I aspire to be a better cook!
Mise en place
According to Michael Ruhlman, in his book, Ruhlman’s Twenty:
“Mise en place translates literally to “put in place,” but what it really means is to “organize and prepare”. It means everything in its place, on your countertop, beside your stove, on your stove, and most critically, in your mind.”
This concept is used mainly for prepping in a restaurant. However, Ruhlman further states that “there’s no reason mise en place can’t work in a home kitchen as well. All you have to do is to decide to do it. Stop and think before you begin. The importance of it cannot be overstated. It doesn’t mean simply putting all your ingredients in ramekins next to your stove. It’s ultimately about thinking, organizing, and planning your course of action.”
I think most good chefs would agree.
A good place to begin becoming a better cook, wouldn’t you say?
For the past six months or so, I’ve been getting much of my food inspiration (cooking, tasting, eating out) from reading biographies about chefs. Here’s the firsts of my reviews, and the inspiration or things I learned from each of them. Maybe they will inspire you too!
Several years ago, I read my first chef biography:
LIFE, ON THE LINE
by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas.
I happened to be browsing cookbooks at a Barnes & Noble, and this book caught my eye. Hailing from Chicago, I was already familiar with Grant Achatz. I was aware of the accolades associated with Chef Achatz, and his restaurant Alinea. I also knew he had been previously diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the tongue (the sense of taste being vitally important to a chef), knew he had chosen a radical treatment for the cancer, and ultimately beat it. After flipping through the book, I knew that I wanted to purchase and read it.
I was smitten with this book from the first couple of pages: Achatz’s early introduction into the world of cooking by the age of five. I was captivated by his culinary journey including working at his family’s restaurant, attending the Culinary Institute of America, and working for his mentor, Thomas Keller, at the French Laundry Restaurant for 4 years.
A pivotal moment occurs for Achatz while working for Chef Keller. Keller arranges for Achatz to “stage” for Chef Ferran Adrià at elBulli Restaurant in Spain. (Stage essentially means briefly working without pay in another chef’s kitchen to learn from them.) It is there that Achatz is first introduced to Adrià’s deconstructed cooking (similar to molecular gastronomy). Achatz only stages for three days at elBulli, but goes back to California “reeling and immensely inspired” from the experience. It is only a short time after that, Achatz knows he needs to leave The French Laundry and find his own kitchen to run.
After leaving The French Laundry, Chef Achatz becomes Executive Chef at Trio in Chicago. It is while working there, he meets Nick Kokonas who dines at the restaurant often with his wife. Together Achatz and Kokonas go on to co-found and open the restaurant, Alinea.
Reading about Achatz’s battle to beat the cancer was also a compelling story.
Special note: As of December 31, 2015, Chef Achatz closed Alinea for extensive renovations. In the meantime, he took his entire team to Madrid and Miami for 40 unique services.
Most Noteworthy Takeaways for Me From Reading this Book
I was truly inspired by Achatz’s drive to become a better chef at each step in his career. I even attempted (on a much simpler level) a couple of the gastronomic dishes Achatz details, and experiments with prior to opening Alinea. The book also inspired me to try to cook and experiment more with different flavors and ingredients.
Special Note: This book was the first time I heard of Chef Ferran Adrià and elBulli Restaurant. Since then, after reading other chef biographies and watching cooking shows, I now know he is considered one of the best chefs in the world, and one of the most creative and highly admired chefs.
Life on the Line also gave me great insight into Chef Thomas Keller – things like Keller’s constant pursuit of perfection, his passion for cooking, and taking the time to personally teach cooking techniques to his staff. I gained an appreciation of why The French Laundry continues to win accolades (and why it’s so expensive). It also motivated me to check out The French Laundry Cookbook. So that’s where I went next…
THE FRENCH LAUNDRY COOKBOOK
by Thomas Keller
Most Noteworthy Comments Made by Thomas Keller in this Cookbook That Stayed with Me
“Cooking is not about convenience and it’s not about shortcuts.”
“Take your time. Move slowly and deliberately and with great attention.”
Keller states his greatest hope in using his cookbook is that “you create something that you have deep respect and passion for.”
Keller’s law of diminishing returns: “basically means your initial bite into a dish is fabulous. Your second bite is great. However, by the third bite, and knowing there’s more of the same dish left to eat, the flavors begin to deaden in your mouth.” This is one of the reasons his restaurants serve tasting menus. (Makes sense to me)
“If a recipe’s difficulty exceeds your desire to make it, it’s ok – just make part of the recipe.”
“Trust your instinct.”
Have I made many of the recipes in The French Laundry Cookbook? No, but the book definitely made an impact on me to be more passionate, thoughtful, and embrace my time cooking in my kitchen, especially for other people.
I am now a huge fan of Chef Thomas Keller.
ON MY BUCKET LIST…
Eat at Alinea in Chicago
Eat at one or both of Thomas Keller’s restaurants: Per Se (New York City) or The French Laundry (Napa)