A Conversation with Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman
Many Clevelanders are drawn to the Fabulous Food Show to see TV celebrities like Guy Fieri, Tyler Florance, and Sandra Lee. In the opinion of many food lovers, the true stars appeared on Friday night when Michael Ruhlman and Thomas Keller held an open conversation around Keller's new book, Ad Hoc at Home.
Food writer and Cleveland native Michael Ruhlman started the conversation with the story of how he came to write the The French Laundry Cookbook with Thomas Keller, the visionary chef of the a family of fine restaurants. "It was all because I lived in Cleveland," he related. Ruhlman had a conversation with food media specialist Susie Heller who lived in Cleveland and was looking for a writer. Ruhlman thus began a now ten year long friendship with Keller.
The talk continued with an overview of Keller's food philosophy. "Other than nourishment, food is also nurturing," Keller said, a theme repeated throughout the evening. "[It is] so, so important about food: nurturing and memories."
Ruhlman moved the conversation to practical advice for home cooks. To his question about what makes a good cook, Keller replied "It's all about repetition."
Home cooks can elevate their cooking with consideration to two things: product and execution. Product is what you buy as raw ingredients. Keller and Ruhlman agreed that consumers have improved grocery store selections in the last twenty years by being choosy with their purchases. Ruhlman urged cooks to continue talking to grocery store managers and farmers market vendors demanding higher quality.
Home cooks can improve their execution by practicing solid organization. Mise en place (the act of preparing and setting aside components before beginning to cook) has its place in the home kitchen.
Cooks must not be afraid of their food. They need to touch and feel the food at every point in the cooking process. Use all the senses to observe and adjust techniques. Temper meats by allowing them to come up to room temperature before cooking. Use salt throughout the cooking process.
At many points in the conversation, Keller emphasized the importance of seasoning. When Ruhlman asked how home cooks can train their palette, Keller suggested using spinach. Try cooking spinach alone, then adding salt little by little until the flavor of the vegetable is fully heightened. Keller actually carries salt in his pocket at all times to season meals to his taste.
The conversation then turned to food sourcing, particularly local foods. Keller clarified that delicious heritage proteins are available year round, so seasonal ingredients are typically fruits and vegetables. "I love vegetables so much," he swooned. Enjoying produce in season creates rituals. When something comes back into season, cooks have the opportunity to remember the last season and savor the flavors.
Keller proclaimed that California has the best produce in the country. He said it is "difficult to mass produce high quality food." Home cooks always enjoy high quality food when they buy in season and cook at home.