Think Like a Chef
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Your best work does not come from your ego: it survives in spite of it. To be serious about your craft and the outcomes of your efforts, focus instead on your work methods and allow the self to become small. Just as master chefs treat their kitchen, their methods and their menu, so too must you with your studio, your process and your product. To better illustrate how this works, consider how restauranteur Daniel Boulud concludes his book Ten Commandments of a Chef : each one resonates with anyone who is in the business of being creative.
Your thinking must remain sharp, but that means far more than filling your head with facts. Sharpness of thought is much more about agility now. We underestimate how much our world is changing. Performance is rewarded best now for being adaptive rather than predictive. Empathy defeats self-centeredness. Make regular exercise out of the notion that your assumptions about the world might not be correct.
Notice how this is framed.
This is my least favourite item on the list. If I define my station as my work desk, then I have a lot of orderly work to do. This has been a steadfast rule of mine for over 15 years. And I learned it from tradespeople: any tool directly linked to your ability to turn work into money is a tool you cannot afford to cheap-out on.
And by going to the trouble of making his stocks he offers no substitutes , I learned not only how Mr. Colicchio, the chef and a partner at Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, layers flavor in his dishes but also a number of techniques.
Think Like a Chef - AbeBooks - Tom Colicchio:
For his chicken stock, for instance, he doesn't add vegetables until the last 15 minutes or herbs until the last 5 minutes. It gave the broth clean, clear flavors. His method for sauteing mushrooms greatly improved on those I knew. He cuts them thickly and sautes them in extra virgin olive oil in small batches, turning them just once and adding butter, shallots and herbs at the very end.
The delicious result was well-browned mushrooms cloaked in the aroma of barely warmed herbs. The mushroom recipes are in a group of chapters called ''studies,'' which are dedicated to foods Mr. Colicchio uses as foundations. He gives basic recipes for the mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and braised artichokes, and then uses them to build other dishes. The mushrooms, for instance, are ingredients in salmon, polenta and scallop dishes. The salmon recipe included a simple braising technique that gave the fish both crispy and silky parts.
Other chapter groupings are trilogies, or groups of flavors like duck, root vegetables and apples that he likes to use together. With each group are a handful of recipes that demonstrate different ways the flavors can be combined. The duck, root vegetables and apples become a ragout with duck crepes, a soup with duck ham, and a terrine. One chapter is focused on seasonal cooking, another on techniques.
Cook Like a Chef
Each is useful. It's mid-morning in west London and the wind outside is stinging. Inside, in the basement kitchen of Joe's in Kensington, however, it's positively tropical. Maria Elia, executive chef at the much-praised restaurant attached to the women's clothing emporium Joseph, is pulling a tray of cinnamon meringues from the oven and the rush of hot air feels like its about to carry off both my eyebrows. The partially air-conditioned kitchen feels impartially hot.
Unfortunate, as I'm already feeling a little hot under the collar. Because today I am attempting to learn in a morning what it took Maria the best part of a quarter of a century to pick up: how to think like a chef. Now, I'm not completely green in this department. I think of myself as a bit of a foodie. I eat out more often than my bank balance would like. I buy fruit and veg from those farmers' markets where the name of the produce is often preceded, in extra-big letters, with words like "organic", "biodynamic" and, most worrying for the wallet, "fresh from our [insert name of well-heeled home county here] communal farm".
And, with the help of Delia or Jamie, a grocer and a butcher, I can knock up a couple of courses for my housemates without breaking too much of a sweat. But I have never, and for that matter would never, claim for myself the title "chef". Cook, just about; chef, definitely not. Chefs have a certain aura about them, like medieval priests or consultant doctors.
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They are different animals; or maybe the same animal more evolved. But what is it exactly that sets us apart? Knowledge of different cooking techniques surely comes into it. Heston spent most nights for 10 years working his way through the classical repertoire of French cooking while working days as a photocopier salesman. And the right equipment opens up whole new vistas, too. But as Maria writes in her book Full of Flavour: Create How to Think Like a Chef, and as she's underlining to me now, the vital thing is mindset.
Chefs are creative thinkers, Maria points out. And we cook in our heads as much as we cook in the kitchen," she says, skipping around the spotless stainless-steel one she shares with two under-chefs and a kitchen hand. But for her and other chefs the process is reversed, the starting point quite different.
Then I'll sit down with a blank sheet of A3 paper and draw a mind map and decide where I'm going to go with it: what flavour journey I'm going to take that ingredient on when I construct the recipe," she says. Chefs, Maria reckons, are best thought of as composers writing music. Today, red lentils will be the core instrument, the piano, say, at the centre of things. On top of which we'll overlay other notes; in this case, we want to give the pulses a north African slant. Firstly, it needs an attractive look and aroma, as they draw you to taste what's on the plate — you have to keep that firmly in mind.
On the palate there must be a difference of texture and, most importantly, a pleasing and interesting taste," she explains. Standing on tiptoes to reach the herbs and spices on the top shelf of the store cupboard, she explains that we have flavour receptors on our tongues for bitter, sweet, sour, salty and umami the "Japanese taste" found in fermented foods such as anchovies and parmesan. A good dish must include all five.
Cumin, paprika, cinnamon and cardamom come down from the shelves first, chosen for their earthy Moroccan flavour. Dried chilli to provide a low-key heat. Ginger and coriander come next for their light airy profile. We lightly fry the finely chopped herbs and spices in a pan. Adding the pre-cooked lentils a little later, along with some chicken stock. As is the earthy edge, the salt we added has piqued the flavours.
But what about sweetness? A little Demerara sugar, maybe? I get plaudits for that. We taste it again.