07 May, 2011

Spring!

The air is warm and scented of jasmine. Everything is blooming and the skies are blue and everyone I run into seems to want to go OUTSIDE. I can’t stop thinking about taking off my shoes and walking on the beach. Warm sand! So exciting!

Of course, the weather is supposed to cool again this weekend, and the beach isn’t quite so attractive at 66 degrees as it is at 85. Spring is a trickster, though, and I am sure I will get my warm sand sometime soon. What’s the old saying, ‘if you don’t like the weather, just wait’?

We went to the fabulous LA Times Festival of Books and got to see my favorite teacher and an old friend, FancyJane. @FancyJane: if you are reading this, you should blog about the genesis of your “FancyJane” moniker- awesome!

I didn’t get into a panel discussion this year, but I did get to hear Thomas Keller (of The French Laundry, Bouchon, and Per Se restaurants) speak, supporting his “Ad Hoc” cookbook. His exemplary cookbook, “The French Laundry Cookbook” was one of the first I ever bought.

When I got married, all I could accomplish in the kitchen was Top Ramen. Also, I could screw up rice pretty epically. I bought cookbooks in a consciously optimistic state of mind. I believed that one day I would be able to cook something edible. The first cookbooks I bought were a hodgepodge of technique and specialty books, and one of the first was “The French Laundry Cookbook”. The connotations of the name, for me, were what drew me in at first. I saw the clean white linen image from the cover which was entirely different than anything I had seen before. When I first peeked inside, I knew I had to have it. The pictures are exquisite and the whole book just has this, well,
philosophy of cooking that sort of blew my mind. I have to admit that I haven’t made much from this book (I believe just one recipe, actually), but I return to it again and again for the inspiration about what an art that cooking can become.

I didn’t grow up with respect for the kitchen (I worked in one dining room a long time ago and when I heard that the chef had gotten a degree in cooking I didn’t believe him- who would take that job on purpose?!?), but I feel as though this book changed my perception in a pretty major way. I am never going to be a chef, and I am certainly
not an amazing home cook, either. But I hammer away, learning what I can, eating new things, experimenting and practicing as I can. Now, years after I bought that cookbook? Well, I can cook, a little. I can truss and roast a chicken that is truly a golden, crispy-skinned thing of beauty. Each time I get into the kitchen I get a little better.

On Sunday, during his talk, Thomas Keller spoke of how a chef masters
a technique, discussing the nature of practice as an important part of
a chef’s training, ending with this: “I think that if you succeed the
first time you try something, it’s just luck”. I am definitely not
lucky, but I am determined. Getting a little better, every day.

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