I received a phone call from Jennifer Justus about three months ago. She is a friend of mine and we've shared a lot of fun times making pies together and talking about food and careers and food and life and food. She asked if I'd be interested in cooking for Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel's Bouchon Bakery cookbook release and book signing - bless her heart, she actually told me to take some time to think about it and get back to her. I told her exuberantly before we hung up that I would do it and that I needed no time to consider such a thing. It was an honor to be asked - both for who I was cooking FOR and, mainly, who I was grouped with as who the Tennessean wanted to feature as the most important up and coming chefs in Nashville. It's a list of some of my favorite people in this town - each and every person listed is working hard, honestly and fastidiously to do good, true, sincere work that they love. We had a damn blast.
Thomas Keller is arguably one of the most important living chefs on the planet. And, Sebastien Rouxel ain't too shabby either - especially if you're a pastry chef who often times spends hours ooogling restaurant websites solely to see what their pastry chefs are up to. Sebastien Rouxel is a dream technician. He is a French purist and master. He is everything that American pastry chefs who have no heritage of classic French baker blood running through their veins spend their whole lives trying to manifest. When it came down to it, yes, I was elated and excited about meeting Thomas Keller, but I was scared shitless with immense awe to meet Sebastien Rouxel. This point would be proven to me in spades when, during my photo op with them both, I hugged and immediately felt unintimidated by Mr. Keller - who, by the way is quite possibly the most charismatic, kind and classy fella I may ever meet. But, I was too scared to ask Sebastien to take a picture with me. He signed my book, thanked me for cooking for them, made eye contact, was engaging me in conversation and, damn it if the only words I could mutter as my hands got clammy and cold and I felt my mouth get really dry with fear, were: I am honored to meet you. And I bowed. Like an idiot. I actually bowed like I've lived in Japan for the last ten years of my life or something. And then I scampered away like a scared squirrel looking for a tree to quickly run up and hide in. I'm ridiculous.
These are the mini-pear feuilletes. A vanilla poached pear, almond cream puff pastry treat. We were asked to pick two desserts from the book and I chose what I felt were simple executions of important skilled pastry work - a cookie and a puff pastry. I was rewarded when Thomas Keller, during the Q&A part of the evening was asked what was one of the most important things one should know as a baker and he replied "Puff pastry". He went on to discuss that it is a skill that is so important in understanding pastry, a lost art of sorts. I chose it for those reasons - it is a skill that I am proud that I have mastered as a pastry chef. It is hard work, especially without a sheeter to roll our 25#'s of puff pastry, a process that takes two days and a hell of a lot of muscle. Being self taught, not having an "official" culinary school training, these are the things I really embraced trying to perfect early on in my training in professional kitchens. I didn't not have much opportunity to ever put puff pastry on a menu, but I had the space (and more importantly, willing chef/owners) to practice and perfect my craft.
More images of the night, in no particular order. Enjoy!