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The four-star dilemma


rich
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We have been discussing four-star food on the New York board and the possibilty of restaurants serving four-star food without being a four-star restaurant.

Several members have stated what makes a four star restaurant - highest quality ingredients, labor intensive preparation, creativity and top wine list have been mentioned as necessary for four-star food. (For the purpose of this discussion, let's eliminate the ambiance/service issues.)

The question is can a home cook of some expertise, create a four-star meal if the above criteria was met? I think it can be done and I think it can be done on a fairly consistent basis, especially now that top quality ingredients are more readily available.

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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The question is can a home cook of some expertise, create a four-star meal if the above criteria was met?

I don't see why that would not be possible. It can be done with the right motivation and expertise ... plus a little cash ... we had a thread on doing a tasting menu at home .. same concept.

The tasting menu .. is it doable at home?

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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i dont think it can be done for the simple reason that the home chef is just not privy to the quality ingredients needed that a restaurant chef is to accomplish this. IMO

Dave s

"Food is our common ground,a universal experience"

James Beard

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I don't see why not either, although to qualify as four-star one would have to have some cookery training of some kind, at least IMO. Having access to professional level equipment might be neccessary as well. If you put Thomas Keller in my apartment's kitchen with a box of ingredients he could bring himself, but told him he had to use only what I had availible to prepare it with, would the results end up being four star?

I would also remove wine-list from the requirements. This is just a personal thing here, but wine has nothing to do with the food. Wine can apparently enhance food very well, and I hear lots of things about excellent pairings, but I feel the food should be able to stand on its own, apart from the wine.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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I would say yes! Just take a look at some of the incredible meals on the Dinner thread. A lot of people that make eG a "home away from home" :wink: also make their homes a four star restaurant night after night. Without the crowd, and with the pleasure of intensively preparing their own meal from quality ingredients. And ambience need not be lacking either. :biggrin:

edit to add: True, wine does add to a meal, but I must agree, the food should stand on its own. Not everyone indulges in wine, but we're all going to partake of the food.

Edited by lovebenton0 (log)

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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A significant chunk of the best and most promising chefs in the world stumble through New York. The line up extraordinary suppliers, hire brilliant and energetic line cooks and spend 80 hours a week over the stove. Some of them, a tiny percentage of the chefs in New York, earn four stars. You can't cook that good, I can't cook that good, nobody -- nobody -- who hasn't dedicated a significant portion of their life to cooking and brought extensive natural gifts to the table can cook a 4-star meal at home.

2-star? Now you're talking.

Not to be discouraging or anything. :wink:

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Certainly if you read any of Michael Ruhlman's cookbooks, which center on chefs like Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert, it would seem that to a limited extent, if the home cook is commited enough, that they can compose a reasonable facsimile of certain dishes served at 4 star restaurants.

However, I think we all have to agree that its very difficult for the average person to get ahold of the kind of produce and foodstuffs that Per Se, Daniel, Jean Georges, ADNY or Le Bernardin get from their top end suppliers on a daily basis. Some of this stuff such as high end meats and seafood can be gotten from specialty mail-order purveyors by the consumer at exhorbitant cost. I certainly think that if you go to the local farmers markets in places like New York City, Seattle and San Francisco it is possible at various times of the year to get the very same top notch local produce the restaurants get, but its more of the luck of the draw type thing -- on any given day you might see some amazing tomatoes or mushrooms or greens, but you may not be able to exactly reproduce a dish at The French Laundry because they have all those crazy microgreens and what nots locked up that they fly in from all over the place, not just stuff they buy locally. The bottom line is, they have consistent access to stuff that just never ends up in the consumer food chain at any price. And these restaurants pay to the nose for it.

So the answer is, I think the accomplished home cook can get close, but you might not be able to reliably source the exact same things that top notch restaurants do on a normal basis.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Certainly if you read any of Michael Ruhlman's cookbooks, which center on chefs like Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert,  it would seem that to a limited extent, if the home cook is commited enough, that they can compose a reasonable facsimile of certain dishes served at 4 star restaurants.

So the answer is, I think the accomplished home cook can get close, but you might not be able to reliably source the exact same things that top notch restaurants do on a normal basis.

It's not the produce. These guys are just better cooks than we are. A reasonable facsimile of 4-star cooking is not 4-star cooking. It may be great stuff, but it's not 4-star.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I think thats one aspect of it, and a very important one, yes. Some of the stuff served at 4-stars is heavily technique oriented, and also extremely labor intensive -- take a professionally made veal Glace' for example, which even the best home cooks might not go through all the trouble to make simply because it takes an eternity and helps to have kitchen staff to do the scutwork to make one. But certainly having really stellar ingredients has a lot to do with it as well.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Certainly if you read any of Michael Ruhlman's cookbooks, which center on chefs like Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert,  it would seem that to a limited extent, if the home cook is commited enough, that they can compose a reasonable facsimile of certain dishes served at 4 star restaurants.

So the answer is, I think the accomplished home cook can get close, but you might not be able to reliably source the exact same things that top notch restaurants do on a normal basis.

It's not the produce. These guys are just better cooks than we are. A reasonable facsimile of 4-star cooking is not 4-star cooking. It may be great stuff, but it's not 4-star.

I'm not sure I would use the term "better," especially if someone cooks at home extensively. I think the biggest difference and the one area that separates the pro from the rest of us is creativity. If you're a professional chef it's an everyday thing and you have the time to experiment that the amateur doesn't.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Certainly if you read any of Michael Ruhlman's cookbooks, which center on chefs like Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert,  it would seem that to a limited extent, if the home cook is commited enough, that they can compose a reasonable facsimile of certain dishes served at 4 star restaurants.

So the answer is, I think the accomplished home cook can get close, but you might not be able to reliably source the exact same things that top notch restaurants do on a normal basis.

It's not the produce. These guys are just better cooks than we are. A reasonable facsimile of 4-star cooking is not 4-star cooking. It may be great stuff, but it's not 4-star.

I'm not sure I would use the term "better," especially if someone cooks at home extensively. I think the biggest difference and the one area that separates the pro from the rest of us is creativity. If you're a professional chef it's an everyday thing and you have the time to experiment that the amateur doesn't.

Oh, c'mon. I have as big an ego as any home cook, anywhere, but to pretend that I can pull off a full meal -- not one course and some cheese, but a full meal -- as well as the handful of humans of the hundreds of thousands who devote their professional lives to cooking that earn 4 stars (3 in France) is beyond me even after a couple of glasses of wine and a good meal. :raz:

This is like all the people who call into sports radio claiming to be better than the coach of their home team. They're not, we're not.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Certainly if you read any of Michael Ruhlman's cookbooks, which center on chefs like Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert,  it would seem that to a limited extent, if the home cook is commited enough, that they can compose a reasonable facsimile of certain dishes served at 4 star restaurants.

So the answer is, I think the accomplished home cook can get close, but you might not be able to reliably source the exact same things that top notch restaurants do on a normal basis.

It's not the produce. These guys are just better cooks than we are. A reasonable facsimile of 4-star cooking is not 4-star cooking. It may be great stuff, but it's not 4-star.

I'm not sure I would use the term "better," especially if someone cooks at home extensively. I think the biggest difference and the one area that separates the pro from the rest of us is creativity. If you're a professional chef it's an everyday thing and you have the time to experiment that the amateur doesn't.

Oh, c'mon. I have as big an ego as any home cook, anywhere, but to pretend that I can pull off a full meal -- not one course and some cheese, but a full meal -- as well as the handful of humans of the hundreds of thousands who devote their professional lives to cooking that earn 4 stars (3 in France) is beyond me even after a couple of glasses of wine and a good meal. :raz:

This is like all the people who call into sports radio claiming to be better than the coach of their home team. They're not, we're not.

Having played baseball professionally, the difference between cooking and sports (professionally) is a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon because there are just some things you can't teach - like hitting or throwing a 95mph fastball.

In cooking, techniques can be taught, and creativity comes with time, talent and a keen mind. And these can improve over time. Maybe the difference over "better" and "creative" is just semantics. I've had meals cooked by home chefs that I would consider 4-star and also had meals that I would give a zero. If you're willing to put in the time, effort, creativity and money, I believe it can be done. Having a few connections in the food business wouldn't hurt either. :wink:

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Oh, c'mon.  I have as big an ego as any home cook, anywhere, but to pretend that I can pull off a full meal -- not one course and some cheese, but a full meal -- as well as the handful of humans of the hundreds of thousands who devote their professional lives to cooking that earn 4 stars (3 in France) is beyond me even after a couple of glasses of wine and a good meal.  :raz:

This is like all the people who call into sports radio claiming to be better than the coach of their home team.  They're not, we're not.

Having played baseball professionally, the difference between cooking and sports (professionally) is a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon because there are just some things you can't teach - like hitting or throwing a 95mph fastball.

In cooking, techniques can be taught, and creativity comes with time, talent and a keen mind. And these can improve over time. Maybe the difference over "better" and "creative" is just semantics. I've had meals cooked by home chefs that I would consider 4-star and also had meals that I would give a zero. If you're willing to put in the time, effort, creativity and money, I believe it can be done. Having a few connections in the food business wouldn't hurt either. :wink:

You don't think that great chefs have any innate talent that we don't? I don't want to go too far out on a limb, but the closer analogy would be an artist, rather than a baseball player (I chose coach as the comparison earlier, to avoid the physical considerations, btw). Two artists can have the same technical skills and same training, and yet one be much better than the other, because they have a greater innate talent. Same with chefs. Hundreds of people graduate from excellent cooking schools every years and the world's best kitchens are full of eager stagiers, learning from the masters. But some are just better than the others -- some are 4-star and some aren't -- because they have a talent that most people, even those who have already shown superior skill in their chosen profession, do not.

Add to that what gets learned from spending 10 hours a day, six days a week, for a period of years perfecting your craft, and home cooks just aren't in the same league.

Not, mind you, that we can't come close. :wink:

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Busboy -

I think you bring up an excellent point with your artist comparison.

Someone who is very technically adept as painter could make an exact duplicate of a Rembrandt or a Picasso, but that doesn't make them the artistic equal of either of those artists. As a musician I could spend weeks transcribing and orchestrating a Shostakovitch symphony by ear and re-write the manuscripts, but that doesn't make me a musical genius.

Someone with enough technical skill could procur the ingredients and recreate a dish, even a full meal, as a copycat to something eaten at Per Se or El Bulli, but that home cook still lacks the vision to have come up with those dishes, the exact flavor combinations, and etc in the first place.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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I believe it's possible that some amateur cooks (not me) might occasionally pull off a 4 star meal, given sufficient time, money, and some kitchen help. And it's certainly true that many professional chefs can't do it. So to my mind the divide between amateur and profession is not unpassable.

But professional four star chefs put out many choices for each course, day after day, usually more than once a day.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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Like what do you mean by a four star meal? Give me an example of what you think is a four star meal. You wanna try? It's not impossible. With some guidance, one part of the meal a week, I bet you most dedicated foodies can get pretty close. Close enough to impress many chefs I'm sure.

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I've had meals cooked by home chefs that I would consider 4-star and also had meals that I would give a zero.

Based on your discussions of the New York Times star system, your judgment of what constitutes a 4-star restaurant or 4-star meal clearly seems to be at variance with the judgments of most if not all other participants in such discussions, and I think it's fair to say that if it were up to you, many more restaurants would be awarded 4 stars (though your ultimate preference is for stars to be eliminated). So as this thread continues, it might be expected that you would consider it more likely for home cooks to be able to achieve a 4-star level than other participants would. It's very possible that in this discussion, though everyone is agreeing on using the term "four-star," the term doesn't mean the same thing to you as it does to most of the rest of the participants, thereby making this thread somewhat of an apples vs. oranges argument, though an interesting one, nevertheless.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I've had meals cooked by home chefs that I would consider 4-star and also had meals that I would give a zero.

Based on your discussions of the New York Times star system, your judgment of what constitutes a 4-star restaurant or 4-star meal clearly seems to be at variance with the judgments of most if not all other participants in such discussions, and I think it's fair to say that if it were up to you, many more restaurants would be awarded 4 stars (though your ultimate preference is for stars to be eliminated). So as this thread continues, it might be expected that you would consider it more likely for home cooks to be able to achieve a 4-star level than other participants would. It's very possible that in this discussion, though everyone is agreeing on using the term "four-star," the term doesn't mean the same thing to you as it does to most of the rest of the participants, thereby making this thread somewhat of an apples vs. oranges argument, though an interesting one, nevertheless.

Oh, c'mon. This is a cheap shot (he said, rolling his eyes).

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Oh, c'mon. This is a cheap shot (he said, rolling his eyes).

I don't mean it as a cheap shot at all; I just sort of felt like it should be said. If a term means different things to different participants in a discussion, that will virtually ensure that different conclusions will be reached.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Yeah, there is some distance between 3 and 4 star -- access to ingredients and technique are one thing, but sheer invention is another. You can follow a Charlie Trotter recipe precisely, but he came up with it first, and that adds something to the experience as well.

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I say it can be done. Besides the financial, which is the biggest obstical for most, planning time for the intensive labor to produce this level is the next hurdle. As a private chef for a family, I don't have to worry about these concernes, and attempt to produce this level of cuisine in their home. But in my own house afterwards, I must deal with life,(a wife, 2 girls 3yr,9mo and obsessive hobbies) Occasionally we manage the time and energy to pull it off, but regularly? nah.

Edited by Timh (log)
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wine is very important to my interpretation of a "4 star experience'". wine has a lot to do with food and meals. i appreciate that some don't share that opinion. although i'm not suggesting that someone couldn't offer excellent wines at home, which i think is more likely than not.

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I've had meals cooked by home chefs that I would consider 4-star and also had meals that I would give a zero.

Based on your discussions of the New York Times star system, your judgment of what constitutes a 4-star restaurant or 4-star meal clearly seems to be at variance with the judgments of most if not all other participants in such discussions, and I think it's fair to say that if it were up to you, many more restaurants would be awarded 4 stars (though your ultimate preference is for stars to be eliminated). So as this thread continues, it might be expected that you would consider it more likely for home cooks to be able to achieve a 4-star level than other participants would. It's very possible that in this discussion, though everyone is agreeing on using the term "four-star," the term doesn't mean the same thing to you as it does to most of the rest of the participants, thereby making this thread somewhat of an apples vs. oranges argument, though an interesting one, nevertheless.

Actually, I think there should be fewer four-star restaurants then already exist, based on the NY Times formula. In fact, I can only think of two, possibly three. I think there are several (I'm guessing six-eight) that I would give four stars based on food and eliminating the ambiance/service issues because those aren't important to me.

But like Tommy, I think wine is nescessary for the four-star meal. That's just one reason why Sri shouldn't have been reviewed in the primary column.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Yeah, there is some distance between 3 and 4 star -- access to ingredients and technique are one thing, but sheer invention is another. You can follow a Charlie Trotter recipe precisely, but he came up with it first, and that adds something to the experience as well.

Funny you should mention that. I cooked a Charlie Trotter recipe last night - Duck Salad with Cheese Toasts and Port-Currant Sauce. It is a relatively easy recipe (although the sauce takes a fair amount of time) - and it always comes out terrific. My husband calls it 4 stars - but he's probably just angling for me to make it again :wink: .

But assume that it is 4 stars. I serve the salad as "dinner". It's a starter at Charlie Trotter's - I'd have to cook for another 3 days to make it part of a real dinner. Assuming I had some great veal stock on my stove (which I usually don't) and similar ingredients that are staples in world class kitchens. Without the veal stock - well maybe I should start now for a meal in December :biggrin: .

And even assuming I could turn out all these dishes (a really huge assumption) - I couldn't imagine getting them all done in the right sequence at the right times.

Not to mention the cost factor. This recipe calls for simmering down a whole bottle of port to almost nothing. Throw in the duck breast and the other ingredients - and the salad for 2 costs over $35. I suspect Charlie Trotter has a cheaper way to buy ingredients than I do.

By the way - I'm a decent cook. I'm doing a multi-course Thanksgiving dinner for 15. And everything will be cooked from just about scratch - but I am relying on a lot of relatively simple do-ahead recipes (they may take a while to prepare - but I don't have to make veal stock). If my guests want a Charlie Trotter Thanksgiving - they'll have to go to Charlie Trotter's! Robyn

P.S. I'm glad it was a 1 course meal - because I burned 2 of my fingers in the duck fat. If that happened at a restaurant - there'd be someone to help you out. I don't have backup like that at home (my husband's the mis en place and cleanup guy).

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