Thomas Kellers book, The French Laundry Cookbook, is more than a collection of wondrously delectable foods and insightful cooking methods. It is an anthology of food memories and glimpses into what makes Keller such a wonderful chef.
Keller relates a number of anecdotes that show his love of food and how it has affected him as a chef. He talks about his first job as a chef at a yacht club and how he had to make hollandaise sauce every morning for two years. This was the hardest thing he had to make all day and it was the high point of his two years there. He reveled in it. His next job was cooking staff meals in a restaurant in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Here he learned the real fundamentals of cooking; how to properly cook vegetables and how to make a roux. The important lesson he learned here was that you had to be passionate about the food if you wanted to be a chef, even when you were cooking for the staff using scraps.
When Keller was twenty-four, he got a job in North Palm Beach at Café du Parc. The French chef here got extremely angry one day when he discovered that Keller didnt know how to truss a chicken. He screamed and threw his knife at Keller. How could Keller call himself a chef and not know how to truss a chicken? Keller no longer took it for granted that he knew everything. He learned that if he was really going to be a chef, hed better be prepared to teach people everything they needed to know to run a kitchen.
From 1980 to 1983, Thomas Keller worked in a small restaurant near Catskill, New York. One day, he asked his rabbit purveyor to show him how to kill and skin a rabbit. The purveyor brought back twelve live rabbits. He showed Keller how to kill, skin, and eviscerate one of the rabbits and promptly left. When Keller tried to kill the first rabbit he did a horrific job. The rabbit screamed and broke its leg trying to get away. The next ten went somewhat more smoothly but Keller learned a valuable lesson from that first rabbit. Because killing the rabbits had been such a terrible experience, he would not waste them. He would use all his powers as a chef to make them into beautiful dishes. He learned that a cook should never squander anything, ever.
Thomas Keller is a chef of great talent and creativity. Reading his book, though, one realizes that he is also a person that has great respect for food. Food should not be taken for granted and should not be wasted. A simple lesson for all of us.
The French Laundry Cookbook contains a wonderful variety of dishes that define what gourmet cooking is all about. It includes 150 recipes from Poached Quail Eggs with Smoked Applewood Bacon to Pan-Roasted Maine Jumbo Scallops with Morel Mushrooms and Asparagus Puree. Even if you never make a single recipe from this book, you can't help but share Chef Keller's passion and exuberence for good food.