Many people in the Chicago area will remember my father Réal well. He was the longtime director of the Alliance Française. A wonderful gregarious man, very gifted at public speaking who absolutely loved food. There are two things I did not inherit from his set of genes. The first is the gift of public speaking. To speak publicly at my father’s level is an art form. He was brilliant. He could say one thing and literally mean another. I can remember one speech he gave while mad at me. He wove in some fatherly advice and a healthy dose of discipline. Not a single person in the crowd realized it. People were clapping and cheering. I was getting scolded publicly. The second was his cooking gene. Very sad about the first one. Positively giddy about the second. Quite frankly, the man could not cook at all. Or for those who knew my father well, his cooking was ‘god awful’ as he was fond of saying. I think my sister Anne inherited that gene. Thankfully my cooking gene came directly from Provence via my mother….
I tell a student that the most important class you can take is technique. A great chef is first a great technician. ‘If you are a jeweler, or a surgeon or a cook, you have to know the trade in your hand. You have to learn the process. You learn it through endless repetition until it belongs to you.Jacques Pepin
Many years ago, in fact decades ago, I was a young culinary student at the New England Culinary Institute. In between classes us young guys and gals liked to pretend we knew more than we did. Over beers, we would boast about how many pans we could control at once in the saute station or how many crepes we could flip. None of of us knew shit. The ignorance of youth. Sometimes it takes real experience to learn how little you actually know. All of us consulted Jacques Pepin’s book “La Technique” as if it were the bible. I still cherish my original copy that has been splattered with chicken fat and lobster juices over the course of it’s 30 year life. It was the bible for us.
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys (chefs)
Don’t let ’em pick guitars (knives) or drive (cook on) them old trucks (ranges)
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys (chefs)
‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone
Even with someone they love
~ Ed and Patsy Bruce
I always feared Beau would follow my flour dusted footsteps into the kitchen. It’s not any kind of life anyone should wish upon their offspring, especially ones they love. That might sound a dire proclamation coming from a guy who spent over half his lifetime sweating in hot kitchens pretending to be a Chef. Cooking professionally is a hard knocks life riddled with unimaginable strife I would not wish upon anyone….
Many years ago I graduated from the prestigious New England Culinary Institute run by Michel LeBorgne, a hard nosed French Chef from Northern France. Like every great Chef before him, and probably every one since, Chef LeBorgne had his aphorisms we lived our lives by. They were repeatedly drummed into our thick skulls as we chopped vegetables, sauteed fish and made stocks. Every one growled required the standard ‘oui Chef” shouted back in unison like raw recruits at boot camp. Most were modified from the classic themes of how older generations had it much harder than us young punks. ‘We were so poor as apprentices, we only had one pair of shoes between the two of us” or “I used to walk to the restaurant uphill both ways.” The one that stuck and became part of my own repertoire was “I lost my first million in the garbage can”. That line inspired me throughout my career and helped maintain very low food costs and run a tight ship. Even now, decades later I am still guided by that principal….