Sunday, August 03, 2008
You're not talking to the tomatoes.....
OK, stay with me folks. I know that based on the title of this post some of you are going to roll your eyes and think 'OK, I think Andy's been inhaling too many Sharpie fumes because this is just stupid. Who talks to tomatoes?' So, like I said. Stay with me. Grab a Tastycake and read on, brother.
I've been rereading 'Chef's Story' edited by Dorothy Hamilton and Patrick Kuh. The story below came from David Bouley.
The comment 'you're not talking to the tomatoes' was an actual conversation had between 'God of French Chefs Living in Switzerland' Fredy Girardet and 'Captain Amazing' David Bouley. Bouley was working as a cook at Girardet's (an interesting aside here....Gray Kunz was also working in the kitchen at the same time. If the thought of this illicts thoughts of 'Holy shit, those two guys working as cooks in the same kitchen?' then you and I need to hang out.) Anyhow, according to Bouley, Girardet told him he wasn't talking to the tomatoes, put his hand on a tomato and walked off.
This statement rings true today. The idea of 'talking to your tomatoes' simply means that no single item of produce is the same. Our current system of large scale agriculture/supermarkets has taught us that if the produce is pretty, that automatically equals great flavor. It doesn't. Let's use our friend the tomato as an example. I've seen many tomatoes, flats upon flats of perfect looking, huge, red tomatoes. On first glance, they look great. Then I go to touch them. Hard. Rock Hard. Ok, so it failed that test. How about smell? Take a big whiff. Nothing. No smell. Alrighty then, that's two strikes. How about taste? Nothing. No taste. If anything, the only thing you are given is a mealy texture in your mouth. Ummmm, I can't tell you how much I crave mealy textures.....
Choice is very important and we are lucky enough in this country to have it. Use all of your senses.(look at it, touch it, smell it....there's nothing sexier that the smell of tomato stems and......corn silk. Finally, taste the produce) If you simply choose by using your eyes, you'll have a tomato that looks impressive on your windowsill. Awesome, but aren't we trying to EAT this stuff? If you want something pretty to look at, go to TJMAXX and get some prints to hang on your wall.
Here's the next step in 'talking to your tomatoes' and it's something we have to think about a lot at the restaurant. We are lucky enough to have Kathy Glahn supply us with a huge variety of heirloom produce. Obviously, tomato season is in full swing, so we are getting a ton of different tomatoes. Well, each variety of tomato reacts differently to just about everything we try and use it for in the kitchen. Some peel easier than others, some have less acidity than others, some want a little salt to put them over the top, some like lemon oil and a little basil or thyme. So, you have to 'talk to the tomatoes' and see what they want. One very important lesson that Laurence Gottlieb, former Exec. Sous Chef at The Inn at Little Washington, taught me was to always ask what a dish wants. Not what you want it to have. I'd put a dish in front of him and he'd taste and then say, 'OK, but what do the beets want to push them over the top?'
So, what does all this blather mean? Well, here's the Cliff Notes version. When you are reading a recipe, just know that you are working in an extremely fluid environment. Tomatoes don't all act the same way. Flours can vary greatly based on the type of wheat, the mill and the humidity. How was your meat raised? Ask these questions as you are cooking and taste, taste, taste as you go along. Obviously, it helps to know the story behind your food as you're asking these questions..... Just coming to a conclusion, any conclusion can push a dish over the top. Talk to your food. What does it want?
OFF THE SUBJECT....I've been reading a lot of Q&A's with chefs and one question that always gets asked is 'What kind of music do you listen to in your kitchen?' My friend Carol puts her soundtrack at the end of each post. Well, here's the thing. We don't listen to music in the kitchen. I prefer it very quiet, so....no music. However, that doesn't mean that we don't get songs stuck in our head and sing a little bit. Last night, it was 'We are the World.'(I've also been known to belt out 'Don't Cry for me Argentina' when I'm in the shits) In honor of that, I've posted the video below. Please watch it until at least the 5 minute mark. Putting Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder on a split screen is, well, interesting......