"I don't get to come here often," Thomas Keller said to a morning audience at this past weekend's Aspen Food & Wine Classic. There's no question the godfather of all restaurant chefs has been busy, between his nine restaurants, six Michelin stars, cookbooks, and Bocuse d'Or leadership, so it was a rare treat to watch him demonstrate how to prepare homemade preserves out of his award-winning cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home.
While Keller demonstrated the versatility of sweet onion tapenade, cured lemons, and mushroom conserva, he revealed his sense of humor when he spoke about being in the first group of Best New Chefs 22 years ago, preparing a lobster dish that was served in a resident's home. "After 600 lobsters, I'm sure that home was never the same again," he joked. The chef also offered plenty of useful advice. To check it out, keep reading.
- Consider pepper a condiment, not a seasoning. When I asked the chef a question about pepper, he launched into a diatribe about how pepper is mistakenly considered to be a seasoning. "Salt is a seasoning because it enhances flavor," he said, "but pepper changes flavor." He doesn't put pepper in dishes unless he is looking for a distinct peppercorn flavor.
- Acid, on the other hand, is a seasoning. It should be added to enhance flavor, but if it's used correctly, its pucker shouldn't be detectable in a dish.
- Use your own skills to make a recipe your own. Keller cites Fernand Point's Ma Gastronomie — a book that contained a chef's notes, rather than recipes — as the first influential cooking book in his life.
- When sautéing, always err on the side of using more oil than less; if you find you have too much oil, you can always take it out.
- When cooking with eggs, chef Keller prefers to use nonstick pans to achieve a perfect fry or scramble.
If you had the chance to watch chef Keller in action, what culinary questions would you ask him?