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ianeccleston

The Minimalist vs. the Chef

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The Minimalist article today in the NYT is a great essay on home cooking vs. restaurant cooking.

"I may not know what I'm doing in your kitchen, but I know what I'm doing in mine, and I'll show you that simple food cooked at home can taste as good as yours."

Hear, hear!

Bittman will have a new televsion show where he compares chefs' recipes to his scaled-down, home-cooked version. I can't wait to see the show - hopefully it will get distributed nation-wide so I can see it.

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I also read this essay and thought it was very well written. It summarizes some of the issues we've been grappling with in the France forum in a nutshell. :smile:

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A home cook - that's me - says to 13 well-known chefs, "I may not know what I'm doing in your kitchen, but I know what I'm doing in mine, and I'll show you that simple food cooked at home can taste as good as yours."

Funny most chefs I know cook very simply at home. The premise of the show is clearly designed to boost the "confidence" of the homecook, which is a good thing. I suppose the whole homecook versus the chef adds to the entertainment value. "Showdown" "Takes on" "I'll show you" yeah, yeah, yeah...

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I found this particularly amusing:

"Still, we are hardly equals in the kitchen. When Jean-Georges watched me mangle a shallot, he said, "That's not mincing, it's hacking. When you write a recipe, do you put in '1 shallot, roughly hacked'?"

:biggrin:

I'd watch the show if it's carried locally. Dunno if I'd buy the book, but I'd probably at least take a look at it in a store or the library.

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I know that when I'm at home I can cook better than many chefs. And when I'm at work I can cook food ten times as good. In the restaurant you simply have so many more tools and ingredients at your disposal.

I might be able to produce an appy or main course at home that compares to a top restaurant (after several hours of labour), but theres no way I could do a 10 course tasting at home that compares to what we do in the resto.

Cooking at home cannot be compared to cooking in a restaurant.

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Very well written article, very enjoyable. I'm doing the sesame seed, ginger-butter-soy sauce dish tomorrow. From the article.

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Cooking at home cannot be compared to cooking in a restaurant.

I disagree with this. A home cook with enough money can source the same ingredients as any top restaurant. Most home cooks don't have restaurant caliber gear at home, but a cuisinart can do whatever a pro-line food processor does, it just can't, and doesn't have to, do it 18 hours a day 7 days a week non-stop. Home cooks can get the same knives used in restaurants, and can learn the same techniques. The same pots and pans are readily availible, I'd wager that many wealthier home chefs use pans quite a bit nicer than what you'd find in your average restaurant kitchen. In fact, the only thing that restaurant kitchens have that home kitchens rarely do is ultra-high BTU cooktops, broilers, and ovens, and even some home kitchens have those.

Of course the speed of the cooking in much different, in a restaurant the chef has to whip out the courses in minutes compared to the hours it can take the home cook, but that isn't to say a home cook couldn't or shouldn't do it if they have the desire.

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Cooking at home cannot be compared to cooking in a restaurant.

Of course the speed of the cooking in much different, in a restaurant the chef has to whip out the courses in minutes compared to the hours it can take the home cook, but that isn't to say a home cook couldn't or shouldn't do it if they have the desire.

There's also the issue that some home-cooked meals could never be served at a restaurant, because in fact they can't be whipped up in minutes, or must be served immediately as soon as they are done. Or, because a homey dish might not sell well on a menu, but would be quite delicious. (Risotto cooked to order might be an example - how many restaurants can have one cook stir a risotto constantly for a half-hour, cooked to order?

Now, I'm personally not going to cook a 10 course tasting menu ala Keller's French Laundry cookbook, but I bet there are a few on egullet that would.

Home cooks might take shortcuts because they don't have the time or equipment (I do not own a chinois, for example), but I bet restaurant cooks also take shortcuts to get the dish out of the kitchen.

My point being, there are meals that you get at a restaurant, and meals cooked at home. Both can be delicious, if somewhat different.

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In many cases I do end up disspointed that we spent so much money on a meal that we could have done with better ingredients at home for the same price. However THE main reason we do eat from time to time in fine dining establishments is that the work of the full kitchen staff cannot under most circumstances be reproduced at home. I am always more satisfied after having eaten a meal in a restaurant that I know I could not do myself. Most of the time I mentally calculate what I could do with the same amount of cash, and some meals we have enjoyed, due to skill or long advance prep of broths, infusions, or heavy manual labor clearly cannot be done as well at home without a whole lot of trouble.

As for the recipes in question in Mr. Bittman's piece, I went back to take a closer look at them and although Vongerichten's recipe is a bit fussier, it does not call for exotic ingredients nor does it call for anything requiring advance prep, two of the most prohibitive factors we most find in the "chefs books". In fact, between the two recipes, I would be more inclined to favor the Vongerichten recipe for sea bass. However instead of turning the fish I would start it as written it skin down, and then finish it under the broiler, because I personally feel that it would produce a better effect for this dish.

The fact that one takes an hour and one takes 15 minutes doesn't make much difference in my mind, since I don't mind cooking for an hour. However if I only have a few minutes to cook something, the Bittman recipe looks like a very nice way to cook a fish.

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Now, I'm personally not going to cook a 10 course tasting menu ala Keller's French Laundry cookbook, but I bet there are a few on egullet that would.

Bill Russell (not NulloModo -- sorry!) is currently going for five courses on this thread, in fact.

edited twice for a typo and an error -- ca


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

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Cooking at home cannot be compared to cooking in a restaurant.

I disagree with this. A home cook with enough money can source the same ingredients as any top restaurant. Most home cooks don't have restaurant caliber gear at home, but a cuisinart can do whatever a pro-line food processor does, it just can't, and doesn't have to, do it 18 hours a day 7 days a week non-stop. Home cooks can get the same knives used in restaurants, and can learn the same techniques. The same pots and pans are readily availible, I'd wager that many wealthier home chefs use pans quite a bit nicer than what you'd find in your average restaurant kitchen. In fact, the only thing that restaurant kitchens have that home kitchens rarely do is ultra-high BTU cooktops, broilers, and ovens, and even some home kitchens have those.

Of course the speed of the cooking in much different, in a restaurant the chef has to whip out the courses in minutes compared to the hours it can take the home cook, but that isn't to say a home cook couldn't or shouldn't do it if they have the desire.

You forgot a couple things that a professional kitchen has that a home kitchen doesn't - an entire brigade of trained cooks working 16 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week (many restos are closed on sunday), and access to the finest ingredients.

What you find in gourmet markets and farmers markets doesn't compare to what we're getting - Prime Beef, fresh, naturally raised pork and lamb directly from the farm where it's raised, fish that may have been caught hours ago (worst case, caught a day or two ago), etc... Not to mention the finest organic vegetables strait from the farm, lettuce picked the day we get it, wild foraged mushrooms, fresh truffles from France and Italy :laugh: I seriously doubt it's even possible for any home cook to source half these ingredients.

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What you find in gourmet markets and farmers markets doesn't compare to what we're getting - Prime Beef, fresh, naturally raised pork and lamb directly from the farm where it's raised, fish that may have been caught hours ago (worst case, caught a day or two ago), etc...  Not to mention the finest organic vegetables strait from the farm, lettuce picked the day we get it, wild foraged mushrooms, fresh truffles from France and Italy  :laugh:  I seriously doubt it's even possible for any home cook to source half these ingredients.

Oh, man, now I'm really envious!!

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You forgot a couple things that a professional kitchen has that a home kitchen doesn't - an entire brigade of trained cooks working 16 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week (many restos are closed on sunday), and access to the finest ingredients. 

What you find in gourmet markets and farmers markets doesn't compare to what we're getting - Prime Beef, fresh, naturally raised pork and lamb directly from the farm where it's raised, fish that may have been caught hours ago (worst case, caught a day or two ago), etc...  Not to mention the finest organic vegetables strait from the farm, lettuce picked the day we get it, wild foraged mushrooms, fresh truffles from France and Italy  :laugh:  I seriously doubt it's even possible for any home cook to source half these ingredients.

True, the home cook doesn't have the bridage of sous chefs and prep cooks, but that is why it takes the home cook longer to do the same things.

And what the individual cook has access too is a matter of location, how far out of your way you are willing to go, and how much money you are willing to spend. My local butcher can get my prime beef if I ask, or I can order from Loebel's and get dry aged prime beef. I can go into reading terminal market in Philly and produce just as fresh and ripe as what shows up on the plates at Le Bec Fin, and there are plenty of online sources that will sell truffles, exotic cheeses, morels, etc.

A restaurant has the channels in place and can get the items far easier, and far cheaper I'm sure, and it would be prohibitive for a home cook to cook like a top end restaurant all the time, but for an occasional thing, there is no reason it wouldn't be possible.

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What you find in gourmet markets and farmers markets doesn't compare to what we're getting - Prime Beef, fresh, naturally raised pork and lamb directly from the farm where it's raised, fish that may have been caught hours ago (worst case, caught a day or two ago), etc...  Not to mention the finest organic vegetables strait from the farm, lettuce picked the day we get it, wild foraged mushrooms, fresh truffles from France and Italy  :laugh:  I seriously doubt it's even possible for any home cook to source half these ingredients.

There are several farmer's markets in the Chicago area that service the best restaurants in town. Yes, lettuce that was picked that day (or late last night). Home cooks can order truffles too. Not to mention ordering meat from Nieman Ranch, or going to some of the great butchers in the area for prime, dry-aged steak.

That being said, that isn't going to happen every night, especially on my budget (although it would cost less than ordering at a restaurant).

Home cooking will never be restaurant cooking, and vice-versa. But both have merits and can offer something that the other doesn't.

When was the last time you went to a restaurant and had day-picked sweet corn on the cob, with nothing but salt and butter? Fine cuisine indeed, but you'd never see it on a menu.

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It may be the case that to order vegetables from the Chef's Garden you need:

“A federal tax ID, names of three chief officers, trade references (with addresses) and Bank Reference”. Or alternatively you can donate $1,000 to the Culinary Vegetable Institute and then pay $250 per box else it might keep micro mache and some other things off your plate.

But generally you can get comparable items – if not the exact same items available to restaurants – from a number of sources… or in some cases you can simply grow your own or even buy locally from farms that don’t even sell to restaurants – but provide equally naturally raised high quality items. You might not pay wholesale, reach volume discount plateus or get the first pick... but you can access these things.

Without dealing with obstacles intended to maintain exclusion.

If you want Prime beef and other high quality, meat, seafood and some game you can order direct from Allen Brothers:

http://www.allenbrothers.com/

If you want fresh wild foraged and/or exotic mushrooms, Morels, Porcini, Baby Blue Oyster, Cinnamon Cap you can order direct (as well as many other things like Ramps, Fiddleheads, several forms of Caviar etc.):

http://earthy.com/e_d_mushrooms.htm

From whom you can also order truffles from France, Oregon or the Himalayas.

Or you can order them direct from a truffle plantation in Provence where truffles are cultivated (yes.. cultivated):

http://www.truffes-ventoux.com/en/fraiches.php

If you want Sashimi quality Hamachi, Uni, Toro, Abalone etc just take a drive down to the closest Mitsuwa and buy as much or as little as you like:

http://www.mitsuwa.com/

Or buy locally from a place like the Fish Guy Market:

http://fishguy.com/catch.htm

You want Manni Olive oil? Buy it:

http://www.buymanni.com/

You want to buy Foie Gras direct? Buy it:

http://www.hudsonvalleyfoiegras.com/

You want Niman Ranch Meat? Buy it:

http://www.nimanranch.com/

You want to grow your own Heirloom vegetables?

http://www.heirloomseeds.com/

You want Monkfish, Quail Eggs, Tapioca Flour/Pearls, Yuzu Juice, Live Eel, Radish Sprouts, Koshihikari Rice – go to a nice Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese market. Not counting what you can get at your local Whole Foods or small local artisinal markets, farms and individuals.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

This relative ease of access by regular people is one of the driving forces of the changes you see in the culinary world to deliver new techniques… to once again make the preparation of such things inaccessible.

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Tried Bittman's dish tonight -- and it was great.

Sesame seed-covered tilapia fillets with butter-ginger-soy sauce (and Rösti potato pancakes, asparagus)

I used tilapia, which I'd say are every bit as firm as the suggested black sea bass or red snapper, but the fillets were quite thin, which caused a minor problem.

1 - Dipped them in sesame seeds and set aside (so that I could add them to the high-heat pan all at once).

2 - Added them to the pan, left to brown for 4-5 min each side.

3 - Removed from pan, placed on plate, covered with tin foil and placed in warm oven.

4 - Cleaned out pan, reduced heat to medium, added butter, microplaned lots of ginger, added soy sauce and water.

5 - Brought fillets out of oven, and added back to pan, left for 2-3 min.

6 - Plated, poured sauce over.

Step 2 was kinda tricky, since I wanted to sear the fillets enough to brown them -- but if I cooked them too much, they'd fall apart. So I BARELY managed to brown them.

Very good stuff, I'll definitely add this one to my repertoire.

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After a few days on the road, no matter what my food budget or how fortunate my restaurant choices, I crave a home cooked meal. Not because my cooking is better than that of the chefs I'm relying on, though I do do the Bluedauvergen thing of saying "why am I spending so damn much money on something I could do just as well at home?" And I think the immense enthusiasm for certain DC restaurants is based on reviews by people who don't eat well enough at home and so have a distorted view about how good a restaurant actually is.

But, after 20 years cooking with Stephanie, we just know what we like and we know just how to cook it, and we have a few favorites -- comfort foods, if you'd like -- that no one else does the way we do. You can get onglet anywhere these days, but no one seems to make the anchovy/garlic butter we like to put on it, or the pommes persillade for the side. Our pissalardier and pistou are just better than any restaurants are. And there's something about mixing your ground beef with soy and garlic before putting it on a grill, and serving it on a toasted English Muffin that makes it even better than the celebrated $25 burger at 21.

In addition, unlike some of the star-chasers you see on this board, I think haute cuisine gets old and oppressive after a day or two. Good home cooking is an antidote to the pretense and fussiness -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- that lift a restaurant to 4-star level. Nobody ever got gout from a chicken with 40 cloves of garlic.

So, vive le difference, I say. I'm curious to see the book.

*****

There was a long thread discussing whether ahome cook could hope to cook a "four star" (assume we're using NYT scale) at home. I can't seem to master the eG search, so maybe someone elese can pull it up. Suffice to to say that, in my opinion, anyone who thinks they can cook as well as Jean-georges and his ilk is fooling themselves.

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I've been using the book and I wouldn't say any of the recipes are particularly difficult. The chef recipes are separated for the most part either by technique or ingredient from Bitmann's, but aren't necessarily hard unless you tried to replicate them exactly. For example: the Danko recipe for duck two ways is absurdly easy if you buy the duck confit and demi from D'Artagnan. It is more time consuming, obviously, if you try to make them yourself. Similarly, Suzanne Goin's recipe for poulet au pot is very simple, provided you can find caul fat (I got some from a chef who is a friend and took pity on me) to wrap the boned out chicken legs. (Same issue with the pork shoulder confit. Not hard, you just have to score a couple quarts of duck fat!) Even the Boulud lamb extravaganza is not particularly hard unless you tried to do all four dishes at once, as he does, or you are hell-bent on using the same exotic fruits he stuffs the saddle with, or you're a masochist and tried to bone out the saddle yourself. My point being, they have played up the competition aspect of the book/show as a hook, but all the recipes -- not just Bitmann's -- are doable.

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Busboy, gout has to do with an excess of purines in the body (for example, in the case of people with kidney problems who have trouble filtering large quantities of purines out of their blood), so it's very possible for some people to get that by eating too much chicken, no matter how it's prepared. But I get your point.

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just had the book over the week. i like the concept. i think the program will be excellent to watch. the recipes are interesting. freakin hated the book.

i felt the layout was schizophrenic and detracted from the flow of the book. i found myself reading the sidebars more than the recipes since my eyes were drawn to those boxes that were in different colors. while it may, to some, display the energy of the participants in the finished television show - i found myself saying "why am i looking at this' and took it back to the library. oh, well. at least there was one circulation on it.

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For quite some time I bought into the idea that I could get ahold of most anything that any professional kitchen could, so quality of ingredients would never be an issue in my attempts to recreate the kind of meals served at top restaurants.

Recently, however, a chef friend of mine offered me a sample of some of the seafood he gets at his restaurant. I prepared it simply at home, with little more than salt, pepper, and evoo. It was, by a wide margin, the best seafood meal I have ever cooked at home. I've spent top dollar many times and never gotten ingredients as fresh and flavorful. Granted, my friend's skill in the kitchen would have made it even better, but there is now no question in my mind that he can get better ingredients than I can ever hope to.

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but there is now no question in my mind that he can get better ingredients than I can ever hope to.

Living in Seattle my friend you should have access to untold amounts of the freshest seafood still alive and kicking - if not in Seattle itself - just by being so close to California - hell flights from Chicago to San Francisco are around $163 round trip right now - you could just fly down to California (or Drive) with a cooler and fill it up/ice it down from any number of fishmongers - or bring back live crab, lobster - whatever. They'll let you check a cooler full of live lobster and crab won't they? :laugh:

Sure some of the more exotic items may elude you but, depending on where you live I suppose, somebody somewhere has to have at least a small selection of hyper-fresh fish.

The afformentioned Fish Guy Market (aka Superior Ocean Produce) in Chicago is where many restaurants buy from - even some of the best. We're no where near an ocean.

Our wholesale division Superior Ocean Produce supplies many of Chicago's top chefs. These are cutting edge restaurants that are very selective about featuring fresh seasonal products. This allows us to offer a substantial selection of "day boat fresh" fish and live shellfish daily.

http://www.fishguy.com/about.htm

They supply fish to Trotter's and some "80 percent" of the fish used at Trotter's to Go.

http://www.fishguy.com/condetrotter.htm

There are also several Asian markets in Chicago that sell a variety of live fish.

I would imagine a similar place exists in Seattle - if not several - who sell fish caught the day before - a couple of days before - that day - or even sell fish that are still live.

{edit}

Seattle..... of course - I wasn't even thinking:

http://www.pikeplacefish.com/


Edited by sizzleteeth (log)

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but there is now no question in my mind that he can get better ingredients than I can ever hope to.

Living in Seattle my friend you should have access to untold amounts of the freshest seafood still alive and kicking.... Sure some of the more exotic items may elude you but, depending on where you live I suppose, somebody somewhere has to have at least a small selection of hyper-fresh fish.

Small selection is the key. If I want salmon, halibut, and dungeness crab, it's easy to get great stuff in season. If I want rouget or loup de mer, forget it, any time of year. A fair bit of product in between is available at the retail level, but it just isn't top quality.

Actually, I prefer Pure Foods Fish just around the corner from them. Better fish, albeit less entertainment value.


Edited by vengroff (log)

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