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Fat Guy

Can you do what restaurants do?

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A thread on cheese courses in the New York board has converted itself into a more general debate, instigated by yours truly. Basically Max Robbin asked why anybody would order a cheese course when you can get cheeses just as good at a good gourmet market, and I responded, well, why would you ever eat in a restaurant at all since, with enough time and money, you can make any restaurant dish anyway -- the point being you don't go to restaurants to get what you can't get at home (with the exception of a few of the very top restaurants in the world) but rather what you don't want to bother making at home.

Hijinks ensued. Have a look. The next post in the thread goes here!

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My better (actually worse--only joking) half is a superb cook and can replicate things from Portale’s and others' cookbooks. So  yes, he can produce things at home that I'd get at, say, Gotham (NY). That does not apply to me. I still have trouble getting chicken just right.

My view: I think agree with Fat Guy to an extent (what he said on original thread). I want to go out for the whole experience. No work. Just sit with friends. I'm not sure I've added anything to this... Maybe one point. Although the recipes in the chefs’ cookbooks are follow-able, they are not that straightforward a lot of the time and are labor intensive. I guess it comes down to how much time and energy (and as Tommy said, skill) you have to create the dishes. I prefer cookbooks written by cookery book writers than those written by chefs (maybe off topic). But, in my opinion, the recipes written by the former beat those written by chefs.

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Yvonne,

I have to agree with you on your "maybe off the topic" point. Most of my favourite cookbooks are not written by chefs.

Chef cookbooks - by uber-chefs - can be great for inspiration, and voyeurism. But "cooks" tend to write more useful cookbooks.

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This is maybe drifting off-topic into the whole chef-cookbook debate, but has anyone ever cooked anything from the China Moon cookbook?  Everything in it sounds like it would be (a) delicious, and (b) weeks of work, especially if you make all of her broths and sauces.  There was one recipe with over fifty ingredients.  Just curious.

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I've made China Moon recipe as it appeared in heart doctor Dean Ornish's "Eat More, Weigh Less" cookbook - bought primarily because it contained recipes from lots of sexy American chefs. The recipe was some kind of infusion. Many ingredients, but not too hard. Fabulously tasty. I recommend you give one of her dishes a go.

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I’ll go on record by saying that my best dishes have rarely been from recipes, by “star” chefs or not.  It takes a little something that I can’t explain (insert French phrase here) to make a dish “work”.  Sorry Fat-Guy, but it ain’t that cut and dried.  And by the way, I am an incredible cook. ;)

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I think the French culinary term you may be looking for is: Butter.

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Quote: from Fat Guy on 10:01 am on Aug. 23, 2001

I think the French culinary term you may be looking for is: Butter.

LOL!!!!!!!!

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I can basically do to just below Michelin starred standard at home, so when we eat out, unless its very casual, we go for Michelin star and above. We don't eat out at the local "formal" restaurants in Brighton because my food is better than theirs and they are mostly small and cramped. They are virtually all cheap conversions of cafes or shops so there is no "wow" factor either. We generaly save up and go to London, or pick somewhere special for our anniversary celebration meal.      

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Quote: from Andy Lynes on 4:07 pm on Aug. 23, 2001

I can basically do to just below Michelin starred standard at home

you say this realizing, of course, that you're exceptional, and not representative of 99% of home cooks.  i'm not being flippant.  and of course, feel free to invite me over for dinner any time you want.  i hear the concord is up and running, so i can be there in 3 hours.  i'll bring the Entemann's.

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Andy is probably in a very high percentile of cooking skills, but most people are capable of cooking a lot better at home than they think. They've just not been exposed to serious technique. But the average dimwit can pick up basic professional-style cooking skills pretty quickly.

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Tommy - I'm not sure it would be worth a trip on Concorde, but you'd be welcome. I know it sounds horribly arrogant, but I've been cooking for a while now and eating out and that is my honest opinion. It's not always that good, and I really don't know how it might compare to Steven or Bux's cooking, but it usually goes down pretty well with our dinner guests and my family.

I said in another thread that I rarely don't get invites back to other peoples houses after I have cooked for them, so the only thing I have to compare my food with is my restaurant experiences, both as a customer and as a guest in a few professional kitchens, and my competition experiences. I make my judgement on that basis, which is not to defend, merely explain my pronouncment. I am a generaly unassuming sort of bloke and never brag about anything other than my cooking.

Steven - I am on the cooking as craft side of the fence, and really any craft skills can be picked up fairly simply. I hate DIY and would therefore claim to be absolutely rubbish at it. However I know that if I did more of it, spent time reading up and practicing, I could develop sufficient skills to carry out what I now consider tasks fit only for proffesionals.           

(Edited by Andy Lynes at 9:33 pm on Aug. 23, 2001)

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I wouldn't characterize myself as a particularly skilled cook, but I'm extremely methodical and that allows me to muddle through. So I get good enough results, but I get them very slowly. It can easily take me several days to create a faithful reproduction of a restaurant-style dish because I literally take my own advice and break every dish down step by painstaking step. And believe me I have no gifts of technique -- not even good knife skills. The only way I produce good food is by following instructions carefully. It also helps that I've dined out a lot, and thought about it even more, so I know what stuff is supposed to taste like.

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I think you have to have a feel for what you are doing. Some people love to work with wood, and so would make a much better carpenter than I ever could be because they have a feel. Good cooks can compensate for lack of technique, but you can't do without the feel, the intuition and natural instinct.  

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I think that many people are intimidated by multi-step instructions and long lists of ingredients that don't resemble the finished product. For most of these people a few cooking classes on basic techniques and the nature of creativity would go a long way toward bringing out their inner chef.

I can duplicate most of the dishes I eat out, many of them better than the original. Mind you, these aren't in the same price bracket as the ones you may be eating at. But I'm into simple cooking (how convenient!), Asian cooking, whatever strikes my fancy.

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The reason your versions are better is because you have devoted all your time and energy to creating that one meal. For many chefs, when your order is called, its just one of a very long line and it may be his best shot that night, or it may well not. You have to go to the very top end of the scale to anything like the sort of consistancy you can manage at home, albeit that the whole meal can end up a disaster if things go wrong whereas it will be just one dish, or one batch of sauce or what ever in the restaurant.

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Confidence, it should be obvious by now, also helps. If you believe you can make a dish, and you know what end result you're looking for, you can usually get from here to there with a little effort.

Katherine, I didn't want to say it because reading over these posts we're all sounding a bit immodest, but I agree that it's not only possible to reproduce restaurant dishes but also usually to make them better. The reason is pretty simple: Restaurants, even really good ones, must take shortcuts that you don't have to take at home. Risotto is a good example. Even the top restaurants in New York par-cook the rice for their risotto. It's just not practical to make it from scratch, especially when it's being offered as an appetizer. At home, however, you can take the full 30 minutes to make it in one start-to-finish push. Other things that are done even at excellent restaurants range from pre-searing meat and fish before the meal service, to par-cooking vegetables, to cooking food more quickly than would be best for the food (this is especially true of roasted meats), and otherwise fighting against time. I assure you that even in the top restaurants in New York, such shortcuts are taken too often.

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well aside from some of you louts i'm the most arrogant chef i know (note use of "chef", not 'cook'), but i've never truelly replicated a dish i've had at a four star restaurant.  I've been inspired buy them, used small elements of them and so on... You know it just occured to me that perhaps i've never really tried to exactly duplicate anything... but this is besides the point.

Of course you can order two pounds of morel's from earthly delight, but when's the last time you you cooked for twenty people?  You can order a whole lamb i'm sure, or a peck of brandywines or whatever.  But if you're just cooking for one or two, or even four, this is impractical.  Resteraunts do benefit from an economy of size when it comes to ingredients.

also consider how restaurant's plate food.  If you're serving four or five courses (my parties are generally not much more than that), and if you intend to plate each course with the detail and elegence of gramercy tavern, you won't have any time to eat, no matter how well planned and "do-ahead" the menu.

I was actually leafing through tom collichio's "think like a chef" today, a book that is exactly on topic.  Chef tom seems pretty confident in the general public's ability to make poached fois gras (is that a toucheren..or something like that?), and frankly i tend to agree with him.  we can call up the same company and get the same quality of liver he uses, no problem.  It's a simple technique, i'm thinking i ought to do it for the holidays.  But that's a far cry from the mushroom tarts (paves, whatever) he offers in the previous chapter. Which a much more sensitive and precise technique and ingedients that may not be readily available.

What i would like is for an actuall real live proffesional cook to comment on this thread.  I'm sure you guys know some; why not e-mail them the page?  I'd be really curious to get the proffesional oppinion.

by the way, you can all come over for dinner but only two at a time.  I have only three chairs.

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I was thinking of buying a folding chair...Pot luck?

But seriously, of course only those of us who are immodest have posted on this thread. In my mind's eye I can see some less confident readers thinking, "If they could do it, maybe I can. I would try to duplicate those dishes, if only I could remember what I did with that cookbook last time we moved. Oh, well, let's eat out again."

Competitive cooking is not for everyone.

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Quote: from Fat Guy on 5:41 pm on Aug. 23, 2001

If you believe you can make a dish, and you know what end result you're looking for, you can usually get from here to there with a little effort.

hey, i like you and all, but you're really out of your tree.   and on the issue of following directions, or going through the motions, or taking it step by step, to achieve the same result, is really just plain silly.  it just don't happen like that.

engineers are very good at following directions, and often enough make very poor musicians.  yeah, they can play the licks, because they have great memories and an affinity for detail, but they might be lacking the single most important aspect:  heart.

sorry, if you don't have the heart for it, either learned or innate, your dish won't come out as good as those at great restaurants. and let's not even get into the fact, as someone earlier mentioned, that i don't have the time nor the 30 lbs of bones to make a reduction that might take 3 days on the stove.  

i'll be done discussing this issue the moment all of you great home cooks invite me over to your house for dinner.  i live in the NYC area.  give me a yell! ;)

not to mention the fact that some people just have very bad taste.  i'll lump myself into that category, due to the fact i've made some incredible dishes that just didn't taste like anything.  and as i say, i'm one hellavu cook.  so there.

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Tommy, I am confused by your last paragraph. What is it you mean when you say you have bad taste? That there are things you make and enjoy immensely but which others don't? Or are you referring to a freeform creative binge whose end product missed your own mark?

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Quote: from Katherine on 9:19 am on Aug. 24, 2001

Tommy, I am confused by your last paragraph. What is it you mean when you say you have bad taste?

i say that more tongue-in-cheek than anything.  some people really don't know "good", so how could they cook it at home?  i've been known to come up short on dishes as well, as all of us have.

the bottom line is, preparing a dish is not purely a matter of mechanics and directions.

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I've been trying to think how to comment on this thread without sounding like an ####### so here goes. By way of background I'm a pastry chef and baker but have trained and staged as a "regular" cook as well.

The romantic notions expressed by some here about cooking are complete and utter bullshit. It is all technique and no heart. This is even more true in pastry than in savory cooking. When I train young apprentices it is mostly a question of getting them to work unemotionally and according to specific instructions. In the daily production of desserts I need engineers. In creating new desserts there is room for heart but always it must be second fiddle to technique.

Without exception when I have had an apprentice fail to make a dessert properly it has been on account of a simple failure to follow directions or my failure to give clear enough instructions. If my instructions are clear and they are followed the dessert will by definition be as good as if I made it myself. No matter who makes it, even those with no belief that they can pull it off.

To return to the key point that was raised and to expand upon it the real question here is the ability to taste. I do not want to lump all amateurs together because some experienced amateur cooks have better tasting ability than some professional cooks. The point however is that most amateurs are not even capable of making the claim with any authority that they have reproduced a restaurant dish because they do not possess the tools to know whether a flavor is missing or out of balance. In savory cooking even more than in pastry the variables of seasoning and moisture and others mean that constant adjustment and reaction are necessary. If however you know how to taste and you can truly judge then creating restaurant dishes at home is so easy that there is little argumetn I can see about the possibility of accomplishing it. I say easy not to mean quick however. This can take a lot of time money and effort. But it is easy in the sense of doable by anybody with the will. Why you would want to I am not sure.

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