Meeting Thomas Keller, how ever briefly

December 4th, 2009 Comments off

Last night we went to the San Francisco Williams Sonoma flagship store for an invite only book signing by Thomas Keller, owner of the French Laundry, Bouchon, Per Se, and Ad Hoc. He is touring for his latest book, Ad Hoc At Home, an excellent book (of course) with recipes from the restaurant, which servers a fixed 4 course dinner that changes every day. It’s served family style and a lot more casual than the French Laundry.

I’m not sure why we got the invite, it’s not like we spend thousands of dollars at William’s Sonoma, but we jumped on the occasion nonetheless. Where else am I gonna meet one of the best chefs alive today?

Friends came over to watch our kids (thanks Eric and Jubilee!!) and off we went, taking bart to Powell Street and walking up to Union Square. The store occupies a gorgeous old building right next to Tiffany’s. It’s 3 stories high, possibly the largest WS store anywhere. The special treat was that aside of the signing Thomas Keller and crew served little bits and pieces to eat, all from recipes in the book, and the Williams Sonoma wine club offered tasting of some of their wines. (Other book signing are just that, you buy the book and get it signed). The store was very busy, looked like it’s the day before Christmas and people are out to buy last minute gifts. Of course, most just had heavy bags with one or more of the book to get signed.

Friendly wait staff came by with trays of food at all times, we tasted the buttermilk fried chicken (for which Keller also sells a little set in a bag with everything you need), braised short ribs, meat balls, shrimp, cauliflower soup, and some sweets. Everything was of course excellent, I can’t wait to cook from this book! I’m just about done with my no shopping for a week (well, almost 3 weeks, see prior post) and plan to tackle the fried chicken and that awesome soup very soon.

I already own the book, but to get it signed you had to buy a copy there (though I probably could have smuggled it in, they did not check for receipts). On a whim I bought two, just in case :-)

We moved around the store and went to the 2nd floor for a glass wine, when a friendly girl asked us if we’re here to line up for the signing, and we ended up the first people in line on the 2nd floor. Apparently the line on the third floor was already full! So we got in line, my wife watched the books while I got us some wine and we waited, nibbling on the occasional food floating by. Eventually we could move on to the next floor, from where we could catch the occasional glimpse of Thomas Keller’s back all the way at the top. I did not time it, and the line did move pretty quick, excitement building as we moved onward and upward. Some of the staff came around with post it notes taking down the names the books were to be signed to, I guess that helps with avoiding misspelled names or having people spell out their name to the person signing, a good idea.

Finally we reached the 3rd floor and moved closer to the table where Thomas Keller was sitting, accompanied by Chef Dave Cruz, the chef de cuisine at Ad Hoc.

Chefs Dave Cruz and Thomas Keller

Chefs Dave Cruz and Thomas Keller

Once we reached the front of the line Thomas Keller took a short break to speak with a man in wheelchair and have pictures taken, then he resumed his position behind the table and my books were given to him. He seemed very happy and friendly, shaking our hands and proceeding to sign my book to me with artistic elan, as well as signing my 2nd book.

signed Ad Hoc at Home

signed Ad Hoc at Home

I am glad that I got to mention that I learned more about cooking from him than anybody else before we had the photo taken and that was it. Our brush with fame, with one of the best chefs alive was over. We went towards the back to watch some staff prepare some of the food and I took a couple more photos on the way back past the table and that was that. Somehow I missed to have chef Cruz also sign the book, I’m not sure if he had left for a moment or if the hustle and friendly “move along now guys” by the staff distracted me. Probably I was just starstruck :-) But hey, I can always drive over to Yountville and eat at Ad Hoc, see if I can get him to sign it for me then (and apologize for the oversight).

I’m very glad we made the trip, it was great fun to sample some of the food and it was a great honor to meet Chef Keller! Hopefully some rubbed off when we shook hands and took the photo. I just mentioned it today elsewhere, the French Laundry Cookbook has changed how I think about food, how I cook, how I shop and what I buy and eat. It had tremendous influence on me in more ways than I can tell or even know about.

Thomas Keller struck me as a very nice and humble person, he did not have any star attitude, just a friendly guy happy to see so many fans come by to see him. I won’t forget this meeting, and since chances are slim that I’ll ever run into him elsewhere again – unless he puts out an other book (Ad Hoc?), this is a cherished moment in my cooking life.

Chef Thomas Keller and me

Chef Thomas Keller and me

On the way home we decided to give the 2nd signed book to our friends, as a thanks for watching the kids and they had given us fun gifts in the past, from some of their travels. They also really appreciate good food and cooking and love to cook, I’m sure we’ll invite each other over for a little tasting of one or the other dishes very soon and I’m happy to share Thomas Keller’s and his associates cooking wide and far. As I’m not a millionaire to take them all to the French Laundry, the book will have to do for now :-)

Did I mention that I highly recommend it? Aside of the recipes it’s full of tips and great photos on some of the tricks of the trade. Hey, Christmas is coming up! Get yourself a copy or give one to a loved one!

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No shopping for a week, part 2

December 4th, 2009 Comments off

Well, assorted things going on kept me from updating this blog for a while, sorry about that.

I’m edging up on week three of no shopping, except some essentials like bread, salad, milk, etc. This exercise makes you realize how much food you have in the house, hidden away in freezers, pantries, cup boards and who knows where. Pretty amazing and I’ll be adjusting my shopping habits quite a bit, it makes little sense to have this much food in the house.

I think it’s probably more interesting to read not only my experiences, but those of other too, so instead of repeating my posts on egullet, head on over there and read the entire thread, it’s located here:

No shopping for a week

We ate very well over the last 2+ weeks, and I used my cookbooks much more than usual, which was fun too. I baked bread, smoked bacon, and cooked a lot of great recipes! I’d suggest you try this too sometime, just don’t shop for a week and eat what you have. A bit of a challenge at times, but you’ll be amazed how much you have on hand, and how much money you will save at the same time!

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The no shopping for a week (or longer) challenge

November 18th, 2009 Comments off

A couple of months ago my online friends at egullet.org came up with an interesting challenge: don’t shop for food for a week or more, and only use what you have. I was intrigued by the idea, but never got past reading along with them, while happily filling my house with more food.

Well, they’re at it again, and this time I decided to join in. I probably have enough food to last us until next year, aside of fresh fruit, salad, veggies and milk.

So, here are my rules for this week and probably more:

No more shopping for food except for what the kids need fresh, like milk. I won’t buy any major food items, the only things I allow myself is maybe some special spice or sauce I might need for a particular dish to work myself through the freezer. I’ll also try to finally bake my own bread again, and make some pasta and pizza dough from scratch, projects I had planned for anyway.

First night’s dinner was rib eye steaks with oven roasted beans, self made potato chips (i.e. thinly sliced potatoes, parboiled and then fried to finish) and sauteed crimini mushrooms. Turned out great.

Lunch will be a piece of an other sülze I made with turkey. Basically turkey with veggies in chicken broth based aspic. Yumm!

This challenge makes me realize just how much food we have in the house, I really think we could live a month with no problem. Would not have salad, but there are frozen and canned things, rices and beans, potatoes and lots more.

Now I’m thinking about setting up a simple proofing chamber and start feeding my sourdough starter so I can bake some bread this weekend.

Hopefully I’ll think of taking some photos along the way :-)

2nd night dinner was going to be something with pork tenderloin. I had a vision of cubed pork tenderloin in Asian sauce on skewers on the bbq, maybe some apple on there too, rice, salad. Sadly once thawed ,the meat had an off smell despite that I froze it right after I bought it. Even after a thorough washing it had a sour smell and was somewhat grainy on the outside. I could not bring myself to cook with it. Ne resolution: from now on I will unpack every shrink wrapped piece of meat I buy, inspect it, and then vac-seal it again for freezing. Then I could at least return it if it’s bad…

So I decided to pull out some wild mushroom and truffle flat breads from Trader Joe’s, along with one 3 cheese flatbread. I still made a nice salad, one quarter of a gigantic avocado from the Asian market, pomegranate, persimmon, wild arugula, olive oil and sherry vinegar, s&p. Of course, I did not expect some what ever it was that fell/dripped down in my oven to burn. Literally. I open the oven and there’s a small pile of something on fire on the oven floor! Now, that’s a new one! What ever was down there was either new or had hidden very well before, I sure did not see a big fat lump of something down there when I turned it on. Needless to say that you can smoke some things in some ways to deliciousness. Well, now I know you can also smoke things into something almost inedible….

You know, just one of those days. Started with a dropped cup of coffee in the hallway. The one with carpet. A flat tire on my wife’s car, a misscheduled surprise playdate for my boy, more complicated faimly home work than I realized, fire smoked flat breads, just an odd day.

I don’t eat breakfast, made English muffins with Nutella for the kids and a sandwich for my wife to take to work. Lunch was mac&cheese for the kids, they’ve been after me for days for that, and I finished my poultry in aspik Sülze thing with some bread.
I did find an other pork tenderloin in the freezer, this one seems just fine, so I’ll be making the pork with raisins and pine nuts and balsamico from Marcella Hazan’s book tonight. Glad I found that recipe as I have an open package of pine nuts waiting to get eaten in the fridge. Salad will be some more of the gigantic avocado, persimmon from the inlaw’s garden, the other pomegranate I have and wild arugula. Might make some rice to go along with the meat.

I did buy more milk and English muffins today for the kids, there’s just no way around that. And minor cheat (I hope), some extra herb salad. And coffee.

Now, I just got word that my 1/6th of a cow will arrive tomorrow and a small turkey on Tue. All this was ordered weeks ago and of course has to show up in my no shopping week. I might use some of the fresh beef instead of thawing what I have, depending on the cuts I’ll get. Since I bought this stuff weeks ago, I’m not sure it qualifies as shopping. But since I have assorted poultry and beef in the freezer too, it probably doesn’t matter much.

I must say that it felt a bit strange to walk out of Safeway with one gal of milk, 3 packs of English Muffins and one box of salad (plus the coffee). I had to keep my eyes from wandering and my brain from wanting….

As for condiments, I could probably feed a small army with pickled things, sauces, powders, dried leaves, curries, etc. That’s what I’m actually really looking forward to with this experiment – going shopping at home and discovering hidden treasures!

Having fun so far :-)

Oh, and my sourdough starter just finished it’s first round of re-activating, off to it’s next feeding and I can turn the light in my cooler (improvised proofing box) off. Couple more days and I’ll be baking some real San Francisco Sourdough. Yes, they make it just down the road from me, but this will be selfmade and not shopped for. Well, aside of the ingredients of course.
I also see a sourdough pizza in my near future, I’m just starting a canned tomato tasting project and have 5 or 6 or so different brands to play with.

LOL, I’m starting to wonder if I secretly planned to open a small food store here???

We have an other surprise play date, this time for my little 2 year old. Friends are prepping their place for sale and their little boy is here to play with Mia. Hopefully I’ll be able to work on dinner w/o the rest of the house turning in to chaos :-D

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