The word is passion and I used to hear it from chefs. “I can teach you to cook, but I can’t teach passion,” they would say. I took this at face value from so many chefs I can’t tell you, until I didn’t anymore because I realized it meant exactly nothing. Thomas Keller, the chef from whom I have learned the most, and the most by far, noted this a while back as well. Passion is the wrong word, he said. Desire was what he wanted to see in a young cook. What, really, though, is that elusive quality that makes a great chef, a great musician, a great anything? It’s not passion, and I’m not sure it’s desire either. A lot of people have passion for something they aren’t good at. In my twenties Read On »

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I spotted a tiny news item in this morning’s Plain Dealer, culled from The San Francisco Chronicle reports, and was thrilled to see people like Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello, Tyler Florence, and scores of other chefs beginning to protest California’s hypocritical and uninformed ban on foie gras that goes into effect this summer. (Watch news story video from KCRA.) While likely begun as self-aggrandizing soap-boxing by former state Senator John Burton in 2004 (read his LA Times op-ed reasoning), as it was done by Chicago City Council Alderman Joe Moore in 2007, embarrassing the city, which repealed the law in 2008, we’re hoping that California legislators evaluate their actual motives for the ban. If they truly care about the humane treatment of the animals we kill for food, they would do this country a better and real Read On »

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A lot of friends emailed me last month asking what I thought about the stink bomb Julia Moskin dropped on the cookbook world in her bitter account of chefs not writing their own books (or sometimes not even reading them). Then there was the dustup that followed—Paltrow histrionic with the Times, Regina Schrambling (indefatigable NYTimes gadfly) calling bullshit on it all, time.com weighing in decorously. So this is for my friends who asked. In Michael Symon’s book, Live to Cook, he includes a recipe of mine (naturally fermented pickles), and I wrote the headnote in his voice. How meta! The above photograph is by Deborah Jones, a different version of which appears in Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller. But wait, that’s Deborah in the picture (I am in love with her), so how did Read On »

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I hadn’t planned this post but when my wife, Donna, started emailing these iPhone shots of the dishes she was served at per se yesterday at lunch I just had to put them up. First of all, Thomas Keller and his ace staff two years ago began offering dishes a la carte in their salon area, outside the dining room. It’s a fabulous way to taste what the per se chefs, led now by CDC Eli Kaimeh, are up to. (It’s no wonder that Sam Sifton, in his final column as restaurant critic for The New York Times, called it the best restaurant in New York City.) Chef Kaimeh did not work lunch yesterday; in his stead was Chef David Breeden.  I once complimented Deborah Jones on her amazing photography in Under Pressure (she’s photographed all of Read On »

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I’ve spent nearly a week in the Napa Valley working on the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook.  This will be the fifth book in a series led by Thomas Keller that began with The French Laundry Cookbook which is one of the best chef-restaurant cookbooks ever (do we need full dislosure here?). Forget the words I write—these books are truly fine and costly productions, and I think it’s important for people to know what goes into books of this magnitude, because so often people don’t know.  A team of people, from the many at Artisan, an imprint of Workman Publishing, who make beautiful books, to the commis at the restaurants who scale out the mise en place for the recipes for the chefs, and all those in between, including myself. In 1997, I flew out here to Read On »

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