Monday, October 19, 2009

The Rules of Engagement

Why do this at all?
First, I have a great appreciation for Thomas Keller, a great appreciation for what he has done for food in America and great respect for the way that he works with farmers and other producers to get the best ingredients he can for his dishes. I also love his restaurant Ad Hoc. My wife and I were there in July and had an excellent meal. So good that, from the restaurant, we called and cancelled our reservations for the next night and made a reservation for Ad Hoc. The vibe was perfect; the food was familiar but precisely executed and the staff was attentive but relaxed. It was totally our speed.

Couple my enthusiasm for Ad Hoc and Thomas Keller with my love of cooking and we are one step closer to how I arrived here. Food is my hobby. Some people (like my sister) hate cooking; to them it's a chore. To me it is a pleasure. I cook to relax. As a teacher, I used to LOVE snow days because, if the weather predictions were bad enough the night before and I could reasonably predict a snow day, I could start my pre-ferment for a loaf of ciabatta or a French country loaf and spend the entire next day creating something from scratch. I loved how involved the process was, how everything was done by hand and how I was rewarded for my efforts in the end.

Fast forward to today. As an avid home cook I naturally gravitated to the internet and food blogs. Two of my favorite blogs are/were French Laundry at Home where Carol Blymire cooked her way through the entire French Laundry Cookbook and Michael Ruhlman's blog.

Carol's blog was so impressive that I was instantly hooked on cook-the-book blogs. She has a great voice and impressive tenacity resulting in a fun read. She spends her time now cooking her way through Alinea - a book focused on molecular gastronomy. Impressive.

Michael Ruhlman is a prolific food writer who has contributed to each of Keller's cookbooks and has written a number of books of his own. I own his Charcuterie cookbook which explains why I have meat hanging from my basement rafters. He writes on many food related topics and his blog is supported by his wife's beautiful photography.

When I heard that Ad Hoc at Home was almost complete, I made the decision to try food blogging myself. I think this book is the perfect blogging gateway because the food is very accessible. No hard-to-find ingredients, no sous-vide, just great ingredients and excellent execution.

So what do I hope to get out of it?
A sense of accomplishment for setting out a goal and seeing it all the way through to the end. I also hope to re-invigorate myself in the kitchen. You see, I took a job in administration a couple years back, so I don't get snow days anymore. That makes me sad and worse, has turned eating and cooking into (don't say it!) a, um, chore...

I come home late, throw something together with crap from the pantry and the resulting food is uninspired. My wife said to me not too long ago that she thought I was "less creative" in the kitchen. I didn't like it, but she was totally correct. So, this project is hopefully a kick in the ass. I hope this project inspires me ways to work with ingredients that I hadn't thought of, I hope it inspires me to use different ingredients and try different food pairings and I hope that it inspires me to get back in the kitchen and be creative.

So that's my story and my inspiration for this blog. Let's talk nuts and bolts so you know what the specific parameters are:

1. As with all cook-the-book blogs, I will not be providing the recipes I am cooking. Some of the recipes are available online in many places. Recipes like the Fried Chicken and Chocolate Chip Cookies are easily found with a simple search.

2. I will be cooking every recipe in the book. Sure, some of the techniques are the same, but there is a reason Thomas Keller included them all in the book, so I will not take any shortcuts.

3. I will do my best not to substitute ingredients unless it is absolutely necessary. I do not have quite the access to ingredients that one in the Napa Valley might have, but I shall do my best. There are some ingredients that I have already planned to grow in my own garden for the specific use of this project. And really, isn't that what this is all about? Using the right ingredients in the right way to get the right results; I think so.

4. Keller puts it very simply: Great Product + Great Execution = Great Cooking. As such, I will be looking for and using great products. When possible, I will use produce from farmers markets and meats fresh from the farm. If that is not possible, I will seek out the best grocery store items available. There is not a Whole Foods very close, but Wegmans is a fair substitute.

4b. I will do my best to introduce you to the farmers from whom I buy ingredients. They are great people with great products and great passion for what they do.

5. Most of the recipes are for six servings but there are only two of us in the house, so I will be decreasing quantities by half when possible.

6. At the restaurant, Keller serves a composed cheese course as one of the four courses on the menu. In the book, he lists ten of his favorite cheeses and the way he serves each. I will complete each of these ten servings as individual dishes throughout the course of the blog. The book also pictures 13 other cheeses - I will try to sample each of these as well and comment in a short post for each.

7. Keller mentions meal parings throughout the course of the book; for example, he suggests pairing the Garlic Mashed Potatoes with the Fried Chicken. When he makes a suggestion like this, I will obey. Not every recipe has a pair in the book, but I will do my best to make the combinations he suggests. A lot of the salads are not paired, thus, I will mix them in as the season and ingredients permit.

8. I will do my best to post once a week. Cooking for the blog on Saturdays seems like it will make the most sense with a post on Sunday, maybe Monday morning. If I have enough for a second post, it will come mid-week.

9. When I have a question about a recipe I will try to get in touch with the authors to get an answer. With their permission, I will post the responses on the blog.

Those are the ground rules. I have almost completed planning out the entire book by meal and by season. This week I plan on getting my mail-order items ordered and shipped so that I can, hopefully, be cooking and blogging in a week or two. Until then...

1 comment:

  1. This is exciting to see someone doing this. I've already noticed some errors with the cookbook, so I would say BE CAREFUL! I could be wrong, but it really doesn't seem to have been edited as closely as his other books.

    I've cooked a couple recipes from the book in the last week and a half, and I have cooked rather extensively from Bouchon, and I'm not quite sure why everyone thinks this book is considerably more simple.

    I absolutely love your idea of introducing us to local farmers. If you're cooking all the recipes I'm sure you're rather happy that there is no veal stock featured in the book. I tend to avoid whole foods, not only for political reasons, but the product they stock (not like in the past) isn't usually of the best quality like I can get in other places nearby (well, I live in the big city south of Ad Hoc, so I'm a bit lucky that way).

    I always get nervous about changing the quantities in recipes, but maybe I should just be more gutsy. I suppose a salad can easily be cut in half. Given seasonality concerns, I'm wondering if you will be cooking some quince soon.

    Looking forward to your posts!