Thursday, February 26, 2015

"The Things We Do"

"I learned about food in my mother's kitchen." The first sentence in my book says much about who I am but says nothing about why I do what I do and why I've spent my adult life doing it... I'm not alone when I say that I love being a chef. If I wasn't a chef I wouldn't know the lessons I've learned. I'd have a different list of things checked off if I was an actor or a lawyer or an auto mechanic. I can say that we work tirelessly (usually) and endlessly (always) to make others happy. We work when our families and friends do not. We have someone else in mind, often a person that we do not know but understand, when we produce food. We touch people very intensely. We make things that people take pictures of, they smell to delight their noses, they put our work in their mouths to taste our creations and then ingest them - we create to please the senses. We touch people viscerally, soulfully, creatively, and sensually. We offer life to people. Man, we're cool. The Need to Feed has always been about the journeys we have taken and the struggles we've endured. Will all of this said, we have to be very good at what we do or none of the above will happen. We become non-essential at that point. If we are not uplifting ourselves then we are not doing justice to the craft and the art of the Chef. A billion words can be written but the essence of who we are and what we do is boiled down and concentrated into these eight key words: DEDICATION. MASTERY (of Method & Technique). FOCUS. HUMILITY. PASSION. LEADERSHIP. CONSISTENCY. OBSESSION. I wrote one of my first MBA papers on the definition of a Chef. This small list is the key to the door of endless creation. From the above words we find our individual paths to our own glory. We cling to these words as medicine for our souls and salve for our wounds (which are many). Chefs allow themselves to be swept away by these words into periods of creative indulgency and comfortably wrapped by them in moments of despair or wonder. The pursuit of perfection, clearly never attained, should be our road map and our compass. Vince Lombardi is oft-quoted as such: "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence." Charlie Trotter said much the same thing about "reaching for the stars" and falling short only to "grab the moon." Heed the words of those who came before you, your mentors and heroes, and follow their lessons of failure and success for the differences between the two are small and seemingly innocuous. One thing is for sure. I take a lot more Ibuprophen than I did ten years ago. Peace. ~R

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"I have returned".

Good snowy Colorado evening... Yes, like Douglas MacArthur, I have returned... Well now, it seems that I have been absent from my blog for two years... OMG. I've been pre-occupied with the MBA, you know. So, now that I am done with that (yes, thank you very much) I now have much so much more to say and a lot of catching up to do. I found that pushing myself through the studies in a graduate program has sharpened and focused the lens through which I view the world. And, the world is my subject matter. Be it sustainability in America, or water shortages in the Aral Sea, perhaps even the cuisine of's all fair game and part of what I find fascinating - how we interact with each other, what we accomplish through those interactions, and what we eat! This is, after all, The Need to Feed.... Peace. ~ R

Friday, December 28, 2012

Part I of My Trilogy : The Need to Feed - My Sabbatical Journey


This is the blog that started it all for me.  Check.  It.  Out.

Actually...the work I did at The French Laundry subsequently started the blog.... That's more accurate.  The blog written in California in 2009, once cleaned up, will be the 1st book in my 'Trilogy':

#1 - 'The Chef Apprentice - Epiphany and Perfection.'  The 67 blogs I created while a stagiere at The French Laundry.  I was on Sabbatical from The Art Institute of Colorado and these are my observations and thoughts as a 50-year old apprentice in, arguably, the finest restaurant in the world....

#2 - 'The Need to Feed - A Chef's Tale of Inspiration, Education & Dedication.'  The current blog which will surface as the second part of the 'Trilogy' which focuses on what a student of the culinary arts needs to know, what a Chef-in-Training better know and what all Chefs hope to know...  This is a more in-depth product from The Chef's Manual, written in 2008-2010...

#3 - 'Paths to The French Manner - Parties, Recipes and Culinary Adventures (1988 - 2012)'.  My life as it lead to the formation of The French Manner, a Personal Chef and Sommelier Service (with a name change to 12Seasons in 2008), and the people/recipes/food that I have cooked and created over the past 34 years - with updated flavor profiles and cooking techniques to bring my food into the 21st Century....

If you missed the original - here is one of my favorite entires...

#61 - 16 March - "In The Garden"

Monday was my scheduled day in the garden...

Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration. ~ Lou Erickson

My Sunday evening ended on Monday morning at 1:30 a.m.. One hour drive to Santa Rosa in the rain, fog and dark. I realized then, at 2:30 a.m., that I wasn't going to make a scheduled 7:30 a.m. or even 8:00 a.m. shift in 
The French Laundry garden. I called and left messages to say that I would be late... In bed at 3:00, I "slept" (?) until 7:45 a.m.. Refreshed (!) from my 4 1/2 hours of REM-deprived horizontal-ness, I showered, packed for my weekend (Angel's Camp, California - home to the "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Samuel L. Clemens - with my mother, brother and sister-in-law) trip and hustled into Napa Valley, arriving at TFL at 9:00 a.m.. Yes, I was late. I knew I had to atone for my belated start. As much as the schedule said I was to be there earlier, I didn't think that a 6 1/2 hour turn-around was really appropriate...or, possible. My apologies were accepted and I went to work. My day consisted of: trimming and scissor-snipping the green onions, removing the brown withered tops and giving them a "spikey-funky" haircut...; weed all the newly-sprouted fennel seedlings; tend the beds of micro-greens and weed them accordingly; spread the thyme, cabbage and greens beds with new straw bale for the expected weekend crowds during the Taste of Yountville; rake and keep the grassy areas between the plots clean and orderly; tend, hoe and weed the Spring Onion bed...

What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.  ~Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, 1871

Ouch. I begrugingly tended gardens as a child in Sutton, Massachusetts and have home-gardened at various places that the Corey's have lived. The difference is - now I'm 50... however, I went at my tasks with new-found excitement. I really enjoyed the elements and the work. The stretching every 15 minutes or so was necessary, and saw others doing the same... "Tonight is going to be a
four-Ibuprophen night", I remember thinking...and, it was. Especially after the five hours I spent night-driving south to Angels' Camp, CA. That's another story...

There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling.  ~Mirabel Osler

I found myself outdoors for more than eight hours. Eight hours of driving rain, sunshine, wind, drizzle and a continous flow of passers-by who were eager to walk among the well-manicured plots and stop to, like Ferdinarnd The Bull, "smell the flowers (or herbs)", take pictures of their loved ones or aimlessly stroll from one end of the garden to the other - all with smiles on their faces. I smiled, too.

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it. ~Author Unknown

I respect those that grow things. It fulfills their soul and takes all their time. Time to do it well. It takes passion. Think of the possibilities. Heirlooms. Flowers. Seeds. Earth and soil. Water. Sun and natural fertilizers. Earthworms, ladybugs and the micro-geography of the garden. The quiet solitude in the garden belies the physical effort it takes to till the earth with bare or gloved hands and toil under sun or clouds to grow the flowers, herbs and plants that we use as food. My day was just a small contribution to the efforts that are put forth by 
TFL Head Gardener and staff. Lovely to look at, the sundry plots of vegetables and herbs are a necessary part-of-the-whole-experience that is, The French Laundry.

It was, in spite of my back - a great day. 




Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Paths to The French Manner - Parties, Recipes and Culinary Adventures

'I learned about food in my mother's kitchen.'

Gotta start someplace....  More to come so, stay tuned.  Peace.


Going out quietly after 24 years... R.I.P.

The French Manner was born in Estes Park, Colorado in February of 1988.  Even with a name change in 2008 to 12Seasons, this was always my baby...  Now, I just completed the last event for guests this past Saturday, 22 December 2012.  Time to put it to bed, pass the torch to a younger generation, write TFM Memoir Cookbook and dedicate myself to teaching the next generation about passion, dedication and the pursuit of perfection...

Need to thank everyone who ever worked with me.  I'll send out a listing someday, call it The French Manner Hall of Fame!

Here lies the last menu.  R.I.P.


Lobster Bisque Shooters / Sage & Lemon Ricotta Fritters / Butter Poached Lobster
Caesar Salad Lettuce Fingers / Parmigiano Reggiano / Croutons / Herb Oil / Anchovy Dressing
Potstickers & Gyoza  / XO Sauce / Scallions / Cilantro
Poached Chicken Mousse Quenelles / Peanut Sauce / Toasted Sesame Seeds / Chives
Thai Tuna Ceviche / Avocado Foam / Twice-Fried Plantain Crumble / Pickled Onions
Pork, Lamb & Beef Albondigas / Chipotle BBQ / Fried Onions
Grilled Quesadilla / Jack / Goat Cheese / Poblano Peppers / Ranchero Sauce
Belgian French Fries / Curried Mayonnaise

The French Manner Beignets / Powdered Sugar / Coffee Gelato
Petite Molten Chocolate Cakes / Sea Salt / Peanut Butter Powder ('Adult Reeses')
2-Bite Eclairs / Pastry Cream / Chocolate Ganache
Christmas Swans / Chocolate Mousse / Nutella Snow 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God Yul, y'all

From my crazy household to yours...  Christmas 2012.  On our way to 2013, and beyond...!  Peace.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

How To Be a Chef - Part 1,873

I love when someone else presents the same thoughts that I have espoused for years.  This post is from Amanda Cohen, which I received from Mark DeNettis via the Facebook telegraph...  Cohen is Chef @ Dirt Candy in NYC, which received 2* from the New York Times in 2012.  This is the life we have led, we being Chefs that made their way from dish to prep to cold station to line to Sous to Chef to Exec to Corporate Chef to Culinary University.....  Those near 30 words spanned my 38 years in the industry.

So, kids....forget trying to be different because of your looks, your attitude, your personal thoughts, your sexuality - get f****** dirty, cut your self, burn yourself, move fast, sweat all day, work your body harder than any of your friends will ever do and love every minute of it (ok, nearly every minute of it).  If this was easy, everyone would be a Chef.
Here are Chef Cohen's words.  Man, I got excited reading this!  For more of my words and experiences read me at theneedtofeed - or here at The Need to Feed.  Peace.
"One thing I get asked a lot is how to become a chef, so I figured that I'd save everyone (and me!) time by putting my advice up here for the world to see. It all boils down to one word: don't.
It never ends well.
If that doesn't discourage you, then here's my advice on what you need to do. This isn't the only way, and it's maybe not the best way, but I don't know any other way. Like most people who own restaurants, I have tunnel vision and can only imagine doing things the way I did it.
First, go into your kitchen. Put a giant pot of boiling water on the stove and stand in front of it for eight hours. Occasionally stab yourself in the hand with a sharp knife. Find a right-wing radio show, the more rabid the better, and turn it up to ear-splitting volume. Pretend that when they are yelling at the president they are actually yelling at you. Imagine that each insult is very personally directed at your stupid face. Try not to cry. When the eight hours are up, imagine that this is every day of your life and ask yourself if you still want to be a chef. Yes? Then congratulations! You are exactly the kind of masochist who is ready to cook in a professional kitchen!
The next thing you need to do is forget about becoming a chef. For years, I've interviewed, hired, and usually fired, people who wanted to be chefs. They've seen it on TV! They've read about it in books! It looks exciting! They have no idea what it means! Being a chef isn't a goal, it's something that happens to you as you cook for a living. You need to love cooking, and give yourself over to it, and along the way you'll discover what it is you're going to become. Some people are great at managing a kitchen, but bad at cooking, but good at working a line. Other people are great on the line, but terrible at managing a kitchen, and only okay at cooking. This is your skill set and it'll develop over time. That's what determines what you wind up doing, not your vague desire to be a chef.
The point is, it's the journey, not the destination.
I know this because my spirit animal told me so.
It's natural to want to skip to the finish line and declare yourself a chef, but you have to put in the time. For me, it was 10 years before I was really ready to run a kitchen, and when I look at how much better I am now than I was even four years ago, I'm embarrassed that I was stupid enough to cook in public back then. To have anything worth sharing, to have any skills worthy of their name, you've got to get in the grind and that takes time. By the time people are saying, "Yes, chef," you should have forgotten why that was important to you in the first place.
Quick sidenote: One of my first jobs was working in a very famous restaurant's pastry kitchen. The guy supervising me used to delight in running me down. He would tell me how much I sucked, take me aside and encourage me to quit, he'd go out of his way to be as abusive as possible. If he got me to cry then the rest of his day was all ice cream and cake. Did this make me tough? No. But it made me swear I would never be this kind of jerk, and that I would never hire anyone who acted like this. I've had a few people like that in my kitchens and I love firing them. Kitchens attract bullies because they've read Kitchen Confidential too many times or they think the Gordon Ramsay they see on TV is the real Gordon Ramsay. It's a joy to weed them out. Because bullies are wimps. I've been in this business for long enough to see most of them burn out over and over and over again. A sure sign that someone can't hack it? They're a bully.
So you're ready to take a shot? Then you need to realize: cooking and working in a professional kitchen are very, very different. Even if you love cooking at home and host dinner parties all the time, or you really know a lot about food, or you catered some events, you aren't prepared for a professional kitchen. I definitely wasn't. Everything you know about cooking, everything you learned from your mom, everything people say you do that's awesome, is useless. I know someone who cooks at pop-ups, she's got good skills, knows a lot about food, and has staged at a bunch of places, but she will never be a full-time chef. She gets bored too easily, and has a hard time with hierarchy. The idea of working in the same place, on the same station, month after month after month is something she just can't do, and to get good enough to make it in this line of work, she needs to do that. So forget every compliment you ever got for your cooking. I cooked for years before I went to cooking school and none of it helps. The only way to learn how to work in a professional kitchen is to work in a professional kitchen, not visit a professional kitchen, not stand in one and watch, not know a lot of people who work in them.
Still not deterred? Still want to try? Great! Go to cooking school, or do some internships, or whatever it is that will get you your basic skills. (There's another post coming up this week about cooking school) The basic skills you learn in cooking school -- knife skills, basic cooking techniques -- are going to be useless in real life, but you have to understand the vocabulary before you can speak the language. That's what your training is, learning your basic vocabulary.
Then, for the next several years, work on your technique, work on your technique, work on your technique. Find the toughest, busiest restaurant you can and get a job on their line. Stay for at least a year. Even if you're a vegetarian and it's not a vegetarian restaurant, that's okay. This is professional training and your personal politics need to take a back seat to getting rock solid skills. By the time your year is up you'll either realize working in a professional kitchen isn't for you and you'll move on to something that makes you happier, or you'll be on your way to having an indestructible technique that'll make you a ninja master in the kitchens you move on to. The first few years of working in a professional kitchen are going to shape the rest of your life, so don't slack. Don't call in sick, don't show up late, don't screw off. Realize you're not there to socialize, you're there to work. The friendships will appear, you don't need to chase after them. Just get on that line every day and work, no matter what, and realize that for that year your best will never be good enough. You will have to get better every day, or you will crash and burn. But if you put in the work now, your technique will support you for the rest of your life.
After that year in a professional kitchen, it's all just life experience. Work in as many restaurants as you can, and never do less than six months in any of them. Even six months might not be enough time to learn what you want to know, and if that's the case then don't be a chicken: stay as long as it takes. Don't be scared. Try everything, even if you think you can't do it. You'll never learn your limits if you don't get pushed past them on a regular basis.
One of the most important lessons I learned was when I worked at Diner Bar in Spanish Harlem. This was a really busy, upscale diner, and while I didn't eat meat I was cooking burgers, buffalo wings, all kinds of stuff I wasn't familiar with. They kept cutting staff until literally there was just an angry Rastafarian and myself on the line, doing between 80 and 200 covers every night. And one night, when I thought I was going to die, I realized I had a choice: either quit or work harder. No one cared if I quit except me, but I cared a lot. So I worked harder, and Diner Bar taught me that no matter how bad things got I could handle them. You can't succeed in a kitchen until you've been really and sincerely over your head and survived. You can't search out that situation, it just happens to you and you have to embrace it when it occurs.
Your life will be full of lessons like this. There are no classes that can teach them. If you want to cook in a restaurant for a living, you need to immerse yourself in this world and it will teach you everything you need to know through scars, bruises, friendships, and burns. The first year of this job is the hardest, but don't cheat, don't take shortcuts, and if you make it through you're going to be a different person."