Tuesday, December 2, 2008

5 Minutes with Thomas Keller

You've got to make the most of the time you're given. Don't let it slip away. -That's something running cross country taught me. The season is short (September-mid October for most) and the time goes by fast. If you don't reach your goals, you've got a year to live in disappointment. You have to give it your all in every practice, every race, every time you eat (will this food slow me down or help me) if you want to get better. You've got to make the most of the time you're given to compete, cause there aren't unlimited races. Every practice you blow off is one day of improvement lost. Nothing just falls into place. You must piece it together.
Recently I was told I would have five minutes with Thomas Keller. This isn't cross country, and if you screw it up, you won't be getting another shot next year. If you screw up, it's not a year of disappointment, it's potentially a lifetime.

I waited off by the side as he finished signing books. My mom and I had waited a long time. An hour earlier, the end of the signing line wasn't visible. I was introduced to Keller and Ruhlman and I shook their hands. I would be talking to them as they signed extra, book copies to be sold at the library- which kinda sucked, but was better than nothing.

I asked first about a new, young generation of chefs. "Chefs at Lacroix tell me I need to learn how to perfectly braise a pork belly before I can sous vide one. What will sous vide do for a young generation of chefs who may never learn how to perfectly braise or saute or blanch?" Thomas told me that would be the end. That we can't let these things become lost to us. He also told me this is the reason that they do not do exclusively sous vide and his restaurants. "We can't let the cooks lose that experience."

I responded by saying that restaurants are financed by customers, and customers don't care whether the chefs are getting that experience, they just want good consistent food (which is a major benefit of sous vide). He asked me "Why do you cook"

"But will sous vide transform cooking into industry?" Keller told me about puff pastry, and how when they were able to make it frozen and widely distribute it, it became much more accessible for people. As sous vide increases in popularity, it will make quality food more accessible as well.

I finally asked him "In the book The Last Supper, you say your last meal would be a roast chicken. Not a sous vide chicken?" He smiled for a moment. "No. I love the aromas, the taste, the memories, of a good roast chicken." Good enough for me. I took a picture with him and Ruhlman then departed.

So was I happy with how I spent my time? Well there was one more question I really wanted to ask him (about his favorite word:finesse, and how refinement improves with sous vide cooking, but finesse falters) but yes. Indeed I was. I wasn't shy, I didn't freak him out (I don't think), and I carried on a pretty good conversation with the man. yet somehow I left still yearning for more. It's ok though. I know our paths will cross again. I know it.


Anonymous said...

When I read your blog I always feel like encouraging you to keep cooking. This entry made me realize something else ... you're a good writer, too! The intro paragraph about making the most of your time was fantastic. Congrats on meeting Chef Keller and Mister Ruhlman. Keep writing! :-)

Nick N said...

You are too kind xoconostle.

Trig said...

Absolutely right in what you say, Nick.

When I watched an episode of Professional Masterchef recently in which several British professional chefs in their late twenties/early thirties told the host that their ambition was "to work in a Michelin starred restaurant one day..." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. All you have to do is get off your arse and go out and do it.

I was really inspired by some of the people I've met here in Europe - Giorgio Locatelli, Raymond Blanc, Albert AdriĆ , Joan Roca - and to meet Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman must have been exactly the same for you in the US.

Have you published anything about the Lacroix environmental pollution allegations yet? I'd like to hear your view about this row.

James said...

He asked me "Why do you cook"

He's got a point there. You have to absolutely love it, day, night, and while you're asleep too. Customers pick on that enthusiasm, which drives you on, and in turn that drives you on to make what you cook better and better.

Also when you're constantly learning new things, updating techniques and flavours you're keeping up the interest level, morale and motivation of those working around you, and you're moving forward.