Saturday, May 24, 2008

"Chef - what's your secret ingredient?"

I've heard this question many times: "Chef - what's your secret ingredient?" Or: "I used the same recipe but your stuff tastes much better!" Adding: "I guess that's why you're a chef and I'm not."

Maybe so. But maybe I'm not following the "same" recipe always to the letter. To be honest, I never follow any recipe exactly how it is written. I always change something.

One of my "secrets" is the following principle: I always add a little more of the good stuff - sugar, butter, yolks, vanilla, cream, booze, etc. Not too much, though - I wouldn't want to distort the proportions.

You can't write something like that into a recipe - it's intuition, love, play, passion, cooking music - whatever you want to call it. You are in the "zone". Something deep inside of you communicates with the developing dish. It's not rational. You kind of get out of the way, let the dish take over and influence your actions - adding, stirring, folding-in, baking time, heat, seasoning, and a few other aspects. Whatever you do, you stay "connected" with the dish until it's done. (If you can't get into the "zone", just add 10-15% more of the ingredients your doctor warned you about.)

And then there is the talk about adding "love" to the food. I believe that concept to be real - caring energy transforming the molecules of the dish. It's basic metaphysics, as I understand it: everything is energy transmuted into matter by our perception. I literally "create" a great meal - with my mind as well as with my hands.

When I'm in the "zone" I project a variety of thoughts and emotions into the foods I'm preparing. There's pride in my profession, in my skills, and in my knowledge. I'm focused on doing the best that I can to cook a great-tasting meal. I want to impress the eaters with flavors and proper preparations. My goal is to satisfy their appetites, to still their hunger, and to provide them with a profound sense of well-being and comfort. I truly care about my guests.

And when I see pleasure-filled faces, and when I hear "oohs" and "mmhs" and "aahs" - I forget the hard work and the meager pay - I'm happy.

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