So here’s the kind of Mom my wife and collaborator, Donna, is. On Saturday, at 5:30 she had just showered and was getting ready for a 6:30 party when her 17-year-old daughter asks if she, Donna, can take her to get that smart phone upgrade as hers, daughter’s, is broken. The teenaged daughter is not the most appreciative member of homo sapiens, remember, and Donna would not be unreasonable to say “I’m not dressed and we’re going out soon; this can wait till tomorrow,” but instead, she says, “Sure, hon, but we have to hurry.” Here’s the kind of wife Donna is. For Mother’s Day a few years ago, I bought her a really good wheelbarrow. She was ecstatic, and made googly eyes at me. I felt so lucky. A wheelbarrow! Mom’s Day is important. Read On »

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Some cocktails are spontaneous given what’s at hand. I happened to be making nougat, the French confection created by pouring cooked sugar and honey into whipped egg whites, then folding in nuts and dried fruits. The pix were so stunning in the Bouchon Bakery book, I simply had to give it a go and attempt a paired down version for the home cook. I considered adding rum-soaked dried cherries and so prepared these. But by the time the eggs whites and sugar had cooled to glossy perfection, I worried that the red-tinted rum, attracted by the sugar, would leach into the stunning whiteness of the nougat. When the shooting was done for the day, I had a bowlful of rum soaked cherries. Hmmm. How to put to use? “Donna! Don’t put your camera away!” I shouted, Read On »

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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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