Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chef Curren: Cooking Basics Don't Change

I grew up fascinated with food and cooking. This seems strange now, looking back; no one in my family worked in the industry. My father did a short stint as a dishwasher and short-order cook at Howard Johnson’s while he was in graduate school, but as far as careers in the culinary world were concerned, I was oblivious.

Despite this, I found myself as a youngster concocting God-knows-what anytime I was allowed near the stove. I thought my creations turned out well, but I doubt I would feel the same now. I’ve always been a creative person, and for whatever reason cooking became my medium of choice.

I can remember watching shows like “The French Chef” with Julia Child, “Yan Can Cook,” “The Galloping Gourmet” and “Great Chefs of the World.” This was back before the Food Network and the phenomenon of celebrity chefdom. These people had raw talent and an incredible knowledge of the basic principles of cooking.

I was enthralled and would write down recipes that I saw on the shows so that I could try and re-create them. The 10- and 11-year-old version of me could never quite manage to get them right, but still, I tried.

Today we all follow the media frenzy that was created by the Food Network, and the TMZ-esque nature of the current culinary scene. Not many of us realize the hard work, dedication and understanding of centuries-old techniques that go into actually being a chef today. I promise you it is not at all a glamorous lifestyle. 

Everything we do in professional kitchens can be linked back to Auguste Escoffier. He revolutionized cooking. He introduced the brigade system (the basis for how modern kitchens work today) and honed cooking techniques for pretty much every ingredient imaginable. He truly is the father of modern cooking.

What drives me is the idea that cooking is a craft to be learned and perfected, though true perfection is almost unattainable. Today we all use technology to make our lives easier. We have tools like blenders, vacuum sealers, immersion circulators, ISI foamers — the list goes on and on. We use these at Blue 13, but I always strive to remember the basic principles that make a great meal.

What creates flavor? Acid, salt, heat. There is a need for texture in a dish. There are flavors that work together. All of these principles were set up by Escoffier. We can put all the “magic” we want into a dish, but at the end of the day, it just doesn’t work without the basic techniques executed well.

There is something to be said for a perfectly cooked piece of fish, which is not an easy task. I am sure many TV personalities would have a hard time doing that. We run around following those we read about or see on TV, those with the newest, craziest restaurant opening this month. But what really matters are those who have talent and ability, and are working hard to perfect their passion. The two are not mutually exclusive, of course. There are many talented chefs who are well-known and who are very much a part of the media craze.

Trends come and go, but the basics in cooking will always remain the same. Take away all the smoke and mirrors that restaurants use and at the end of the day, all modern cuisine is rooted in Escoffier’s principles. 

Read the rest of the story here.

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