The television personality and cookbook author Ted Allen stirred up a shit storm this week by calling me out on my hatred of the round wooden spoon, which he apparently has the hots for. He happened to mention our exchange at a City Harvest event to Eric Ripert, executive chef of Le Bernardin, one of the finest restaurants in the country, with whom I’ve worked closely, who added a little more caca to the pot by tweeting “Crème anglaise? Since the days of Escoffier, stir with a wood spoon, Ruhlman.” He then phoned me to further faire caca into my cell phone until he conceded that it was the wood, not a round wood spoon, then was evasive, said a client had just arrived. But he handed the phone to his British-born, French-trained pastry chef, Laurie Read On »

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The above is, technically, an intro to the Chicago restaurant Alinea, led by restaurateur Nick Kokonas and chef Grant Achatz, whose story I recount in The Reach of a Chef. The question “Are chefs artists?” almost always annoys me. Grant told me he considers himself as such (and not without reason). His mentor Thomas Keller considers himself, the chef, a craftsman. In a long-ago post I reprint from Reach of a Chef my chapter on chef Masa Takayama, making a case I almost argue against: that the chef can, in certain instances, rise to the level of artist. That chefs are artists is a facile assumption that is almost always wrong. To complicate matters in the funnest of possible ways, in walks Christian Seel, a chef as actual filmmaker, creating this, one of the most Read On »

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A couple weeks ago, inspired by my BFF Blake Bailey’s latest bio, Farther and Wilder (boffo WSJ review here), I offered a Tom Collins, gin-lemon-soda. But on retrospect it was only OK—it would be the perfect libation on a hot summer evening, but it was March. Also, I could hardly taste the gin, and what’s the point of that unless you’re drinking the cheap shit? Just to check, I ordered one last weekend at a restaurant and it was so bad I didn’t even finish it (which is not like me, that’s how bad it was—how do you screw up something as simple as that?). But I loved the idea of the heavy lemon. I loved the idea of, every now and then, not being aware of the alcohol in my drink. What does this lead to? Read On »

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Last summer, on assignment for Condé Nast Traveler, I visited a farm that raises ducks for foie gras, driven there along harrowing roads in southwestern France by Kate Hill. I’d never seen the practice, vilified in America, of force-feeding ducks and, being in the land of foie gras and confit de canard, I had to see for myself. The farm, Souleilles, run by Yves and Geneviève Boissière, is wide, wide open in the town of Frespech. The husband and wife were warm and welcoming and watched me take an iMovie and iPhone pix of the practice while Yves spoke at length about the process. The ducks are pasture raised most of their lives, then force fed for 14 days, beginning with a little less than half a pound twice a day, increasing to less than Read On »

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Tuesday or Wednesday is usually soup day here, as it was last week when Donna’s sister, Regina, was here for Cakes 101, to teach me cake basics and all about the creams and curds that fill a cake and give it flavor. I wanted to be able to show what a proper cake could look like in the book we’re currently working on, and as Regina bakes wedding and special-occasion cakes in the Hudson Valley, we brought her in for a working visit. We spend Thanksgiving with Donna’s family in Germantown, NY, and last year Regina had two big pots of soup on the stove as the family converged on the house, one of which was so beloved by my daughter that I asked Regina to make it while she was here. She asked only Read On »

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