Friday, July 11, 2008

French Laundry at Home Extra: Q&A with Carol, Part One


When I put out the call for questions, man, did you guys respond! So much so, in fact, that we're gonna break up this Q&A into two posts -- one now, and one in a few weeks. Because we're near a hundred questions (although some of them are duplicates or very similar in nature) that's still too many for one post, don'tcha think? And, by splitting it into two, it means I can stretch the life of the blog that much further, which pleases me greatly.

But before I get to the Q&A, I want to share some of the great media coverage French Laundry at Home has gotten in the past week or so. The adage "when it rains, it pours" holds true, for sure.

1) Here we are in DCist (thanks, Alyse!): "Chewing the Fat: Carol Blymire of French Laundry at Home"

2) Check out this really great story (with spoilers related to this and a future Q&A) in the Frederick News-Post (thanks, Adrienne!): Cooking with French Laundry

3) Here I am quoted in the Montgomery County Gazette (in an article by the talented Mike Meno) on my town's ridiculous decision to "add their voice to the national voice on a foie gras ban" or whatever the stupid, meaningless resolution was: "City says 'non' to foie gras"

4) And, on the same day I called my townsfolk a bunch of wackadoos in one paper (because, you know, I'm so politically savvy and whatnot), I was featured in a full-page spread in our town newspaper, the Takoma Voice (thanks, Howard and Diana!). The story isn't available online as of today, but should be someday at It's a really great feature piece, and it was an honor to be interviewed by my friend and neighbor, Howard Kohn, who also happens to be an award-winning author and writer for Rolling Stone.

5) One last one -- another WTF about the whole foie gras production ban in my town (which no one raises, in case you were wondering) by Kathleen Miller at The Examiner: Takoma Park City Council Bans Foie Gras Production

* * * * *

Now, on to the Q&A.

If you're just joining us, let me link to a post in my archives that might be worth reading before diving into today's questions and answers. Hopefully, it'll get you caught up on why I'm even doing this blog in the first place, and what got it all started.

Here we go...

Q. How much of what you've been doing has Thomas Keller actually been following himself?

A. There were a lot of questions from you along the lines of "does Thomas Keller read your blog" and "they should totally give you a reservation and VIP dinner at The French Laundry -- can we organize a campaign to make that happen" and "do you think you'll ever meet Thomas Keller, and if you did, what would you say?" And now seems like a good time for me to update you on all that.

Yes, Chef Keller knows about the site. I'm pretty sure he's not hovering over his laptop every day refreshing the page to see if I've posted, but he does know about it. And, as wonderful and supportive as I know your intent was, there is no need for anyone to organize a campaign for me to get a reservation at The French Laundry. I'm actually going there in mid-August to celebrate my 40th birthday. I don't know what's in store for me, menu-wise, because I'm leaving it all up to them. I made the reservation awhile ago because I knew I wanted to book the private room for this dinner, and mere words cannot convey how excited I am about finally making the trip out there. It was fun to see the recent A Cook's Tour episode at The French Laundry because my parents and friends who will be joining me for my birthday dinner there watched the episode, too, and called during the commercial breaks to talk about all the food and the service and how excited they are about this dinner. It's something I've been looking forward to, and I think it's a wonderful way to celebrate not only this birthday milestone, but also a really amazing run with this blog.

Q. That's nice and all, but you didn't really answer the question about meeting Thomas Keller and what you would say if you ever met him.

A. Don't you love how I pretended right there that this was a live interview and I'd dodged that last bit? Oh, I slay me sometimes. Well, I don't need to worry about that hypothetical situation, because *****drum roll, please***** I had the great honor and distinct pleasure to meet Thomas Keller at an event at Per Se in New York in June. I was invited to attend a launch event for his new book, Under Pressure, which is due out this fall. [side note: I'll write more about his new book and my early attempts at sous vide cooking in the not-to-distant future.]

However, the real point of this answer is that I got to meet Chef Keller. It was a little surreal, because standing a few feet away from me was this man I've admired for nearly a decade, and all I could think about was "Oh crap, I hope he's not mad about the sweetbreads monologue, or the fake tripe banter, or my April Fool's Day prank, or any of my crimes against food; or, what if he asks me something about some really obscure cooking technique I've never heard of and I don't know the answer and this is worse than that dream you have where you show up naked at school and I THINK I'M GOING TO PASS OUT NOW." When we were introduced to one another, I had to work hard to quiet my inner monologue of "Wow, I'm about to meet Thomas Keller; Wow, I'm actually meeting Thomas Keller; Wow, he's shaking my hand, and this is really Thomas Keller; Wow, he is really tall; I cannot believe I am at this very moment meeting Thomas Keller; I hope my bra strap is not sticking out; Do I have anything stuck between my teeth; IT'S THOMAS KELLER" so that I could focus on my time with him.

It's not often in life that we really get to meet our heroes, AND have them live up to our expectations. He was lovely and really kind, and I couldn't have asked for a better day. I'm not going to share every little detail here because it was a very personal experience and I like to keep those kinds of things to myself. I will, however, say that he and his team both at the restaurants and at Workman/Artisan have been incredibly supportive of this blog, and I couldn't be more grateful. So yes, I've met Chef Keller AND I'm having dinner at The French Laundry in mid-August. Life is good and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Q. What is the deal with Bloomberg? I'm a New Yorker, and I admit he has his charms, but I'm not quite getting the devotion.

A. Here's the deal: I like smart, self-made, powerful men who are not over-the-top, self-important egomaniacs. They're rare, and they're to be revered and adored. Michael Bloomberg not only built his own business then successfully held public office, he's also a smart thought leader who epitomizes class, intelligence, business savvy, and the importance of philanthropy -- all of which make him incredibly attractive. His gal pal is one lucky lady, as far as I'm concerned (even though I think I may be a better cook than she is, just sayin'). And, when you live in a city where you have had to suffer through decades of embarrassment from DC Mayor for Life, Marion Barry, I mean, c'mon.... do you really need any further explanation?

Q. What's your take on Bourdain and Ramsay?

A. I've met Tony Bourdain, and thought he was a straight-shooter and a really decent guy. I have not met Gordon Ramsay, but I've eaten in one of his restaurants in London and it was one of the best meals I ever had. Now, I assume your question is more about their public personas, so here's what I think about that: I think Bourdain is Bourdain is Bourdain. If you've ever heard him speak or met him at an event, you'll know what I mean. He is a stand-up guy, true to his convictions and, I believe, honestly humbled and happy with what his life has become. He's well-read and has a great sense of history of our world, which I think is one aspect of his public persona that often goes unheralded. I like the approach of his show on Travel Channel. I'm also thrilled he quit smoking because it'll be great to have him around for another few decades.

I also admire Gordon Ramsay because he's a good chef who cares about food. I prefer his BBC shows to what airs on FOX, but that's largely because the whole contrived reality show editing process here in the States is a bit exhaustive and overdone. I think American television needed a bombastic bad guy to helm Hell's Kitchen, he was a perfect fit, and I don't know anyone who would turn down that kind of money to do it. The way I see it, he's made a series of smart business decisions so that his kids will not have to have the kind of hand-to-mouth, where-are-we-gonna-live-this-week upbringing that he did. I think that's what motivates him -- giving his family the life he'd always dreamed about as a child. So, whether or not I dig how he's portrayed on television, I think he has built an empire he can be proud of. And the man knows his food. And, have you seen his abs? Because wow.

Q. Have you had any "worlds colliding" crossover between this blog and your DC career, or are all your clients/colleagues unaware of your secret culinary talents?

A. This is one of my favorite questions because it's something I've been hyper-aware of since I started the blog. You'll notice that I never really talk about work or work-related issues on this blog, and that's a separation that's important for me to keep. I love what I do for a living (even on the days I whine about it) and I am so fortunate to work with some really great clients and be part of some really important policy and business decisions that ultimately will shape the future of our country.

When I started the blog, I thought it was paramount that I keep my professional life and my food-blog life completely separate (I used to post under a pseudonym, just in case), but inevitably those worlds collided (as I figured they might) and it was good. Earlier this year, I told only a handful of my work-related colleagues about the blog because there was some local media coverage about it and I wanted them to hear it from me before they read it in the papers. From that point on, word got around as often happens in this town, and that, combined with even more media coverage, meant that keeping the two entities separate wasn't possible anymore, but I'm okay with that. By the time the Wall Street Journalstory ran, the final brick in that wall was down and I got calls from people I hadn't talked to or worked with in ages and it was a nice way to be able to reconnect. In fact, on Wednesday morning a work colleague who lives in Frederick, MD opened her morning paper and saw me on the cover of the food section and emailed me immediately, because this was the first she'd learned about this blog.

I have the utmost respect for my clients and the work I do, and because of that, I will never talk about my "day job" on this site or anywhere in public. I can tell you, though, that three of my clients in particular really love food, and now that they know about the blog our work talk often spirals into "what are you cooking this weekend" conversations, which I just love. It reminds me that we're all human and that even in this most political of towns where we tend to take ourselves too seriously from time to time or be pitted against one another on issues or legislation, good food is the one thing we can almost always agree on and it becomes the great leveler. So now, I'm all for worlds colliding because it's made work and life overall even more enjoyable.

Q. How do you find the time to do everything? Work, cook, blog? I think your writing is fantastic and would like to know how you fit everything into one 24-hour day.

A. Aw, thank you. You know, I'm incredibly lucky to own my own business and work from home because it gives me greater flexibility when it comes to spending time cooking and fitting in little prep steps in between conference calls or answering emails. I'm also a bit of a control freak when it comes to organization and time management. It's always been something I'm good at, so having that skill definitely helps get everything done. And, I'm child-free and single, so when my work is done, I get to focus on cooking and writing and seeing friends and living life, and I really feel like this is the happiest I've ever been, so none of it really seems at all like work or anything I feel like I have to "fit in" to a schedule. The one household chore that has suffered, though, as a result of this blog is that I spend far less time in the yard and garden than I used to, and there have been times I've let the grass go too long without mowing that the neighbors walk by and whistle the Sanford and Son theme song.

Q. How is it possible to rock so hard and have a blog that is still fun and amusing week after week? Are you magic?

A. Nope, just human and doing what I love. Everything else is icing. If you'd asked me two years ago if I'd be doing something like this or have all these amazing opportunities coming my way, or readers who are so faithful and wonderful and hilarious and supportive, I'd have thought you were nuts. It's all in the timing, and the willingness to just jump into something feet first and work hard to see if you're good at it, and then make great stuff happen from that point on. Believe me, there are days I don't "rock so hard" -- you just don't get to see them. And you should be thankful for that.

Q. How many marriage proposals are you up to?

A. Heh. I've lost track. Actually, I've gotten some strange email, that's for sure, but marriage proposals? There've been a few, and I appreciate the intent behind it, even though I know it's not really literal. In fact, I got a proposal this week at Whole Foods because I was sporting my "Meat is Murder: Tasty, tasty murder" t-shirt and a guy came up to me (with his wife next to him beaming quite proudly), and said, "My wife has given me permission to ask for your hand in marriage because that's the most hilarious t-shirt we've ever seen." Totally lovely people.

Q. Despite the fact the blog is about making things, you rarely use video, except to mock shellfish before their death. Maybe this was just a practical necessity of doing these dishes by yourself, but to what extent is the picture and text format something that forced you to be more creative? Or at least more expressive of your evident creativity? Do you think of stories to tell while cooking? When do you think about how you will tell the story of a dish, as it progresses or after you sit down to write it up?

A. I love this question because it really makes me think about how to tell you about the whole process of each of these posts. Regarding the video part of your question -- I've been approached a few times about doing video demonstrations on the site, and I've turned them down. I made a decision early on not to do any videos of me making these dishes for a few reasons. First, I'm not a trained chef or cook, so I would hate to be filmed doing something incorrectly and have that out there for other people to learn improper technique. Second, I'd want all the footage to be perfect and gorgeous and well-lit and well-edited and that's really expensive to do and not the point of why I started all this in the first place. And, doing the actual cooking was challenging enough, so I didn't want to complicate it and have to make each dish five times to make sure you get all the shots and close-ups. It's just not economically feasible, nor do I have the time.

I'm an average photographer, and I'm sure if I spent time learning how to actually use my camera, my photos would be incredible. I think they're good enough to help tell the story of what I'm doing here, so I'm fine with my photography skills. As for the stories and the telling and the writing, what you see here on this blog are cleaned-up first drafts. I don't type while I cook, but I am writing these posts in my head as I write my shopping list, shop for the ingredients, talk to my vendors, do the prep, and cook the dishes. Some of the food I cook triggers a memory or relates to something I've done before. Other times, it isn't until I've finished loading the dishwasher and poured myself a glass of wine, then headed upstairs to load the photos that something clicks and I know the story I want to tell. With some dishes, the stories tell themselves. With others, there are memories or moments that resonate with me, so I'm hopeful they'll also resonate with you. Other times, it really isn't until I've finshed writing the entire piece that a specific learning moment or summary thought hits me and it comes to a more thoughtful close.

But seriously, once I'm done cleaning up the kitchen, I load the photos, open Blogger and start typing. It all unfolds from there. After I write the first draft, I go back and fix typos and grammar snafus, and sometimes add better explanations that I think will help a home cook who might want to try this dish, but that's it.

I love to write, and in my day job, I'm always writing for other people -- whether to represent their business or organization, or ghostwriting a speech or column in their voice. To have the opportunity to write something in my voice is like a gift. Being able to write about and take photos of something I've made is really rewarding for me, and I hope it's been enjoyable for you. Unlike video, I feel like when you read someone else's writing, you get to add your own layer of context around it, too, and hopefully it'll mean something more.

Q. What has been the total food cost to blog the entire book? And what single ingredient/animal part made the biggest dent in your pay check?

A. I answered the second half of this question in the beginning of my most recent post about the Lobster Consommé en Gelée. As for the total cost of this project, I've never calculated it, nor would I publish it if I did. I don't think it's important, and I wouldn't want anyone to feel as though they couldn't afford to do even one dish in this book because there was a big price tag affixed to cooking the whole book. Besides, there are so many soft-cost elements to calculate (water, gas, electricity, auto fuel, time, etc.) that it's not something I'd ever have the time to do, even if I cared to do so.

Q. How long have you had your craving for peanut butter? What kind do you buy? (I share that love for peanut butter.)

A. This one obviously from someone who pays attention to the "What Else Did I Eat This Week" sidebar piece. Hee! I eat peanut butter a lot. Almost every day. Never with jelly. Sometimes with honey. Almost always on toast. And, I do a mix at Whole Foods with their honey-roasted and plain peanut butter -- freshly ground onsite in those little machines that let you self-dispense. Oh, peanut butter... how I love thee (but not as much as bacon, Mike Bloomberg and Bordelaise Sauce).

Q. How does one score an invitation to taste the fruits of your labor, and are there any requirements for this essential position?

A. Here's the thing: if I could have you all over, I would. But that's what the Internet is for. Buy the book (or borrow it from your library), come here and read about the dishes, then go make them yourself. Be the rockstar among YOUR friends and see how much fun it can be. The people who get to taste my French Laundry At Home dishes happen to be two of my closest friends and their families -- and, they happen to live across the street from me, so it's easy to just call them with a ten-minute heads up to come over and taste whatever it is I've made that day. From time to time, other friends have joined in, but for the most part it's been the same group of ten people who've gotten to eat all these amazing dishes, and it's been a really fun journey for all of us. I'm really excited that I've been able to get three younger kids -- ages 9 to 11 -- interested in it, because when I was their age I never would have been daring or confident enough to try this kind of food and be able to talk about it at the level they can. The fact that my friend's son, Grant (of the BURNED HAND lobster jelly fiasco) called me from his dad's cell phone on Christmas Eve to tell me he'd just ordered the veal cheeks at Eric Ripert's West End Bistro here in DC and couldn't wait to taste them was a really cool moment.

Q. Do you have a favorite cuisine?

A. That's a hard one to answer because I can only think of one regional/specific cuisine I really, really dislike and could never even consider as a favorite, and that's Ethiopian food. Absolutely can't stand it. My favorite cuisine would have to be food that actually tastes like the food it's supposed to be. I hate overly spiced food, or ingredients that are crapped up with something else so that you can't taste what it is you're supposed to be tasting. I love food that is made fresh in season, prepared simply, and served in a pleasant manner. So any cuisine, as long as it is good and fresh and not Ethiopian is my favorite. I tend to lean more toward Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian food when dining out, because I have so many great places in my neighborhood that it's an easy go-to AND it's good. I just don't ever cook it at home because I am lazy and would rather get it from someone who knows what they're doing. But, if you forced me to name just one cuisine I had to eat the rest of my life, it'd be French food (with some salads snuck in there, because the French are crap at the kind of bountiful, fresh salads I love in the spring and summer). Or it might be Spanish food. I can't decide. Don't make me decide. Please.

Q. What's your favorite culinary guilty pleasure?

A. It used to be Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, but now it's a toss-up between a chili cheese dog, fries and a chocolate shake at Ben's Chili Bowl or Thai food from my favorite carryout place in town (Thai Derm; Silver Spring, MD). I really don't eat junk food anymore because all the sugar and processed crap was whacking out my system and making me a raging insomniac. When I did eat junk food, my guilty pleasure was Chocolate Turtle Chex Mix. I will apologize in advance for any addictions that result in my connecting you to that wonderful, wonderful stuff. My current favorite culinary guilty pleasure at home is the stash of Girl Scout cookies I keep in the freezer. Oooo, and when the neighbor's kids decide to share their stash of Oreos with me. And rice krispy treats at Starbucks on the way to the radio station. Okay, there, I'm done. No wait, Taco Bell Crunch Wrap Supreme the morning after I've had two too many glasses of wine. There. Now I'm really done. I lied. Chipotle burritos. I swear, that's all. For now.

Q. What is the complete list of things you can't stand to eat? (My biggest one is celery -- blech.)

A. Blech is right on the celery, but for me it's not as bad as and doesn't rank up there with cilantro, tripe, lobster jelly, milk chocolate (tastes like licking a 9-volt battery), hot peppers (because I'm allergic to them and will go into anaphylactic shock), coconut (because I'm allergic to that, too, but hated it anyway before I knew I was allergic), and animal brains. I have a friend who is a chef, and he is trying his damnedest to get me to eat lamb brains. His latest argument was, "but they taste like porridge!" Which, ew. That is not helping AT ALL. I've tried calf brain before and it's a texture thing -- totally grosses me out. I'm not ready to dive into lamb brains anytime soon, no sir, no how.

Q. What is your second-favorite pig part?

A. I'm guessing you're inferring that the pig's head is my favorite part, and you would be correct about that. My second favorite pig part would have to be the butt (even though I know it's technically the shoulder; I just enjoy typing the word "butt" whenever I can because I am 12) or the parts that deliver the best bacon -- the sides, belly and back. The feet can suck it. I'm never making that again.

Q. When recipes turn out badly, what do you do with the food? Do you have a dog?

A. I do have a dog, and he loves certain leftovers, especially if there was cheese involved. However, when a dish turns out badly or ends up being something I really didn't like, those are not usually things I'd give to the dog. I hate to waste food, so sometimes I pawn it off on the neighbors or friends if I think they'll enjoy it, and
I do what I can to salvage a certain element or component of a dish, but unfortunately, some of it does get thrown away, I'm not gonna lie.

Q. What's your favorite hole-in-the-wall food establishment in the DC area?

A. My favorite hole-in-the-wall food place? Oh, that's easy. Citronelle. KIDDING. There are some Peruvian chicken joints on New York Avenue and on North Capitol Street that are really good. I don't know their names because most of the storefronts don't have signs or are called El Pollo (Something or Other) and I get them all confused. I also love Florida Avenue Grill in DC and The Woodside on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. I love a good greasy breakfast, so any hole-in-the-wall place that does that is a favorite of mine. I don't think Ben's Chili Bowl is technically a hole in the wall, but it's also one of my favorite very-casual dining establishments. And speaking of hot dogs, in college I used to subsist on chili-cheese dogs from this guy, Manoosh, who used to park his cart just outside Tower Records on 21st and H Street. I wonder if he's still there. Or alive. Man, those dogs hit the spot at 2:30 in the morning.

Q. What kind of camera are you using to take your food shots?

A. From January - December 2007, I used a Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot thingamajig. Starting in January 2008, I'm now using a Nikon D40 digital SLR camera and I love it. If I only had the time to figure out all the whirylgigs and swoznozzles that make it work even better I'll be a regular culinary Ansel Adams or something. I never use a tripod or light reflectors or special lenses or any of that stuff that other food bloggers seem to use -- I still just point and shoot, but I think this new camera gives me better control over light exposure and focus stuff and all those other technical things I don't really understand but probably should.

Q. Are you pro- or anti- silicone kitchen accessories? (Hot pads, baking cups, pop-out colanders, etc.)

A. The only silicone items in my kitchen are some spatulas and oven mitts, and I can't say whether I'm pro- or anti- on silicone baking implements because I've never worked with them. I have friends who swear by it and other friends who hate using them and say that it doesn't bake as evenly. I'm happy with all my metal and glass at this point, but am always open to recommendations.

Q. What kind of knives are you brandishing in the FLAH kitchen?

A. I use mostly Wüsthof knives, but I have a Henckels chef's knife I use a lot, and one from Global. It's kind of a mishmash. I have to borrow a friend's sharpening stone every now and then, but that's something I'll pick up along the way at some point.

Q. Do you make all your own stock from scratch? I live in a upscale-ingredient challenged community and I'm not sure I would be able to find bones for veal stock. It's not easy finding any kind of non-standard fare and there are very few real butchers in town. The last one I went to didn't even have chicken breasts on the bone, so finding anything like oxtails or veal shanks or bones for stock would probably result in lots of blank gazes. And if you do make all your own stocks, how do you keep them and for how long?

A. I do make my own stocks and haven't used the store-bought stuff in years. I just prefer to make my own because it's actually cheaper to do so, and they taste better. I freeze the stock in plastic containers and usually end up using all of it in six months, and it's still been really good up to six months in the freezer. Not sure how long you can freeze stocks before they start to lose their great qualities, so if anyone who reads this site wants to chime in on the comments, be my guest.

For those who live in "ingredient-challenged" communities, I hate that it's difficult for you to get what I think should be pretty basic ingredients. Have you asked your local grocer to find bones for you? Or, are there nearby farmers' markets where you could ask some of the vendors where you might be able to find bones or other non-standard ingredients? I know a lot of people love eGullet and Chowhound as a resource, but sometimes, I honestly have to dig out my Yellow Pages and start calling down the list and asking people to refer me to someone else if they don't have the answer themselves -- it's amazing what I've been able to find by doing that. Don't give up -- keep trying. If you have any sort of ethnic markets or stores in your town or community, that's always a great resource.

Q. Do you own Keller's Bouchon? Any interest in it? Not necessarily for continuing your At Home project with it, but even a simple cooking curiosity or interest?

A. I do own Bouchon and I love it.
I love the roasted chicken instructions, and it's definitely a book I refer to when I'm in the mood to make something more bistro-like. Bouchon has really thorough dishes that I continue to learn from, and I think the book is worth having because it tells amazing stories and really gives great access to food that I think anyone should be able to make and enjoy, because bistro food is so wonderfully good.

As with any book of this nature, I think it's important to follow the directions as closely as possible when making these dishes the first few times because a) it almost always yields an amazing result, and 2) the techniques Keller puts you through ultimately make you a stronger cook in the long run.
I get annoyed with people who email me and say, "Oh I tried to make the so-and-so out of Bouchon, but I substituted this for that, decided not to braise it, and then only pan-seared it for three minutes instead of 12, and used canned green beans instead of fresh spinach and it didn't work, so I think the book is stupid and it sucks." Seriously, then why even bother to cook from this book at all if you aren't open to learning a new way to do something and bettering your skills in the process? These are the same people who probably drone on and on about how even though they work at [insert whatever random career you can think of here], they really should've been a brain surgeon, but got a D in freshman-year chemistry and flunked out of pre-med, but really, they are smart enough to be a surgeon if only someone would just give them a chance but not make them go to medical school or do the whole internship/residency thing. I'm of the belief that you have to do the actual work to accomplish something meaningful, otherwise it's pointless to even try. I don't like to half-ass things in life, and when it comes to cooking things that one of the greatest chefs in the world is teaching me through his book to do, then I'm damn skippy gonna do it the way he says because he knows more than I do on this particular topic.

Okay, I'm completely ranting now and it's time to chill. But you know what I mean, right? Good, I knew you did.

Q. What are you favorite "go-to" cookbooks?

A. I own a lot of cookbooks, both current and vintage. I have always collected funky, off-the-beaten-pathcookbooks, and sometimes I even cook from them. Mostly, I just read them and make notes in the margins. In general, though, I rarely cook from cookbooks these days because I've finally gotten good at going to the store or the farmer's market and seeing ingredients I like, and then knowing what I want to do with them when I get home. However, there are times I get stuck in a rut and want to try something new, so over the past few years I've found myself turning to the same 6 or 7 books:

-- A Return To Cooking (not because Eric Ripert is dreamy, which he totally is, but because the food in this book is exactly the kind of food I need when I'm feeling stuck)
-- Happy in the Kitchen (Michel Richard is truly one of the greats on this earth, and this book is absolutely fantastic and gives me great ideas, plus it's just beautiful to look at)
-- 1080 Recipes (Spain's equivalent of Joy of Cooking, and a favorite of mine)
-- The Beach House Cookbook (there's nothing groundbreaking or culinarily stupendous in this book, it just reminds me of summer and makes me happy; it's also a great book to comb through right before heading out to the farmers' market in the summertime)
-- Sunday Suppers at Lucques (divine)
-- The River Cottage Cookbook (sublime)
-- The Zuni Cafe Cookbook (No one who loves food should be without this book; and, a longtime French Laundry at Home reader, Victoria, is cooking her way through this book and blogging about it in a really thoughtful, engaging way and I'm loving it)

One more recent cookbook acquistion of mine is an advance promo copy of A Platter of Figs, which is a book I've only had for a few short months and already love and go to all the time for ideas. I think this book is going to be a huge hit -- and I can't wait for you all to check it out.

I also have an embarassing number of food magazines stacked throughout the house. When I'm having a slow day, I'll sometimes pick up a magazine without looking to see what I've chosen, then open it to a random page and force myself to make whatever it is I randomly chose. Sometimes it yields an incredible surprise that I end up adding to the permanent repertoire (homemade chocolate pudding). Other times, it's a so-so outcome (chicken enchiladas), but at least I tried something new.

Alright, one last one before we wrap up this installment of Q&A with Carol...

Q. Who else's cooking do you admire? We all now admire YOURS!

A. This is a hard one to answer because I don't want to sound like a big cheeseball when I say that I admire anyone who cooks what they love, which I hope would be most every chef and cook out there who does this for a living. There are so many amazing chefs and cooks I admire, it would be impossible to name them all.

It almost goes without saying that I admire Jonathan Benno and the entire staff at Per Se's cooking, because when I've been there, it's been exquisite and delicious. I admire the guys on the grill at Ben's Chili Bowl because they make great food, crack jokes, and bust a move to the jukebox all while getting the job done. I admire whoever came up with the butterscotch budino at Mozza in LA. I admire the cooking of the guy who makes my huevos rancheros at King's Road Cafe in LA. I admire Grant Achatz, because even though I haven't eaten at Alinea yet (but will be later this month), I love his creative leaps and bounds. See, it runs the gamut -- but the common thread is that I feel like they put themselves on that plate, and that's what makes the difference for me.

More than what I eat in restaurants, though, I really admire anyone at home who takes the time to cook and pay attention to what they're doing so they can enjoy the process. For example, I admire the cooking of a longtime family friend (I'm taking about you, G.H.), who loves to spend the day in the kitchen and always turns out the most incredible dinners in a really nice, welcoming atmosphere. I admire my brother, who can turn out a mean pot of chili or an amazing salad. I admire my mom, who had a great dinner on the table every night while I was growing up and showed extreme restraint as I turned up my nose then at foods I now love.

Honestly, I admire the cooking of anyone who has taken time out of their day to prepare something for me to eat. There's no better way to show friendship, care, love or gratitude for someone than cooking for them. So, if you take the time to enjoy cooking, and you took the time to cook for me, then I admire your cooking. It's as simple as that. Even though I just took nine million paragraphs to explain it.

* * * * *

If you didn't see your question(s) answered here, rest assured, it's coming in a future Q&A.

I promise.

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Up Next: Hearts of Palm with Purée of Marrow Beans and Field Greens

Read My Previous Post: Lobster Consommé en Gelée


Victoria said...

This is great, really, really great. Since you're breaking it into two, I'm sneaking in two questions.

What do you always have in your larder?

What products (not food-related, but kitchen-related - for instance, I love Barkeeper's Friend - do you favor?

By the way, I want my friend Walter to propose to you so we can hang out and cook together.

Victoria said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Carol -

I love your blog and read it weekly. Very cool, and it's great that you're going to celebrate your brithday at TFL for real!

Question - would you actually consider continuing this blog with another book after you're done with THE FRENCH LAUNDRY COOKBOOK? Perhaps BOUCHON, or something similar? I'd love to see it go on, it's great reading.


Anonymous said...

Very good interview, especially since I've heard so many reports about how difficult that subject can be!

Was hoping (ok, praying on bended knee at the altar of chocolate, caramel, and chex and Lawry's seasoned salt) that link was to a recipe for Turtle Chex Mix, but alas, no. Will have to wait for my next care package (hint...hint)

Glad you liked Dave T's book. He's an amazing cook and I can't wait to see it myself.

Chef Andrew Little said...

lamb brains......the other, other, other, other, kind of white and a little squishy meat. Delicious.

The Italian Dish said...

Gee, Carol, I feel like I really know the total YOU now! Thanks for taking the time to write all these answers - I loved reading them all. And I'm so excited for you to have dinner at The French Laundry. I can't wait for you to go and then read all about it. ( I guess I'm assuming you will post about it! )

Alicia said...

I wish all the archives were in a book that I could sit on my couch and read...

I just found your site this week and WILL get through the archives :)

Heather said...

re: the crunch wrap supreme at taco bell? god bless you, man - i love that thing more than anyone should ever love anything even remotely associated with "the bell."

and if you're just not down with the lamb's brain thing, i respect that, but if it's primarily a textural issue i recommend the lamb's brain agnolotti at babbo. all the lamb brain flavor (actually quite nice), none of the squicky texture because it just feels like any stuffed pasta filling.


MichaelG said...

I’ve been following your blog for about a year now but this is the first time I’ve commented. I like to eat and I like to cook, though I’m a lot better at one than the other. I’ve also got a large collection of cookbooks, some excellent and some useless. They’re lots of fun. Your cooking adventures are immensely enjoyable and I hold your cooking skills in the highest esteem. The day is made when there is a new post at your place. What truly makes this blog, however, is your wonderful writing. Thomas Keller is a great chef but he needed Ruhlman for the writing. You don’t. I’ll be first in line for your cookbook and I hope that when your TV deal flies, they let you do the writing. You’re way up there on my list of persons I’d like to have a beer with. By the way, how in the hell do you keep your stove so disgustingly clean?

Christine said...

Yes, I want to know the answer to the stove-cleaning question, too.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to note that I adore your blog, and it's inspired me to get cracking and start writing one of my own soon (which will be nowhere as good as yours).

A note on the frozen stock thing: Jacques Pepin says you can't keep stock more than about 4 months in a home freezer because it's not cold enough to prevent bacterial growth. Obviously when you bring it to a boil you'll kill the bacteria, but if there's a significant culture it will smell (and taste) horrible. I have never found Pepin to be wrong about anything, so I thought I'd pass it along. He also says seafood stock doesn't keep more than a few weeks in a home freezer, and I have found that on that one he's dead right -- old fish stock smells like castor oil tastes. Blech.

Anonymous said...

Oh I so need your meat is murder t-shirt. I live in an area with a bunch of hard core vegans. I'm all about shock value.

Great first part to your Q&A. I'm pleased to learn that we both have a love affair with the "bell" after too much of a good thing. It was my salvation in college.

I wish you all the best with your b-day dinner at FL. I'm sure it will be amazing and I would love a blog of the evening. . .for my own selfish reasons to keep your blog going as long as possible.

I admire you working through all the unfamiliar cooking techniques and difficult time consuming portions (sawing through the pig's head). It shows an willingness to learn through hard work and making mistakes and not taking the easy road. Even after your disappointments like tripe, lobster jelly, and pig's feet. BTY the I recently made a Bouchon quiche, AMAZING! My husband and I fought over the last piece like rabid dogs.

AK said...


Awesome post. And thanks so much for letting me get the chance to ask you questions for DCist. It's so nice to have something on the site about someone who is not a culinary professional and beyond that it's great to have someone who is as fearless, dedicated, and talented a home cook as you are.

Thanks again and you rock :)

Unknown said...

Manoosh is totally still there. The Tower Records, on the other hand, is gone. Definitely the place to be at 2 in the AM as long as you can stand the long lines (Manoosh still likes to tell crazy stories as you watch your pretzel or hot dog burn...)

cmvbbay said...

The one time I ate at TFL, it was with a group from Chowhound and we had a blast. Chef Keller was walking around the gardens as we were leaving, and he talked to all of us, signed our menus - very class act.

jlee said...

what a blog! as a professional cook i've been referencing french laundry since it came out for bits and pieces that i feel would fit into my cooking but i have never attempted to create an entire recipe. i have to say keep up the good work. the consomme en gelee would creep me right out because i have a hard time with squishy textures. its good to see someone attempt these recipes without the pretentiousness that is often associated with food of this calibre. i look forward to your next entry.

Anonymous said...

This was really interesting; thank you so much for doing this!

I must admit, in a totally selfish way, the most exciting part of this whole thing was the part where YOU, internet rock star, are coming to Chicago. Please let me know if you want help finding places to eat or anything else while you're here--try

Anonymous said...

So Carol,

You know I love your blog because I opened my big mouth about it awhile back on egullet and now look! j/k. So two things, first what are you going to blog about when you are done with this?
Second I agree with you on A Return to Cooking, it is fantastic. Iam going to try to cook out of it this week and also Happy in the Kitchen. I have not had a chance to do alot out of it but one or two things and I loved it. Chef Richard's enthusiasm jumps off the pages, and his gadgets are amazing. Makes me look at powertools in Lowe's in a whole new food porn kinda way. knowhatImean?

Nancy Ewart said...

Fabulous blog by a fabulous and funny lady. I doubt if I will ever cook my way through "The French Laundry" as my tastes run more to ethnic food but I love love love reading what you do and how you do it. This Q&A was both funny and enlightening. You need a T shirt that says something to the effect "I cooked my way through the French Laundry and lived to tell the tale.." or words to that effect.

Anonymous said...

On freezing stock, if you are using a refrigerator freezer Pepin is probably correct, few get down to 0 F. We have a freezer only unit devoted to stock that is set to -5F, but stock doesn't last six months.

I've also started canning stock and that will last a couple of years, if we didn't go through it.

This blog caused me to buy the book, we haven't cooked anything from it yet as we are rebuilding the kitchen but we will. I have used the bistro cookbook.

Anonymous said...

You know, when I asked about Bloomberg, I meant to continue on, "because I've got a similar thing for Cuomo and I'm wondering if we're coming from the same place," and yeah, we are! Have fun at your birthday dinner! I can't wait to read all about it.

Anonymous said...

Carol, Great Q&A, and if you read these comments, here's one for round 2:

If you were planning a party, which of these recipes would you do in say a 5 course (or more) meal? Please include a cheese course.

Katy said...

haha! i've gotten a bunch of marriage proposals too -- that is hilarious. most were very nice, a few were walking that fine line between quirky and plain old creepy. :-)

Anonymous said...

Alinea....Risky....My meals there have caused me to rethink what I thought food created using classic French techniques were supposed to look and taste like. The serving pieces used become part of the meal itself and transcend the idea of utensils.

And most important - the food and wine was amazing..

If you have time for another meal in Chicago - go to North Pond.

Adam said...

Carol, you're an inspiration. Every cook-through blogger, and anyone who reads them, owes you and Julie Powell a huge debt of gratitude.

I'm going to be sad to see your project come to an end. Promise you won't go away, though.

Unknown said...

Chef Andrew - the word "squishy" probably ain't helping your cause.

Carol - as always, a very good read.

And add me to the list trying to sneak in questions.... Pristine (minus your own notes) FLAH cookbook or does it also hold fond stain memories?

Alice Q. Foodie said...

So excited for you for Alinea and The French Laundry! That will undoubtedly be incredible (and Happy Birthday - in advance!) Congratulations on your success Carol - and thanks for sharing - all of it!

Anonymous said...

Fatoosh, ah the memories... I would have to assume you accidentally forgot to mention the influence of Bon Burgers under the Red Lion.

Alexa said...

okay, a couple things:

1. I love your blog. I found it via late at night after work in Dec. and I stayed up until 3 in the morning for several days catching up. and then bought the boxed set of French Laundry and Bouchon books.
2. In case you weren't aware, the July '08 Food and Wine Mag, there is an article on Grant Achatz. It's a fantastic article.
3. Your promotion of BlackSalt inspired me to apply for a job with Black Restaurant Group. I was hoping to be hired at BlackSalt, but was instead hired as a pastry cook at Black's Bar and Kitchen. I'm totally stoked to work there and just wanted to say thanks for introducing me to such a great restaurant group.

I love your writing and can't wait to read more!

Anonymous said...

Hi...I just started reading you.

I love your straight forwardness...And your love for food!!

You are a very lucky girl in deed to go to Keller's restaurant! : )


mookina said...

I am so with you on Ethiopian food. I just cannot stand the uniform baby-food texture and moist, spongey bread. Is that same texture behind your aversion to brains? I myself wouldn't go near brains for 'philosophical' reasons, and because my limited samping of offal (beef tongue and beef, pork and chicken liver) has tasted of death and rot. Heather's praise for brain as pasta filling is -almost- enticing.

Three Questions:
1. What are your favorite inspirations for cocktails to pair with meals? I'm always curious about the mixed drink concoctions of dedicated cooks. And/or what's the best Keller/wine pairing you've had so far?
2. Not having slogged through the archives yet, have you found any techniques/combinations that you could forget about? (I'm channeling my own go at FL's eggplant caviar [with blinis and peppers] that yielded only so-so results.)
3. Some recipes have earned a place in your permanent repetoire. What techniques from FL are now indispensable for you?

Finally, I just wanted to say thanks for you being you and sharing yourself with such humor, grace and generosity with the internets. The earnest, respectful and thoughtful comments of your readers speak volumes about your blog. Seriously, do you even get trolls?

All the best, CS

amber said...

fun post. can't wait for part 2. :)