Friday, November 9, 2007

"The List of Five"

I keep a list of the five worst dishes I have ever created for those times when I start to get a little to uppity about how good I think I am. They are all found early in my career but they were all so bad I can still remember to this day how bad they really were. They are as follows in no particular order: 1) Asparagus Consume. This looked very much like dirty dish water and tasted almost as bad. 2) Foie Gras Crepe Souffle. Think of a greasy, very thin pancake with some egg stuff in the middle of it. Nice. 3) Grilled Pear Cactus with Black Bean Sauce. Just when South Western Cuisine could not get any worse I popped this flavorless wonder on an unsuspecting public. 4) Cream of Barley Soup. Yes, I now know barley has a ton of starch in it and it's a very bad idea to hit it with an immersion blender. The best way to understand this one is to open a pail of wall paper paste and dig in. 5) Cherry Clafouti. A truly magnificent dish when properly made. I misread the recipe and doubled the amount of flour. Needless to say it had an impressive bounce. I have made it with success a number of times since my first attempt but the first one was bad enough to warrant a place on my list of five. When I was younger I was too insecure about my cooking abilities and much too embarrassed to recall these dishes to anyone else but now that I have grown older and a much more secure in my cooking I can let the world know without caring what anyone thinks and lately I have started to look at this list in a different light. My wife and I were reading through Dr. Gregory Stock's The Book of Questions recently when we ran upon a question that asked which consecutive three year period of my life have I seen the most growth. After some thought I answered the last three. I am 40 years old and one would think that significant growth should have taken place in my earlier years but no, the last three took the prize, with the last one and a half seeing the most. Just like my list of five worst dishes, I also have a list of the five worst personal mistakes, ranging from quite early in my life up to the somewhat recent. Now, I am not going to share that list with the world but be assured I am more troubled about these items than those committed in the kitchen. What's good about cooking is if you totally mess up a dish it is easy to just toss it and chock it up to experience and begin again, but in life things don't always fix so easily, some of the ingredients that made my life so good are too rare and expensive as to be found again and used to make another batch. When I look at that list of five worst dishes of all time two thoughts come to mind. First, success as a chef comes from throwing away a lot of mistakes, and second, it's not the fault of the ingredients that make a dish bad but the choices the chef makes in preparing those ingredients that makes a dish great or not. An old woman once said, "When I look back at all the sins in my life I smile, but when I was stupid I cannot forgive myself." If only I would have learned as quickly in life as I did in the kitchen I would still have some of those masterpieces to share.

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