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December 4, 2019 48 mins

Host Michael Ruhlman talks with long time collaborator Thomas Keller about using awareness in cooking. Ruhlman also speaks w/ Knitting Expert Kay Gardiner about the similarities between knitting and cooking. Finally, Michael tours Per Se's kitchen during a busy dinner service.


Kay Gardiner's website: https://www.masondixonknitting.com/

Thomas Keller: https://www.thomaskeller.com/

Host Michael Ruhlman's new book "From Scratch" is available now: https://www.amazon.com/Scratch-Meals-Recipes-Dozens-Techniques/dp/1419732773

Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:10):
You have to really love the process of cooking. That's
what really gives me a huge satisfaction because the process
um eating it is a wonderful reward, but really the
process of it is is for me the most gratifying order.
One tasting one bit tasting a vegetables the snow mushroom room.

(00:34):
Welcome to From Scratch. My name is Michael Rohlman, and
I've spent the last twenty years in professional kitchens, writing
about and with the world's best chefs. From Scratches a
podcast about cooking. In each episode, we'll talk with one
chef and one non chef about the same theme. The
great thing about the cooking life is that you never
stop learning. In this show, I want to go to

(00:55):
the edges of what I know and then go beyond
together with you, with all chefs, home cooks, and everyone
who cares about food and cooking. Today's theme is awareness.
Awareness is perhaps the first step in cooking, even before
measing plas or putting everything in its place. Before we

(01:16):
begin to cook, awareness all of our senses paying attention,
even when the task may seem to be as mundane
as peeling a potato. For our expert guest who isn't
a chef. We talk with an expert knitter and writer
named k Gardner. We speak about the joy of manual

(01:36):
tasks and slowing down your mind while you work. But
first Thomas Keller. Thomas Keller is one of the pre
eminent chefs in the country. Born in nineteen fifty five,
he began his cooking life as a dishwasher. Then only
nineteen he became the chef of the Palm Beach Yacht cub.

(01:56):
After nearly twenty years cooking here and in France, he
would open what would be called the most exciting restaurant
in America by The New York Times. Since then, he
has opened restaurants throughout the country, with a flagship on
either coast, The French Laundry in the Napa Valley and
per Se in Manhattan, both having earned the coveted three

(02:18):
Michelin stars. I met Thomas in when I began to
work with him on The French Laundry Cookbook, his first book.
We and his team have gone on to write four
more books, with a sixth on the way. It was
Thomas who, more than any other chef, taught me how
to see in the kitchen, how to be aware of
all the people around you and where they are and

(02:41):
where they will be, of your own station, of the
heat of your oven, and how to take pleasure in
the simplest of tasks, heeling asparagus or turning an artichoke,
or rather a creative asparagus or artichokes, thinking all your
senses open, paying attention to the viscosity of oil in
a pan, the smell of flowered meat hitting hot oil,

(03:03):
listening to the crackle in our professional kitchens, we talk
about me some plasts and you know, being prepared, and
I think that's you know, that's the process of thinking
about what what the results are going to be and
working backwards every step of the way to understand where
you need to begin. But I think, you know, we
talked about the simple equation of what cooking is, and

(03:23):
cooking is a very simple equations. It's about ingredients, UM
and execution. And as I pointed out earlier, the ingredients
are paramount UM. And I think that walking through a
market and a grocery store is very inspiring for me
and UM, and that's where the basis of my menu
would come from at home. And they're very simple things,
very simple techniques. UM executions is a little bit different

(03:46):
executions about you know, your skills as as a chef,
as a cook, and you know, everybody has different skills.
People ask me all the time, well, you know, why
did this? I you know, I did this and didn't
turn out. Well, it's hard to it's hard to analyze
with somebody did in reason it didn't turn out when
they're just telling you about it. UM So because everybody
has different skill levels, and so you know, how do

(04:07):
you how do you better your skills? You know, you practice.
I think it's important you you fail, I think that's
important you learn from your mistakes. You know, typically you know,
if you get it right the first time, it's probably luck.
You know, try to try to replicate it, and you know,
hopefully you can. UM. But your skills, I mean, just
continue to learn, continue to practice, continue to use the knife,

(04:27):
continue to understand heat and and and and watch the
way oil, you know, begins to heat up and then
the different textures of different the different appearance that it has.
It's a common dictum that we cook with all our senses,
one of the most important of which is hearing. When
you put a moist piece of meat that you want
to see her into oil. What do you imagine you're

(04:48):
going to hear? You want to hear a sizzle, right,
But if you don't hear it, that's important information. It
means you're oil is not hot enough. I always start
my bacon and water. I hear of the nice, gentle
bubbling sounds. The water gently cooks the meat and begins
to render the fat. I can leave it alone to
do other cooking tasks. But as soon as the gentle

(05:09):
bubbling sound becomes a crackling, I know the water is
cooked off and the fat is getting very hot, and
I need to pay attention. And I and I enjoyed.
I enjoy you know listening to things. You know, sound
is very important. When you've got a flowered short you've
got your fat in the pan, yeah, and you put
you put that in there, and and you know you

(05:29):
hear that sizzle right away, because you know you've got
that moisture, even though there's flower around, You've got that moisture,
and that moisture needs evaporating. Then it calms down and
they just just flip it on the other side. And
then again the noise of the violent interaction between between
water and oil and the steam that comes out and
you watch it, then you know, get this beautiful, wonderful
you know, crusts, the crustiness and the texture of it.

(05:51):
The aroma of cooked flour is just you know, it's
just one of those most satisfying aromas that you can experience.
And those things you have to you have to you
have to be aware of when you're cooking. You have
to be aware of these things and enjoy them as
they go. Not only be aware because you want to
make you want to be able to cook something properly,
but be aware of the sensation that you experienced while cooking,
because that's one of the most gratifying things about cooking.

(06:13):
We often think first about what's most easy to be
aware of aroma and taste, but cooking is a very
tactile craft. We need to pay attention to the way
food feels. Um pasta. You know, I'm learning how to
make pasta in um in Mpia monte um with with
with the grandmother of the family I was staying with.
And you know, she would make this pasta every morning

(06:35):
and I would go down downstairs in the morning with her,
and she didn't speak English, and I didn't speak Italian,
and you know, she would touch her ear lobe um,
and then touch the dough and that was the texture
that she was looking for. UM. I actually had to
touch her her ear lobe because it was much softer
than my ear lobe was UM to understand really what
it was. But you know, it's it's it's this textual

(06:55):
thing that you experience that is a wonderful part of cooking. Yes,
making the eating the us is nice, but making it
is just a whole different you know, it's just a
whole different experience. It's it's it's it's you are you
find this inner satisfaction of being able to transform you know,
flour eggs um into something that has in the aroma

(07:19):
of raw dough when you're making it too, because you
smell that raw flour, you smell those eggs um that
it changes and you start to run it through the
positive roller and how that becomes more of a satin
finish as you roll it more and more, you know,
and and then and then to cut it, and you know,
it's it's it's it's just a wonderful experience you have

(07:39):
to enjoy picking up a piece of meat or flaying
of fish. You know, a lot of people don't like
those textures. Um a lot of people understand those things.
And I think it's important to be able to to
do that, you know, by a filet of salmon and
and and slice it feels see what it feels like.
I mean, obviously we can go to the stores today
and by and by a specific muscle and specific sizes

(08:01):
and don't have to deal with that, but you still
have you still have to you have to be able
to touch it on. One of the first things Thomas
has said when talking about cooking was the importance of ingredients.
All of cooking comes down to two things in the end,
ingredients and execution. And ingredients come before all else, even
before a recipe. This idea of picking up a cookbook

(08:23):
and and thumbing through it, and you know, picking out
a recipe that you want to make and then going
to the grocery store and trying to find those ingredients
may not be a wise thing to do. What you
do is you go to the grocery store and you
find the best thing. You go to the grocery store,
the market or wherever you're buying your your your ingredients from,
and you you you you be inspired by those ingredients

(08:43):
and then you bring them back and then you try
to apply techniques that are in maybe a cookbook or
do cookbooks, or techniques that your your parents taught, your
mother taught your techniques that you learned on your own.
Techniques execution require that you have tools, things that cut,
things that can get really hot, a surface to work on.
That's a tool. To think about it this way, I

(09:04):
think about it as an investment. I know, we all
want to go out and buy a soul set of knives,
and sometimes we can't afford the best set of knives,
so we're gonna buy, you know, a little less expensive
set of knives. I would prefer that you buy one knife,
you know, every month and build build your set, build
your tool your your tool kit based on quality, not
based on quantity um and gadgets you know are not

(09:26):
really worth it. You can do anything. I can do
anything with a slicing knife, a French knife, pairing knife,
a bread knife, and a sharpening steel. Those are those
are my five basic tools that I have for for
anything that I want to cut, dice, slice, and then
the cutting board. So the cutting boards is really really

(09:46):
important and I like oversized cutting boards because I can
not only can I use it to to to cut
to cut whatever I'm cutting, but I also use it
as a place to place it in the store it
so it doesn't go have to go somewhere else. I
have enough room to dice my carrots and push them
off to the side, and dice more carrots and push
them off to the side so they're still on the
cutting board. So you know this, this idea of of

(10:07):
of organization, this idea of cleanliness is very critical to
me and something that will set you up for success.
You know, as you continue the progress of preparing your
meal at home, you also impressed upon me the importance
of getting rid of anything that you don't need on
your cutting board, on your work service, because it clutters
you up. Get rid of anything that can trip you up. Right,

(10:29):
So we have a phrase clean as you go right,
So if you if you're doing one task and then
clean it up before you do your next, next, next up,
and then find ways to really make it easy for you.
So like for peeling carrots, for example, we're gonna put
a piece of parchment paper or you can put it
be the newspaper down on the tabletop and peel your
carrots to that and then you just bundle up your
your your your piece of parching paper and throw it

(10:51):
away as opposed to trying to scrape up off all
of your peeling and your trimmings off for the cutting board.
It takes a little longer. So trying to find ways
of making your life easier, um by employing just simple things.
You know, you can peel onto a piece of paper
towel for example, and and then just ball it up
and throw it away as opposed to, um, trying to
scrape all those carrot peelings in one spot. For me,
it's a it's about you know, beginning the process, in

(11:14):
ending the process, and and not taking for granted that
somebody else is going to come in and do your
job for you, um, but embracing the entire job. Um.
And I think that's important. So cleaning, you know, we
always have the expression is is leave it better than
when you came. This cleanliness was on view at all
the chefs stations when I walked with Thomas in his

(11:34):
astonishing new kitchen at the French Laundry, a large square room,
copper pans hanging high along the back wall where twenty
chefs are more can comfortably work. There are two main
central cooking lines, with chefs on either side. The first
line is the hot line, where all first courses meat
and fish are cooked. Moving to the right is a

(11:55):
hotline that uses induction burners and so create less heat,
where the avery chefs share burners with the pastry chefs,
who require a cooler atmosphere. Most interesting is what's not
there hoods. Most kitchens have large exhaust hoods six and
a half to seven feet off the ground over every
cooking surface. Here there are no hoods. The ceiling itself

(12:19):
is ventilated, giving a sense of openness to the bright
white kitchen with a long wall of windows overlooking the
garden and skylights letting in the abundant Napa sunlight kitchen
and a new element that hadn't been a part of
any of Keller's kitchens, a wood burning hearth three ft deep,
four feet high and wide. On the left is a

(12:40):
great for the burning logs, above which are several shells
so that meat can either cook over high smoky heat
or rest and less direct heat. To the right are
more shells for meat about to be cooked or resting
in the warmer, smoky environment, but not directly over heat.
He loves his hearth because it allows the chef to
be completely engaged in how to roast up. I mean

(13:03):
the heart is a perfect example of that, you know,
going back to natural natural natural fired u um uh
natural fuel cooking right, I mean to be able to
understand where your where your coals are, the heat, how
the heats flowing up through the through the hood. You know,
where do you want to put the lamb, Where do
you want to put the potatoes? Where do you want

(13:23):
to put the glass? Um? You know how how to
st scalop, you know how the salt piece of salmon um.
Those kinds of skills are very important. How to how
to make a batter, you know, the cornet batter is
such an important part of what we do. How to
make a butter sauce. You know, all these all these
things that are you know that are old, um, that
are that are classic that we continue to do today.

(13:44):
Uh and and and those are important things. Making a
burr blonch, making us saus vam blanc. We talked about
these things all the time. Making a lobster broth, you know,
which is you know lobster stock and creaming it out
to make you know, almost like a lobster pisk and
using that as a sauce. All these different and you know,
I'm probably sometimes because you know, we'll have conversations in here.
I'm not here as much as I am, but you
know today, but been talking to the cooks. You know,

(14:06):
this is you know, and this is a technique of
FRENCHRONI has been using for twenty five years, you know.
And so there's so much of old incorporated and so
much that's new. And what's new is not really new
because it's a bunch of what was old, you know,
just just formulated in a different way or composed in
a different way. Nobody doesn't want a beautiful halo as sauce, right,

(14:26):
I mean, you know, right, I mean, so you know,
our job is not to make something that's different. Our
job is to make the most beautiful home they sauce
you've ever had. And because things like that have become
more rare in restaurants that you know, for us to
do it and for people to experience it again, it's like, wow,
that's so good. Why why aren't more people doing this?
We stepped outside the kitchen to the lovely garden patio

(14:47):
and lawn and rose bushes fragrant in the morning sun.
The French Laundry itself is a rustic old building made
of river rock and timbers. The new kitchens connected to
the original building via a breezeway that serves as a
buffer between the hot, intense, urgent world of the kitchen
and the calm, cool, sedate world of the dining room.

(15:08):
The kitchen exterior is a modern, dark, smooth structure, completely
opposite in style from the early nineteen hundred saloon that
would become the French Laundry. When when Craig asked me
what the what the vision was for the new kitchen,
the new buildings actually, and I gave him. I gave
him two pictures, one of the louver u pre i

(15:29):
m pei and post i am pay. Because the French
undry is iconic, it's historic, it's a landmark um and
you know it's yeah, it's it's of a time and place.
And the old kitchen I used to resemble that, the
upstairs right, the upstairs portion of it, and the breeze
white portions, so they all kind of looked like one,
you know, when one continuous um design right and the same.

(15:54):
So I wanted to have something that was you know,
either either when one or two things would happen when
he ke the old kitchen just blowed up and redo
the whole thing inside, or do something that was gonna
be drastically different, they went full out. I am pay
I've always loved the classics, classical French cuisine, and I

(16:15):
know Thomas has two and still does. So I asked
him about one of the oldest sauces there is. Tell
me about saucepan blank and why it's important to you,
why you care about it, and also how you make it. Yeah,
you know, sauce and bok is one of those classic
French sauces we you know, we learned from a scoffier,
you know, the reduction of of of of shallas, of
white wine, of fish stock, and then you know, simply

(16:35):
adding cream to it and then reducing that and it's
become It was the base for you know, some of
the most extraordinary fish preparations that I've ever eaten, and
one of those was that at Paul Bocuse. You know
that at the at the Oberish and Um. Every year
we go to Paula. Not every year. Every year that
we do go to leon Um, you know, I make

(16:56):
it a point of eating at the Oberish and and
the one dish that I crave the most is his,
you know, his rouge with the with the potato scales
crispy and a sauce van blanc. And I wonder why
we don't make that sauce anymore. It's just it baffles
me that we have. We have such a treasure of

(17:18):
extraordinary flavors um, you know, through these through these classic
recipes that have been done for generations, and for some
reason we've lost the desire or we've lost the awareness
that they even exists. I mean, I ask some of
my young chefs the other night in the restaurant to
make a sauce fan block and they you mean burb block, chef. No, No,
not burb block sauce van bloc. What is that? Get

(17:44):
repertoire out or get the scoffee out and look it up,
because these are these are recipes that are timeless. And
you know, one of the things I love about food
is the timelessness of it. I think I've told you before,
you know, to be able to transport myself back a
hundred years in time, I feel like it could be
a really good cook Of course we'd have different equipment,

(18:04):
different ways of doing things, but you know, the basic
foundation of of of of cooking it would have been
the same. Uh. And they would have made of bean
bloch sauce. Um. We should we should continuously champion are
our classic recipes where but when I'm talking about French
cuisine obviously, but you know, wherever you have the opportunity

(18:27):
to um to to champion you know what was uh
and and still make it relevant today. Um, the sauceban blank.
It represents one of those one of those recipes that
we've kind of lost touch with. But it's just when
you taste it, every goes. You know, everybody around the table,
you know, whatever generation they're problem. When we're at obears,
was wow, we should make this. I love the Thomas

(18:50):
Kin time travel by cooking. I'm grateful for what he's
taught me about being aware in the kitchen, paying attention
to the sound and smell of flowered meat, hitting at oil,
of a texture of pasta. It's enriched my cooking life.
Thomas loves eating and drinking good wine and good tequila.
But what he loves is cooking, and that love, that

(19:12):
pleasure comes from being aware with the knowledge that cooking,
in the end is transformation. Food. Food has always inspired me. Um,
and it's it's it's nature, right, It's uh, it's it's
what God gives us. And and to be able to
you know, take a kidney or or roasted saute kidney
or or roasted chicken or or or you know, raise

(19:35):
you know, braise a short rib, make a cocoa van
or simply just you know, ta some spinach. I mean,
it's all it's it's transformational. And I think that's what
really excites me. Is this this this this transformative moment
from from something that's raw to something that's cooked in
the process that's in between. And that process can be
five minutes or could be it could be twelve hours,
you know, depending on what it is. But you have

(19:57):
to really love the process of cooking. Um. That that
that what that's what really gives me a huge satisfaction
is the process. Um. Eating it is a wonderful reward,
but really the process of it is for me the
most gratifying. A Gardner is a famous knitter now runs

(20:43):
Mason Dixon knitting dot com, a daily online knitting magazine.
This former United States Assistant Attorney for the State of
New York, loved to knit. She met a knitter far
from Manhattan and Shane and Nashville online. They began to correspond,
and their voices were so quirky, opinionated, different and original.

(21:03):
They turned their correspondence into an ingenious blog called Mason
Dixon Knitting. It was a phenomen in the knitting world.
They published their first book of that name, which my wife,
Anne Hood, a novelist and knitter, told me unfuddied knitting books.
With their bold voices and vivid designs, knitting could now
be seen as a dynamic craft. Part of the goal

(21:29):
of this podcast has been to go outside the realm
of cooking and chefs, two experts, and other fields to
explore hidden similarities in seemingly unrelated worlds. What does knitting
have to do with cooking? Well, let's see. You know,
like I was listening to what if your podcast about
butchering a hog, and I was thinking, like, you know,
we we have pieces like that for knitting. That's great.

(21:53):
Tell me how you tell me about your knitting career?
How did you start Um, I started, Um, I was
a campfire girl. On if your wife was a campfire girl.
But I suspect she kicked out of the Girl Scouts, Okay,
well then she would have been a good campfire girl.
We were kind of you know, the camp Fire Girls
were like the store brand of Girl Scouts. You know,

(22:13):
we were UM and I had I was very devoted
to my campfire group. And at one point our leader,
when I was about twelve or thirteen, our leader was
Mrs Kilpatrick, who um chain smoked and knit and did
a lot of other crafts, and one of them was knitting.
And I made a pair of uh slippers in red

(22:36):
heart acrylic yarn and I really enjoyed that. And I
was like twelve or thirteen, and um, when I was
like in my early thirties, I walked by a yarn
store and I went in out of curiosity, and I
came out with like sort of a large purchase of
Van Died Marino, and I remembered how to knit, and um,

(22:57):
this in New York City. This is a New York
which store. Um, it's it's the now sadly defunct yarn
company on Broadway, and I think eightieth it was, and
you had to go upstairs. Many yarn stores in New
York because of the real estate here. And I went
in and it really was kind of like the big
bang for me. Like I I probably have been knitting,

(23:17):
you know, almost daily since then I went out. You know,
I've been trying to learn how to knit. I just
don't think I have the fine motor skills required for it.
You know. That's I said that softly, so you can
take it out. I mean, you pull a loop of
yarn through an existing loop of yarn. That's what you do.

(23:37):
And it does require a little dexterity, but it's um
you know, it's a it's a muscle memory, and so
you have you start with zero that you have to
just sort of have that beginner mind of like I
don't know how to do this. I'm going to learn
how to do this. It's going to take a minute.
We believe in knitting below your skill level, which again

(23:59):
it applies to cook you know, it depends on the
reason that you're knitting. But knitting is not a competition.
It's like I think cooking is very much like this.
Sometimes you want to bake potato and a pork chop,
you know it doesn't have to be you know, you
butchered the pig yourself. UM. And knitting for me because

(24:22):
because one of the reasons I knit is to have
this kind of calm activity. UM. I like the really
easy knitting. And you know, you'll go to a fiber
festival and people are always wearing you know, you know,
the equivalent of the I butchered this big sweater and um,

(24:43):
and that's really fun. Uh. But every day, you know,
my everyday knitting is often like the kind of knitting
that a beginner does, and I make no apologies for it.
It's also very beautiful. You know, the most the simplest
stitches are often the most beautiful stitches. So what explain more?
Why why do you prefer knitting below your skill level? UM?

(25:05):
I think partly because I want to do it so
constantly UM. And I do it as a relief from
uh solving more difficult problems. Knitting is is beautiful because
it has all problems, and knitting are solvable, even the
most biggest disaster. And knitting you can always just unravel
it and start over, the same as in cooking. Yes,

(25:29):
it takes a little dexterity, but as Keller said, if
it's hard, you're probably doing it wrong. And if you
sit next to other knitters, and this I think is
true of cooking as well, that if you are living
in close proximity to a good cook, you pick up
all sorts of things that you'll never learn from a
book or from a television show. Uh, and you'll just

(25:53):
pick up you know, really simple things, um, but that
are kind of life changing. And that's definitely true of knitting.
Like some knitters will say, like, I can't be bothered
to knit a sweater. That's that's simple. It's not fun
for me. Um, And I don't feel that way. I

(26:14):
have plenty of fun knitting a very plain sweater, partly
because I can carry it around on the subway. I
was knitting on the way down to your apartment. Just now, Um,
it's to me, it's just it's very satisfying. It's like
I'm trying to think of an example in cooking, but
it's like, I don't know oatmeal, you know, it's delicious.

(26:38):
Baked potato, pork chop and a baked potato you're not making.
You know, it's not a competition. Part of it is
what I want to wear. And part of it is
what I want to knit, And there is knitting for
different moods. Um. I think most knitters who who are
daily knitters like I am, have like two or three
projects so that they always have a project that they

(27:00):
could work on right now, um. And so one will
be like that super simple sweater, and one will be um,
like this poka dout thing that already mentioned just now,
Like it's actually pretty simple, but it does require me
to aim, you know what I mean. I have to
think about it. There's ten rows. Every one of those
ten rows is a different little event, and I have

(27:22):
to be in a frame of mind where I feel
like doing that, where I feel like keeping track of
which row I'm on right. So there's there's something that
you can do and just carry on a conversation with somebody.
And there's exactly I stopped knitting this because I'm having
a conversation with you, But I have other knitting in
my bag. I could be knitting right now while I'm
talking to you, and welcome to the same as in cooking,
sometimes it's a simple meal. You can have a glass

(27:44):
of wine and carry on a conversation while you cook.
Other times you have a lot going on and need
to focus all your attention on the food and the heat.
On her own, K brought up the great Julia child.
She was the first person to urge me, a little
fourth grade home alone, into the kitchen to attempt to
pie actually a pair of tart using canned pears. Terrible,

(28:07):
but it was really fun to do. Julio was a
powerful influence on so many, including K. I feel kind
of silly talking about this to you, because I'm sure
you know much more about what was going on. You're
talking about the art, mastering, the mastering the art, and we,
you know, we both thought that that book, you know,

(28:30):
changed like the world of our mothers and grandmothers who
may have had one cookbook, to a world where cooking
was something. You had more cookbooks than you needed because
you loved them and they were beautiful and they inspired
you to cook, and they heard the voice of the
author in the book, which you didn't in my mother's

(28:52):
Betty Crocker, you know, And we started talking about how
their knitting books weren't There wasn't a mastering the art
of French cooking for knitting books. We we just thought,
you know, knitting books should be both more beautiful and
more This is a bad word, but I think personality driven, um,

(29:13):
because knitters are like anybody else. They have taste, you know,
like they have their own personal likes and dislikes, and
so there's room for all kinds of voices in the
knitting world. And it's just it's up til then, most
knitting books were very prescriptive. Here's a picture of the pattern,
and here's the pattern, and then you turn the page

(29:34):
there's another picture of another pattern and another pattern and
there's no Um. You know, there wasn't a lot of
even creative direction and um, and books were you know,
books are now so beautiful, illustrated books are just amazing,
and we wanted that kind of loving editorial treatment to
be given to the thing that we love. And lo

(29:57):
and behold. We found an agent and a publisher and
we published two books to trade, um books called both
of them were called Mason Dixon Knitting, with different subtitles,
and um, you know, they did very well, I think
in part because they were very they were very conversational.
They were very different from previous knitting books. Well that's

(30:29):
interesting because the same thing what you're talking about and
knitting that, Um, it's the same thing has happened in
the chef world, has become a cult of personality that
you go to You go to Jean George's restaurant or
Marcus Samuelson's restaurant or Gabrielle Hamilton's restaurant, and you expect
their personality too to come out in the food exactly.

(30:51):
And UM, I mean culture personality isn't a particularly flattering Uh,
you know, nobody. I don't think I aspire to, you know,
our books being called culture Personality, but we definitely thought
there needed to be a tone that was more there's
a human being writing this, um, And there's a lot

(31:12):
of room for opinion and attitude and knitting. So when
I was a young bride, I got, um, very fancy
with my cooking initially, and um, I got this book
by Joel Robischan um. And you know, I mean, you know,

(31:33):
it was kind of a fun time for us as
a couple. We ate a lot of really very buttery
and delicious things and um, and one of I should
have gone back and looked this up to make sure
I'm remembering it correctly. But he was talking about making
you know, pumed to tear pure patoes in the email,
and he starts. He starts with with how to peel

(31:56):
the potato and how you shouldn't just you know, carelessly
old the potato like my mother always peeled potatoes as
fast as you can, you know. And I really it
struck me because I had never like paused for you know,
a prayerful, mindful moment before peeling starting to peel the potato.
But I often want to be biling potatoes. Remember that,
and I think it there's some kind of thing that

(32:20):
has to happen with almost any kind of work by hand,
or you have to stop resisting that. Um this thing
will take you a minute, you know this. You have
to slow your mind down and stop trying to rush
through it, and you will make fewer mistakes and everything
will go better if you just you know, slow down

(32:41):
and focus. And that's what that potato thing reminded me about.
And in knitting, there's just a million situations where that's
correct to cook. Best cook, tell me about your ideal cooking.
I'm a huge brazier. I like brasing. It's so you know,
I mean, I think it's the home equality, the nostalgic quality.

(33:04):
My grandmother was a great brazier. She although she didn't
use the word braise, she called it a roast, but
she was always really brazen. Um and UM. I married
into a Jewish family and a very brisk it loving family,
and so it's it's very satisfying to me that they

(33:25):
love my brisket. And I make it all different kinds
of ways, um, with different recipes, but UM, I just
find it. It's a very satisfying meal to put on
the table and it's um. You know it's going to
turn out good. It's been in the oven for six hours.
It's not going to be terrible. It's it's I love

(33:46):
braising too, because it's it's about transformation, taking a tough
usually not that expensive ingredient or didn't used to be,
and transforming it into something succulent and tender. And while
you're doing it, you're filling the kitchen with beautiful smells. Uh,
you're making other people in the house happy. I too,
love to brace. It's a good thing. Yeah. Part of

(34:08):
what drew me to the world of the chef was
the way cooking changed the way you think. When my wife,
Anne Hood, was in her mid thirties, she lost a
young daughter learning to knit saved her life. The act
of knitting took a mind destroyed by grief and somehow
gave it order, which is part of what drew me
to knitting. But as you know, she lost a five

(34:29):
year old daughter to a very form of strap and
was so shattered by grief she could she could barely
get through a day. And it wasn't until several months
later when somebody suggested she learned how to knit, that
this might be a way out, And so she found
a n inning store and she began a way through. Yeah,
you can't get around it. You have to move through it.

(34:49):
You're absolutely right. But knitting had such a powerful impact
on her thoughts and her brain and her thinking um
that it made one. It made me one, and knit
too to It made me fascinated by knitting and how
it changes your thoughts, and how it changes the way
you think, and what it does your brain while you're knitting.
The shattering nature of grief, I think, creates a kind

(35:11):
of paralyzing chaos in the brain, a lostness. A more
ordinary form of chaos is rushing when we feel we
have too much to do in too little time. The
psychological urge to rush is very strong in me, so
down knitting totally slows me down. And I think, UM,

(35:33):
at one point in my life, I was a runner,
you know, I ran for fun and um, especially since
I wasn't fast, I like to run long distances so
I could feel like I was doing something, and it's
knitting is like that for me. Also, like I either
going out for a run or just sitting down with
your knitting and not and trying not to think about

(35:53):
the thing that's worrying you. And then sort of the
answer will come to you while you're knitting, either the
answer or just you know that deep breath of like okay,
I'm going to figure it out. It's going to be okay.
And uh, knitting really does that. Cooking and knitting and
many other things like this um at the heart of
them is a chore, you know, a physical job that

(36:17):
has to be done, and it it really matters how
much attention you're paying to to what you're doing. I
loved what Case says about slowing down. It's the same
thing I learned in the kitchen. When there's chaos around you,
slow down, stop clean your station, order your thoughts, order
your actions. Work slower to work faster, a common phrase

(36:41):
that the French laundry and per se is don't work faster,
work smarter. Think. Another facet of knitting is touch, like
Thomas with the pasta like. One of the things about
knitting that I don't think non knitters really understand, and
I don't think I fully understood it when I was
a new or knitter. But knitters love the feeling of

(37:04):
wool and it's um, you know, like in certain languages
there are a hundred words for snow. Knitters have a
lot of words and um, probably even more feelings that
they can't express in words about the differences between different
types of fiber and the way they smell and the

(37:26):
way they feel and um. It's one of the big
pleasures of knitting is the tactle I know, feeling of
the pop up store from the store in London. I
don't know if you can't remember Loop. I think it's
called that's a great shop Loop of London. Um and
and and my wife and said, I've touched everything here,

(37:47):
meaning we could go, but it is I touched it too,
some of some of that you are and is just
so much fun to touch. Yeah, when I when I
knit I'm aware of. UM. I think I mostly aware
of the fiber and the rhythm of this stitch pattern
that I'm making. Knitting is very rhythmic, and UM, the

(38:09):
simplest stitch has a rhythm, and the more complex ones
have also have a rhythm. To me, it's like a
little song in your head that just keeps getting repeated,
and it's very satisfying. UM. That's what I'm aware of.
I find it in cooking too, just the repetitive nature
of chopping something, chopping vegetables, UM, is relaxing somehow? Or

(38:32):
do you think when you're when you're knitting, are you
are you solving problems? Are you allowing? Are you preventing
worries of the day? Um? I feel like I am
solving problems and we're you know, kind of taking the
anxiety off of problems. Would you do you recommend as
you do and as you say you do in knitting.

(38:52):
UM that cooks cook below their school level? UM. I
mean I think that's one of the very reasons I,
you know, I don't cook as off as often is
because I, you know, I sort of bought into the
UM the the difficulty level getting raised, you know, in

(39:15):
all the stuff that you and other people write. You know,
you start feeling like you have to put your you know,
put your best foot forward when you're when you're cooking.
And um, Marian Cunningham's book actually helped me get out
of this, her book Lost Recipes. Um. I really loved
that book because it was about, you know, the kind

(39:37):
of cooking that our mothers did. And um, you know
my mother had to cook dinner every day, whether she
wanted to or not. And um, I have never had
to cook dinner every day, and so I became kind
of a special occasion I want to impress you kind
of cook. And the loss there is the loss of
if it's Tuesday, I'm making meat loaf, you know, and

(40:00):
you know my mom made a great makes a great
meat loaf. And there's something about the repetitiveness of that
that it's good. You know, you don't always have to
look something up to it. You get to be a
better cook. Is not like cooking a variety of different dishes,
but cooking the same thing over and over and noticing
the small variations that happen over time. Yeah, it's the

(40:22):
same kind of centering thing. It's like it's the time
of day when I'm standing at my stove and I'm
making something, and I'm not going to be here for
an hour and a half. I'm going to be here
for forty five minutes, and then we'll be cleaning up,
you know, And I wish that I had that I
did that more because it's cooking is good. When we

(40:43):
come back, we'll go inside the mind of a chef
during a busy dinner service at a world class restaurant,

(41:12):
a short one, he looked. It's one thing, and a
good thing to talk about awareness, but it's something else
entirely to see it in action. Per SES. Executive chef
Corey Chow was kind enough not only to invite us
into record service, he also agreed to wear two special

(41:33):
microphones attached to a headset that looks like earbuds. He
and his team stole a few seconds from their busy
night to joke about it. They're recording with It's sad
to be here? How long don't you fool? Are yes?
What hearing? Aid? I need to hearing aid. I'm the

(41:54):
oldest here when it comes to awareness. Chefs like Corey
are at the top of the field. He's at the past.
Before a rolling steel table covered with a white cloth
and the night's menus are affixed to it with green
painters tape. He's reading tickets, expediting finishing plates, leading a

(42:14):
team of chefs fore shore rim necks. And then we're
out on five short rib one by one dry age
one by one dry age means Corey's ordering two of
the dry age beef dish for different tables. That one

(42:35):
will be followed by the other. You're out on one
dry one short rib. That's three dry as all day.
No three dry age all day all day means not
just the last order, but all the orders of say
dry age that have been called. That's three follows, civil
follows and six short rib were out one finish one risotto.

(43:05):
One risotto is gonna pick up with four or five
six six poulard. After six pollard and a risotto, we're
gonna go into four short rip. Do you want to
go all of them? Pick up two drives? Four short

(43:25):
rib you can have. We just need one sauce follow
yea and I have my bean. After that, Kelsey, we're
gonna go into four pollard. Let's start grilling off one
by one dry age and in between commands he'll lower

(43:49):
his voice to conduct other conversations, one with me. I
took the time to ask him some questions about the
new book we're working on with Keller. No, we do
different variations of the sauce. So the one in the
book is just the basic um chicken reduction. But this
one they actually made it with a vin jotted reduction,

(44:09):
so we infused flavors by by kayavacing it. I think
this one we did uh two parts ginger ale to
one part ginger beer, cook it and milk sugar and
a little bit of a sorbic acid, and then we
glaze it. We dip it in a little glaze of
white as ferry dis juice. Another first class example of

(44:31):
awareness and practice is the work of per Ses expedit
or Yu ming Chan. Not only is he also reading
tickets and commanding his team, but his squad of suited
food runners are mostly out of sight. Thanks to yours
of practicing awareness, he knows when there are only a
few steps away from returning and begins to assign them
new plates to carry in perfect rhythm. Well, these two

(44:57):
star rets to thirty fo on three on your way
back yet and with great manners to one for no
much from no problems two by two by one who's
pretty for me as well? Jeff shortby no crumble two

(45:28):
dry to eight you have two short risk table three
team three corrects. I'll take two quoshes here by thirty four.
And one of the best things we heard during this
recording with Corey and the team was the sound of
several micro teams working together. They all have to be
aware of what the others are doing. It's teams working

(45:49):
in tandem. Spontaneous organic organization and orchestration. Arcat on one Risotto,
want team start grilling off? One by five dry age Yes,

(46:17):
four Poolard nets to rizzle by yourself, Clark behind four Poolard, Kelsey,
you're out on table. You're out on one, two, three, four,

(46:38):
you got on six more Poolard. That may have sounded chaotic,
but in fact it's actually quite simple. It's always been simple.
I mean, when you think about cooking, it simple. You know,
I tell if I tell the young staff all the time,
if what you're doing is hard, you're probably doing it wrong.
You know, there's a better way to do it, because
nothing that we do is hard, really, I mean, you

(47:01):
know it's you're you've got nice skills. You're you're roasting
a piece of meat, you stan uh some vegetables, you're
making a risotto. I mean, think about each and you
know this to be true more than most people. It
gets down to the basic, basic skills. And if you
employ the basic skills correctly, it's not hard. Again, if
it's hard, you're probably doing it wrong. Just be aware.

(47:29):
Special thanks to k Gardner, Thomas Keller, Corey Chow and
their teams at the French Laundry and per Se. My
new book is out now. It's also called From Scratch,
but it's all about cooking ten meals that can teach
us all we need to know in the kitchen. We'll
have a link to it in the show notes and
on my say ruman dot com. From Scratch the podcast

(47:52):
is produced by Jonathan Hawes Dressler. Our executive producer is
Christopher Hasiotis are supervising docer is Gabrielle Collins. The music
is by Ryan Scott off his album A Freak Grows
in Brooklyn. From Scratches, a production of I Heart Radio.
For more podcasts from my Heart Radio, visit the I

(48:13):
Heart Radio Apple Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to
your favorite shows h
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