The longer I have cooked professionally, the more frequently I have come to ask, what does it mean to cook well? It’s somewhat of a loaded question. Plenty of people cook well at home every day, with nothing more glorious than ingredients from a local chain store. To the professional chef it means a host of different things depending on their personal goals, style of restaurant, etc…
To me it means a clean apron at the end of the night, after performing a host of different tasks, all so that we can satisfy our guests’ rather complex whims. For me it is easier to explain my vision of cooking well by pointing to certain chefs I hold in high regard, David Kinch of Manresa, Daniel Patterson of Coi, Paul Liebrandt of Corton.
There was a fantastic article about Liebrandt in the NY Times on Tuesday. The crazier foodies, and New Yorkers in general, have been following his eclectic behavior and seemingly odd flavor combinations for quite a while now. No one seems to know what he is going to do next. But among all this volatility, there is an extreme degree of control and finesse, something that is highly sought after in the fine dining world. Two sentences jumped out at me.
“Paul’s plates look like the food was blown there by a gentle breeze, to have a plate that is super-composed but looks organic, that’s the dream. And it’s not easy to do.” The comment was made by a pastry chef that worked with him earlier in his career, Will Goldfarb. Many of us aspire to that level, but it is incredibly rare that any reach that plane. If you have the time, take a look at the NY Times article:
The man really is amazing. Oh, did I mention, Paul Liebrandt is only 32 years old, and has been running high-end kitchens since he was 25?
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