
It all comes off as a bit insane — French fans were told to pipe down when their team’s platter came out, and the Estonians chanted “Bon appétit! Bon appétit!” in unison. The Iceland fans, in Viking horns, employed the classic “Olé, olé-olé-olé,” soccer chant, playing it as safe in their cheering as their team did in plating.
“Safe” is a word that actually describes most of the plates. They were all beautiful, but the creativity stayed within the boundaries of “iconic fancy French”: intricate farces, tiny sprigs of celery leaves, multisized dollops of multihued sauces. But when the Americans’ meat platter came out, everything changed.
Until that point, nothing had a wow factor. The Americans’ presentation had it in spades, due in part to Martin Kastner, founder of Chicago’s Crucial Detail design studio, who makes the custom serving pieces for Alinea and Next. The platter was structurally gorgeous, but also fully functional. It felt like the first time you saw Michael Jordan dunk a basketball. Here’s the official description:
Barrel-Oak Roasted Guinea Hen with sausage of guinea leg confit, white corn mousse and black winter truffle “Garden of Sweet Peas” with French Laundry garden blossoms and herbs, sugar snap peas and black trumpet mushroom panade “Beehive” with boudin of smoked guinea liver, grapevine honey, pistachio “Pain des Genes,” wild fennel buds and topaz wine glaze Black Truffle Consommé with ragout of gizzard and heart “confit,” steamed custard and flowering cress White Corn “Nest” with buttered corn pudding, crisped corn silk and “petit” popcorn and Preserved Chanterelles with salad of frisée and garden blossoms, pickled huckleberry and “foie gras” jus.
The chatter began immediately. A man in a Team Canada jacket congratulated me. Two other international journalists did the same. The experience was identical for Team USA. “We had a lot of people – coaches, presidents, the kitchen jury judges – come and tell us what we had just done was pretty extraordinary,” says Tessier, reflecting on the performance. “We knew we had won the day.” It was just a matter of time to see how big that impact would be.
For Team USA, the second day of competition was a waiting game. At the awards ceremony, the room was packed tighter than some of the fowl served during the competition. Alinea chef Grant Achatz, honorary president of this year’s Bocuse d’Or jury, had the honor of reading the results for the silver. “Hold on,” he said, “let me double-check this.” Then history happened. The Americans had won silver.
For coach Gavin Kaysen, the moment was perfect. “The second before we found out?” he mused. “If you could bottle up that suspense and then bottle up the release, it would be something that you’d want to drink for the rest of your life.”
The morning after, there was a private ceremony for the winners. It took place at Restaurant Paul Bocuse, the high cathedral of French gastronomy. In contrast to the yelling and flag waving of the past two days, the affair was simple and elegant: Breakfast was served, winners talked shop, and the teams basked in the glow of living legend Paul Bocuse, who, at 88, still enjoys much of the celebration he created.
Thomas Keller and I sat in the dining room, and I asked him the most basic question of all: “How did it feel when they announced you had won second place?”
He started by telling me that Bocuse had called him eight years ago. Until that point, the U.S. hadn’t even formed a traditional backing organization, and the American competitors were getting beaten badly. Bocuse told them that he, Daniel Boulud and Bocuse’s son, Jérôme, were the three chefs who could bring the United States to prominence in the Bocuse d’Or, and it was time to step up their game. And so, Keller said, “we promised him back then that that’s what we would do.”
As we spoke, it was clear that the moment was catching up to him. Here he was, sitting in Restaurant Paul Bocuse with Bocuse himself in the next room. Keller’s voice wavered a bit as he continued, his eyes a little glassy. “For me, today is a moment for him [Bocuse],” he said. “It’s a pretty special thing.”
Read more about the Bocuse d’Or on Food Republic:
Thomas Keller’s fried chicken
As I’ve spent the last decade professionally eating, this is an impossible question. The biggest problem when you’re a restaurant critic is that you view dining out as work, and much of its inherent joys—eating for pleasure, the relaxed conversations, the ability to turn your mind off—is pushed aside. You end up ordering twice as much food, you’re taking notes on your phone every 30 seconds (and looking like an asshole), and your brain is set to critical mode, and it’s mentally taxing. At the height of my job as a reviewer, I was eating at restaurants four times a week, and few of those meals were enjoyable in the “let’s dine out on a Saturday night” sense. All of which is to say the best meals were the ones cooked at home. For one New Year’s Eve, my wife and I followed a Thomas Keller recipe for fried chicken that required 14 hours to brine and another few hours to prepare. Perhaps it was the anticipation from the time invested, but the ability to cook and eat purely for our edification—and the fact that the fried chicken turned out stunningly delicious—made it the one meal that’s most stuck in my mind. [ Kevin Pang ]
Food For Thought
The barely lit cigarette falls from my mouth as I sprint down the street back to the station, stopping every few hundred feet to catch watch my breath. *Wheezing* "it'll take forever to get a cab all the way out here" I thought. 20 minutes later I arrive at the station. Joyce, with her back turned is locking up the building. She turns, looks at me, out of breath and sweating profusely. Horrified she says, "I thought you went home to rest. did you just run here detective?" "Joyce. we got Mr. Gray.." *out of breath* ". its. all connected. him. Global Pala. " "who's Mr. Gray? Detective you really should lie down, you look like hell. When was the last time you slept?" "There's no time to explain, I need to get back into the office". Joyce lets out a subtle gown. "I'll put a pot on for ya" she says while shaking her head. "No you go home Joyce. It's late, I can make the coffee myself". "I'm not THAT old, detective" she replies sheepishly. "Besides, you keep smoking and not resting the way you do and in a couple years you'll look older than me!" I force a smile as she lets me into the building.
Rushing into my office I sift through the files I collected on Global Palate after meeting the mysterious woman while hiking a few months back. Suddenly it hits me, the strange woman was trying to warn us about something. She wanted us to find out about Global palate. *talking out loud to myself* "Where is it? Ah-ha! Here we go, global palate." *skims file out loud* "global palate, farm-to-table. does not use purveyors blah blah blah, grows own livestock and produce for the restaurant. That's how they do it! They skip the middle man and use the meat Mr. Gray was stealing from the grocery store. By getting the meat free global palate keeps labor and overhead low, turning everything into profit!" Joyce returns with a cup of piping hot black coffee. "This goes against my better judgment giving you coffee at this hour because you really need to rest, detective". "I appreciate the concern Joyce, but I'm fine." "Well I won't disturb you", she says before closing the door behind her. *picks up the phone and dials* "Stonewall, were going to dinner undercover tomorrow night. no don't ask questions. I got a big break in the grocery store case. I'm gonna bust this thing wide open and your going to help me". A half hour later Joyce finds me asleep at my desk with an unlit cigarette in my mouth.
In the morning I am startled awake by a hand on my shoulder. It was Leah, a junior detective I recruited last night for the global palate dinner. "What were you talking about last night? Something about an undercover dinner?" "Close the door, I'll fill you in. " *The rest of the station goes about their daily business and I breakdown the case to Stonewall*
During the meal I observed the servers and bartender go through a swinging door that lead to the kitchen. Briefly, while the swinging door was open, I caught a glimpse of the owner, Kelly Banks, shaking hands with Tim Ryan--the president of the Culinary Institute of America down the road. "Oh my God. Leah, she's shaking hands with Tim Ryan!" "What. Do you think he's involved? What if its just a coincidence? He may not know what's going on" "Oh he knows, he's a part of it all." "How can you be so sure?" she questions. "I just know. Call it a hunch, call it a cop's intuition, call it whatever you like. He's involved."
After we finished eating Leah lowers her head so others won't hear our discussion. *Whispering* "Alright, so he's involved, maybe not. But SHE IS. Lets take this place while Tim Ryan is here!" Leah cocks back the hammer of her gun under the table, "If he's clean he'll see who he's really doing business with and if he is involved. well that's killing two birds with one stone. Its a win, win!" "Leah, we must be patient, and for chris'sake put that gun away! This thing is bigger than we could have ever imagined. We have to start building a case now. We're only going to get one shot at this thing so we have to make it stick." "If we come out, guns blazing yeah well stir things up, but how long can we hold them? We got nothing on them! They'll walk the next day. Its a chess game Leah" "I don't play, CHESS", she replies sharply. "Alright, its a game of cards. We have the king, but we don't know what they're holding. They could have an ace in the hole." *Confused* "So how do we find out what they have?", Leah asks. "We check, and check, and check, and let them throw all the money in the pot. When its the right time we raise and take the pot!", banging my hands on the table. *Guests look in our direction and our server returns* "Have you decided on dessert?" "We'll just take the check" I reply. "Sure thing, Mr. Hah. Mr. Stevenson. I'm sorry, I must have confused you with someone else. " We pay the bill and I turn the receipt over. *Writes: "Keep up the good work. "* "What are you doing? I thought we were undercover?", Leah inquires. "Did you miss that back there? 'Sure thing Mr. Hahm'? They already know who we are. Ya see? They're starting to reveal their cards already. "
Back at my apartment I start to feel dizzy so I sit in front of the television to clear my head. The room starts spinning, and everything becomes blurry. "They put something in the food" I say to myself. I could just make out a dark figure standing in the doorway before everything went dark.
A CHEF’S ROADMAP FOR SUCCESS
26 Sunday Aug 2018
What does success mean to you? Is success measured in professional position, status of the operation where you work, public recognition, accolades, money, lifestyle, or family? Maybe, it’s a combination of all of these factors and some level of balance between them. However you measure success there is a way to get there if you start with goals and build a strategic path to accomplish them.
“The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda. “
“When you set your mind to reaching the goals that you define then a map can be drawn with a clear path.” If this were entirely true then success would be a simple process with pre-determined results. What many people ignore is the inevitable curve balls that life tends to toss in your path. Failure is likely part of any persons’ roadmap and although it may be difficult to anticipate everything that might go wrong, it is possible to build a mechanism for dealing with missteps.
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. “
There are, however, some well-established skills and attitudes that can help an individual (in this case a cook or chef) overcome failures, take the right detour around a bump in the road, and be as successful as a person may seek to be. Here is a sampling:
Yes, the chef must have the knowledge of who the guest is and what he or she wants. The minute that a chef feels that the guest is there to simply support what he or she wants to make then the lines of limitation are drawn.
You are in the service business – if you have the capability of meeting a guest or employee request then you should begin with the intent of meeting their expressed needs. This is how relationships in business are built.
Be dependable as a provider. Make sure that your product and service is wrapped in trust and know how important it is that you meet or exceed guest expectations every time. Once a guest knows that their experience will always be where it should be, they will return time and again. Once the employee knows that you will always approach a situation with a certain level of consistency then they will never fear an outcome.
The temptation to find a shortcut or to let quality slip may always be present, but the successful chef will NEVER allow this temptation to drive a decision. Quality is the reputation of the business and the people who tie on an apron.
Chefs and cooks are proud people who tend to believe that the restaurant experience is all about the products they produce. The level of success that a restaurant earns is more often than not determined by the quality of real service that is provided. Treating customers as guests, learning their names, accommodating their special requests, and treating them as treasured friends is all part of the experience and is what brings a customer back. The chef needs to respect the importance of the front of the house.
- Recovery from mistakes is as important as doing a job perfectly the first time.
Customers have become jaded and have very low expectations of recovery from business mistakes. When they complain – nothing substantial is done, so far too many have chosen to rely on social media for expressing their dissatisfaction. In those rare cases where an operation recovers quickly and effectively and “Makes It Right”, the guest feels rewarded for expressing his or her concerns and tends to become a loyal supporter of the business that is responsive. Learn how to recover well. A table visit from the chef, a follow-up phone call with an apology and gift, any level of special treatment for bringing a concern to the chef’s attention will go a long way towards success.
The chef isn’t the answer to every challenge – it is a team effort that sets the stage for long-term success. The chef must focus on building that team with shared values, the right level of passion, the dedication to service, and the skills that will allow excellence to drive their work.
“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.”
Every dollar and moment in time that is invested in self-improvement will pay you back tenfold.
Every dollar and moment in time that is invested in improving the skills and knowledge of your team will pay you back even more so.
Remember that your staff and the guest want to look up to you as an example. Be true to the character of a professional: honesty, trustworthiness, and consistency. Be that example for others.
It is much easier to follow than to lead, but those with the ability to put original thought into action and lead a team in exciting, new directions are the chefs who build pride and enthusiasm and allow others to think differently.
“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier wish you were better.”
We are a reflection of those with whom we choose to associate. Align yourself with others who have strong character, are passionate about what they do, have empathy for others while insisting always on excellence as a key driver, and who will provide honest critique of their and your actions. This applies to friendships, co-workers, your sous chefs, and personal relationships in life.
Far too many talented chefs have spiraled downward not for a lack of talent or a loss of commitment to the job, not for a lack of resources or even appreciative customers, but for a lack of balance and commitment to family first. Don’t allow yourself to forget what is most important.
Is it the quality of your cooking or your commitment to the restaurant, or is it the way that you lead and how you invest in others. What defines you is how others perceive you to be and how dedicated you are to your core values. Separate what you do from who you are.
Everyone is different, everyone makes mistakes, everyone is great at something and not so much so with other tasks. Once you accept this then you can begin to focus on the positive and help yourself and others with those areas of weakness. Flaws are only limiting if you allow them to be.
Personal success is defined by your desire and commitment to giving back. It might be money, but more importantly it may be your knowledge, your mentorship, and your time. “I am fortunate, now what can I do to help someone else?”
Every day, take a moment to look in the mirror and ask: “Am I being the kind of person that I am capable of? “
“Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.”
“The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
Look at those people whom you admire and respect. I would be willing to bet that they are the people who give of themselves and do whatever they can to share with others.
Chefs and restaurateurs who give of their time and resources to help people in need always humble me. Whenever there is a natural disaster you will find them there to help. I am always impressed with those chefs who choose to mentor young cooks and teach them how to set a path for a positive career and life. Those chefs who gave up the crazy adrenaline of the restaurant business to join the ranks of teachers helping young cooks begin a fruitful career always impress me. I am always impressed with chefs who take on a cause for the betterment of the industry and those who choose to spend a life behind the range. Where will you have the greatest impact?
It is very easy to become caught up in the challenges and negative aspects of the food business. Anyone can complain, but only a few will rise up with the answers and invest the time in helping a restaurant or the industry at large, make necessary changes.
Those who make a difference are the ones that dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s”. This is a business of details and everything is important. Those that make a difference are the ones who leave no stone unturned.
The difference makers are in relentless pursuit of excellence – this is their core belief: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
Sometimes you just need to take a chance and go for it. If you find a way, if you have a great idea, if the solution seems to be staring you in the face – then take a chance. This is what successful people do.
“I want to put a ding in the universe.”
PICTURE: The Mirror Lake Inn Culinary Team under the direction of Chef Jarrad Lang
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
Lower Barriers to Entry
A number of factors have promoted such a trend:
- There are an increasing number of resources online and offline. Online courses and ed-tech platforms. Fellowships and acceleration/incubation programs. Investor office hours and founder talks. YouTube videos, online newsletters, and podcasts.
- The low-code/no-code movement is also helping bridge that knowledge gap for the average person. Moreover, making it easier for non-experts to be experts.
- The gig economy have created a fascinating space for solopreneurship to be more accessible to more geographies.
Demand (by consumers and investors) fuels supply of startups, through knowledge and resource sharing. Likewise, the supply of startups, especially in nascent markets, fuels demand in new verticals. So, the ecosystem becomes self-perpetuating on a positive feedback loop. As Jim Barksdale, former Netscape CEO, once said:
“There are only two ways I know of to make money – bundling and unbundling.”
|Market Maturity||Market Nascency|
Right now, we’re at a stage of startup market nascency, unbundling the knowledge gap between the great and the average founder. This might seem counter-intuitive. After all, there’s so much discourse on the subject. There’s a good chance that you know someone who is or have thought about starting a business. But, I don’t believe we’re even close to a global maximum in entrepreneurship. Why?
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Soma 107: Promising
Before I discuss Westchester’s new gem, Soma 107 in White Plains, I want to mention that yes, I am currently writing up my visit to Tom: Tuesday Dinner . It’s taking longer than I expected, and I’m not entirely sure when it’ll be ready. But I’m working on it, folks! As a matter of fact, I intend to work on it some more, right after this post. In the meantime, here’s a report on the lovely dinner I enjoyed this past Sunday.
In a nutshell: great food, horrible pictures at Soma 107—my apologies. The dining area, while aesthetically agreeable, was dark . Dark restaurants are a pet peeve: I enjoy sitting in a dimly-lit room to eat, but appreciate a brighter bulb over the table to showcase the food, so I can engage a meal with all of my senses. I'm wary of restaurants that use poor lighting to mask old, limp, or rotting food, but this is clearly not what was going on at Soma 107. So crank those bad boys up a notch! If I wanted a better look at my Charred Baby Octopus ($13), it was simply to behold one of the best dishes I’ve had in my life:
Gene Lum, owner of Lum Yen in Mamaroneck, snagged well-respected James Cawley, most recently chef de cuisine at MacMenamin’s Grill & ChefWorks in New Rochelle (now Don Coqui & ChefsWorks), to head up Soma 107’s kitchen. Cawley’s CIA background and internship in France were immediately apparent in the quality and complexity of his sauces. The octopus came with pickled red peppers, red onions, and a creamy, garlic kim-chi scallion vinaigrette. Unexpected flavors and textures made this dish sing. Octopus is in no way rubbery when prepared correctly, and ours was perfectly cooked—the charred finish was absolutely divine. I will remember this dish years from now. It was that good.
Killer sauces were also the name of the game in two of our entrees, the Togarashi Spice Dusted Ahi Tuna with Cashew-Cilantro Jasmine Rice, and Miso-Soy-Hijiki Vinaigrette ($30)
…and the Cedar Plank Roasted King Salmon with Asparagus-Oyster Mushroom Saute, over Thai Red Curry Sauce ($28)
No question the tuna was the superior dish. Strong, robust flavors, and a comforting, nutty rice all balanced together to create something unique yet immediately familiar. Is this what chefs are referring to when they say food has soul?
The salmon, by description, sounded powerful, but the cream sauce was delicate, with only a hint of curry. All elements were again perfectly executed, but I think the salmon might’ve benefited if it were a tad more crisp, just to add some texture.
Our final entrée was the Applewood Bacon Wrapped 8 oz. Filet Mignon with Roasted Poblano Mash, and Sweet Corn Relish ($38)
Here’s where I’ll address prices at Soma 107. They’re high. All around. I don’t mind so much when I see a chef passionate about what he does, with food that is so inspired. But when you’re approaching $40 for a dish, I start getting demanding. I start craving knock-my-socks-off innovation. Here we had a tender filet, sweet syrup permeating the meat from the applewood bacon—a good dish and well-executed. Do I think it was worth $40, regardless of the quality? Give me more of that $30 Ahi Tuna while I make up my mind.
For dessert, we shared an Apple Filo Napoleon with Butter Rum, Ginger Caramel Sauce, and Vanilla Gelato ($10)
Again, $10 in my book is too high for apple pie, and I found the dish on the dull side. To be fair, my companion absolutely adored it.
Servers were eager to please and friendly, if not a tad scattered (one server disappeared for so long that Mr. Lum dropped off entrees himself dishes were also repeatedly placed with the wrong diner), but I’m sure these kinks will be ironed out quickly (service is already light years more personable than zombies at BLT Steak).
A fine meal, albeit expensive.
Soma 107: I’m rooting for you!
107 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10601
Cabinet to play two nights at the Kirby Center in December
WILKES-BARRE — As part of its holiday shows, Cabinet will perform at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 18 and 19.
The band will perform in the venue’s Chandelier Lobby for a two-night special.
General admission ticket prices start at $25 in advance, $30 day of show or $40 for a two-day pass in advance, $50 day of show. Tickets go on sale to Kirby members at 10 a.m. Nov. 4 and for the public at 10 a.m. on Nov. 6.
There are a limited amount of VIP tickets available ($55 in advance $65 day of show for one day or $100 and $120 respectively for a two-day pass) which include early entrance to the venue, access to the Cabinet Chandelier Lobby Christmas Carol-oke Happy Hour, access to a VIP lounge and a special Christmas ornament.
To order tickets visit the Kirby Center’s box office, order online at www.kirbycenter.org or by phone at 570-826-1100.
Cabinet is touring the nation in support of its latest release “Celebration. According to a news release, the “self-released effort has garnered support from fans, artists and critics alike. Cabinet has been touring this fall with superstar bands such as moe., Keller Williams, Infamous Stringdusters, Twiddle, Fruition, Whiskey Shivers and more.”
COOKING THROUGH THE SENSES – THE CHEF’S UNIQUE SKILL
02 Tuesday Jan 2018
We are familiar with the human senses and likely understand that they are all connected as individuals try to distinguish flavor and the experience of eating. As cooks we know that there are many more opportunities for people to distinguish smells than tastes, that texture impacts how our mouths separate the experience of one ingredient or dish from another, and fully appreciate that the visual impact of food is paramount to the guest experience. We might even appreciate that certain sounds that encase foods can stimulate the appetite – the crunch of a potato chip, the sizzle sound of a steak or onions on a grill, and even the snap of an apple picked in late September at the peak of its growth cycle. What me might take for granted is how sophisticated a cook’s senses become as they aspire to the position of chef and make their mark on the culinary arts.
If you stop and think about the acuity of a chef’s senses you will discover one of the true distinctions between a cook and a chef. Time and experience will help fine-tune a cook’s senses to the point where they become one of the greatest tools in his or her kitchen arsenal.
 A BAKER FEELS FLOUR FOR ITS STRUCTURE POTENTIAL
A baker develops a special relationship with the ingredients at his or her disposal and develops the ability to determine a great deal through the sense of touch. Sifting through a baker’s fingers – flour is evaluated to determine how well it will absorb liquid and what its structure potential might be. Flour is never a product of definitive consistency and it is up to the baker to tap into this sense of touch and adjust how the ingredient is approached. Until this sense is developed over time the end product will likely be plagued with inconsistency. At the end of baking – a light tap on the bottom of a loaf reveals the hollow sound signifying a finish to the baking process.
 A CHEF CAN DETERMINE IF A SAUTE ITEM IS ON TRACK BY THE SOUNDS IN THE PAN
Walking through a busy production kitchen – the chef must be able to assess what is going on, determine how well cooks are approaching methods and techniques, and how products will reach their intended outcome. Each process reveals a great deal through the senses – one in particular is this sense of sound. When a protein hits a sauté pan the chef will be able to tell, even from a distance away, whether or not the pan is hot enough to produce that essential caramelization enhancing flavor and whether or not this same protein will dance and slide during cooking or stick to the pan leaving it’s real flavor stuck to the metal. A chef’s ears are always tuned-in to these sounds, keeping track of how dedicated each cook is to correct process.
 THE SMELL OF CARAMELIZATION
By far, the most acute sense is smell. Over time, we are trained to distinguish certain smells as positive or negative and can, through experience, quickly assess a smell and determine the ingredient and the process being used. A chef will know if those onions are caramelizing or burning, if the oil is too hot for garlic, if the oil in the deep fryer is in need of changing, if those sliced almonds or pignoli are on the verge of burning in the oven, if it is too late to save the bacon, when bread is perfect and even when a coffee pot has been left to dry on a brew burner. The chef’s sense of smell is always on high alert.
How will those vegetables taste once prepared? How can a cook tell if produce is acceptable from a vendor or not? Each vegetable has a story to tell and the chef has read those stories many times. Do those green beans snap signifying their freshness, does the apple crack open with first bite, the sound of a French knife slicing through an onion will talk to it’s power, the resistance of a potato to being cut into pommes frites will signal it’s sugar content, and the firmness of a grape reveals how well it was stored and when it might have been picked. The textures and sounds of produce speak a universal language to a chef pointing those responsible for cooking in the right direction.
One of the most tactile positions in the kitchen is that of the grill cook. Some may say that the only surefire way to determine degree of doneness is with a thermometer – yet a highly experienced grill master can delineate a perfect medium rare from medium with the touch of a finger. At this stage the cook has become one with the meat – he or she understands how the muscle works and the give of that muscle will send a message of doneness through the cooks fingers to the brain. The grill cook knows, through the sense of touch, just how long the steak or chop needs to rest before cooking, understands when to turn the steak to get the perfect grill marks without impacting the continuity of doneness throughout the meat, and can quickly assess how much longer it will take that meat to reach it’s intended outcome. This is mastery of the sense of touch.
The visuals of food are important to the chef. From the standpoint of understanding the ingredient – the chef will be able to determine how fresh the ingredient was to begin with, how it was handled, whether or not the cook followed proper technique, and how flavorful the final dish will be without ever sampling the results. When a chef stands at the pass as expeditor – he or she is able to immediately assess all of those factors in a split second, wipe the rim, adjust the fresh herb garnish and transfer the plate to a waiting server knowing full well that the product meets the standards of the operation.
 THE SIGHT OF AN EMULSIFICATION WHEN IT HAS REACHED ITS ABSORPTION
Egg yolks will only absorb so much clarified butter, the right amount oil and egg yolks will marry in a perfect mayonnaise, a beurre blanc is sensitive to the right proportions, and egg whites will reach their peak as a meringue, but can quickly fall if the process carries on too long. All of these simple, yet sensitive products rely heavily on not just recipes, but more importantly the cook’s visual interpretation of the right proportions and the timing of incorporation. The longer a person cooks, the more astute this assessment becomes.
 WHAT IS THAT FLAVOR – DOES THIS DISH BRING EVERYTHING TOGETHER THROUGH THE SENSE OF TASTE?
I remember talking with a friend who is an accomplished flavorist and owner of a flavor company. I started the conversation with the assumption that his lab would be totally dependent on tools like a gas chromatograph to separate the chemical components of an ingredient or a taste to figure out how to replicate it and computer modeling to build a formula to that end. Yes, he had all of those tools, but he told me that a flavorist relies on his or her palate more than any other tool.
The chef doesn’t have access to the equipment of the flavorist, but he or she does have a palate – the tool developed over many years of tasting and assessing. A seasoned cook (no pun intended) is able to taste a product and define its components and what might be missing in achieving a flavor goal. Like a master sommelier for wine – the chef is able to pull together the senses of smell, touch, sight, sound, and taste to evaluate a dish and establish a protocol of adjustment or evaluate a raw material and determine how it will be addressed in cooking and menu planning.
Some cooks are born with well defined olfactory senses and taste buds, but this gift without multiple experiences with tasting and building flavor benchmarks is somewhat wasted. Cooks need time and exposure to be able to fine-tune the most important tools that a chef relishes – the tools of human senses.
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Spain's culinary Picasso seeks new inspiration
1 of 3 Mist rises as Spanish chef Ferran Adria (left) and his assistant Rafa Morales make orange sorbet using liquid nitrogen during a cooking seminar at the "Spain and the World Table" conference at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif. on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2006. Adria focused on using science and technology in preparation of Spanish foods. PAUL CHINN/The Chronicle **Ferran Adria, Rafa Morales MANDATORY CREDIT FOR PHOTOGRAPHER AND S.F. CHRONICLE/ - MAGS OUT PAUL CHINN Show More Show Less
2 of 3 Spanish chef Ferran Adria conducted a cooking seminar at the "Spain and the World Table" conference at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif. on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2006. Adria focused on using science and technology in preparation of Spanish foods. PAUL CHINN/The Chronicle **Ferran Adria MANDATORY CREDIT FOR PHOTOGRAPHER AND S.F. CHRONICLE/ - MAGS OUT PAUL CHINN Show More Show Less
It seems strange -- humbling even -- that superstar Spanish chef Ferran Adrià would consider San Francisco's Ferry Building to be revolutionary, something he hasn't seen anywhere else in the world. After all, Adrià himself is the revolutionary, the person who has, in the last two decades, set the culinary world abuzz with some of the most groundbreaking concepts in gastronomic history.
Often called the Salvador Dali or Pablo Picasso of cuisine, Adrià is best known for the extraordinary techniques he uses to make dishes such as melon caviar and mushroom foam at El Bulli, his famed try-before-you-die restaurant near the small town of Roses on Spain's Catalan coast.
But in an interview in St. Helena on Saturday after his cooking demonstration at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone's "World of Flavors" conference, Adrià pointed to the vital role Northern California plays in the world's rapidly changing food scene.
On his few trips to the Bay Area during the past decade, he says he's built on ideas acquired from the cuisine here.
"I remember the first time I went to Yank Sing and saw dim sum," he said through a translator. "I just flipped -- I'd never seen anything like it." And after spending the past week visiting Bay Area establishments such as Ame and the Ferry Building in San Francisco, and Copia and the French Laundry in Wine Country, he praised the region's powerful dining culture.
"I came to the Bay Area in 1997," he said, "and when I returned to Spain, I predicted that the United States would be one of the great superpowers of gastronomy." He recalls the Europeans, journalists in particular, laughed at him, dismissing the notion. Now he feels thoroughly vindicated.
Adrià's rare Bay Area appearance was in part to discuss the future of Spanish cuisine in the United States. He joined more than 40 Spanish and a handful of American chefs explaining the philosophy, tradition and methods of both his style of creative contemporary cuisine and classical Spanish cooking -- not to mention some pretty unique demonstrations that he performed using liquid nitrogen -- to a cadre of food industry professionals, chefs and journalists.
Ask any practicing chef or avid eater about Ferran Adrià, and they're likely to wax poetic about foams, gelees and powders. David Kinch, chef owner of the four-star Manresa in Los Gatos, calls Adrià "the single most influential man in fine dining in the past 25 years."
Yet Adrià had the same humble beginnings as most dedicated chefs. Starting his career as a dishwasher in a French restaurant in Castelldefels, Spain, he picked up classic cooking skills from the head chef that carried him through jobs in other small restaurants, including a stint in the military. He was drafted at age 19 and stationed in the kitchen.
Although he landed at El Bulli as a line cook in 1984 and was promoted to head chef 18 months later, it wasn't until 1987 that he had his culinary epiphany.
"I was at a conference, much like this one," Adrià recalled. "Only I wasn't speaking I was listening."
The lecturer was Jacques Maximin from the Hotel Negresco in Nice. "Someone in the audience asked, 'What is creativity?' And he just said, 'Not to copy.' "
Those three words ignited his passion for change, Adrià said. Over the past 19 years, he has spent countless hours manipulating ingredients and experimenting with new techniques and unconventional cooking styles.
Adrià says what's come out of his experimentation has often been misunderstood and incorrectly labeled molecular gastronomy or molecular cooking.
"Come on," he said, throwing his hands into the air. "It doesn't mean anything. People think Ferran Adrià and they think chemist. "
Harold McGee, the Bay Area author of "On Food and Cooking" (Scribner, 2004), the hefty tome explaining the science and lore of the kitchen, agrees.
"Adrià is about creativity, and a lot of cooking. What he's doing doesn't start or end with science," McGee said in an interview. "It's just one of the many tools he uses." He takes natural ingredients and transforms them into something interesting.
In Adrià's demonstration at the CIA on Saturday, moderated by McGee, the chef used substances like agar-agar, xantham gum and liquid nitrogen, and a whipped cream maker, immersion blender and whisk, to demonstrate some of his signature items. He made a vanilla foam from little more than melted vanilla ice cream and a whipped cream maker.
Yet even though he's best known for foam, Adrià says that technique barely scratches the surface of what he does now. In a newer technique, he produced "air" by lifting the top bubbly layer of a fiercely blended juice, such as pomegranate or carrot, and floating it on the plate. He also made an intensely flavored orange sorbet by whisking the pure juice in a bath of bubbling liquid nitrogen. In a regular sorbet or ice cream maker, the juice wouldn't set up properly on its own.
In using these techniques, Adrià said afterward, his main aim is to find the balance between the creative, intellectual value and the taste value. That means pushing the envelope, and it also means having a receptive clientele.
His ideal customer, he says, is a person who comes into El Bulli with his senses open, ready to experience something new.
"He should pay attention to what he's eating," Adrià said, adding it's not just about what's on the plate, but the temperature, texture and, above all, the feeling one gets when they eat it. "When tasting avant-garde cooking, part of the magic is not knowing what it is."
That idea doesn't always resonate in Northern California's ingredient-driven kitchens.