Friday, August 31, 2007

If you cook it you should eat it

This article by Marryam H Reshii in Banking & Finance about Chef Steven Liu who is apparently doing a great job of teaching the native Indian (gora) cooks to prepare western style food at Graze, Taj Residency in Bangalore, took me back to the good old days when I used to argue to my staff (and later, my students) that anyone with the will and the fundamental technical skills could cook any cuisine well if they would only take the time to eat it. Reshi writes


"As any chef from a Western country will tell you, that is the biggest hurdle in India: Indian nationals working in Western kitchens never eat the food they cook, so the nuances of their adopted cuisine are entirely lost on them. It is the reason why many middle-rung European restaurants across India suffer from over-seasoned food."


While I have never been to India and so cannot comment on the truthfulness of Reshi's allegation about the state of western food there, I am painfully familiar with the phenomenon she describes. If I had a dollar for each time one of my cooks chose to eat a hamburger or pizza when they could have cooked and eaten almost anything in the walkin, I'd have that Porsche turbo Carrera in my garage now. (I know it dammit.)

At the CIA the whining by some A-Blockers (new students) about having to eat French Food for lunch everyday used to make my ears bleed. In the face of this moaning and groaning my colleagues and I were always like "WTF? You are paying 26 thousand dollars to learn how to make haute cusine and you don't want to eat it! You want to be chefs but you can't bring your Cocoa Pebbles poisoned palates to learn what sweetbreads taste like?" And don't even try to get me going about the complaints by children who seemed to think that since the CIA and haute cuisine had developed in a mobile home, the multiple changes of silver and courses were an unnecessary affectation foisted on them by snobs whose sole intent was to intimidate them or piss them off.

Of course, not all of my cooks and not all -not even most- CIA students were knuckleheaded infantalized anti-fine-dining-and-food-snobs, but I've seen enough of this type to know that there are plenty of cooks who don't actually like what they are putting on your plate. And I'll go one step further and say that if the person cooking the food doesn't like what he's cooking, he may be able to cobble it into something edible, but it'll never be great.

I'm running out of time now. But remind me to tell you the one about the CIA grad poissonier who hated fish, got promoted to chef then quit after two years to open an auto body shop.

17 comments:

redman said...

Bob,
Love this post. I always felt a lot of students at CIA were knuckleheads and used to kill me how much they hated eating on stage- it was one of my favorite places to eat there. The lettuce soup is permanently ingrained in my taste memory. I also now try to convey to my students how important it is to eat. Had a classmate back then who struck me as not liking a lot of foods (most veg, any kind of legume, fish). We've remained friends. Now he sells auto insurance. What is it about the move to auto services!?!

realitybites said...

That is an interesting observation... that if a chef doesn't taste what he is cooking then he will never be great. Thomas Keller told Ruhlman that he has never tried his legendary Oysters and Pearls. Ruhlman asked him how he knows that it tastes good. He said he just does. Do you think some chefs are gifted in that way? Top Chef contestant Sam is diabetic. He must have to cook many things that he cannot eat. I wonder if he could taste something then spit it out-- like the wine tasters do. Hmmm?

The Foodist said...

Stealing my thunder now are we Bob?!

but really, the whining is still ever present about stage and the food.

I will admit to an extent it does get repeatative eating the same food every three weeks, but with the meal plan the way it is now (Youd probably flip your lid when you saw it) there are PLENTY of options open for "switching it up".

as far as stage goes, they moved it to the CE building and made it a mandatory (though it always was) meal for A/B Blockers. They only let them have one meal card swipe at any of the other kitchens which means if they want their two meals they have to eat at Stage.

What alot of these students dont realize is that a few blocks down the line that will be them serving/cooking stage food. Its to their benefit to eat at stage.

Theres alot of foods I normaly dont eat (gasp! I know!) outside of school, but unless im deathly illergic (Shellfish, coconut) it goes in my mouth at LEAST twice.

I think one of my favorite quotes to date was during Baking, we were talking about some foods and one student said "eww thats icky, yuck"

the chef, calmly looked at her and said:
"Icky? let me tell you something, the first time someone told me how babies are made I said "eww icky". But it wasnt till I tried it for myself did I say "Hey this isnt so bad!" and what do you know, the more I tried it the more I liked it!"

Its one way of looking at eating thats for sure

Bob del Grosso said...

realitybites

I'm sure Chef Keller and many others are perfectly capable cooking many dishes brilliantly without having to taste them. But then a guy like Keller has been cooking and eating great food for so long that he is able to create an imaginary image of the target (how a dish should look and taste) and hit it without much trouble.

However, novice cooks who have little or no experience of a particular cuisine should however, eat what they would cook for others in order to develop and understanding of what they are making. I also believe that it helps a lot if a cook likes the foods he or she is tasked with cooking. But I suppose that even in this there are exceptions.

raoul duke said...

I'll bet this is the same guy who fucked up my fender repair on the Pius, opps Prius.
Raoul

realitybites said...

Bob,

I see what you mean now. Weird, but I always assumed that most chefs love all kinds of foods and are very open to trying new things.

I just finished Ruhlman's "The Soul of a Chef" and just started "The Making of a Chef." Lo and behold-- not too many pages into it, I see your name. I didn't know that you ask your students at the Culinary, "What is food?" I feel very silly now. As you and I had this discussion a few weeks back on Ruhlman's blog. Here I was arguing with an expert, so to speak. I feel it is now time for me to go sit in that corner. :)) Kidding. I do enjoy reading your blog. I am not a chef, just a student of life. And any opportunity to learn is a good thing.

The Foodist said...

reality;

I can tell you from both a foodie and culinary student standpoint thats sadly not the case.

There are alot of reasons why people end up in culinary school, as of late the biggest is an attempt to get "noticed" and get their own FN cooking show... kinda scary really.

then again as much as I love food I dont like everything either, but you gotta at least try it!

and you dont have to be a chef to appreciate food or cooking! If you liked Soul and Making you should check out Lessons In Excellence from Charlie Trotter and Cooking for King, The Life of Antonin Careme. Both are really good culinary based reads! enjoy

Bob del Grosso said...

realitybites

I'm sure many of my former students would tell you that my expertise lies mostly in my ability to ask questions that don't have ready answers.

As for all chefs loving all types of food well, nothing could be further from the truth. I, for example, like almost everything that most westerners consider food but there are a few things that I either don't like (e.g. popcorn rice) or haven't eaten because they give me the willies (mountain oysters, for example).

Also, I have a rule that I try to follow that I will not cook something that I don't like to eat myself. Suffice it to say that it's
easier to follow when I'm in charge of the menu than when I'm working for someone else.

realitybites said...

Bob, I think those are the best questions. They stimulate thought.

Foodist, thanks for the recommendations. Two more books to add to my wish list. Good thing my birthday is coming up soon.

I'm about 100 pages into "Making of a Chef" and I can't believe how much I am learning... mother sauces--love it.

I have a couple questions that perhaps you guys might be able to answer. First, do you know what the position of the CIA is on the use of MSG? And second, are milk-fed calves' bones used to make the veal stock? If so, it seems that this is a well-kept secret from the public. Many, including myself, avoid consuming milk-fed veal.

Oh and Bob, I don't think I could eat testicles either. I know the big thing right now is offal. But I haven't had any opportunities to try these things prepared by a chef who knows how to make them taste wonderful.

The Foodist said...

Reality;

To answer your questions:

1- As far as I know the CIA has no "Offical" stance on the use of MSG products, but I can tell you that nothing in the Asia's class or any other class that Ive found uses any products containing MSG.

2-Yes, Veal bones are used to make veal stock. Sometimes you can add some beef bones if your looking for a brown(er) veal stock. But just a FYI saying milk fed veal is kind of redundent. Its assumed most veal is milk fed, its part of what makes veal veal. ;-)

as for Making, its great for getting a feel of what culinary school is like but if you have a chance get yourself a copy of The Professional Chef 5th Edition.

Its the text book used here (and many other places) and has ALOT of great basics recipies.

Have fun making mother sauces!

realitybites said...

Foodist, thanks for the quick response. Well, I know that in the UK they have two different classifications for veal. Both are young male calves--the by-products of the dairy industry. But crated calves produce anemic flesh. Calves that are allowed to roam a bit and eat grass produce rosé veal. (I learned this on Gordon Ramsay's The F Word.) My guess is that the CIA makes no distinction. Or maybe it prefers the crated calves' bones as they may produce a lighter, more neutral flavor.

I am gonna have a blast making these mother sauces. Thanks! :)

Bob del Grosso said...

realitybites

We have both kinds of veal here too, but the majority of bones are from crated calves. Funny it used to be the other way around. When I was a kid most veal was rose. And I assume that this was the case for many chefs too (pre-1970's)

I'm not sure where the mania for milk fed veal came from. My guess is that it was a late by-product of the baby boom. Lots of babies requires lots of milk which inspires a baby boom of calves half of which are male.
Then I figure the farmers realized that they could sell more veal if they made it whiter. Milk fed veal was the first "other white meat"

Also the "milk fed" angle appealed to mothers with babies.

realitybites said...

Thanks Bob for your reply.

I consider myself to be a enthusiastic meat eater. I love raw beef. But I have never eaten veal. I think I got exposed to one of PETA's educational campaigns early on. The images of those calves tied to the crates, unable to turn around, lying in their own excrement... I never flushed them from my mind. Maybe I have missed out on some opportunities to enjoy great meals. If it tasted like lobster, I would probably have to rethink my position. But as it stands, I'm not sure veal is all that special.

How do you feel about crated veal? Do you ever run into students that don't feel comfortable preparing it or eating it?

Bob del Grosso said...

realitybites

I have enjoyed eating milk-fed veal and goodness knows I have cooked enough of it- thousands of pounds I'm sure- but I haven't eaten it in years and for several reasons (not ranked)

1) the best quality stuff is very hard to get and not available in most markets (the Bouluds and Ramsays buy it all up)

2)I don't like crating

3) most of it is loaded with antibiotics and other drugs to induce anemia

And yeah, I met plenty of students who objected to it some of whom were vegetarians. I don't recall any vegan students though. I'd imagine that a vegan would find the school an intolerable place.

realitybites said...

Thanks so much Bob for sharing your knowledge with me.

Vegans... some of them really irritate me. I have encountered many of them online as I am a regular member of Morrissey-Solo.com. Morrissey is a vegetarian so many veggies become fans of his or convert to vegetarianism after they discover his music. While some are fairly articulate, they always seem to argue from emotion rather than reason.

I hope I haven't taken up too much of your time.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Jehne

The Foodist said...

reality;

Well, seems I learn something new everyday!

all my experience with veal has always been milk fed crate raised. Ive never heard of of encountered Rose Veal. Thanks to you and Bob for the lesson, but I will say that the school uses crated milkfed veal bones in stocks.

realitybites said...

Thanks Foodist. :))

Here is a pretty good article that explains the two different types of veal.

I know I will be learning a lot in the next months from your posts. And I will get the honor of living the life of a culinary student--vicariously through you.

Have a great holiday.