The Book of the Week is “Don’t Try This At Home” edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman, published in 2005. This is a compilation of anecdotes from chefs who encountered some difficult situations during their careers. Some told of “making lemons from lemonade” and others gave a general overview of their experiences.
Four chefs whose stories were particularly intriguing, include Daniel Boulud, David Burke, Marcus Samuelsson and Geoffrey Zakarian.
Boulud recounted an episode in which, as culinary chairman of a fundraising event, he and his staff and extra hired help were required to make 1,200 servings of pea soup. The “400 pounds of a variety of five peas” were to be stored in “25-gallon stainless steel containers set in ice water.” Certain people failed to stir the soup hourly overnight, as they should have done, so it fermented. The next morning, “All twelve hundred servings’ worth, was sour, useless garbage.” The guests would be arriving that evening and were expecting high-end pea soup.
Burke is another chef who also saw a serious problem for which he had to come up with a solution quickly. He was supposed to cater a man’s fiftieth birthday party at which there would be a surprise dessert, envisioned by the wife. She wanted a greatly enlarged, custom-made French dessert (“floating islands”) that would serve 200 guests. However, all of the meringues to be used in the dish collapsed, producing a very unprofessional look. It could not be presented at the end of the meal. What to do?
It was a language barrier that caused the Swedish-speaking Samuelsson excessive grief while he was working at a restaurant in Switzerland. This was on New Years’ Eve, no less– one of the biggest nights of the year for business. He was asked to make terrine, which required proper setting of gelatine. He had never used powdered gelatine before, could not understand the German, French and Italian instructions on the package, and did not ask anyone for help. The resulting concoction smelled bad, and resembled bathtub mold. Was it too late to salvage the situation? Samuelsson’s anecdote was the only one in the whole book that exhibited admission of error and true introspection. Kudos to him.
Zakarian tells of how he became a foodie. When he fell in love with France on a college assignment, he scrapped his academic plans to enjoy the fine food there instead. Even so, as a starving student, he led a frugal existence, until two strokes of great good luck allowed him to partake of more luxury than otherwise.