I watched a video tour of the Per Se kitchen led by Thomas Keller yesterday and later that night cooked a brewer's dinner. The brewer and I met 6-7 years ago at auctions when we were both putting our places together and like many of my auction friends we conspired to get the best deals by consulting each other about what we had our eyes on at particular auctions.
We had, in retrospect, so little money to spend. Of course to me who had never had more than a thousand dollars in the bank it seemed astonishing that a bank would let me borrow anything. My wife and I spent countless months driving 4 hours to San Francisco, trying to arrive by auction start of 11 am, doing an incomplete and bleary-eyed evaluation of the equipment, buying and loading my much abused pick-up with way more stuff than it was ever meant to hold. My Swiss friend who built our entire restaurant called me Monsieur Ficelle after yet another precarious load with my spiderweb of thin cord keeping everything from toppling over arrived.
When we were about two thirds of the way done the dining room looked like this: After a busy night is still feels like it sometimes. There are certainly times when I feel frustrated by the limitations of my equipment or budget. Particularly after seeing the kitchen of Per Se, or reading about places like Pim's favorite, Manresa I get high powered tool lust and start to dream about what I would be able to do if I had a Pacojet or or a Bonnet cooking suite. Just having two level stoves, with calibrated ovens, burners that don't soot up and a couple of new, flat sheet pans would make me happy.
I realized that with my equipment, and my crew I'm doing the equivalent of pot-roasting. I'm taking something that's tough, hard to work with and inexpensive and with patience and craft, turning it into something not only palatable but delicious.
I used to say that given a large enough budget and a dedicated staff a trained monkey could run a kitchen that would be the equal of any you read about. Certainly this is overstating the case, but money, location and a hungry, career-minded staff go a pretty long way. In the meantime, I'll continue with what I have and we'll still be the best restaurant you've never been to.
Brewer's Dinner Menu
Mixed seafood platter
The Ploughman's Lunch Lightened (cheese-onion souffle)
Red Curry Chicken with Crab Wontons
Orr Springs IPA
Belgian Style Short Ribs
Chocolate Malt Cake