When I arrived in N.O. the night before the audition I still had to finish a few questions on the 12-page application. So I dropped into Emeril's original restaurant in the Warehouse District for a glass of wine and an appetizer, the application in hand. I also knew there was a food bar - seating that overlooks the open kitchen - and since I was alone it would be great fun to watch the kitchen team in action.
When I started my cooking newsletter, I mentioned that I've never been in a professional kitchen. Sitting in this spot, I was closer than I had ever been, and got to see every station at work. You're so close to the grill station that you get pretty warm sitting there. Once things calmed down toward that end of a night I could chat with the staff, including the grillman, Killer. I think his real name is Jason or Jeremy, but he said there were three of them there with the same name, so he's Killer.
I had ordered an appetizer of baby octopus served over creamy polenta. I'll tell you, people knock Emeril for being so commercialized, but this dish was awesome. With a glass of "The Prisoner", a great red blend from California, I was settling in comfortably.
I got down to business to finalize the important parts of the questionnaire:
- What is your cooking philosophy or point of view? Constant variety in the kitchen - new recipes and ingredients; always looking for highest quality ingredients and techniques that let multiple flavors come through.
- Who influenced your cooking the most. Why? Pierre Franey - he took traditional French cooking techniques and applied them to home cooking in an effective manner - retaining those multiple layers or flavor. His 60 Minute Gourmet column was an important part of courting my wife.
- What are your favorite cookbooks? Gourmet Today, Gourmet, Molto Italiano (Batali), Cuisine Rapide (Franey), How To Cook Everything, various by Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter......
Oh - how does this little story help YOU become a better cook? Let me share the key parts of my philosophy / point of view thing with you:
- Use a small number of high quality sources to obtain recipes. Randomly buying cookbooks, or downloading recipes can lead to frustration and average results.
- Challenge yourself to cook new recipes and use new ingredients. Break out of weekly / monthly routines as best you can.
- Find high quality ingredients. Learn which stores around you carry the best produce, meats, seafood. Learn how to pick out the freshest and highest quality items among the ones offered.
- Commit to yourself to improve your cooking techniques - from prepping ingredients, to stovetop skills, to oven and baking techniques. You won't improve unless you try to improve.
Next up: The Audition