03 April 2013

I loved Adam Gopnik's piece in the April 1st New Yorker about the great chef André Soltner.  For 34 years he owned the spectacular French restaurant, Lutèce, in NYC.  Mr. Soltner lived above his restaurant, as chefs typically did in earlier days, and he spent every night of those nearly three-and-and-half decades in his dining room welcoming his guests, overseeing service, making sure things were right.  I twice had the pleasure of cooking with him at Chez Panisse (accompanying him were Alain Sailhac and Jacques Pépin) for a fund raising dinner for the French Culinary Institute, now called the International Culinary Center, in Manhattan.  He's an elegant, gracious, unpretentious man who, sensing our intimidation, said to us gently, "I chop onions for a living, just like you do."  I met him again last year at a dinner in NYC, and he remembered what we'd cooked nearly 15 years earlier.  Few are like him.  He's a god to us cooks, a chef who knows everything from Garde-manger (in the proper sense) to Pâtisserie, and can explain and cook any of it on a moment's notice.   He comes from the Old School of apprenticeship and endless practice that defines the 10,000 hour paradigm and marks the road to his towering mastery.  That's why he can make a Sauce Béarnaise without seemingly giving it a thought.  That's not quite true, we know, but it sure seems like it.   If only there were more like him for us learn from, to hold onto that tradition, so young cooks didn't have improvise without a net, as they often do nowadays.

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