The Accessibility Of Being A Personal Chef
One of the privileges of being a personal chef is to be offered a window into the families of others. There are times when something clicks, and the fascination of cooking takes hold. Fine dining does not only satisfy those of us who have spent our entire lives in pursuit of wonderful food, exploring the worlds of cuisine (which are infinite). Food and cooking are accessible to everyone, no matter your age or level of interest. In fact, I’d say that this is one of the aspects of fine dining that is so convincing for me: accessibility. Whereas at one age I was creating worlds out of legos or in a sandbox, now I love making tiny worlds out of the delicate ingredients with which we populate our plates. Additionally, everyone loves eating fancy food, especially when it is facilitated by a private chef who makes everything very easy and tangible. The combination is just so inviting: not only is all of the heavy lifting done and over with, but the setting is a familiar one. A professional chef comes into your house, and in the space that everyone loves most, where everyone is the most comfortable – the kitchen – assembles these gorgeous worlds of delicious foods without the propriety of the restaurant acting as a cultural barrier. Every so often, this food magic enchants one of the onlookers and suddenly Gmarket Chef has another member of the team. And the very best team members we could ask for are children.
In the case of the night in question, our newest member was Margo. But before we get into our newest line cook, we over at Gmarket Chef would just like to thank Phil for this opportunity to be a part of the family for a night. It was clear that the celebration we were cooking for was a family tradition. There was a simple caveat: that grandma was not to set foot in the kitchen and “help” us as we prepared the gratuitous 4-course meal. I understand that I have prefaced this article by extolling the virtues of audience participation, but evidently this hard-working grandma needed a well-earned vacation from kitchen work. I mean, before we even had a chance to set up our gear this woman was practically forcing homemade cookies down our throats (they were delicious… all three different kinds). So we played along with this rule, but that didn’t mean that Margo – one of the youngest in the clan – had to sit by and watch as we prepared the meal. As soon as she saw that we were carefully leafing edible flowers for garnish she was both feet in, and the fun didn’t stop all the way through dessert.
Fine Dining “Highly Distilled Junk Food”
This menu is what chef Frank declared to be, “superfine dining.” But I’ve also heard Frank describe fine dining as “highly distilled junk food,” so when he aims at the highest level of food preparation, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t familiar notes of childhood-favorite-foods used. One of our go-to garnishes for steak is made with Fritos crushed up and sprinkled for a shot of texture, salt, and fat. How about a streusel topping for dessert made with cinnamon toast crunch? Or some Apples chopped fine julienne and macerated in mountain dew? Can you see how these elements might attract the attention of a child? We seek to not only elevate the food we eat to a level that can be appreciated in a refined way but to awaken the inner child in all of us that yearns for the comfort of eating the foods we have known and loved from the very beginning. And besides, we are American, are we not? This particular family celebration was the perfect night to pull the stops on some of these comfort foods: spending time with family is defined so broadly by the foods we eat together. Not just the foods which are painstakingly prepared for special meals, but the foods we eat late at night when we are spending time with loved ones we have missed for the entire year, watching movies and snuggling up on the coach escaping from the winter cold outside. We took this opportunity to draw on all of these elements for this meal.
Personal Chefs Treat Carrots Right!
Gmarket Chef is a huge proponent of Thomas Keller-inspired food, so there is a heavy French influence in the dishes prepared as well. We started with a layered carrot dish – a variety of rainbow carrots all roasted to perfection and dressed with three different types of vinegar: layering the flavor of the carrots over and over for the most extreme carrot experience. Sesame crusted dates, granola, and radishes provided more sweet notes and yet more texture. The garnish for this dish, of course, was an edible flower. This is where Margo caught the bug and she was helping us plate the entire meal from then on.
Next, a pasta dish: Parisienne gnocchi with creme fraiche, brie, macerated apples, pesto, and pork belly sous vide for about twelve hours. Not only was this dish simply luxuriant to the point of being an absolute sin, but Frank had the opportunity to sneak his favorite soda into the sweet element of the dish for balance (you guessed it… Mountain Dew). It may be true that this note was not prominent but it adds to the mythology behind the dish, like one of those magic bullet type kitchen secrets – we all have a few.
The main course was filet mignon, which we started in the pan with butter and finished in the oven. Served on a smear of potatoes ecrase, accompanied by a compressed potato dish made of tater tots cut into perfect squares and subsequently fried to perfection (mind blown). The textural quality of the fried potatoes layered with the “puree” simply elevates the traditional side dish to a level that we don’t often get to experience. For dessert, we served a pound cake with a variety of creams, macerated berries and the cinnamon toast crunch streusel I referred to earlier.
Future Chef’s Watch Out!
So let’s talk about Margo just for a second. It was not long before this girl simply announced herself onto the scene in a very sassy way, claiming with absolute pride that she had invented the ritz cracker sandwich (with cheese if you haven’t guessed already). I replied to her that I actually invented that sandwich and insisted that she share the recipe with me. Soon after she was an anointed private chef, peeling the leaves of edible flowers at the orders of chef Frank. Not only did Margo provide us with help getting all of the hot plates on the table at the same time, but she provided a window for the other kids who were scampering about to take a peak in the kitchen and discover what was happening. Once that social barrier has been breached, it’s as if the honorary family inclusion statute is in place.
One cannot underestimate the power of a child. Because of the participation on the part of Margo, we were able to comfortably handle our business as private chefs. When it comes to catering (total disclosure here) stress plays a huge part in the execution of an event. Whatever is planned is pretty much guaranteed to turn out a bit different, and those slight diversions from the original plan are what has to be expected, if that paradox makes any sense at all. When setting up for an event we have to assess the resources of the space we enter: perhaps there is only three square feet of counter space. Perhaps items have to be finished in an electric oven. Perhaps there is very little space to navigate between the kitchen and the dining room… or there may be inadequate seating for the diners. All of these things have happened, and they will happen again in many forms. But when someone like Margo comes along and simply jumps us into the family, everyone is reminded that we are all present as a part of a whole. Working together, in order to be together and celebrate.
All said Margo made for a great assistant, Grandma didn’t do any of the dishes, and the dog didn’t eat everyone’s family dinner… but what is even more of a success to us is that I have the opportunity to write such a sentence. It means that through the lens of fine dining we were able to actually become a part of this family for one special night. We could not only just provide a couple bites of incredible notes to make up a delicious meal, but to carry on a family tradition. As personal chefs we are grateful to not only share in the appreciation of great food with others, but to temporarily be a part of the sacred family meals over which we endure generation after generation.