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Doug Psaltis

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#1 robert40

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 12:45 PM

With the recent release of The Seasoning of a Chef by Chef Doug Psaltis I was wondering what thoughts and opinions readers may have?

An accurate account of a young chefs rise to the top in the restaurant industry?
Or a slap in the face " No pun intended" to prior employers?

Link below to Newsday article.




http://www.newsday.c...y-homepage-mezz

Edited by robert40, 14 September 2005 - 01:01 PM.

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#2 Lesley C

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 01:39 PM

I finished this book a couple weeks ago and I quite enjoyed it. I'm not sure it's for everyone, but if you're familiar with the players it's quite a read. I'm not sure Thomas Keller will be pleased with the chapter on the French Laundry. But I didn't see anything but honesty coming from Psaltis here. Slap in the face? I didn't get that at all.

#3 Marlene

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 01:46 PM

The Daily Gullet is also running excerpts of the book Here.
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#4 robert40

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 02:00 PM

The Daily Gullet is also running excerpts of the book Here.

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Thank you Marlene. That whole thread slipped by me.
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#5 tan319

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Posted 17 September 2005 - 07:35 AM

The Ducasse excerpt is up, excellent reading!

http://forums.egulle...0

I've got to get this over the weekend.
Did you finish it yet, robert40?
Anymore thoughts?
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#6 robert40

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 06:50 AM

I finished this book a couple weeks ago and I quite enjoyed it. I'm not sure it's for everyone, but if you're familiar with the players it's quite a read. I'm not sure Thomas Keller will be pleased with the chapter on the French Laundry. But I didn't see anything but honesty coming from Psaltis here. Slap in the face? I didn't get that at all.

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In the last twelve year's the only thing that may have had more press then Keller's 'Oysters and Pearls' is his near fanatical obsession with cleanliness.

Now according to a passage in Doug's book he claimed the walk-in is unkempt and disorganized. If this is by all accounts "Honesty" then must we disregard everything ever written over the last twelve year's?
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#7 silverbrow

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 09:04 AM

On another forum I was reading (ie not eG) there has been some mention that this book has skipped over some key moments of Psaltis' professional career and in particular the circumstances under which he left TFL and elsewhere.

I haven't read the book, nor do I know much about about Psaltis but how true are these accusations? Is the book, a case of rose tinted glasses or at the very least skipping over relevant issues.

#8 Bux

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 09:33 AM

I finished this book a couple weeks ago and I quite enjoyed it. I'm not sure it's for everyone, but if you're familiar with the players it's quite a read. I'm not sure Thomas Keller will be pleased with the chapter on the French Laundry. But I didn't see anything but honesty coming from Psaltis here. Slap in the face? I didn't get that at all.

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Can I assume you've had some experience at the French Laundry that would confirm whatever the Psaltis brothers have to say? Why do you assume they are inherently honest and that the book isn't simply self serving?
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#9 mugsy

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 11:07 AM

On another forum I was reading (ie not eG) there has been some mention that this book has skipped over some key moments of Psaltis' professional career and in particular the circumstances under which he left TFL and elsewhere.

I haven't read the book, nor do I know much about about Psaltis but how true are these accusations?  Is the book, a case of rose tinted glasses or at the very least skipping over relevant issues.

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i wonder sometimes... did doug go to tfl to make a difference and learn and teach, or did he go there just to write the final chapter of his book? if the latter is true than you have to disregard all that he said about thomas keller, because he had a agenda that was preconceived. not to mention the truth is extremely distorted in that chapter.

#10 D. Peckham

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 11:34 AM

I had the chance to work with Doug at The French Laundry when he was there. I just bought the book yesterday and of course skipped right to the chapter on TFL, I will read the rest soon. It did remind me of things that did happen, good and bad while I was there. I will say this about Doug. For the first month or so I couldn't stand the guy. He came on very strong in the beggining and looking back on it was already not that happy there. That being said, I consider Doug a friend and would work for him again if he called. He helped me alot when he was there , and I learned alot from him. I still learn from him. A couple of weeks ago I had a question about a recipe I was working on, so I emailed Doug from work asking for him to call me at work if he had the chance. Not 15 minutes later Doug was on the phone answering all my questions. This is not a comment or opinion on the chapter regarding TFL but rather my thoughts on Doug as some of you have painted him as a someone that is dishonest.

#11 mugsy

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 11:39 AM

I had the chance to work with Doug at The French Laundry when he was there.  I just bought the book yesterday and of course skipped right to the chapter on TFL,  I will read the rest soon. It did remind me of things that did happen, good and bad while I was there.  I will say this about Doug.  For the first month or so I couldn't stand the guy.  He came on very strong in the beggining and looking back on it was already not that happy there. That being said, I consider Doug a friend and would work for him again if he called.  He helped me alot when he was there ,  and I learned alot from him.  I still learn from him.  A couple of weeks ago I had a question about a recipe I was working on,  so I emailed Doug from work asking for him to call me at work if he had the chance.  Not 15 minutes later Doug was on the phone answering all my questions.  This is not a comment or opinion on the chapter regarding TFL but rather my thoughts on Doug as some of you have painted him as a someone that is dishonest.

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well... you can clear up some doubt then... are the points that doug makes true, is tfl kitchen dirty and unkempt, is the food not interesting, and where you one of the cooks that says,"that is just the way it is done."?

#12 D. Peckham

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 11:50 AM

I was not one of the cooks that said" Thats always the way we did things" because I only started there about 2 months before Doug arrived there. So I was just learning the way things are done there. I will not comment on here about that chapter for two reasons. One I respect Doug and two I have alot of friends that work there and I have the upmost respect for Chef Keller and Ms. Cunningham. I am not the person to question any of these people who have done so much in this industry for alot of people. If you want to see the walk-in at TFL just go there and have dinner and ask to see it when they give you a kitchen tour.

#13 robert40

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 11:54 AM

I had the chance to work with Doug at The French Laundry when he was there.  I just bought the book yesterday and of course skipped right to the chapter on TFL,  I will read the rest soon. It did remind me of things that did happen, good and bad while I was there.  I will say this about Doug.  For the first month or so I couldn't stand the guy.  He came on very strong in the beggining and looking back on it was already not that happy there. That being said, I consider Doug a friend and would work for him again if he called.  He helped me alot when he was there ,  and I learned alot from him.  I still learn from him.  A couple of weeks ago I had a question about a recipe I was working on,  so I emailed Doug from work asking for him to call me at work if he had the chance.  Not 15 minutes later Doug was on the phone answering all my questions.  This is not a comment or opinion on the chapter regarding TFL but rather my thoughts on Doug as some of you have painted him as a someone that is dishonest.

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well... you can clear up some doubt then... are the points that doug makes true, is tfl kitchen dirty and unkempt, is the food not interesting, and where you one of the cooks that says,"that is just the way it is done."?

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D.Peckham,
Thank you for joining the discussing as it is always valuable to here the other side of the story. I am also interested in hearing your response to mugsy's question. But I was also curious if you happened to be there on the day Chef Psaltis worked his last service?

Edited by robert40, 19 September 2005 - 12:06 PM.

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#14 D. Peckham

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 12:12 PM

You have to understand I do not wish to comment about that chapter in Dougs book or my time and views about the French Laundry. I have positive memories of both and would like to keep it that way. I am not going to go into it online with people I don't know for everyone to see. I just have a problem with the way people made it look like Doug went to work there just to finish his book. I guess it is possible that he did work like a dog for 15 years spending countless hours and money trying to make himself a better cook so he would get the chance to work at TFL and complete the last chapter of his book. That in itself is dedication.

#15 Fat Guy

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 12:33 PM

The pages in question are, mostly, 276-279. What the book explains is that the opening of Per Se and the expansion of the Keller empire -- and remember, at the same time French Laundry lost its long-time chef-de-cuisine and Per Se burned down -- left French Laundry with a dearth of kitchen talent and a lot of institutional inertia that made it hard to fix the problems. As the account goes, since Psaltis's job was to fix the problems, he was understandably frustrated at not being given the tools to do so. This certainly seems possible. Similar stories are common -- more common than not -- at restaurants that spin off branches in faraway places.

The chapter is pretty detailed and includes direct quotes from Keller on all the salient points. Perhaps it is "self-serving" in the manner of most autobiographies, and perhaps Psaltis was not without sin (as is usually the case when two parties are involved in anything), but I've not heard of Keller disputing the quotes or the facts set forth by Psaltis. What Psaltis says also strikes me as fair comment -- it mostly comes across as negative not because it's particularly harsh (it is much less harsh, for example, than the average restaurant review published in the UK) but, rather, because it is naturally viewed relative to the long-standing media baseline of absolute unquestioning Keller-worship. There seems to be some innuendo here that something bad happened that Psaltis has not told about. I'm sure we'd all be interested to know what that is supposed to be. Doug is a friend and one of the most talented chefs I know, but if he was engaging in human sacrifice in the French Laundry kitchen and was fired for it I'll be the first to publicize it here. Innuendo, however, is another story, and tends to imply something far worse than reality.

The suggestion that Psaltis took the French Laundry job in order to write about it is risible. There should be little doubt that if Psaltis had fit in and loved it out there he could have settled into the chef-de-cuisine job and been happy for a long time at a restaurant that has often been called one of the world's best (though in my opinion it is overrated). In terms of timing, as far as I know by the time Psaltis went to French Laundry the book was sold and written. I'm pretty sure the French Laundry chapter was added during editorial revisions.

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#16 silverbrow

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 12:41 AM

There seems to be some innuendo here that something bad happened that Psaltis has not told about.

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For clarity, I was not trying to set the hares running with innuendo. I had read elsewhere that Psaltis had been fired from TFL but that his book makes no reference to it and instead the book his heavily critical of Keller and TFL. If this is true, his TFL chapter could well come across as sour grapes, rather than a reasoned assessment. I was trying to get to the bottom of what actually happened.

It's interesting how personally people are taking the book.

Steve, given that he's a friend and his brother I believe is your agent, maybe you could convince him / twist his arm into coming onto eG to talk about the book? I know there are excerpts already on the Daily Gullet but it would be good to hear his side of the story. That way, a lot of the issues that seem to be flying around can be addressed head on, it would also add to the long list of high profile industry figures who have contributed to this site.

#17 Bux

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 05:15 AM

That Psaltis went to the French Laundry precisely to write about it may seem laughable, but one certainly wouldn't expect someone writing about his career to omit telling about the rise to his most important job. What's at issue here are the circumstances under which Psaltis left the French Laundry and how that may have colored his description of the French Laundry and Thomas Keller. That, as you seem to suggest, it may have been added to the book at a time when Doug might have still been emotional about the experience is something that also has to be taken into consideration. It's not risible to suggest that he might be an emotional or vindictive person. Though you were here in NY at the time, you ask us to remember that the French Laundry was left with a dearth of talent and problems. While possible, we don't know that for a fact, and a good carpenter never blames his tools, or so I've been told.

Keller's refusal to dignify the book with a response may not be an indication of anything other than Keller's character. To suggest otherwise is to make innuendoes of your own. The suggestion that Keller is the subject of hero worship also implies the press is uncritical, rather than offering an accurate portrayal. Fair enough, even those charged of making human sacrifices are entitled to a courtroom defense.
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#18 bourdain

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 06:10 AM

I think it's best to look at the book as one man's account of a career in the business. It's inevitable--when you write a book--that you have an "agenda" (to write a book that will hopefully entertain and maybe even sell). When writing a memoir, one can hardly help (knowingly or not) shading events--making friends look better and foes worse. Leaving out that which might come back to bite you. Glossing over your uglier moments. Especially when you're a chef of Psaltis' stature--and with his kind of ambitions.
I had an advantage when writing Kitchen Confidential of not giving a shit about my future. Of not having the burden of three star expectations. A mixed blessing for sure...but there it is. Psaltis, for better or worse, did not have that luxury.
I liked the book--think it's a valuable account of a career in some very good and very important kitchens. Do I think Psaltis was a tad too diplomatic and coy about his Ducasse experience? Yes. I do. Do I buy as gospel his account or his opinion of the French Laundry? Absolutely not.
But that's not the point is it? It's his story as he saw it and felt it. It's hardly a definitive account. Undoubtedly, there will be other versions of Psaltis' Last Day at the Laundry--and the infamous Bay of Pigs at Mix and we can mull those over as well.
In the classic Japanese film Rashomon, ALL the stories were interesting. Which version (or combination of versions) one chooses to believe are half the fun. When reading a first person memoir--as opposed to history--one must first and foremost remind oneself: "Who's talking?"
I didn't allow Psaltis' dim view of the French Laundry (however reliable or not) to diminish my enjoyment of the book--just as I didn't allow Jeremiah Tower's megalomania to detract from my enjoyment of his juicy and often malicious tome. Ten cooks from the same kitchen tell the same story ten days later and you'll have ten different stories--many of them unrecognizable. That's the grand oral tradition we work in.
I say relax, read the fucking book-- and make up your own mind.
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#19 Fat Guy

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 06:32 AM

I hope I made clear that, when I spoke of problems at the French Laundry, I was describing what the book says. I have no first-hand knowledge of what happened in Napa. I do, however, have first-hand knowledge of what the book says about what happened in Napa. I get the feeling that several people here are commenting about what the book says without having read it or even having a clear idea of what it says beyond "it's critical of Thomas and said the walk-in was a mess."

To those who have read it, I think it would be hard to believe that the whole chapter is a lie. Self-serving? Sure, that is probable. Incomplete? Definitely. But the information that is there is too detailed, involves quotes from too many people (including Keller), names too many folks by name, was witnessed by too many people and has too much of the ring of truth to it to be written off as sour grapes.

Silverbrow, at this point there's no need for me to exert any influence. Doug Psaltis is registered as a participating member here. You can even send him a PM if you like, if you think there's anything he should comment on. I'm not sure anybody has said anything to which it would be helpful for him to respond, though. In the follow-up discussion regarding his book excerpts, there haven't really been questions about the excerpts that need answering or comments that need addressing. On this topic, what were you thinking he might talk about? He may very well be eager to engage, but feel that he has no good opportunity to do so. I might suggest that those who wish to have the author of a book respond to their posts give the author something to respond to and a hospitable environment for doing so.

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#20 silverbrow

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 06:58 AM

Fat Guy, I was merely suggesting that along with a long list of other chefs who have done Q&As, he might be willing to as well.

I suggested you as the point of contact as you'd already stated up-thread that he was a friend of yours. The reason he might want to do it is because there is a lot of interest in him (just look at how many people have viewed this thread). Yes, some of the posts do question him, you yourself say that his and all autobiographies are self-serving to an extent, but there are a lot of people who think he's a great chef with some fascinating experiences. He might want to come on here because basically there are a lot of people who are interested to hear from him and a lot of people on this site who enjoy getting the pros point of view. Which is why this site is so fantastic. Where else would a random John Smith like me be able to comment on the same thread as Anthony Bourdain?

As such, there is plenty for him to respond to. If you/he feels that because not everyone has taken a wholly positive attitude, it's not worth engaging, then it's a real shame.

#21 Fat Guy

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 07:02 AM

Fat Guy, I was merely suggesting that along with a long list of other chefs who have done Q&As, he might be willing to as well. 

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Have you tried asking him a question?

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#22 silverbrow

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 07:06 AM

Just in the process of IMing at the moment, as per your suggestion, to see if he'll engage on here.

#23 Doug Psaltis

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 08:13 PM

I'm looking forward to participating in discussions with my fellow eGullet Society members, and will try to respond to as many questions as I can. Right now we're in the final stages of opening Country, the restaurant in Manhattan at which I'll be the executive chef, so I'm on the construction site more than I can be on the website. Please forgive me if there's a couple of day turnaround on answers and follow-ups -- I can only get online a couple of times a day, and not necessarily every day.

I appreciate the great interest that The Seasoning of a Chef has received, as well as the strong reactions. I hope that everyone will understand that this is just my story as I saw it, and I in no way intended my perspective to be considered final judgment on anyone or any place. In particular, there are several comments about my time at The French Laundry. Let me preface any such note with this: I have absolute respect for Thomas Keller. Being out in Yountville was a difficult time for me for many reasons, as varied as my being a New Yorker and having a tough time living in the country, but mostly because of where I felt I was in my career versus the opportunity I had in the restaurant. As for the incident that has been alluded to, I will say this: I was very frustrated with the restaurant and I’m fairly certain that others were frustrated with me. On a particular night, not my last night at all, a young runner was leaning on the pass and wouldn’t remove his hand from the pass. For a chef, this is a sign of serious disrespect. After asking a few times, I slapped his hand away. It was stupid of me to allow myself to be baited into crossing that line, but to me it was a very light slap and when things calmed down I apologized for doing it and I meant it. Was it not the right thing to do, yes. But it was hardly the dramatic event it is being made out to be. I was several steps out the door when this happened, and this helped me to realize that I needed to get out of there. As I wrote in the book, I appreciate having had the opportunity to work at The French Laundry. It just wasn't the right time in my career to be out there.

#24 tan319

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 09:12 PM

FINALLY!!!
Thank you Doug, for coming in here.
Thank YOU, Mr. Bourdain, for putting it into perspective.
Sometimes, the dream gig isn't the dream gig.
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#25 MSchmidt909

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 10:40 PM

FINALLY!!!
Thank you Doug, for coming in here.
Thank YOU, Mr. Bourdain, for putting it into perspective.
Sometimes, the dream gig isn't the dream gig.

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I can relate, had the dream job, bad dream, moved on to better job. Found out I was ready.
Now I have my own place!
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#26 silverbrow

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 02:38 AM

Doug
Many thanks for coming in here. I know that Steven felt this was a hostile environment for you to come into, so I'm sure we're all pleased that you felt comfortable enough to post. Steven also felt that no-one had actually asked any questions for you to answer so here are a couple, both in relation to the book and more generally:

*What were your best moments at French Laundry?
*Do you think it was the right move, career-wise, to go to TFL?
*Given that slapping someone's hand isn't the end of the world, do you think some of the negativity around your book is unwarranted?
*What is the ethos behind Country? What type of environment will the restaurant be, what sort of food will you be serving?
*What were the different characteristics of working with Ducasse and Keller? Which did you feel you gained more from?

Many thanks again for posting here.

#27 Dirk Wheelan

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 02:47 AM

I'd like to add my thanks for your contribution, Doug.

Just one question: Given that the French Laundry is Keller's restaurant, and that the menu is his creation, why were you surprised that your creative input was not enthusiastically received by the team there?

#28 Bux

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 10:50 AM

Tony was right on target with his Roshomon analogy. The reality of any situation is relative to the person reporting it. Nevertheless, Tony has to allow those who enjoy dissecting an issue and examining it some fun as well.

When I referred to the circumstances of Doug's leaving the French Laundry, I wasn't referring to any particular incident, but to everything that goes into making a job rewarding and an employee satisfactory to hi emplyer. Interestingly enough, I've been in the situation where I felt the need to leave a position precisely because it was both unrewarding and because I felt stymied and unable to accomplish anything. For some reason each time I tried to leave, I was made to fee more obligated to stay and the less I accomplished, the more praise I got. It was embarrassing and ultimately took some flare up to extricate myself from the situation.

I think Doug did us a favor by sharing what he did. Perhaps he also did himself a favor. At least he spoke of the incident in a way that makes it reasonable to believe he understands others will have seen it all happening differently. As Tony suggested earlier, life and history are perhaps, a fiction. We all believe what we see, but all to often, we fail to understand that we also see what we believe.

That takes me into the realm of noting that Fat Guy and Doug are friends, perhaps close friends and the Michael is Fat Guy's agent. Not so oddly, that's brought some criticism that we wouldn't have published these excerpts were such not the case.
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#29 bourdain

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 12:11 PM

..more tk
abourdain

#30 Fat Guy

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 12:19 PM

Doug, I currently consider you a friend but would be willing to consider you a close friend if you wanted to commit to taking that step in our relationship together with me. Would you do that with me, Doug? Would you take a chance? You too, Tony.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)






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