For a project I’m working on, I’m trying to reach people I had Skills with, oh so long ago.  If you happen on this post and  learned how to make veal stock and fish velouté and sauce Robert and  duchess potatoes and cauliflower Polonaise  under the direction of Chef Pardus in the winter of 1996 I’d love to hear from you and to know what you’re doing, in the food world or out.  In fact, I’d love to hear from any students mentioned by name in The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, or know someone who was—please, hit the contact link above and send me an email.

Reading the above, it occurs to me that I’ve chosen what sound like outdated and old-fashioned preparations (except for veal stock, of course).  When was the last time you saw cauliflower Polonaise on a menu?  But, in fact, learning those base skills (and writing about them) laid a foundation for all that I’ve done since and I feel–ever in search of lost time–a nostalgia for those short weeks and those preparations that verges on aching.

And, in fact, cauliflower, is an underused and wonderful vegetable, and cauliflower Polonaise (blanched, garnished with brown butter, bread crumbs, chopped egg and parsley) is actually really good if it’s made right.

Learn the basics and you can do anything.

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27 Wonderful responses to “Skills with Pardus, 1996”

  • luis

    “Learn the basics and you can do anything.”
    Interesting thought… think about it! “Learn the basics and you can do anything.”
    again…”Learn the basics and you can do anything.”
    Folks what this means is: Follow the rules…and you can stay within the lines…
    Doesn’t it? I know that you need a foundation in life. You need to be schooled. Everyone needs to be schooled.
    Believe me from one that never read a recipe book… but understands technology and chemistry enough to put two and two together sometimes…. To be great you need to think outside tha box. Staying within a set of rigid guidelines dooms your chances. This is why the lead dogs like Rulhman, Bourdain, Elton Brown and many others are willing to make asses out of themselves pushing the culinary boundaries into such things as what I consieder to be “nasty offals”….Push it damm it….(Better them than us I think?) Somebody has to do it?…

  • Shannon

    When I was a kid, my mother used to make roasted cauliflower with a buttered bread crumb topping.

    It was the only way I liked cauliflower and it was the only decent thing she was able to make, LOL.

    I’ve had to learn how to cook on my own, and I made a point to take a lot of time to perfect the basics before I move on to something elaborate.

    It just seemed like the logical thing to do.

    Some techniques (like making the breast meat on a whole roasted chicken moist and juicy) were learned by accident due to error. I find that when a mistake turns into the best idea ever, cooking is the most rewarding and fun.

  • brandon_w

    ntsc – thank you for the info about the CIA bootcamps. I’d love to take one or more of those someday. Just don’t have the spare cash for it these days.

  • luis

    Lots of cauliflower recipes on the web recommend boiling the cauliflower. I always lightly steam it to keep it crunchy. Ruhlmans book does mention steaming as “moist heat” technique that does not impart its flavor to the food… I found NO reference of “boiling” in the elements book terms section unless I missed it?.
    My guess is Ruhlman doesn’t approve of boiling veggies.
    Steaming mixed veggies is not easy due to each veggie has its own crunchy time. Seems the most fragile veggie dictates steaming time.
    I am not a fan of the chilled ice bath thing cause you then have to re-heat the veggies…after you just soaked them in water?…don’t get it.
    Also steaming seems to me needs to vent out of the steamer which is a problem for most kitchens. Lidding the steamer makes the condensed water drip over the veggies. Kinda makes a case for the whicker steamer found in chinese groceries.

  • luis

    Lee Ashwood , Cauliflower is very bland and every other recipe solution out there seems to add fat to it. Mornay sauce contains butter and cheese… even polonaise involves lots of butter…25% ratio. Now lemon, kosher salt and olive oil… That is one for tha recipe book. Thanks…. I think there are many other ways to enjoy Cauliflower without dishonoring its pure crunchy essence. Folks if a vegetable is not fatty or oily… don’t push it in that direction…! Push tha envelope to honor it, Ok I appologize. My rant for tha night.

  • luis

    Robert Lindh , Those that forget the past are sure to repeat the same mistakes again. Something like that. Not to worry I say. Times change but the elements o’cooking remain tha same.

  • Pavlov

    I agree with Robert… after all, Thomas Keller is using those basics and putting a spin on them in some cases, and everybody sees him as a genius. (Well I think he is) Maybe because he has those basics so nailed, he can take them to the next step. Just a thought.

  • Robert Lindh

    I appreciate your interest in the basic fundamentals of cooking. I wish they would be more appreciated in the American kitchen. Seeing some of the contestants in the first episode of Top Chef not knowing basic sauces and techniques is quite disappointing. I would hate for these concepts and techniques to go extinct in the upcoming decades. I agree Michael, that learning the basics will really allow you to cook anything.

  • ntsc

    brandon_w said:”I’d love to take just a basic skills class like the one at CIA sometime, I think it would do a lot for my kitchen abilities.”

    The CIA does offer boot camps for food enthusiasts, these are 2-5 day long classes and there is one in basic skills as I recall.

    These are 6am-5ish pm and then come back for dinner in one of the restaurants, included.
    http://www.ciachef.edu under ‘enthusiasts’.

    My wife came back from her first one, four days on Healthy Cooking, dead tired and turned out the best piece of roast beef of her life to that point. And this is a woman known to our friends for her cooking. She has since taken the boot camp on French Cooking.

    The down side is that real boot camp was easier, of course I was younger.

  • elaine4c

    Anyone read “The Perfectionist, Life and Death in Haute Cuisine” — story of the late Bernard Loiseau? Remember the description of his preparation of caramelized cauliflower? Can someone provide a link to that passage in the book? It is sublime…

  • ruhlman

    rick, yes, that’s the same adam, we’ve stayed in touch. ben grossman is chef of smoke joint in nyc, paul trujillo is a chef on st. johns island, and darling erica is in philly but i lost her number. that’s four of 16 or so.

    i tried contacting the cia but their alumni info was outdated.

  • Bannon

    I just read all three of your chef books and loved them – thanks!

  • Rick

    There’s an Adam Shepard here in NYC, who is the chef/owner of both Lunetta restaurants, one in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The one and the same in “Making”? Don’t remember the spelling of the last name of the one in your book, though. Hope this helps. Good luck with your project.

  • The Foodist

    Michael;

    Have you tried contacting anyone at the Career Services Office at the CIA? they may have some record of where some of the people are, if anything the full names so it might be easier to track them down? its worth a shot at least.

    -steve

  • Chef C

    The biggest lesson they tried to impart to us in first year art school was “how can you do an abstract of a nude, if you can’t do a nude?” You have to understand the bones and what they do before you can take them out and still have it make sense or a statement. Same goes with mother sauces, the classics, and basics in cooking…
    That lesson, and “get over yourself…you’re not that good YET”.

  • brandon_w

    My mom made what could be described as “white trash” cauliflower polonaise when I was growing up. It was just cauliflower, melted butter, and crumbled saltines. I always just ate the buttered saltines.

    Anyone see the cauliflower “scramble” on Top Chef last night?

    I’d love to take just a basic skills class like the one at CIA sometime, I think it would do a lot for my kitchen abilities.

    Also good luck on your quest to find the people you went to school with. As a fan of the book I’d be interested in knowing what happened to them.

  • Lee Ashwood

    Cauliflower IS underused and much maligned. I think it is tempermental in the field and kitchen and turns bitter easily in unskilled hands. But even my children love it with sauce Mornay or a simple treatment of lemon juice, olive oil and kosher salt.

    The other issue with cauliflower is it’s color. There’s just not much to work with there, is there? I did see a golden cauliflower at Central Market the other day but the spendy nature of it kept my curiosity at bay. For now.

  • chadzilla

    Outdated is such a harsh word.
    I actually just made a batch of chicken glace sauce Robert 3 days ago… in between my time experimenting with making tempura batter from Methocel SG16… such is the hotel kitchen life.
    Good luck on putting the band back together.

  • luis

    Here is a basic recipe… for folks that are wondering what Ruhlman is thinking?.

    Cauliflower Polonaise Ingredients
    2 lb Cauliflower; sectioned
    1/2 c Bread crumbs
    Water; as needed
    2 Hard-cooked eggs; chopped
    1/2 c Butter
    2 tb Parsley; chopped

    Instructions for Cauliflower Polonaise
    Boil cauliflower in water until tender. Drain and arrange in a flat casserole dish. Keep warm. Brown butter lightly. Add bread crumbs and mix well. Remove from heat. Add chopped egg and parsley, and mix well. Sprinkle crumb mixture on top of cauliflower.
    ——————————

    Interesting proportions… 2:2:2 by 1/2:1/2 main cast in veggies, protein and herbs(flavor)…. to supporting cast butter and bread crumbs.

  • ntsc

    I don’t remember when I read Making of a Chef, it is in hardbound so probably not long after publication, but I do remember the first couple of times taking Saturday classes there trying to figure out if you had mentioned the room or the chef.

    It is a bit more than the 10 years Darcie mentions but it is certainly something I would consider moving to if a lot younger.

  • bob mcgee

    Sounds like you’re putting the band back togther ala Jake and Elwood, best of luck.

    The owner of the restaurant that I last worked at had had a polonaise prep of some kind and came back raving about it. He wanted to know if I could whip some up. having prepared it before, I knew how, but wanted to play with it a bit. So I disassembled it abit.
    House cured chinook lox, brown butter sauted cauli, chopped egg gribiche and pumpernickle crisps. I love the sound of parsley leaves and capers popping in the brown butter.
    thanks for reminding me of the memory.

  • French Laundry at Home

    Duchess potatoes remind me of my best friend’s grandmother who lived in a grand hotel. We used to have dinner with her in the hotel restaurant on Friday nights, and I’d always order rack of lamb, duchess potatoes, and rainbow sherbet for dessert. I can still taste it all. Mmmmmmmmmm…..

  • Paul DeLuca

    “Learn the basics and you can do anything.”

    So true in many endeavors. I run into this all the time coaching youth sports. The kids always want to do complicated, flashy things before fundamentals. Hell, I was the same way in sports and music. But as I have come to take cooking more seriously (while insisting on having fun with it!) I find myself taking a certain comfort in getting really good at fundamental things. Maybe I’m just getting older…er wiser.

  • Barbara

    Yeah, I look back on the stuff I learned to make in culinary school–the mother sauces and such, and it is true that I seldom make those exact sauces.

    But it doesn’t matter that I seldom make the exact dishes. Now that I am a chef at a small restaurant, I still make derivatives of the mother sauces, or I make cream soups to die for, and the guests act like I am some kind of genius.

    The basics of French cuisine have given form to my cooking style. If I want to do anything, now I use French technique. Unless I am cooking Asian, then I use Chinese technique, which I did not learn in culinary school, but which has informed my skill set as strongly as my French culinary education.

    When I teach, and when I write, I tend to cover fundamentals, because if you can do the basics, you can use those techniques upon which to build your own cooking style.

    Sorry I can’t help you with the classmates question, though. I’m a J&W grad, class of 1999.

  • Doodad

    I just met a guy who was in the class you followed for Reach of a Chef.

  • Darcie

    I’m sorry I can’t help you find anyone, but I’m in the middle of Making of a Chef right now – it almost makes me want to go to culinary school. Almost. If I were only 10 years younger…

  • Kitt

    Good luck! I’m sure they’ll start coming out of the woodwork, thanks to the Internet (it’s everywhere you want to be!).

    I’m not a huge cauliflower fan, but Polonaise style would make just about any hated vegetable delicious. Another option I’ve tried: Cream of cauliflower and Stilton soup. Heavenly.