Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Keller and Ruhlman at the Free Library

"Finally the day had arrived," I thought in science class. It felt like forever from the month or so ago that I had gotten my tickets. Buying these tickets was like making a reservation for Per Se, the time between making a reservation and actually eating there feels like forever. I got back to my test on polar and non-polar substances. I had been daydreaming about tonight for at least 10 minutes. I'd be lucky to finish my test.

I felt my phone vibrate in my pants pocket. I sit in the back, next to a window, a prime spot for both texting and daydreaming. I opened up my phone. My Mom, who had been workin the connections for me, trying to somehow allow me to meet Keller, wrote, "Possible 10 minute interview with Ruhlman and Keller at 7:10." I nearly squealed in my seat, like a pig that Keller might sous vide. I went back to daydreaming. At 4:30 however, I got an e-mail saying that Keller and Ruhlman were running behind schedule, and that I wouldn't be able to get my interview.

My heart drooped, but that wouldn't stop me, or my mom, who seemed to have a plan to get me that talk time. We arrived at the library two hours early, a whole hour and 15 minutes before the doors would open.

At once my mom found out the location of the office of the event coordinator, and before I knew it we were in an employees only area. I crept across the wall, as if I were James Bond, and we eventually found our way to the office of the event coordinator. We explained to him our situation and he promised to find us, if I would be able to talk to Keller.

So I sat outside the library's auditorium doors like a loner, for about 30 minutes before anyone else arrived, and about an hour before they opened the doors. My dedication paid off however, when I got front row seats.

Finally a white-bearded man went up to give an introduction, and said something along the lines of "Michael Keller uses this method to get the most out of his food." Yes, he said Michael Keller. Many from the audience, including me, quickly corrected him, and soon Keller and Ruhlman were on the stage. I'm sure most of you don't need me to describe either of them, but I will nonetheless.

They walked out smiling, and are both strikingly tall. Ruhlman seemed more at ease with the crowd. He is blond with wavy hair and very laid back- a potential surfer dude. My mom later told me that his aura surprised her. Ruhlman is one of the most admired authorities in the food world, he's "strikingly handsome," and he's book touring with Thomas Keller, yet he isn't the least bit condescending or egotistical (from what I observed). Keller seems to still have a little chef in him, meaning he's not as comfortable in the public (out of the kitchen) as Ruhlman is. Ruhlman is more at ease with the world, Keller seems more perfectionist. What Keller has said about cooking ("perfect is only an idea, once you reach it, it disappears") seems to translate into aspects of his life.

Ruhlman gave an introduction. He talked about how Keller had failed every cooking job up until the French Laundry. He talked about how when he was at Rakel, he was asked to serve Caesar salad, but refused and left, because he wouldn't compromise his standards. All of this I knew, yet I listened intently to every word. Ruhlman is the one of the greatest food writers today, not because of the information he gives (which is top notch), but because of the way he tells the information. Ruhlman's more than a writer, he's a storyteller. He turned Thomas Keller's journey through the restaurant industry into an epic.

The presentation was Keller answering Ruhlman's questions about sous vide cooking (its history, its use at his restaurants, safety, application for the home cook, future of sous vide). The presentation was interesting, though I'd heard most of it before. The introduction was my favorite part, I prefer stories to fact books.

The audience asked questions as the presentation concluded. I debated whether or not to ask a question I had been pondering. Would I sound stupid? Would my heart start beating fast? I felt like I was about to talk to a really hot girl for the first time. The first question was asked-something about sous vide in grocery stores, "ah what the hell, you only live once right," I thought. I raised my hand. "You in the front" said Ruhlman. The library worker nearly gave the mic to someone in the next row. I let him know it was me. Early in the presentation Ruhlman had said something about a Vegas Steakhouse having sous vide bins filled with steak cooked at rare, medium rare, medium and well done. I asked him and Keller about this, "Do you believe sous vide will turn restaurants into production lines?" I have no recollection of Ruhlman's response, I was trying to suppress the butterflies in my stomach. As Keller began to answer, my butterflies receded. He told me that places like steakhouses are kind of already production lines, that they are doing large volume cooking each night, and that they need that consistency that sous vide bring. "For places like steakhouses, the production line aspect isn't necessarily a bad thing." I could accept that. Someone else asked if Keller would open a Bouchon in Philly. He responded "I like Philly so much, I wouldn't wanna have to work when I come here." Smooth Keller, real smooth. The presentation ended.

Stay Tuned for part 2, which includes a lil one on one time with me and Keller.


Tags said...

Congratulations, Nick.

I wish I could've gone. I would've told TK that I worked in Philly for 12 years and liked it better after than before.

BTW, have you been to Le Petit Mitron on Haverford Ave in Narberth? Sadly, you can count on one hand the bakeries that still use butter exclusively in this area.

Also, if you get the chance, try Pig Daddy's BBQ on Burmont Rd in Drexel Hill. Linda, Jerry, and Chris Mullane come in early and smoke their meat all day long, low and slow. (Closed Tue & Wed)

Linda & Jerry teach BBQ judges, run events, and occasionally compete on the BBQ circuit. They're friends with Jack McDavid and won Best of Philly (Philadelphia Mag) and tied Sweet Lucy's for 1st on Fox Philly.

Nick N said...

Never been to Le Petit Mitron, or Pig Daddy's BBQ, but am now eager to try both.

Sarah Goodman said...

Apple beignets at Le Petit Mitron.

Tags said...

Whenever I go, I always have the chibouste (pastry cream & Italian meringue with raspberry, or in late fall, apple), and a pear tart. If they're out of either, I get a chocolate almond croissant or eclair.

Using butter only makes a huge difference.

He makes great chocolates, weather permitting, but my favorite is Eclat on High St in West Chester.

Tags said...

Isabelle and Patrick Rurange have run this patisserie since 2001.

Before that, Patrick was a pastry chef at Le Bec Fin.

Joseph Bayot said...

Hey, I'm not sure if you saw this, but here's the podcast: