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Tres Bien, Doog

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<img align="left" src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1127943846/gallery_29805_1195_7302.jpg">by Doug Psaltis with Michael Psaltis

A little more than a year after the Paris trip, construction had begun on the new restaurant, so I began focusing on that project and moving out of ADNY. But by early spring the new restaurant was still in the planning stage and there was little that I could do. So, to fill my time until I would be working only on the new restaurant, I started helping out with the bread team. If I was going to be on the sidelines until the new place got going, at least I would have a chance to learn something new.

After the concept for the new restaurant was established, the next step was to write down ideas for the food. Ducasse wanted a restaurant that served refined comfort food, deriving from both French and American cuisines, in an elegant but not intimidating environment. It would be a place people could go to often to enjoy the quality of Ducasse in a fun, affordable place. Didier and I met often to work on the cuisine. I wrote down lists of comfort classics, dishes that we could refine and revitalize, things like clam chowder, pot au feu, and barbecue. Within a few days, Didier and I came up with a long list of possible dishes.

I cooked a few of the ideas for Didier as we were working through them, like barbecue and homemade pastrami. It was a challenge to develop a Ducasse interpretation of such homey dishes. Like his Spoon and Bar & Boeuf restaurants, the new restaurant was going to be a place that would change the way people thought about Ducasse. Working on these dishes was the most fun I had had in a kitchen in a long time. I was taking everything I had learned about cooking during my reprogramming in the Ducasse style and applying it to many of the things I had loved to eat all my life. Within a short time, we had a very solid list of possible dishes. Then we had to present our ideas. We started by cooking for Ducasse. Just Didier and I working together at the stove at ADNY.

The result of my training in an environment that was the equivalent of the military’s basic training was that I was very sure of myself. I knew I could cook and I knew I could create. The rigidity, intimidation, and competition of working at ADNY had driven away many cooks. Some moved on to other restaurants in the city, where many of them excelled based on what they had learned at ADNY; some went back home or left to cook in less competitive cities; and some got out of cooking altogether. But the cooks who did make it in that kitchen were changed. If nothing else, I was confident that I could cook with the best under almost any circumstances. Sitting in the Aquarium with Ducasse after he had eaten everything I had cooked, listening to him evaluate each dish (larger noodles for the macaroni and cheese, more black truffles for the elbow pasta, cleaner presentation for the pork barbecue), I was certain he was as confident in me as I was. At the end of his evaluations, he looked down at his empty bowl of clam chowder. He adjusted his glasses with his left hand and then, holding them slightly off his face, by the side of the frame and looking over them at me, he said, “Très bien, Doog. Now we get to work.”

Didier and I cooked for Ducasse again and again. Then we cooked for him and some guests on several occasions until there was a strong menu that fit the restaurant’s concept. Finally, we cooked for Ducasse along with his business partner on the new restaurant and his partner’s family. By that time, I was confident in just about all of the dishes. We had developed something I was proud of and the partner was sold on the idea. Even his kid loved the chicken and shrimp gumbo. With smiles and handshakes, this was the final green light on the food.

When I met Didier in the Aquarium a few days later, Ducasse was already out of New York. Didier had a whole bunch of papers spread out on the table. They were the construction plans for the front of the house and the kitchen. There was work to do, he said, nodding his head and then closing his eyes for a long pause. He seemed overwhelmed by the prospect but assured me that the restaurant would be ready by the end of the summer.

<img align="right" src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1126207539/gallery_29805_1195_7908.jpg">It was only April and I would continue to help out on breads at ADNY for the next month while attending meetings for Mix, as the restaurant would be called, with people from the other side of the venture. Ducasse’s partner on Mix was one of the biggest restaurant groups in the U.S. They were known for successful, money-making operations, but their restaurants were as much clubs as restaurants. The young, beautiful, and elite gathered at their restaurants to drink expensive drinks in hip modern rooms -- and sometimes they ate the restaurant’s food, which by design was flashy and simple. The management knew how to run a profitable operation, but not necessarily a restaurant where food was the principal priority. The partnership between this group and Ducasse, the master of haute cuisine, was odd, but it wasn’t untested. They had already partnered on a Spoon in London, which was successful but considered by people in the Ducasse world as an outcast in the organization, not on par with any of the other restaurants. “I hear it has a great burger,” they’d say when asked about it. Initially I wasn’t thrilled by the company’s involvement -- I had spent much of my career steering clear of restaurants like theirs -- but as we started to work together, they let us control what we knew best, the kitchen, while they controlled what they knew best, the front of the house.

<i>Doug Psaltis is the Executive Chef of Country Restaurant, which will open soon in New York City. He has cooked in some of the world’s finest restaurants and with some of the most acclaimed chefs.

Michael Psaltis is a literary agent in New York City. He works with both fiction and nonfiction authors through his own literary agency, and also heads up a division of Regal Literary that is dedicated solely to food writers and cookbook authors.

Copyright © 2005 by Doug Psaltis and Michael Psaltis. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.</i>

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