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The four-star dilemma


rich
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This is an interesting topic, but more than a bit humbling and a little depressing when doing a self evaluation of your cooking skills and available equipment and whatever it means to prepare a 4 star meal. I am still not sure what that means.

God, would you really want to be a 4-star chef? Restaurant hours are bad enough, but that kind of pressure? Thanks, but no thanks. I love to ride my bike, even if I have no hope of getting anywhere near the tour de france. It doesn't make my bike riding any less enjoyable, and frankly I love my day job. Similarly I enjoy trying out an elaborate cooking project from some 4-star cookbook every once in a while, to learn a new technique or flex my chops a little but I would far rather invite friends over for a well-executed 2 star meal (maybe even the occasional shot at 3) and my undivided attention than some insane 4 star overreach where I spend the entire evening freaking out in the kitchen. I never really got the point of torturing one's guests with an elaborate 10-course tasting menu. They're here to see me, not my damned china collection. (Well, they do get to see a lot of my liquor cabinet, but that's a different topic...)

Edited to add: I think two things are being confused in this thread: being able to cook a 4 star meal vs. being able to cook it at home.

Also: The Talent thing. I bet Thomas Keller works his ass off, and I have no doubt that is the largest reason for his success. People tend to mystify talent, but talented people are a dime a dozen. It's the ones who put in the hours who get to that level. Plus some luck and good management skills etc. etc. From what I've seen a lot of people on eGullet could cook at that level given the equipment and the same time investment Keller has made in his career. But it's not for everyone, nor need it be.

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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I think it could be done and there IS a time and place for it but, 99% of the time, it really shouldn't be done. What most people are forgetting is that it's not Keller alone in the kitchen with his sublime genius or whatever, for the most part, even in 4 star kitchens, 90% of the work is going to be done by line cooks, skilled line cooks but not neccesarily the best of the best. Line cooking is more about technical ability than whatever angelic perfection we associate with head chefs.

I think, given an unlimited budget for ingredients, a real knowledge of how to source ingredients, and about 20 or 30 trial runs of the exact menu and about 3 cooks for maybe 4 diners, you could churn out a meal that would be indistinguishable from a 4 star.

PS: I am a guy.

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In a wonderful book about the great French chefs (unfortunately in German only), the author tells how he tried to copy a recipe created by the (three Michelin starred) Haeberlins: a dish with a subtle foam made of frog legs.

He tells the story how he asks for the recipe (they gave it to him) and then about all the technical diffficulties and how he didn't succeed.

During his next visit in Illhäusern, he asks Jean-Pierre Haeberlin about possible mistakes. (And gets the advice to refrigerate all tools and utensils. Even to put the electric mixer in the fridge (!), because his home kitchen tools are not the same stuff as the pro tools and any warming of the ingredients is deadly for the foam consistency).

And at the end of the conversation, Jean-Pierre Haeberlin suggests to make a simple sautée of the frog legs and gives some tips about the ingredients and way to do it: "It's much simpler and it tastes exactly as good as the foam". :smile:

The author remarks that from that day on, he was successful with his foams. And he concludes that he learned an important lesson: it just doesn't' make sense to blindly execute the recipes of great chefs. They have the technique, the tools, the knowledge and the workflow/manpower of a pro kitchen. Even if you have the same talent and access to the same ingredients - you just don't have the same infrastructure or experience.

Another issue, already mentioned here: 4 star (or 3 star) is "à la minute", everything freshly made with precise synchronisation.

When I'm inviting guests, I want to have a good time with them, sitting around, having a relaxed welcome drink. I dont' want to be sweating, nervous, stressed (by culinary overreach) upon guest arrival and the sitting at the table with no appetite. That's why I'm preparing a lot of even rewarmed, "home style" stuff with no precise cooking time. When I'm succeeding, there have never been any complaints. In the contrary - much of this great tasting stuff is what restaurants don't offer anymore!

Prepared with love and very carefully selected ingredients - yes and always. Trying to imitate a pro kitchen - never (again).

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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Michelin doesn't have a 4th star.

Thank you again Pan, for pointing out what drove me away from this thread when I first thought of responding. It's heavily populated by people who don't understand the NY Times four star rating or Michelin's three star rating and at least a few who I suspect have never eaten in the restaurants whose food is in question.

Russ hit one nail on the head when he noted that "four-star does not mean "delicious"." Of course it should be delicious, although we must remember that taste is subjective, but it must offer much, much more than just delicious. Russ called for "perfection plus some level of astonishment." That works for me, but astonishment is also subjective and some people are easily astonished. Some of our guests have expressed astonishment at our food. They've never been to a four star restaurant, or they're just being polite and agreeing with other guests, or they're making adjustments and offering us a handicap advantage.

For the record, I'll agree that it can be done. I will also in almost the same breath say that I don't know why one couldn't build a hydrogen bomb in one's kitchen. Hell that's worth saying just to see if I get my internet access tapped by the CIA. Now I've probably offended both the Culinary Institute of America and the Central Intelligence Agency. In either case, I'll bet none of you have seen either happen. Let's leave the "why" out of this. I'm offended by the notion that sheer perfection is not a reasonable goal. Some people derive pleasure and satisfaction from abstract pursuits. Cooking four star food is not unlike climbing the highest mountain. Most of us don't understand why anyone would attempt to ascend Mt. Everest, but my hat's off to the idiots who succeed.

Sam followed Russ with what I thought was an excellent list of the things your home kitchen won't have. When he noted that "several people will work on one plate at the four star level," I thought he was downplaying the advantages of a four star professional restaurant kitchen where dozens of talented cooks may be working -- some of them taking cuts in salary just to get the experience and the line on their resumes. The prep work for an individual chef or even a couple who cook together could take a week to duplicate what is on hand as a cook sets up his mise en place for any dish.

For all that, there are levels of expectation and things one can do at any scale that are impressive. I have watched and cooked with the sous chef at a four star restaurant -- the guy who's actually in charge of the restaurant when the titular chef is off in Singapore doing a charity benefit or catered affair -- and have seen the differences in what he attempts in his kitchen and my kitchen. We have an uninsulated industrial brute from the seventies with six 12 inch burners and a 24 inch griddle and salamander. He has a far more useful as well as more powerful DCS residential pro stove with six 12 burner with yet higher btu output, but neither range competes with equipment in the restaurant. That said, people have paid a pretty penny for him to come to their house and cook dinner parties expecting four star food and I suspect they've gotten it at least when he's worked out of the restaurant with a professional prep team behind him.

Is the experience of cooking dozens to hundreds of meals a night for the last ten or more years, most of them in top restaurants in France and the US, going to make a difference with or without a team behind him? Theoretically, anyone can turn out four star food, but you're not going to get rich betting professional food critics that you can serve them four star food in your home no matter how pleased you are with the food and we're back to my initial reaction to the question -- the answer depends on how easily the diner is pleased and if he understands four star food.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I think before we ask if this task can be done, we need to define the goal, and how we determine if it has been achieved. So far (excuse me for paraphrasing) it seems that our benchmark of three stars is being determined by us, the diners. i.e. If I eat a dish at Per Se, then eat the same dish prepared by, say my lovely wife J. at home, and it tastes just as good to me, I would say that I have had a three star experience at home. Mission accomplished, right? I'm not so sure ...

What is more accurate would be for the reviewer(s) who gave Per Se the three star rating to try the same dish, again prepared by my lovely wife J. If these reviewer(s) assign the same rating to both dishes, then we can say the three star experience has been created at home.

Which leads us to the question of "experience", "ambience" and the wine list. Using the criteria above, we cannot remove these items from the equation. If they were part of the reviewer(s) experience in one place (e.g. Per Se) then they must be factored in to any comparison. While my lovely wife J. may be an excellent cook, our home does not have three star ambience, my service skills suck (although our Jack Russels will clean up anything you drop on the floor :laugh: ), and our wine list is anaemic.

A.

Edited by Daddy-A (log)
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Lots of interesting comments. Flip it around -- what are the things that can you can do better at home than at a four-star restaurant? First off -- 3-mac restaurants (I havent' eaten at any of the current 4-star restaurants in NY, though I have done a fair bit of high end European scoffing) compose their menus almost entirely of luxury ingredients; and/or very elaborate preparations. (Lots of honourable exceptions of course) So anything that is a) very simple or b) doesn't cost very much, and c) very delicious, you can probably do better at home.

I have had truly excellent meals at the homes of semi-pro cooks. And with wine several notches higher than I would pay for in a restaurant,

I can see the reason why people might want to try to do very high-end cooking at home, but it's

a peculiar way to spend your time. Every once in a while I try something elaborate, and it's fun, but the simpler things are often more culinarily satsifying, as several people have remarked already.

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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.

Busboy hits the nail on the head with this one. After reading through the entire thread, I think that people who cook great meals at home are discounting the incredible skill, creativity, and execution of the 4-star chef and kitchen staff. (I don't mean '4-star' as in a dinner guest who comes to your home, eats a really good meal, and pronounces it 4-star, having never actually eaten in a New York Times 4-star, or French (Michelin) 3-starred establishment, although I'm not trying to discount the compliment, just establish a perspective. I take 4-star to mean a meal of the same level of cuisine that you'd get at a 4-starred establishment.) I too cook some great meals at home (and my photos are also on the "dinner" and "tasting menu" threads) and my dinner guests are considerably impressed when they come on a night when fortune has smiled on me and my foie gras and truffled duck breast dinner has come out great and I serve a fine old Bordeaux from my dwindling cellar; but as great as my meals are sometimes, for me, it just increases my own incredible respsect and jaw-dropping awe for the truly great chefs of the world - to sit and eat a meal prepared by one of them, knowing so very much about cooking yourself, and tasting each course and thinking "I can buy most of those same ingredients myself... HOW DID HE DO THAT???"

So I think the correct response is Busboy's: "These guys are just better cooks than we are." That's my vote.

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Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

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There's certainly no reason not to try to create the best dish that one can with every dish one makes. In fact that's what I always try to do.

And there's nothing wrong with trying to reproduce some dishes or an entire meal from a (NYT) 4 star or (Mich) 3 star restaurant. One can certainly learn a great deal and have loads of fun.

But it won't be 4 (or 3) star and it's a mistake to try to make it so.

So make it anyway and get your jollies.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

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Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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We are all sort of tippy-toeing around the question of "Who judges what constitutes a 4-star meal?" Are you going to invite the local top restaurant critic to your home? For what purpose? (Even if he/she agreed to show up, eat, and pronounce judgment.)

I am reminded of that rather bizarre experience Ruth Reichl had at Danny Kaye's home, which she wrote about in one of her memoirs. He certainly was a good cook, but she couldn't describe the event as "fun." The whole thing was just odd.

Who is it we are cooking for? And, Why? I don't understand where the whole star system fits in this context. We seem to disagree about the possibility of creating such food in a home kitchen, but we haven't discussed under what circumstances such an effort should even be attempted.

I'm still in such shock and awe over Sam's Thanksgiving feast (in a kitchen not unlike my own :shock: ), I just can't imagine how much better he could have made it and still have a good time with his familyand friends. Hell, I'll give him 4 stars (and I have eaten at Citronelle).

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I'm not sure what it really takes to get 4 stars by any standard(Michelin/NYT...). But it seems to me most posters seem to look at a 4 star restaurant as a restaurant you buy a 4star meal at. And after having that 4 star meal, you could just go search out the ingredients and replicate the meal at home. Fair enough. This is posible given enough skill, equiptment, and ingredients. No problem.

This looks at the meal as a static point in time.

You have to understand the process. The menu might include pairings that came about just because there happen to be certain products available at time of menu writing. Fine chefs are constantly playing with ingredients, techniques, pairings that are new to them. Sure some are just doing old classics, but most of the high dollar dining is being spent on very creative stuff. Menu writing is huge

Here's an idea. Take the best 4star restaurant in NY. Open a clone right next door. Steal last nights menu from them and prepare it the next day. Would you have two 4star restaurants? I don't think so.

Not to mention the skill of some of the pastery chefs out there. Good luck even replicating their products.

The creative process goes on every day. Consistency is judged by diners with very high expectations. Judged with every bite, every course, every day. Not just once in a while. Sure, someone can pick up a cookbook a replicate a dish or a meal. Just understand that that wonderfull dish was probably created in the head of a master over a year ago. That master has to conceive these dishes day in and day out and produce them for the fist time and have them live up to very high expectations.

I think to pose the original question exposes some degree of misunderstanding. There are a lot of people that can produce a spectacular meals. To produce them consistently over time while being inventive is a whole different matter.

Having said all this. The toughest competition a chef will ever have is from home cooks. Go out to Kansas and try to impress someone that has home cooked meals all week long. It is harder to impress them than it is to impress someone that has been eating at average restaurants all week.

The real question should be: "Is it possible to cook a home cooked meal in a restaurant?"

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For the record, I'll agree that it can be done. I will also in almost the same breath say that I don't know why one couldn't build a hydrogen bomb in one's kitchen. Hell that's worth saying just to see if I get my internet access tapped by the CIA. Now I've probably offended both the Culinary Institute of America and the Central Intelligence Agency.

That's one of the laugh-out-loud-funniest things I've ever read on the internet! Thanks, Bux. :laugh:

To the point, too.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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For the record, I'll agree that it can be done. I will also in almost the same breath say that I don't know why one couldn't build a hydrogen bomb in one's kitchen. Hell that's worth saying just to see if I get my internet access tapped by the CIA. Now I've probably offended both the Culinary Institute of America and the Central Intelligence Agency.

That's one of the laugh-out-loud-funniest things I've ever read on the internet! Thanks, Bux. :laugh:

To the point, too.

A M E N

"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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I was reading the French Laundry thread the other day and what struck me was that even Thomas Keller can't consistently produce a 4 star experience in his own kitchen each and every night.

A particularly telling remark was that one of the posters remarked how all the dishes were technically competent but there was some indefinable spark of magic lost in all the rush. And THAT, I think, more than anything else elevates a 3 star to a 4 star experience.

In this sense, I actually think the home cook has a huge advantage, the resteraunter is cooking for anonymous faces in a relatively sterile enviroment. The home cook, with a much more intimate knowledge of the guests, is far better placed to insert humour, irony, in jokes, personal likes and dislikes as well as ambiance into a meal.

I don't think technical perfection and skill is as much a factor at that level. I've certainly cooked fairly sophisticated meals where each component managed to come out with just the right oomph and the entire combination was suffused with this glow of everything going right, not often, maybe not even 1 in 100, but it's certainly happened. Thomas Keller may be able to do it more often but, by then, it just becomes a numbers game. IF you can not majorly screw something up and IF you create a menu drawn on your unique perspective and knowledge of the guests and IF the guest are appreciative and in the right frame of mind and IF that magic spark that permeates all good parties is there, then I think it's not only possible to provide a 4 star experience, but to go beyond that and leave fine dining behind in the dust.

PS: I am a guy.

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I was reading the French Laundry thread the other day and what struck me was that even Thomas Keller can't consistently produce a 4 star experience in his own kitchen each and every night.

I don't think technical perfection and skill is as much a factor at that level. I've certainly cooked fairly sophisticated meals where each component managed to come out with just the right oomph and the entire combination was suffused with this glow of everything going right, not often, maybe not even 1 in 100, but it's certainly happened. Thomas Keller may be able to do it more often but, by then, it just becomes a numbers game.

i do think it needs to be pointed out that a lot of us home cooks benefit from extremely low expectations on the part of our diners--something that is not shared by someone going to a 3-star restaurant.

i do wonder why people seem to be so hesitant to credit the talent aspect of this discussion. it's kind of funny, really. if we were a bunch of playground basketball players, i don't think we'd hesitate to say that kobe bryant can do things that we can't. if we were living room cellists, we wouldn't be afraid to admit that rostropovich was capable of more than we were.

good cooks can be made, but i'm afraid truly great chefs--like great writers, great musicians, great athletes--are born. and then to be able to realize their ability, they must work, work, work. combine innate talent, years of practice and an absolutely unshakeable drive and seriousness of purpose--that's what it takes.

to think that we should be able to equal that in our spare time is ludicrous.

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I was reading the French Laundry thread the other day and what struck me was that even Thomas Keller can't consistently produce a 4 star experience in his own kitchen each and every night.

I don't think technical perfection and skill is as much a factor at that level. I've certainly cooked fairly sophisticated meals where each component managed to come out with just the right oomph and the entire combination was suffused with this glow of everything going right, not often, maybe not even 1 in 100, but it's certainly happened. Thomas Keller may be able to do it more often but, by then, it just becomes a numbers game.

i do think it needs to be pointed out that a lot of us home cooks benefit from extremely low expectations on the part of our diners--something that is not shared by someone going to a 3-star restaurant.

i do wonder why people seem to be so hesitant to credit the talent aspect of this discussion. it's kind of funny, really. if we were a bunch of playground basketball players, i don't think we'd hesitate to say that kobe bryant can do things that we can't. if we were living room cellists, we wouldn't be afraid to admit that rostropovich was capable of more than we were.

good cooks can be made, but i'm afraid truly great chefs--like great writers, great musicians, great athletes--are born. and then to be able to realize their ability, they must work, work, work. combine innate talent, years of practice and an absolutely unshakeable drive and seriousness of purpose--that's what it takes.

to think that we should be able to equal that in our spare time is ludicrous.

Right on.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Having said all this.  The toughest competition a chef will ever have is from home cooks.  Go out to Kansas and try to impress someone that has home cooked meals all week long.  It is harder to impress them than it is to impress someone that has been eating at average restaurants all week.

The real question should be: "Is it possible to cook a home cooked meal in a restaurant?"

:biggrin::biggrin::biggrin:

It used to be said of my hometown that the best restaurants in town were in other people's homes. (This, of course, was before the rest of the country discovered Barbecue.)

Certainly, native son Calvin Trillin took a dim view of our hometown's attempts at haute cuisine. (And that, of course, was before the opening of The American Restaurant.)

Even with the American Restaurant, I'm with Trillin.

Nice way to put it all in perspective, Retrevr.

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I was reading the French Laundry thread the other day and what struck me was that even Thomas Keller can't consistently produce a 4 star experience in his own kitchen each and every night.

I don't think technical perfection and skill is as much a factor at that level. I've certainly cooked fairly sophisticated meals where each component managed to come out with just the right oomph and the entire combination was suffused with this glow of everything going right, not often, maybe not even 1 in 100, but it's certainly happened. Thomas Keller may be able to do it more often but, by then, it just becomes a numbers game.

i do think it needs to be pointed out that a lot of us home cooks benefit from extremely low expectations on the part of our diners--something that is not shared by someone going to a 3-star restaurant.

i do wonder why people seem to be so hesitant to credit the talent aspect of this discussion. it's kind of funny, really. if we were a bunch of playground basketball players, i don't think we'd hesitate to say that kobe bryant can do things that we can't. if we were living room cellists, we wouldn't be afraid to admit that rostropovich was capable of more than we were.

good cooks can be made, but i'm afraid truly great chefs--like great writers, great musicians, great athletes--are born. and then to be able to realize their ability, they must work, work, work. combine innate talent, years of practice and an absolutely unshakeable drive and seriousness of purpose--that's what it takes.

to think that we should be able to equal that in our spare time is ludicrous.

I think it's misleading to try and compare cooking to basketball or music. Although there are certainly artistic elements in the menu planning, the pacing and the presentation, at it's core, Cooking is a craft, not an art.

The meat is either perfectly medium rare or it isn't, the oil is either exactly 375 degrees or it isn't, theres either exactly enough salt or there isn't.

The reason Keller and the like are considered to be 4 star restaurants is not because they have any super-ordinary skill in the technical aspects of cooking.

PS: I am a guy.

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I think it's misleading to try and compare cooking to basketball or music. Although there are certainly artistic elements in the menu planning, the pacing and the presentation, at it's core, Cooking is a craft, not an art.

So you figure basketball is an art and cooking is a craft? If so, how do you figure that?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I was reading the French Laundry thread the other day and what struck me was that even Thomas Keller can't consistently produce a 4 star experience in his own kitchen each and every night.

I don't think technical perfection and skill is as much a factor at that level. I've certainly cooked fairly sophisticated meals where each component managed to come out with just the right oomph and the entire combination was suffused with this glow of everything going right, not often, maybe not even 1 in 100, but it's certainly happened. Thomas Keller may be able to do it more often but, by then, it just becomes a numbers game.

i do think it needs to be pointed out that a lot of us home cooks benefit from extremely low expectations on the part of our diners--something that is not shared by someone going to a 3-star restaurant.

i do wonder why people seem to be so hesitant to credit the talent aspect of this discussion. it's kind of funny, really. if we were a bunch of playground basketball players, i don't think we'd hesitate to say that kobe bryant can do things that we can't. if we were living room cellists, we wouldn't be afraid to admit that rostropovich was capable of more than we were.

good cooks can be made, but i'm afraid truly great chefs--like great writers, great musicians, great athletes--are born. and then to be able to realize their ability, they must work, work, work. combine innate talent, years of practice and an absolutely unshakeable drive and seriousness of purpose--that's what it takes.

to think that we should be able to equal that in our spare time is ludicrous.

I think it's misleading to try and compare cooking to basketball or music. Although there are certainly artistic elements in the menu planning, the pacing and the presentation, at it's core, Cooking is a craft, not an art.

The meat is either perfectly medium rare or it isn't, the oil is either exactly 375 degrees or it isn't, theres either exactly enough salt or there isn't.

The reason Keller and the like are considered to be 4 star restaurants is not because they have any super-ordinary skill in the technical aspects of cooking.

Craft is not a bad word in my book. Howver, if you have never had anything that trancends craft and becomes art....you realy haven't been eating right.

By the way. No...there is no such thing as perfect medium rare.

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I think it's misleading to try and compare cooking to basketball or music. Although there are certainly artistic elements in the menu planning, the pacing and the presentation, at it's core, Cooking is a craft, not an art.

So you figure basketball is an art and cooking is a craft? If so, how do you figure that?

No, basketball is a competition which is another thing altogether. In basketball, your performance depends as much on the opposing team as it does on yours inherent skill.

True, it takes a Thomas Keller to concieve of something like salmon ice-cream cones, but the ability to churn out 150 or 200 of exactly the same cone every night and have a consistent product is something that doesn't require genius as much as it does dedication and mindless repetition. It's this that I think home chefs are perfectly capable of doing if they wanted to put in the effort.

RETREVR: I think a skilled home cook again has the advantage in the "transcends craft to art" arena. How much can a restaurant chef connect with you on a personal level if he's served the exact same dish 1000 times before to 1000 wildly different people? Every bite you've eaten, even the entire course of the meal, is something hundreds before you have repeated down to the smallest details in the arrangement of sauce. But when you eat at a persons home, the menu, the plating, maybe even some of the dishes, they didn't exist before you got there and will never again exist when you have left. You become a collaborator in your meal experience. Every dish is geared specifically towards YOU, your individual foibles, your food memory, signifcant events in your life, all of these can be shaped and massaged into the food by a skilled chef and leave a result much, much richer than a restaurant menu designed to placate a thousand yet satisfy none.

PS: I am a guy.

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Shalmanese, the Metropolitan Opera performs La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Aida, Otello, Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, and various other popular operas all the time, with numerous performances per run. A longtime member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra could play each one of these operas hundreds of times in his/her career. Are you suggesting that that repetition eliminates artistry from the performances? Is the difference to you that whereas each multi-act opera performance takes about 3-5 hours, it takes a much shorter time to execute a dish conceived by Keller? Because I'm not sure I see the fundamental difference in the equation. The Met performs something conceived by Mozart, Verdi, or Puccini hundreds of times in x number of years while The French Laundry executes and plates a dish conceived of by Thomas Keller hundreds of times a day. In both cases, considerable skill and practice are required for consistent excellence, but isn't the ability to play the right note the right way in the context of a larger work that needs to be greater than the sum of its parts something like the ability to perform some part of the preparation and cooking process just right? I'm not convinced that there really is such a big difference between the performance of music and dance and the preparation and cooking of food that required some thought to create the concept for. Cooking in a sense really is a performance.

And I'll also address a related point:

How much can a restaurant chef connect with you on a personal level if he's served the exact same dish 1000 times before to 1000 wildly different people?

How can a great piano soloist connect with 2,000 wildly different people by playing the same thing for them all in Carnegie Hall? Would it be better if he or she played for each one in person on the mediocre baby grands in their respective houses?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Shalmanese, the Metropolitan Opera performs La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Aida, Otello, Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, and various other popular operas all the time, with numerous performances per run. A longtime member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra could play each one of these operas hundreds of times in his/her career. Are you suggesting that that repetition eliminates artistry from the performances?

Way OT, but that is a respectable view. That is why Glenn Gould retired from performing in public because he felt that the repetition made it very stale. Of course that was probably just to cover up his own neuroses about performance, but it isn't intrinsically unreasonable.

I think in this case he opposite effect holds -- repetition leads to perfection.

And I don't think you should think of "craft" as being an insult. Sure, in the west it has lower prestige than "fine art". But cooking is a craft, and not fine art. This is just what the words mean.

Craft is concerned with producing something "useful" -- edible in this context. Obviously it has an artistic dimension, just as all crafts do. But it isn't fine art. One might want to express the extreme pleasure that you get from a great bit of food by comparing it to high prestige fine artists, but that is just rhetorical overshoot. People should compare them to high prestige craftsmen -- furniture makers potters , etc.

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Shalmanese, the Metropolitan Opera performs La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Aida, Otello, Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, and various other popular operas all the time, with numerous performances per run. A longtime member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra could play each one of these operas hundreds of times in his/her career. Are you suggesting that that repetition eliminates artistry from the performances? Is the difference to you that whereas each multi-act opera performance takes about 3-5 hours, it takes a much shorter time to execute a dish conceived by Keller? Because I'm not sure I see the fundamental difference in the equation. The Met performs something conceived by Mozart, Verdi, or Puccini hundreds of times in x number of years while The French Laundry executes and plates a dish conceived of by Thomas Keller hundreds of times a day. In both cases, considerable skill and practice are required for consistent excellence, but isn't the ability to play the right note the right way in the context of a larger work that needs to be greater than the sum of its parts something like the ability to perform some part of the preparation and cooking process just right? I'm not convinced that there really is such a big difference between the performance of music and dance and the preparation and cooking of food that required some thought to create the concept for. Cooking in a sense really is a performance.

You have me at a disadvantage here since I am possibly the most music unaware person in the world. But, as I understand it, the mere technical reproduction of a musical work is trivial and, thus, musically uninteresting. I could feed sheet music into my computer and it would give me an accurate rendition of what a piece should sound like. The job of a classical musician or orchestra is to interpret the work and to cast their own mark upon it by subtly altering the mood and tempo of a piece to achieve a desired effect. In this case, the craft of music is to be able to play the piece competently, the art of the piece lies in both the original composer of the piece putting down the notes as well as the orchestra interpreting the notes.

However, in a restaurant, the last thing you want is art in your line cooks, once the recipe is set, you don't want your cooks "intepreting" your work. Consistency is key, theres an objective "perfect", platonic version of your dish and the line cook's job is soley to produce an as accurate copy of such dish as possible. This is why I say the process of cooking itself is a craft. The art lies in the menu design, the timing, the plating etc.

And, like all crafts, it's not a matter much of any inherent genius but more a matter of hard work and mindless repetition. And I don't believe that the line cooks at The French Laundry have much of anything that a talented and experienced home cook does not. Sure, the home cook might have less fancy equipment in the same way that a musician might only have access to a piano rather than an orchestra. But all that means is that you should be aiming for piano solos rather than orchestral works. Are piano solos inherent inferior to orchestral works? Well, yes, any orchestra can perform a piano solo but a lone pianist can't perform an orchestral work. But does it mean that you can't possibly produce a "four star" musical experience from a piano solo? I would argue not.

And I'll also address a related point:
How much can a restaurant chef connect with you on a personal level if he's served the exact same dish 1000 times before to 1000 wildly different people?

How can a great piano soloist connect with 2,000 wildly different people by playing the same thing for them all in Carnegie Hall? Would it be better if he or she played for each one in person on the mediocre baby grands in their respective houses?

To choose a different artisitc endeavour, lets change focus to poetry. Now, your given 2 choices: one is a poem read to you that comes from a famouse poet, Wordsworth or Blake, say. It's a poem thats been read a hundred thousand times to a hundred thousand people and will be read to a hundred thousand more after you have died. It's a good poem, an excellent poem.

The other is a poem written by a talented but amatuer poet. Except this poem was written especially for you by a person who knows you intimately. It is read to you and only you only once, and then the poem is burned and never recited again. It draws upon all of your personal experience, your sense of place and being and contains subtle humour that only you could appreciate. Now what I'm trying to argue is that, even though the second poem might not have the mastery of words and the finesse of a true genius, if the poet is halfway competent, it has that ability to connect with the core of our being and communicate to us on a much deeper and more personal level. This, is the inherent advantage that I think a home chef has over a restaurant chef.

PS: I am a guy.

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I think we're confusing a few separate concepts here. To start, I will say that I'm right there with Russ in considering the talent and facility portion first and foremost.

It strikes me as a simple fact that some people are more talented at coming up with fabulous dishes than others. The old saw that 'genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration" is correct in this case because talent depends on education, practice, experience and hard work for its full expression. However, the more one is around any creative field (or perhaps any field of any kind) it becomes apparent that even though 100 people may accumulate the same experience and education, and even though they may all work just as hard, one or two of those guys will turn out product that is far superior to the other nintey-nine. This is talent. In the professional kitchen, talent is most easily demonstrated in the creative arena: coming up with the dishes. This is like Verdi writing an opera, which we all agree is a more significant aspect of the art form than the interpretation of his compositions by performers.

There is also a talent aspect to executing the composition (singing/playing the opera, cooking the dishes, etc.). Again, it is a simple fact that some people are better able to do these things than most other people, despite equal education, training, commitment and hard work. If this weren't true, then anyone could play in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra if he worked long and hard enough. This is where it makes sense to narrow the comparison a bit. It really doesn't make sense to compare restaurant cooks to singers, because so much of what goes into a singer's talent is genetically/physiologically mediated -- this is not true for a restaurant cook. Similarly, it doesn't make sense to compare a restaurant cook to a soloist, because a big part of being a soloist is interpreting the composition in a highly personal and individual way -- this is also not true for a restaurant cook. It does make sense, perhaps, to compare a restaurant cook to a musician in an orchestra. A violinist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra does not "interpret the composition" himself. His job is to assist the conductor in executing the conductor's interpretation of the composition, and the more skilled the orchestral violinist, the better he is able to perform this function. If the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra plays 1,000 performances of La bohème with 100 different conductors, there will be 100 different interpretations. Still, however, out of many hundreds of equally hard working violinists, only very few can play in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The difference? Talent.

In many senses, the head chef of a restaurant is like a composer and conductor all combined (this was fairly standard in classical music as well, back in the day). The cooks are the orchestra. I am not sure why we assume that playing in an orchestra demands talent and cooking in a restaurant kitchen doesn't. I find it interesting that most of us in the "creative arts" readily assume that four-star-caliber cooking requires talent in addition to expertise and experience. Most likely this is because it is readily apparent to us in our daily work that expertise and experience only aren't good enough to reach the highest level. I would never suppose I could execute a Charlie Trotter dish as well as a cook on his staff. In fact, I would never suppose I could execute my own Thanksgiving dinner as well as a cook on Charlie Trotter's staff. A lot of this is experience, of course -- that Charlie Trotter's guy has cooked thousands more high-level dishes than I. But I also have to consider the fact that, even if I had cooked the same number of high-level dishes, there's a good chance that the Charlie Trotter's guy is simply a more talented cook than I. This, also, is a barrier to cooking "four star" food in my home kitchen.

Unless we suppose that "most anyone" can execute music on a level with a Metropolitan Opera Orchestra violinist with enough training and experience, why should we suppose the same thing is true with respect to a four star restaurant cook? For someont to say that they "don't believe that the line cooks at The French Laundry have much of anything that a talented and experienced home cook does not" is just like saying "I don't believe the violinists in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra have much of anything that a talented and experienced amateur violin player does not." Even that ignores the fact that the cooks at the French Laundry and the violinists at in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra have infinitely more experience than their amateur counterparts.

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