Classic dishes are those that have stood the test of time: steak with Béarnaise, chicken Cordon Bleu, French onion soup are the first that pop into my mind. There’s a reason these dishes have outlived others—they’re delicious. A classic recipe has a distinct combination of flavors and/or features a certain cooking technique. I have great respect for the classics, which is why I have worked on this compilation with such fervor. But sometimes the classics get lost in our daily shuffle of menu choices. Often the method is too time-intensive for our “I have 20 minutes to get supper ready” schedules, or the grocery list is longer than our to-do list for the week, or perhaps the “old school” recipe is just too rich for our nutritionally sensitive palates. All good things worth preserving can be improved upon, however. Those classic techniques and classic flavor combinations can be updated, while at the same time still respecting how they came about.
New Ways with the Classics Oh, I like the “old ways” too. In a professional restaurant kitchen, I’m more than happy to make lobster or shrimp bisque the old-fashioned way, by crushing the shells (which can be done in a giant industrial mixer!) to extract their flavor and proceed to make a giant mess. But in my home kitchen, my thinking and way of cooking changes. How can I make the same bisque without compromising flavor? (Check out the recipe on page 16 to find out how.) The “new ways” involve looking for efficiencies within the recipe or within the contemporary kitchen itself. I am looking to simplify techniques, but only if it makes sense and does not compromise flavor. Often, I am sticking to classic flavor combinations but presenting it in a different, sometimes healthier format—my Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini (page 39) is a particular favorite. At the same time, there are a number of recipes I wish to share with you that are simply classics in my own repertoire. They may not have a history on fine dining restaurant menus, but they may be staples of mine, consistently made over the years. respect for the craft I have learned so much from others as I write and share, and I recognize that discourse is vital to growing and finding “new ways” to cook. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that cooking is essentially a trade. We have glamorized cooking to some extent, on television and in beautiful cookbooks, and I am happy with that since it has allowed me to share what I do with the world. But cooking is a craft, a trade—it can takes years of practice, and when you write the exam for chef’s papers, you do it alongside other tradespeople like electricians and plumbers, who are required to fulfill an apprenticeship period before they can qualify themselves. I remind myself of this, and it keeps me humble. This business is not about self, it’s about hospitality—in other words, serving and catering to others. To be qualified means to respect techniques that work, and to practice them. Once I made the switch from savory cooking to baking, I found that my cooking improved because I had gained a deeper understanding of the science of what happens in the kitchen and the importance of technique. And getting to know the rules has also allowed me to bend and stretch them a bit, and understand when and where I can make changes and explain the “why” behind it. Enjoy In the end, what counts is that you enjoy the process of cooking as much as the end result. Regardless of whether you decide to master a new technique, try a new taste or read one of my tales geared toward showing you my reason for loving the recipe, what I wish most is that you build your own culinary memory, making some of the dishes in this book your own new classics.