Cod, An Experiment In The Evolution Of Food

I ate the cod brandade at Bouchon in Las Vegas several years ago and it stuck in the back of my mind because it’s such a quintessential bistro food with some serious history behind its evolution.

I recently read a book by Mark Kurlansky, Cod, a biography of the fish that changed the world. It’s a great read and while I was reading there it was again, the brandade.

Brandade, meaning “something that is pummeled” is believed by some to have originated in Nimes, but is more commonly associated with Provence.

The dish made it to Paris by the French revolution and never left. In 1894, writer Alphonse Daubet started a circle that met at Café Voltaire on Place de l’Odeon for a regular diner de la brandade.

In 1886 salted cod was decreed an official part of the enlisted man’s mess in the French Army. As salted cod became more expensive potatoes were added, the original brandade had none. American Sara Josepha Hale wrote in her 1841 book, The Good Housekeeper, “The salted codfish is cheap food, if potatoes are used freely with it.

Upon my recommendation, my son Dylan is currently reading Larousse Gastronomique, which has an original version called Acra, also known as Acras De Morue. This would be version one.

Version two would be Thomas Keller’s version which contains potatoes, Beignets de Brandade de Morue.

Box of salted codfish

Version one - Acras De Morue, tomato confit, roasted red pepper garlic oil, baby chives.

Version two - Beignets de Brandade de Morue, tomato confit, roasted red pepper garlic oil, baby chives.

Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Melange A Biscuits Avec Morceaux De Chocolat

I usually don’t do this; I’m not America’s Test Kitchen who methodically ranks food and kitchen equipment, but I have some very strong feelings about this so please stick with me on this post.

I was in Williams Sonoma yesterday doing my usual thing, browsing the cookware. In the back of the store there was a display with Thomas Keller’s cookie and cake mix along with some silicon bake ware and the Bouchon cookbook. I was elated and disturbed at the same time; I was thinking “noooo, not Keller too, endorsing pans and cookie mixes, aren’t there enough celebrity chefs doing this same thing?”

I then thought that if Keller was putting his name on something, and I’ve bought everything with his name on it, that it must be the best. Surely he wouldn’t just sell his name to some soulless dry mix company who cranks out millions of pounds of flavorless crap.

Please don’t let this be true, please don’t let the purist, Thomas Keller, join the throngs of celeb chefs selling their name on food, cookware and the menus of mega-chain restaurants serving food that doesn’t even come close to the acclaimed chefs style.

I must have looked like a nut job, starring at the display, walking away only to return and stare at it some more. “Can I help you sir” was said on multiple occasions… bet you can help me I’m thinking, help me understand how this is possible. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”……you bet I am, I’m looking for deep answers to deep questions.

OK, enough with the conflicting thoughts, I bought it because I’ve constantly been looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and at $18.00 for 12 small or 6 large cookies this was either going to be everything I would expect from Keller or it was going to be a huge failure that would lead to me undoubtedly hurling the cookies through the air.

Even as I checked out they said “is this all?”, as if to say, good god man you’ve been in here for a half hour and all you can find is a box of cookie mix? “Is this all?” it’s much more complicated than you might think, this will be a test with huge ramifications, does it have sole?, or is it a box of well marketed crap? I’ve eaten at several of Thomas Keller’s restaurants and I know how high the standard should be.

The mix.

The raw dough rounded up.

These were the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever eaten, I was making moaning noises as I ate them, it was pure pleasure. Add butter & egg to the packets in the box which included Callebaut chocolate chunks, sugar blend, flour packet and molasses. Now the work begins to develop a cookie with the same qualities. There are very few things as rewarding as a great chocolate chip cookie. Like most things that are great, they are simple; it just comes down to the quality of ingredients and the cooking process.

Today I’m a happy man because I realized that not everything that has a celeb chef’s name on it is mediocre. Keller has found a way to put high quality into a box and send it home with you so you can have a little piece of the Bouchon Bakery in your own kitchen.

Joel Robuchon

Occasionally we have contributors that have exciting ideas, restaurant visit photos or just an opinion. This is one of those posts. A chef friend of mine, Larry Bowen, sent me these pictures via a chef friend of his.

The New York Times bio for Joël Robuchon starts off this way: "Mr. Robuchon, who now has restaurants in Paris, New York, Las Vegas, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Macao and Monaco, hails from Poitiers in France, south of the Loire Valley. At age 28, in 1974, he was named chef of the Hôtel Concorde La Fayette in Paris, which served 3,000 meals a day. In 1981, he started his own small Paris restaurant, Jamin, which three years later was awarded three Michelin stars, the highest rating. Among his standout dishes in those years were his take on mashed potatoes (his famous purée de pommes de terre) and his tossed green salad (salade aux herbes fraîches)."

Wanting a larger kitchen, he opened a grander restaurant, Joël Robuchon, in the Hôtel du Parc, where he also received three stars. He soon though began to feel stifled, and, at age 51 in 1996, he closed the restaurant, saying he was retiring at the top of his game.

But six years later, after testing the waters by starting a small restaurant in Tokyo, he opened L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris. The new Paris restaurant was a radical departure for both Mr. Robuchon and haute cuisine, challenging almost every tradition in fine dining. L’Atelier’s seats were placed around a counter that overlooked the kitchen, eliminating the traditional wall between diner and chef, making the restaurant one flowing space and creating an essentially informal, contemporary environment.

Bread Service

Foie Gras Foam with Parmesan Cream

Sea Urchin with Mousseline of Earl Grey Infused Carrots

Scallop carpaccio with toasted poppy seeds

Turnip veloute with ravioli of thinly sliced turnip filled with crab meat

Seared foie gras with gratinated grapefruit

Sauteed Amadai in yuzu broth with lily bulbs

Caramelized quail stuffed with foie gras, potato puree with truffle and herb salad.

Kobe beef "a la plancha" with shishito peppers and horseradish

Langustine wrapped in bric dough with a basil leaf

Vanilla panna cottta with orange coffee

Jivara Ganache, green apple brunoise and ginger ice cream

Poached pears served with a souffle and bitter almond ice cream

Chocolates and Gelees

Cooking Line

Thinking About Spring

It can't get here soon enough.

Goat Cheese & Arugula Stuffed Chicken Breast
Sherry beurre blanc, three fresh seasonal berries, chives, grilled asparagus with tomatillo vinaigrette.

Butternut Squash Pasta

So much with so little. Four steps to real genuine happiness.

Step #1 - Roast butternut squash and run it through a food mill.

Step #2 - Make a pasta dough with the butternut squash puree. Add a little chopped fresh sage if you want.....wait a minute, remove the "if you want", you MUST add fresh sage, it's a good thing to do.

Step #3 - Let the dough rest for 30 minutes and then run it through a pasta sheeter & cutter. Cook in boiling salt water for 45-60 seconds.

Step #4 - Enjoy with oyster mushrooms, good olive oil, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh herbs. If this fails to make you happy seek help soon.