Saturday, September 24, 2011

a good read

Deborah discovers that not all chef's passions are created equal...

It is officially fall!
The humidity is really starting to get to me. My garden is infested with mosquitoes. I must brave the onslaught to harvest a handful of cherry tomatoes. Slap, slap, scratch, pick, pick, scratch. Might as well stay indoors and read.

I am a library junkie and pop in at least once a week to the closest branch in whatever borough I happen to be in. My long daily subway commutes to the three public schools, whose lunches I oversee for Wellness in the Schools, leaves me ample time to plow through many, many tomes.

Recently consumed are back to back readings of two great chef memoirs:
Life on the Line by Chicago restaurant Alinea's chef/owner, Grant Achatz
and Blood, Bones and Butter by NYC restaurant  Prune's chef/owner, Gabrielle Hamilton.

Both chef's books are highly engaging reads, emotionally moving and at times gripping. They cover their lives in the restaurant industry, the influences that inspire them and how they got to where they are now (rich and famous). But it is the differences in their approach that really struck me.
My garden coleus is hanging on till the first frost.

Achatz has achieved professional greatness with his exacting craft and hyper-perfection at Alinea, his fancy pants award winning restaurant that typically serves 25 course dinners composed of mind blowing original concoctions. No I have not eaten there (yet). Achatz's standards are so demanding that the Alinea kitchen feels more like a military command center than a place that feeds people. And aha, the catch is that he is not really trying to FEED people but rather, give them an unbelievable experience that only he can create. I want to go.

Hamilton is an earthy bad girl, stealing and lying her way into her early restaurant jobs. She is a bad ass and super cool. Her passion is about getting her hands dirty in the kitchen, creating something primal and sublime, food that is completely true to its origins, and she is unafraid to make it funky. I love her.

My just picked cherry tomatoes went into the oven smothered with olive oil, feta cheese and a few cloves of whole garlic and a spoonful of sugar to balance the tartness of the tomatoes. They bake at 400 degrees for at least half an hour. I want them to melt down to a gooey wonderfulness to eat on some crispy bread. I am more in the Hamilton camp of cooking.
 Out of the oven, warm and golden.
I want my food to taste great. I want to cook it simply. I want to enjoy its perfectness without artifice. Achatz will dazzle and delight and frankly I am so intrigued after reading his book that I am contemplating a trip to his restaurant in Chicago, but for me it will be an impressive trick, a good show, not a way of life.
 The smell and flavor of this preparation brought memories of pizza in Rome.

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