Thursday, December 25, 2008

Top: Grant Achatz, photo from Town and Country Travel Magazine. Bottom: Eric Ripert from Metrocurean.

Two chefs that I have fallen in love with:
Grant Achatz and Eric Ripert

Photo from The New York Times

I had first seen Eric Ripert as a guest judge in the reality competition show, Top Chef. Aside from enjoying his french accent and his tallness, I enjoy his mannerisms, and the way he judged food and to me he just seemed to have a kind heart, which I enjoy in people. Plus he looks absolutely unreal! Silver hair and a perfectly tanned face!

Recently I was reading about Anthony Bourdain and Ripert is one of the few chefs he admired and that was interesting to me because Bourdain seems to hate more people than he likes. Or he seems to make fun of everything and everyone. Then I saw this video:

Where Bourdain thought it would be hilarious if him and Ripert worked on the cooking line at Bourdain's restaurant Les Halles for one night, something neither of them have done in a long time due to their celebrity status and position of head chef. It was nice to see their interactions and how Ripert seem to keep his cool the entire time under such stressful conditions, and he did it with such elegance that it almost seemed easy.

Also he has his own personal blog which has the cutest url: Oh come on, Avec Eric! Adorable.

Photo from Current

One of my favorite shows on the Food Network is called, At the Table With. The show is half an hour long and it features one chef, their biography, interviews with the said chef, and interviews with other chefs and family and critics. I love it because it introduces you to chefs you've vaguely heard about, and it gives them a bit more depth and insight as to how they got to their position. Although it is slightly superficial, it is better than Wikipedia.

Anyways. So there was an episode about Grant Achatz. What is fascinating about Grant Achatz is that his approach to food is molecular gastronomy, meaning he uses gadgets like grills that freeze rather than heat and nitrogen (or something) to create ice cream and such. Molecular Gastronomy is a very cool thing and it pushes the bounds of how food should be cooked, but I am a bit weary of it because it has the stigma of science to me. I feel a bit old fashioned when I say things like that and it reminds me of how my instructor Clément Vincent said that chefs are not actually very innovative, but very traditional. It takes a scientist or sometimes people outside of the cooking world that change the rules of food. It made me think of this show I was watching on the Food Network, The Food Network Challenge, where the competitors had to make the best ice cream concoctions. One of the competitors used nitrogen (or some sort of chemical) to create his ice cream, rather than doing the good old chilling, churning way. And the judges just seemed so hesitant about it in a really closed-minded manner, they kept dissing it, saying how it had too many ice crystals, it doesn't taste home-y enough, blah blah. I think it was just an excuse and that they might have been scared of admitting that this competitor's way was pretty good because it isn't the way they're used to. And I think that's the thing with food, once you've found that good way, why bother changing it? Think about when you go to a restaurant, when you've found that one thing you've liked, you tend to order it every time you go to that restaurant, and you're a bit scared to try another thing because you're worried it might not be as good as the thing you usually get. I know there are factors involved in this, like that maybe you don't go out that often and you wanna stick with what you know so as to ensure value, or maybe you go to a a certain restaurant to get that certain thing. But what about this, your mom makes lasagna a certain way, and you get so used to it or you've fallen in love with it, that no other way really compares, and plus, no one really wants to diss their mom, cause well it's your mom. And food is a thing that is so close to us, that goes inside of us, we don't really want to experiment with it in the sense of creating it through chemical or unnatural ways because there are possible risks involved, it's too much of an experiment.

What is even more interesting and compelling about Grant Achatz is that he had his mouth. It got so bad that the doctor said he had to cut out his tongue our or die, which Achatz refused to do. He went through radiation and chemotherapy instead, which was successful in getting rid of the cancer, but in the process, eliminated his sense of taste. You can read a more in depth article with better sentence structure and vocabulary by the New Yorker here. And all the while, Achatz still went to work, and he still cooked, without his sense of taste, and what he realized was that food is really based on memory. I think this really helped informed his vision of what his food is about, evoking memories in people. He has crazy presentations for his food, such as dishes accompanied by burning oak leaves to remind you of when you were a teenager and had to rake the leaves in the front of the house, and jumping into them and possibly setting them on fire.

Photo from Wired Next Fest

In one of the Industrial Design presentations this year at Emily Carr University, Hamza Vora had presented a eating set he made, called Moon Shell. It was basically a bowl, with a little plate on top of it that had little holes to allow steam to travel to what is on the plate, and then a lid to cover the whole thing. He had also created unconventional utensils, a spoon straw and tweezer like thing. One of the instructors, Clément Vincent had commented that what was interesting about Vora's project was that he had designed something that a chef would have to create a dish around, rather than Hamza creating a dish that would fit something a chef already made. It is creating a different collaboration, and possibly pushing the bounds of how food should be made. This is what Grant Achatz is doing with an engineer (or something or another), his engineer comes up with weird tools such as smoke gun that Achatz then creates a dish around. Also Achatz comes to this engineer with ideas of new tools that he wants. Also, Achatz needed new utensils and dishes for his food, and went to a person for that as well.

As great as Achatz is though, he has some major flaws as well, like treating his body really poorly. In the New Yorker article, it was mentioned that Achatz, prior to getting cancer would drink a buttload of Diet Cokes a day and get very little sleep. He pushed his body really hard because I guess he was really obsessed with his work. He is also very serious and to me, can sometimes come off as a bit insensitive, but he does show these moments of human-ness, like when he laughs or says something that is actually quite...sensitive, and it makes him pretty endearing, such as that he enjoys Harry Potter and if he could cook for anyone, dead, it would be John Lennon, and living, his two boys.

So in this vein of cooking, I helped my mom frost cookies the other day. hahaha.

My favorite ones:

(actually my mom did this one, but isn't it pretty!)

And my mom got me this weird book that was written by her co-worker or her co-worker's wife:

the note inside:

And to you: Enlightement and Beyond!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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