“It was love at first sight.
The first time I saw The French Laundry Cookbook I fell madly in love with it.” (borrowed from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 – what a way to start a novel ….)
A few years ago – while doing standard Hi-Tech chores (browsing new cookbooks on Amazon) sitting in my small golden cage … I stumbled upon one of Chef Keller’s books (Bouchon I think it was). Spending my whole life on the left tiny corner of the universe – I’ve never heard of Chef Keller before … French Laundry ? Bouchon ? Did not ring a bell.
One month later – Plus five Books – Minus a lot of $$$ – I was the proud owner of the full Keller’s cookbook collection – and Chef Keller became my cooking mentor without even being given the chance to object.
We live in the Mentoring era – in case you haven’t noticed … Just open your Facebook feed and be prepared for the Tsunami of mentoring you will be swapped by … I bother to read their posts – I watch their videos – I do make an effort !!! but all i’m left with at the end of the day is a persistent nagging sense of “WHO THE HELL AUTHORIZED YOU PEOPLE ???????”
Everyone is offering life changing advises – at exponential charges – based on … their last five minutes experience and their incomparable analysis capabilities !!! If they lost all their money – and managed to survive – they will teach any financially straggling family how to turn from poverty to royalty … If they wrote a successful book – they will teach you how to become J. K. Rowling … Earned 1000$ on the stock market – and you are ready to mentor others on how to beat the market with your super-duper algo-trading extravaganza algorithm …
“Get rid of all your daemons” , “Follow your dreams”, “You are capable of doing anything you set you mind to” , “Do that …”, “Don’t do that …”, “Its all about …”, “Its not about …”, “The secret is …” , “Well – there is no secret …” – I just wish judge “In My Opinion” from The Good Wife would come to the rescue !!!
Mentoring – is all about Knowledge and the Skill & Will to en-light others – IN MY OPINION !!!
Knowledge (and I mean vast knowledge) – is the cornerstone of any well constructed mentor. A true mentor’s knowledge must be wider than the information he is trying to communicate to the world. Want to teach the Pythagorean theorem – better know your algebra … Talking about the planet earth – be familiar with the whole solar system … Teaching how a plant absorbs water from the ground – make sure to understand Adhesion & Cohesion … presenting kids a gecko – know your Van Der Waals Forces (you bet that one of the kids will ask how does the gecko stick to the wall – and no – “like Spiderman” is not an acceptable answer).
PowerPoint effects, brilliant slogans, well fitted suites, right colored ties, baritone voice, great presentation skills – not even excellent humor – can hide a non knowledgeable lecturer. There is so much “I don’t know the answer to that question – I’ll check and get back to you” you can use before you loose your credibility …
One of my pleasures in life is exposing young children to the beauty of science. As dangerous as it may sound- My kid’s teachers allow me to step into their classes once in a while – and do my thing … I come prepared with simple fun experiments (M&M/Milk/Soap/Food Coloring/Balloons) – they make a big mess – I get to talk about Molecules and bending light – we all have a great time.
Now – fun as it is – the time invested by me to be prepared for those lessons could only be described by the word RIDICULOUS !!! I spend hours performing the experiments at home – making sure everything works as expected. The right water temperature – right amount of M&M … I learn all the Physics & Chemistry involved – Including equations.
My rule – Never underestimate your audience !!!
One Passover I was allowed to talk to the kids about the ten plagues. I prepared a presentation on how scientists explain those plagues as a series of natural events. Did my homework – you can bet on it !!! Children were captured immediately by the subject – 30 minutes into the presentation and they were still arguing about the Blood plague and the alga causing the water to turn red …
I presented them the Ipuwer Papyrus – containing a description of events that resemble the blood plague. I read all about it … I DID !!! I knew when it was written, where it was written, by whom … I could even explain what was a Papyrus and how it was prepared if I was asked (and I was not).
And as expected – a little girl in the back of the class (back of the class kids – a remarkable species in human evolution) had a question about this very interesting Papyrus … “But how did they know how to translate the Egyptian hieroglyphs ?” WT… – Where did this come from ????? Not related to my lecture young lady … yet – so pertinent you just earned my respect for eternity.
Luckily enough I’m a loyal fan of the History Channel – and they came to my rescue. A few nights earlier I was watching a show presenting the 10 most valuable archaeological findings of ancient Egypt – and there it was – The Rosetta Stone – Ta-Dam – here you go little girl !!!
Knowledge is power – So So True !!!
Part Two – The Will & Skill to en-light others …
Meet Professor Eric Lander from the MIT university – my mentor for biology and genetics (yep – my chosen mentors tend to have the fatherly looking character … wonder what my therapist would have to say about that … if only I had one). Professor of Biology at MIT – one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project – described by many as a one of the greatest minds in the field …. and yet – I first laid eyes on Mr. Lander while attending his online course Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life on eDX.
Mr. Lander teaches this preliminary course – the very basic introduction to biology & genetics – to the freshest students at MIT … and for a very good reason … There is no way you can watch his lectures and not fall in love with biology – NO WAY !!! I challenge you – give it a try !!!
Its his passion – his “fresh from the oven” examples – his SKILL to break his knowledge into digestible particles – his long relationship with bacteria – his humor – his true WILL to make those students excited about genetics …
You know a great mentor when you see one – Don’t settle for less than the best – Choose them wisely !!!
Back to my cookbooks (that’s why we gathered here in the first place right ?) …
I have no doubt in my mind that all my cookbooks were written by knowledgeable chefs – actually – this is the reason I bought them. But regarding this Will & Skill part … Lets just say that when reviewing a recipe in each of those books – I always have the feeling that the whole restaurant team is watching behind my back – giggling with their mouth covered … just waiting for me to give it a try and “don’t forget to post the photos – so we can have a good laugh …”
Chef Keller’s recipes on the other hand, take you by the hand and tell you – I know its intimidating – I can see the long list of ingredients – there are many preparations – and you will be probably washing dishes till dawn …. but don’t worry – just follow my steps and I’ll get you safe to the other end – and “don’t forget to post your photos – so you can show off to all your friends” !!!
No book as ever taught me about cooking as did The French Laundry !!! Every recipe is explained in such details – techniques are taught – basic preparations get their moment of glory – the expected result of every step is so well described – no need to guess – no need to source information elsewhere … Just follow the recipe precisely – and there’s a good chance of success.
My cooking will always be divided to “Before” and “After” Keller (so will the piles of dishes at the end of my cooking adventures). Learn about emulsion – learn about intensifying flavors – learn about finesse – learn to STRAIN !!!
Chef Keller – you are a true mentor for generations of professional cooks as well as home cooks. The world is a better place thanks to you !!!
Enough talking – time to cook.
As my first recipe for this expedition – I chose one of the simplest recipes from Chef Keller’s “The French Laundry” : Blini with Roasted Sweet Peppers and Eggplant Caviar
The recipe calls for ONE SPOON of vegetables stock … I usually have frozen stock in my freezer – but this time Murphy dropped by … I had only two options …
I believe your choices in life define you as a human being …
Next was the pepper confetti.
I cut and pealed some colorful bell peppers – julienne-d them – and placed on a plate.
Keller’s instructions are to dry the peppers in the micro-wave – so I did … 10 minutes into the drying process – my peppers were still wet … 5 more minutes and – DISASTER !!! they were burning in some spots – while the rest was still wet …
OK – I took the blame – I probably set my micro-wave’s temperature too high – I admit – my micro-wave is a mystery to me … It was obviously the right technology for the task – but I was the wrong girl for the technology.
I decided to give it another go – this time – I decided drying the peppers in the oven – set on low temperature with the Turbo vent on. My peppers dried nicely – I had to monitor carefully and take out the dried pieces on time to avoid burning them … but the effort was well worth it – just look at my colorful confetti !!!
Now it was time for my eggplant caviar.
Living on the shores of the Mediterranean sea … eggplants are part of my everyday cooking. I roast them, fry them, fill them … Still – I decided to ignore my personal knowledge and follow Keller’s instructions like a newbie – its never too late to learn something new …
Took my eggplant – cut it into half and scored with a pretty crisscross pattern. Sprinkled with a little salt and set pressed for 2 hours to let the eggplant “render its excess liquid” …
Washed – Dried – Oil massage – Oven time …
When eggplant was all tender – I scooped the flesh out – put in a cheesecloth – and set aside for 2 hours to … “render its excess liquid” once again.
Then it was finally ready to become a caviar.
In my food processor – with a little garlic – some mustard – olive oil, salt and pepper – it became this gorgeous eggplant spread.
Roasted peppers followed
Took some lovely peppers – put them in the oven to roast.
When they were soft – I placed them in a closed container to steam (my salad drier – think of it – its a smart move – it has a built in colander – if you clean your peppers in there – you will end up with the skins separated from the nice juices that can be used to cover the peeled peppers).
Peeled – Diced – placed in a small saucepan with my vegetable stock. When most of the stock evaporated – I added butter, some chopped chives, salt and pepper – and Voilà !!!
Blini time !!!
Boiled a few potatoes – and when tender mashed them up. Added flour – Crème fraîche – eggs – salt and pepper – and … I was done. Cooked them on my crepe’s pan – and I got those adorable little pancakes.
A spoon of the eggplant caviar – two Blini – a spoon of the roasted peppers – and a sprinkle of this pepper confetti …
In any respectable scientific paper – here is the place to write your “discussion” section. With your permission – I will skip straight to the “conclusion” part …
I love my pepper confetti !!! They just made this dish look so joyful !!!
The Belini themselves were just little pillows of pure joy – and the combination of eggplants & roasted peppers was a great match !!!
Great start for my journey – not too complex – yet very rewarding. After enjoying the platted dishes – we kept eating those little Blinis with everything found in the fridge (Gorgonzola/Artichokes/Cream Cheese) – everything worked.
Will definitely make those little Blinis again !!!