Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Culinary Myths: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of a Chef's Opinion

I'm often asked where I like to eat or what I like to eat on my night off.  So, let's just cut to the chase, and I will answer that:  I like to eat at home, and my favorite meal is a roasted whole chicken with root vegetables and golden brown Yukon potatoes, with a bottle of Rhone red.  Oh, and crusty bread.  Second place is Bolognese over bigoli (pasta), again, at home.  Red, again.

The part that most people have a problem with is believing that.  "Why would you want to cook on your night off?" Or, "Chicken? How boring!"

Whenever I get invited to someone's house for dinner (and it's not often, gang), I get the invariable, "Oh, well it's not going to be anything special; certainly not by YOUR standards."  Or my favorite, "Oh- I'm so intimidated, I'm just going to make a simple little something...it's nothing, really!"  Awesome. Just cut the crap about me casting aspersions from my ivory tower, and feed me.  I'm hungry.

Ask any chef and they will likely agree with me:  we are happy when ANYONE cooks for us.  And, we do like to cook for ourselves and others on our day off, because it's entirely different.  It's for friends and family, usually, and there is no pressure, clock-ticking or bullshit involved.  Most often, it's with some inexpensive bottles of wine and a hunk of cheese to snack on while doing it.  See?  No silver domes, no homemade pate en croute or foie gras three ways.  So enough; it makes us feel like we give off some aura that says, "My brie doesn't stink."

So, what to make?
Tips on feeding the guys in white:  The more comfort-foody it is, or any recipe from your mother or grandmother, the bigger the hit.  Ethnic food is a big bonus, too.  I wouldn't try a recipe to impress if you've never made it before.  We don't do it to you, so let's just agree that is out.  Pasta is always a hit.  Just don't say you saw it on Rachel.  We'll be looking for something wrong.

Culinary myth #2: All chef's would rather eat sushi.  A: True.  We cannot get enough of it.  We would eat it every day, all day.  When we're tired, feeling a little peckish, and wanna grab a bite and a beer; SUSHI is our first choice.  When we wanna splurge and treat ourselves; SUSHI.  When our spouse is out of town and we really don't wanna cook; SUSHI.  In word association analysis, you say, "sex", we say "SUSHI".

Look- I'm not saying we DO eat it all the time; it's too damn expensive.  But if we could- well.  There it is.

Myth #3:  Chef's eat everythingA:  False.  For example, exception to myth #2; uni.  'Not down with the sea urchin, man.  Also, I am one of several chefs who, inexplicably, cannot and will not eat coconut.  There are foods I don't love, and I'll still cook with them.  But, sweetened, chewy, grainy coconut is not going in my mouth.  Coconut milk?  Love it.  Ask your chef friend what food it is they will not eat.  You'll be surprised.  And if it's coconut, I wanna know about it!

Myth #4 All Chef's Have Tempers.  A:  Mostly, true.  But let's clarify that.  It's how you handle that temper.  I've always seen it as a maturity issue.  A screaming, yelling chef who can't control his temper has issues with control of his/her own.  Those in control and confident don't need to fly off the handle just to get attention and respect or results.  Even when frustrated, the bigger picture indicates that this too shall pass.  Not to mention, I prefer the closed door session, anyway.  I'd rather resolve the problem one on one, while creating the most amount of personal anxiety for the recipient as possible without raising my voice and behaving like an ass.  Have I yelled?  Yes.  Will I yell again? Yes.  Like the gym teacher says, "I yell because I care."  Throwing things?  LOL! Really, it's strictly reality TV antics, guys, or the chef has a tiny...spatula.  NEXT!

Myth #5 A Chef Cook's Your Meal, and Every Meal at a Restaurant  A: NOT.
This is one that shocked me.  People really think we are standing back there with our hands on everything.  Even in the smallest of restaurants, a chef can't prepare every single ingredient, cook every dish and assemble every plate.  A chef wears many hats.  The first is that of cook (or should be).  But typically, we are teachers (and babysitters) and we must make sure our cooks have the knowledge, confidence and tools to do their jobs.  The best pupils, therefore, produce food most like their chef would.  We also make sure your portions are consistent, taste for consistency of flavor, sweep the floor, drop a few baskets of fries when the fry-guy gets weeded.  We clean up constantly after lazy people.  And then, we find time to have the nerve to change the menu to keep it interesting for the guest, while having to build on a set of skills we've taught the cooks so they can execute the dishes.

You wanna compliment a chef?  Tell them how good your meal was on a night he wasn't working.  Getting people to cook like you do, see what you see and have the same sense of passion and urgency as if the guest was sitting in your living room, that's a challenge.  I've had people tell me their food didn't taste the same as when I was there.  That's a CHEF FAIL.  Even though they might think it's a compliment.

How high you aim or where you set your sights determines whether you can consistently execute at that level.  Some of the most talented cooks in this country, you've never even heard of.  And, they exhibit a discipline that is remarkable, with a huge sense of pride to match.  They get the credit for cooking your meal.  We get the credit for making sure it's exactly like we would cook it.

Finally, EGO: If there wasn't a healthy sense of pride of accomplishment, we might not be bedazzled by some of the world's incredible restaurants and chefs who built them.  If there wasn't a desire to be the best, to make no mistakes, and be the most unique, we couldn't come close to having perfection in a meal.  Ego is nothing more than walking the walk.  Some do, some don't.  My FAVORITE chef joke goes like this:

"What's the difference between a chef and God?  God doesn't think he's a chef."

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