Really tried not to let the pesky book flogging cut into the food blogging, but it’s tough when airport concourses don’t have free internet access.  I was delighted to return home to see, via serious eats that The Onion had included Elements of Cooking in its highly specific holiday gift guide under the heading, “For Amateur Cooks Who Like to Feel Guilty.”  But I don’t want to invoke guilt.  And I must reiterate, I am not saying to people use homemade stock instead of canned broth, I’m saying use WATER instead of canned broth.

Great idea for a story from NYTimes reporter Kim Severson, about time: the death of the entree.  When I go to an ambitious restaurant, I don’t want a three-plop meal.  Big piece of meat, big pile o’ starch and the because-it’s-good-for-you veg. Unless I’m going to a steak house, I want to see as much of that restaurant’s food as possible.  Which is why I almost always order exclusively appetizers.  Frank Bruni, in his blog, defends the entrée, but I can only believe that he longs for a single entrée because it’s the one thing he can never have at a restaurant—his work forces him to try as much as possible.  I also think that if more people ordered several small courses rather than one huge entrée, we’d eat less and chefs wouldn’t feel like they have to serve us in super-size quantities.

And last, I was quoted in this story in the Washington Post about Michel Richard and his new restaurants and had a brief email exchange with the reporter, Jane Black, about her claim that “Today, [Richard] is able to take advantage of diners’ growing acceptance that the master chef isn’t always in the kitchen…”  Is this true, are diners becoming more accepting of the chef’s not being in their restaurants?  I hope so, because it will indicate that more people understand the nature of the business and the work of the chef, but I don’t know.


139 Wonderful responses to “Food Notes”

  • lux

    I also read that article and came away thinking that the untold part of the story is, which is more profitable for the restaurant? Do they do better selling three apps or one app and one entree (for example)? And might that not slant some of the opinions being expressed?

    As for me, I enjoy grazing, and a good tasting menu can be a fantastic experience, but there’s also something to be said for tucking into a big bowl of really good pasta.

  • Varmint

    After looking at the holiday guide, I’m really torn between buying another copy of your book and the Tater Mitts.

    And as far as whether or not we really care about the chefs being in the kitchen — we do, but we’ll excuse it if the food is fine. If the food is even slightly off par, then we’ll blame it on the inattentiveness and/or absence of the chef. We are a fickle lot.

  • Nancy

    I like the idea of several smaller plates, but the execution (the preponderance of tables too small for several plates, ineffecient serving order) and, often, the cost (an appetizer at entree prices?) is what turns me off.

  • rooswife

    I like the idea of smaller portions and the opporunity to try more items. But when I’m hungry-I’m hungry. Give me my food, come back once or twice and ask me how I am or if I need anything else. Then leave me alone.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding expecting the chef to be in the kitchen: I hope to be able to eat at Lola or Lolita next week (IF I can get a reservation – I can’t plan ahead since we have to wait for Customs to tell us which day to be there, and they rarely give us more than one day’s notice). I will hope that Chef Symon is there and that he comes out of the kitchen to mingle with the patrons, but I certainly won’t expect it. But I think a lot of people don’t really understand how a kitchen works. I dunno, maybe they expected to see Dave Thomas when they went to Wendy’s…or the creepy King to be at Burger King…

  • Darcie

    Sorry for the anonymous post above. I don’t know why it did that.

    Regarding expecting the chef to be in the kitchen: I hope to be able to eat at Lola or Lolita next week (IF I can get a reservation – I can’t plan ahead since we have to wait for Customs to tell us which day to be there, and they rarely give us more than one day’s notice). I will hope that Chef Symon is there and that he comes out of the kitchen to mingle with the patrons, but I certainly won’t expect it. But I think a lot of people don’t really understand how a kitchen works. I dunno, maybe they expected to see Dave Thomas when they went to Wendy’s…or the creepy King to be at Burger King…

  • Mathias Eichler

    there’s another thought on why we want the Chef to be in the kitchen:
    We crave the human connection.
    We’re constantly bombarded by invisble, anonymous service in every day of our life and we don’t connect with people anymore – what’s the point, the Barista at Starbucks won’t be there next week anyway, or the people living in the house next door move before we can say Hi.
    So we compensate by “getting to know” a celebrity Chef or writer by watching their shows and reading their books or blogs and hope we can make this human connection. The disappointment, if we find out the Chef isn’t in the kitchen is deeper than not getting the magical touch or smile at the end of the meal.
    I think of the scene in Ratatouille, when the critic takes a bite of the ratatouille and “remembers” his childhood food.
    When was the last time, we cooked for someone and truly did something magical – and I’m not talking about ordering the extra big can of caviar. Or when was the last time connected with a person at work, on the street and where able to connect?!??

    So, my 2cents for the Holidays!


  • lux

    About the chef in the kitchen issue — not that that is news to Ruhlman or to the rest of us here, but this is the essential dynamic tension of celebrity chefdom. The fact is that the more famous a chef becomes, the more people want to eat that chef’s food — and yet, a big part of getting that higher profile in the first place entails being out of that kitchen. People who pay attention to the game know the truth, but not everyone pays as much attention to this world as we do.

    In a way, I think it’s like those movies that are ‘based on true events’. You know that what you’re seeing is not the real story, but if the story you see is well-told and you enjoy the show, does it really matter?

    To a degree, I think it does. My desire to eat at The French Laundry has dropped significantly since Keller stopped spending all his time there. That doesn’t mean I’d turn down an invitation to go there, but my expectations are different now. So too Babbo or some off the other really famous celebrity chef outposts. The food there is still good — but the edge of specialness is a little less.

  • Skawt

    I will only eat at KFC if Tony is there wearing sunglasses and a baseball hat pulled down low to hide his face, and he’s ordering a big old pile of nuclear orange mac’n’cheez.

  • Jim

    Ruhlman writes,

    “And I must reiterate, I am not saying to people use homemade stock instead of canned broth, I’m saying use WATER instead of canned broth.”

    It’s plain old chef snobbery to advocate using water instead of boxed chicken broth. (I think Ruhlman specifically chooses the word “canned” in an attempt to impart a nasty, tinny flavor.)

    Now Michael is talking about boxed BEEF broth, then I would agree with him: use water instead. That stuff is nasty. And don’t just take my word for it. Cooks Illustrated has run many, many different supermarket broths through their tasting panels and you can get all the reports from those tastings if you’re interested. Of course one could say that the Cooks Illustrated tasting panel is comprised solely of ignorant, unsophisticated dipsh*ts who know nothing about cooking, food, or English, so maybe you can refer to the other commenters in the previous thread who, like me, use boxed chicken broth and think it tastes just fine.

    Read that again: just fine. Not stellar, and yet not bad either.

    Ruhlman advises against using boxed chicken broth for the same reason that Bourdain advises against the garlic press: chef snobbery. It is retarded. Ditch that bullsh*t!

  • suzysf

    Darci – A stop at Lola or Lolita’s is worth it even if Chef Symon isn’t in.

    As to the broth issue. I’m a good home cook who always kept canned/boxed broth in my pantry until I learned, via Michael, how to make my own. Now there is not a week that goes by that we don’t have roast chicken just so I can make the stock for the upcoming week. Last Saturday I made the veal stock that Michael describes in Elements and it has elevated my cooking to another level all together. It’s been a true enlightenment for me and it’s worth my time and effort (which really isn’t much) to prep it and freeze it. Before I knew what I was doing the boxed broth was fine, now that I know the difference, it’s just not working for me anymore.

  • veron

    Funny, I was just at Citronelle yesterday. Michel Richard was hosting Alice Medrich for a dessert demo with dessert and wine pairing afterwards. Michel reminds me of Santa…he is so jolly. I was able to have him sign my copy of Happy in the kitchen too! I just posted about the event on my blog.

    On a different note I asked one of the lead chef instructors at my Culinary Arts class (University of richmond) about water vs. canned broth. Sorry Michael, but he said canned broth like Kitchen basics and swanson low sodium is better than using water.

    I’m on the fence on this one. I will try a simple saffron chicken stew using both swanson and good ole water and see which tastes better.

  • Claudia

    No, Jim, there is a real reason Bourdain disdains the garlic press: (1) it’s unnecessary, and (2) some of them pulp the crap out of your garlic. Any Italian can tell you you just need to use the flat of the blade of your cook’s knife to smash it, with one whack – instantly peeled. Ditto the infamous salad shooter – you can’t toss your own field greens, or what?

    I think Ruhlman loathes canned or boxed broth about as much as Bourdain loathes Rachael Ray, and for pretty much the same reasons – eeeeee-VIL! Eeeeee-vil! No chef snobbery there. Some things are just SO wrong.

  • Chad Edward

    At some level, Michael’s job is to be a snob. If he said “you can go ahead and use canned chicen broth” or let Chef Besh get away with calling his soup “consommé”, he’d just be Rachel Ray or Sandre Lee without the perkiness.

    Regardless whether you agree about the canned chicken stock, Michael uses water himself, as he’s stated on his blog before. There’s authenticity in his recommendation.

  • RT

    Funny, I went to a Michel Richard event (panel on food and wine/booksigning) last night too. In his comments he talked about the issue. One of the things he said is that he is a teacher. I think when a chef has a bunch of places it means it dilutes his ability to be teaching directly the people making the food. We can’t expect that the chefs personal standards are being upheld unless he comes around to check up and instruct. French Laundry didn’t lose its cache because Per Se opened because we think Keller has a handle on it. Lupa bears the imprint of Batali, though we don’t expect him to be there. But when I lived in NY, I saw the opening of the Laurent Tourondel empire: BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Kelbasa, etc. I couldn’t believe — no matter how talented the chef was — that he was able to sustain a high level of attention to all them. It becomes like the Kevin Bacon game: how many degrees of separation from my plate to the chef’s hand. Two or three seems about right, but if a chef can only come by every few months to see how it is going, then I tend to think it will lose its connection to him or her and it will be less attractive. I’m glad Richard is able to cash in, but be wary of the case of Wolfgang Puck.

  • ruhlman

    jim, it’s not snobbery. I just hate the fact that people use canned or boxed stock thoughtlessly. I’ll bet the good folks at Cook’s Illustrated, whom I admire, don’t consider it themselves. I’d love for them to do a side by side test with swansons, a high quality boxed, and water in basic preparations. I’m grateful to the people here who have tried it themselves and found it illumnating. Ultimately that’s the point: to cook thoughtfully. I hope there’s nothing snobbish about that.

    and veron, I’m sorry, but did you ask the chef when was the last time he used canned or boxed broth? Keller said the same thing to me when I asked him. Then I said, “When was the last time you used it or tasted it?” He said he hadn’t. so even the most vaunted chefs will tell you to use it without thinking.

    re the garlic press. I have one and often use it, but when I do, i take the germ out first. leaving the germ in is what makes garlic squeezed through a press taste off.

  • Jeff

    I agree with Jim. Store bought Chicken Broth is perfectly acceptable, and much better than plain water. No contest.

    Veron, I look forward to your results. I must warn you though that I made a mushroom soup this past week substituting water instead of the organic chicken broth that I normally use. It was awful. My wife asked why it was so bad, I said that I used water instead of broth just like my new book said to do. She said, “well that was stupid, you should no better than that.” It was awful. No one liked it.

    I remade the soup this week and it was much better. Would it be better with stock? Absolutely. But plain water instead of broth? No way.

  • Natalie Sztern

    today I made the Borscht from Simply Recipes and your words echoed in my head…USE WATER NOT ANYTHING CANNED OR BOXED….so i did not use canned broth as suggested and used water instead…this is one rule I will remember forever, so thx mike..

  • lux

    One thing that really muddies the waters in the whole stock / broth / water issue is that there’s a tremendous ongoing confusion between BROTH and STOCK. Boxed chicken stock and canned chicken broth are NOT interchangeable.

    Read the labels and do a taste test! The commercial stocks generally have a lot less salt, for one thing, and there are other differences in the ingredients as well.

  • ruhlman

    Jeff, we do have to use some common sense. Water is only water after all–the reason it’s so good to use is that it allows all the other flavors to come through cleanly. If there ARE no other flavors, then it’s going to taste, well, watery. Did you use white button mushrooms? Did you use them raw–or did you saute them to develop some flavor first?

    Again, water doesn’t have any taste–if water is the main ingredient then that’s what it’s going to taste like.

    How about using some cream as your liquid rather than canned stock? You want to make an awesome cream of mushroom soup? Saute mushrooms in a really hot pan, add cream to cover, and simmer till they’re cooked, abour five minutes. Then thoroughly puree in a blender, season with salt pepper and lemon juice. So good. Pass it through a chinois and you will be amazed at the luxuriousness of it.

  • Jim

    Claudia wrote,

    “No, Jim, there is a real reason Bourdain disdains the garlic press: (1) it’s unnecessary”

    A garlic press can do what a chef’s knife can do in one-tenth the time. Perhaps it isn’t necessary to save time, though.

    “and (2) some of them pulp the crap out of your garlic.”

    That’s a really crude way to write “a garlic press crushes and pulverizes garlic”. Yes, that’s true. Whether or not that is “bad” will depend solely on the application.

    The real reason Bourdain despises the garlic press, as I wrote in my other post, is because it chafes him to see a clumsy home cook spit out crushed garlic from the end of a garlic press and say, “It tastes fine”. Doesn’t that make all of Bourdain’s hard-earned knife skills look much less important? That must annoy said chef greatly to have some clueless rube render some of his fancy chef skills unnecessary.

    Claudia further writes,

    “I think Ruhlman loathes canned or boxed broth about as much as Bourdain loathes Rachael Ray, and for pretty much the same reasons – eeeeee-VIL! Eeeeee-vil! No chef snobbery there. Some things are just SO wrong.”

    You’ve not only described snobbery, but you’ve described it in a manner highly reminiscent of a snobby and petulant high-school bitch. When you say some things are “just SO wrong”, what you really mean is that they’re beneath someone of your level of refinement and sophistication, correct?

    If I may repeat myself:

    The only way that using boxed chicken broth could “hurt” the food is if you were comparing the final product made with boxed chicken broth with a final product made with real chicken stock. There is clearly no comparison between boxed chicken broth and homemade chicken stock, particularly since the latter has all that wonderful, unctuous gelatin. But it certainly must chafe a seasoned and experienced chef to see a clumsy home cook pop open a box of Swanson’s and say, “This tastes fine”, particularly after said chef has spend hundreds if not thousands of hours making untold gallons of real chicken stock. It just diminishes the quality and importance of all that hard labor, doesn’t it? I’m sure said chef would much rather sentence a home cook to flavorless water than watch them actually enjoy something so common and so cheap.

  • Jim

    Why all the arguing over “Michael said use water vs canned stock?”

    Which tastes best? Whatever tastes best to YOU!

  • Jim

    ruhlman wrote,

    “we do have to use some common sense. Water is only water after all–the reason it’s so good to use is that it allows all the other flavors to come through cleanly.”

    I. cannot. believe. what. I’m. reading.

    Water DILUTES flavor. That’s why we make reductions. That’s why we dry-age beef. When you remove the water, you intensify the flavor.

    But I’m just a stupid home cook. I should add more water to everything to “let the flavors come through more cleanly”!

  • Lisa

    I love this insight of yours, Mathias–“We’re constantly bombarded by invisble, anonymous service in every day of our life and we don’t connect with people anymore…So we compensate by ‘getting to know’ a celebrity Chef or writer by watching their shows and reading their books or blogs and hope we can make this human connection.”

    Perhaps this explains the passionate–even irrational–eruptions over The Next Iron Chef we saw here on this blog. We became emotionally invested in chefs we came to “know,” even feeling we could supplant our TASTING decisions for those of the judges–from the comfort of our living room armchairs! How many of us stole time from our workdays (guilty as charged) to blog on behalf of our favorites, parsing the shows with posters we’ve never met rather than say, checking up on that neighbor Mathias knows I’ve never had a full conversation with.

    As much as I would hope to meet the star chef if I happened to be dining in his establishment, I’m honest enough to admit I’m NOT going to be able to discern between a dish prepared by John Besh himself and one cooked by another talented Restaurant August chef. How many of us really have palates so refined? [Watermelon consomme connoisseurs excepted!]

    “Celebrity” chefs HAVE to be business people, too, these days, and as long as they keep a tight rein, hire great people, continue to maintain exceptional culinary standards, and try not to spread themselves too thin, then I think we customers can be happy. And well fed.

    Still, I do hope to get to New Orleans one of these days…

  • Jeff

    ruhlman, I did saute the mushrooms (mixture of button, crimini, shitaake) in butter and I did try to give myself a chance by adding extra fresh herbs, onions, and garlic to simmering water before I dumped in my mushrooms, simmered more, then blended. I’ll certainly try your suggestion though next time. Thanks.

  • Jim

    ruhlman wrote,

    “jim, it’s not snobbery. I just hate the fact that people use canned or boxed stock thoughtlessly. I’ll bet the good folks at Cook’s Illustrated, whom I admire, don’t consider it themselves.”

    Cooks Illustrated has actually done numerous taste tests of boxed and canned beef and chicken broths and the taste tests are illuminating. Short answer: some are disgusting while others are acceptable. Note that I didn’t write “stellar”. I wrote “acceptable”. Of course homemade chicken/beef stock is hands down the best, and Cooks Illustrated readily admits that.

    Log in and read what their tasters wrote (presuming you have an account, of course). The taste tests are listed under “canned goods” (even though many of them are not actually canned).

  • Tags

    Thanks, Jim Swanson.

    You seem to have an awful lot invested in making sure people consider Swanson broth in a good light. Me, I’ve read the ingredients list and I’ll pass.

  • rmw

    go and enjoy your boxed broth with RR and sandra. let the rest of us cooks enjoy real food discussions.

  • Wilmita

    Well, all I know is that I made the best risotto of my entire life after making it with homemade stock and it will SO be difficult to revert to canned broth ever again. I admit it. I was just being lazy, but I have reformed.

    As for the garlic press thing, it might be chef snobbery but on the other hand I sort of understand that.

    I spent my formative years learning to write music notation, figured bass lines, transposing for various musical instruments based in different keys and clefs, and learning to write scores and arrangements, while learning to play an instrument.

    Nothing vexes me SO much as some ignorant ox’ scybalum screaming into a microphone, pressing a switch for an automated rhythm track, or horn riff and calling themselves musicians except people paying good money for such hokum!

    So what’s wrong with insisting that people who wish to cook should also learn to use a knife, especially for relatively easy tasks like pressing garlic?

    Red Beans and Ricely Yours,


  • Anonymous

    Wow, I think this a pleasant return of the exchange of ideas that a lot of people come to this blog(nominations?) to enjoy. I am respectful of the time and effort it must take for a book tour and from all indications it was successful.Welcome back home Ruhlman.

  • Nic Heckett

    My wife and I have often discussed the Appetizer/Main issue. In general, a chef is much more willing to stretch and take risks with a small appetizer than a main dish. The cost of ingredients in an main dish is usually much higher, and the risk of shocking a customer with new tastes is too high, so the mains are often classic – perhaps boring – dishes, and the starters are memorable. We often order 3 appetizers, and then dessert. As for Jane Black – she is doing a great job reinvigorating the Post food section. I say that as a DC metro area resident foodie, and not just because she did a nice piece on Woodlands Pork last month. She interviewed Brian Polcyn for that one. She is very knowledgeable and engaged, and I think will be a strong voice as a food writer going forward.

  • Tags

    Nic, you pretty much sliced through the Gordian Knot with that assessment.

    When margins are razor-thin, it’s unlikely chefs are going to risk alienating their best customers with a dicey entree. And staying the course risks striking an iceberg of boredom.

  • nondiregol

    Back to small plates v. entrees. I travel quite a bit myself, ordering at the bar with a book by my side. Dining off of the appetizer menu is my way to go.

    Here is my take; Spain is the new Italy in restaurant kitchens. I think all of Spain is a bit halucinatory! Start with Cervantes and run through Dali, Bunuel, Picasso, Gaudi, Almodovar, and Ferran Adria. A small plate at one place, a small plate at another, sit for dinner and then sing outside somebody else’s window at 3:00 in the morning.

    Personally I don’t want to go to a restaurant and see a rib eye steak or a swordfish steak that drapes itself over the outer edges of my dinner plate. And then a giant baked potato and Rachael Ray size portion of creamed spinach close by.

    Bottom line: I think the tapa thing is good. It’s a respite we need after being punished by the old 50’s food ethic. Nevertheless, there are still trencherman portions out there.

  • Anonymous

    Appetizer items, if good, make for much better dining while taking in a few drinks, the big lumberjack style plates need to be eliminated. If you look back at food items pictured in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, they are much smaller. The Professor.

  • joshua

    Having done the tasting menu at restaurants like wd-50, where the chef is not only there every time I’ve been, but also really focused on creating a menu that is complex, thoughful and very creative in a forward thinking manner (vs. a more strict reinterpretation of classics – although this happens to some degree as well) – I definitely have an appreciation for that kind of cooking.

    That said, to realistically eat like that all the time I think would not only be really implausible but also really ridiculous. I value those experiences for the more involved, imaginative flavor combinations. However, you see time and again the most respected chefs talk about the love of simple food. Flavor combinations that have existed for decades now, and continue to be revered if done well, I doubt can ever be fully replaced.

    The exciting thing about food, like in many things, is often what’s new. And as people stretch and experiment more and more – I think the entree rather than being dead is perhaps on the verge on not being done justice. In new food, what’s happening most of the time when it’s really succesful and interesting is an achievement of modest complexity. Artfully working toward new flavor profiles with several ingredients together at once in a way that they aren’t competing with each other is a great achievement and deserves celebration – but it’s also not simple anymore.

    Talk of big portions and the death of an entree all you will, but how can you kill the entree when most people don’t even fully appreciate the beauty of a properly raised piece of pork, lighty smoked and served medium rare. Bring it on with potatoes and an veg anyday. If done right I guarantee it wins the day over 85% of restaurants here in New York.

    I celebrate all the chefs that are bringing new things (or old things) again to the forefront, but to herald the death of anything, history should have taught us this by now, is really only to breath life into it again. Someone, somewhere is working on an entree that will not only fill you up but blow your mind Ruhlman…..

    I say : Bring it on !

  • veron

    On the canned stock vs. water issue. I believe there should be an adjustment to the recipe to replace the canned stock if using only water. Respected cooking greats Madeleine Kamman uses bouillon in her stock and Julia Child in her book The Way to Cook said you can use package broth with a few adjustments.
    When I was living in the Philippines we do not use a lot of canned stock but just water but we do add MSg…could this be the missing flavor that stock adds.
    My hubby is totally against MSG but we all now know that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing if used judiciously.

  • ntsc

    There is a simple solution to the canned stock/broth question. A situation where it is fine to use canned.

    Can it yourself. Otherwise use fresh, home frozen or water.

    One very good reason (actually several) can be found by reading the indgrediant list on the side of the can/box.

    We need to watch salt, this allows us to.

  • Frederick

    On the canned stock vs water issue:

    Sometimes, in a real pinch, I will use a boxed broth and cut it with water…usually 1:1 ratio. Then I add a sachet d’epices and bring it to just below a simmer. By cutting the boxed broth with water, it neutralizes the often salty, contrived flavor while holding on to the intended base flavors.

    I agree with Michael, though…NOTHING is a substitute for homemade broth.

    An addtional thought is the idea of a homemade broth being “touched” by the home cook and being made his or her own…to borrow from the beloved Emeril, it’s a ‘food of love thing.’

    This idea also holds up in the case of using water instead of canned broth. One can make the flavored water their “own” by correctly seasoning it and adding some caramelized mirepoix, bouquet garni, or sachet d’epices. There are many options.

    Just my thoughts…

  • nondiregol

    Depending on the quality of the restaurant the “celebrity chef” may not be in the kitchen but hopefully the sous chef is. Remember that in most kitchens the “standard” menu is being prepared by a brigade of (mostly) Hispanics who prepare things EXACTLY the way they’ve been taught. But that guy who walked up from Oaxaca and climbed over a fence in Nogales just to cook your dinner in San Francisco is probably not going to be contributing to the new French menu. At least not right away.

    Restaurants strive for consistancy, but when the menu doesn’t change it gets boring. The chef needs to be in the kitchen often if not every night. I could easily just order take out Chinese.

    I think one reason chefs pursue celebrity is to get the hell out of the kitchen for good. Why? Because it’s really hard work. Even Rabelasian figures like Batali seem to spend more time in the front of the house than the back even if he is wearing the white jacket.

    And does anyone else think that “Top Chef” should be rechristened “Knife with Bad Haircut”? Make that boy wear a toque.

  • Tags

    In these days of chemi-homemade, you have to remember that Madeleine Kamman and Julia Child wrote those books when knowledge about real food was “exotic” and the broth ingredients list didn’t look so much like a chemistry set (if there was an ingredients list then.)

  • carri

    It’s great to hear from Kim Severson…I’m guessing her days at the Anchorage Daily News must seem a distant memory! I have to add that I haven’t ordered an ‘entree’ in a restaurant for at least 15 years! Whenever we go out it’s hard to even commit to one restaurant in an evening let alone one dish…often we will start at one place for drinks and snacks and then on to the next place for the next ‘course’.

  • S. Woody

    As an example of sharing plates at a restaurant table, there’s one cuisine where it’s always been a tradition: Chinese. Pile some rice on your plate as the base, and add a bit from this bowl, another bit from this other bowl, and so on. And go back when you want for another taste of this or that. And the more, the merrier.

  • Chris Greacen

    Re: entrees… Small plates and nibbles are a lot of fun. I get a little weary of the tapas-fusion thing though. Too many small-plates are billed as tapas. To me tapas is tapas, not just small plates or apps.

    But how about the family-style ‘super-entrees’? I’ve been seeking out those special serves 2 or more items that require some advance notice. Think Zuni’s roasted chicken… seek & eat with friends.

    Re: lack of airport wifi: Consider blogging with your phone! I’ve done it from a treo and my thumbs still work.


  • Maura

    Jim wrote: “You’ve not only described snobbery, but you’ve described it in a manner highly reminiscent of a snobby and petulant high-school bitch.”
    Oh, good Lord, was that even remotely necessary? There’s no reason to turn a discussion about stock/broth/water into a name-calling session. It’s a conversation about food. There’s no need to start flinging insults.

    Also, if Michael Ruhlman thought we were just a bunch of idiotic, clumsy home cooks, I doubt he’d take the time to maintain two blogs, write books and spend time talking to his fans. He allows open discussion here, and is always polite, even when he’d be justified in telling someone to fuck off.

    I don’t fully agree that water is better than canned broth. I use canned broth in small amounts in a lot of what I cook – never more than a cup. But I don’t take his opinion that water is better as some sort of personal insult to my cooking ability. If I really disagree with his opinion on a particular matter, I’ll just ignore it.

  • Wilmita

    For some odd reason, I have always preferred to order a series of appetizers to ordering entrées, even before it became fashionable.

    The variety of tastes, textures etc. does more to satisfy my appetite than a single appetizer followed by a huge entrée where the entire thing is not what I wanted anyway nor could I finish it.

    I am glad this is no longer such an anomaly. However, I am afraid my custom of never ordering dessert, (except fruit and/or cheese occasionally), will not catch on any time soon.

    Red Beans and Ricely Yours,


  • Line cook

    re: canned broth vs water Which is better?

    The answer is, it depends on what you’re doing.

    Making a pan sauce? Water. Can’t use the canned for sauces at all. The final sauce will suck. Period. Classical sauce? Neither. You gotta make stock for that, or cook something else. A slow braise? Obviously water. Really. What’s in your braising vessel? Some meat(s), probably on the bone. At some point there’ll likely be some veg and aromats in there, too. You’re already making stock!

    However, there are some things canned/boxed is better for. Grits/polenta, rice pilaf, even lentils if they’re gonna be served hot. In each of these instances, a quality boxed is better than water.

    Soup? Depends on what soup you’re making and what the purpose of the soup is. If it’s to make the best soup you possibly can using anything but homemade stock, then it’s water, or at least not canned/boxed. Frequently though, I’ll throw some minced garlic and ginger (I use a knife at home, a food processor at work) in my saucier, deglaze with a splash of white wine, the dump in some Swanson’s low sodium (of the 4 different boxed chicken broths I’ve tried, this was easily the “best”). Occasionally I’ll throw in some assorted veg, but more often than not, it’s just a handful of frozen peas. Ladle it over some cooked-off glass noodles, a squeeze of lime, a little sambal, maybe some chopped scallion greens and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, and I’m pretty content. Besides, glass noodles make me happy.

  • Jim Swanson

    I can’t stand to think that I’ve wasted so much money on canned broth all these years when I could have been using water the whole time and I’m sick of people who are serious about food making me feel bad for being lazy and apathetic.

    You know what? Fuck it. I’m going to Chili’s. Their food is acceptable and tastes just fine.

    Jim out.

  • Eggs Benedict

    I can understand where Ruhlman is coming from on this whole stock vs broth vs water issue.

    Canned stock tastes bad. A lot of folks just plain don’t realize how bad it tastes until they get some real home made stock in their mouths. It tastes tinny, oily, salty, and generally “fake.”

    The box stuff tastes a little better, but it still tastes bad. It’s not as tinny, and it’s “usually” not as oily, but it certainly still tastes fake or flat.

    Ruhlman isn’t saying “if you have a cup of canned broth, use a cup of water instead.” That’s just stupid. He’s saying make adjustments to your recipes and use water if you can’t be bothered to make stock.

    Stock brings a lot to the table, and broth tries to emulate it. It brings savory notes, a bit of salt (even the best stock has some salt from the remnants of blood and meat in the bones), and the mingled flavors of the vegetables and animal. If you just dump a cup of water into a recipe in its place, of COURSE its not going to taste as good. I don’t think that’s what Ruhlman is asking you to do. Take that cup of water, put a nob of butter or bacon grease or something in it, maybe a quick dash of msg or salt, maybe a lil onion/garlic powder, and heat it briefly, then add it to your recipe.

    The reason Ruhlman wants us to use water rather than canned broth is that the water at least doesn’t taste artificial or tinny. You toss broth into your recipe, you are going to taste about 70% broth and 30% other flavors. At least with the water you can taste something other than Swanson’s devillish brew.

    Ruhlman isn’t angry that you get the same taste from a 2 second pop of a can that he does from hours of work on a good stock. He’s angry that people settle for mediocre food that tastes like garbage. He wants your food to taste good. He wants you to realize that while canned broth adds flavor, it also adds flavors you don’t want.

  • luis

    Man… I work hard and when I get a break or sometime to myself, I reach for the elements of cooking. I admire how Ruhlman is able to dig in and mine anything, be it an egg or water and make so multidimensional and …don’t know know what to say. KAPOWWW! seems reasonable. I mean tomorrow I will make hard boiled eggs…and they will take 20~30 minutes NOT THREE!!!!!! for the hour glass fans. And I expect to see a difference. But as I sit here on my tired bones… What I really think I would like is a CD version of this book without the goofy good eats antics and o’course without any visuals from Bourdain.

  • kelvin holland

    Michael, if you’re considering “The Elements of Dining,” can you please find an explanation for how we came to call the main course of a meal an entree. The French as we can decipher by the actual word call an appetizer an entree. It’s a french word and so they obviously got it right. How did we end up getting it wrong?

  • Vincent

    To the cooks out there who have access to it -Custom Culinary has a great “base” product that I use in these crunch times esp. during the holidays. They have a number of bases – chicken, beef, bacon, turkey etc. I used the chicken one today. The main ingredients are chicken and chicken fat, salt and egg yolk, amongst others. No MSG,etc. They have many other bases that work well with soups and stocks.

    Water is awesome. It doesn’t work so well with the 2,400 people I fed yesterday without a depth aspect and to be quite honest I don’t have the warehouse space to make stock from scratch so…

    Use what you can get. Taste your stocks and foods – if your using a base the salinity factor as you start the process of making a stock or soup or sauce is key.

    Again – I am a fan of water, but it depends on what you put in it.

  • Eggs Benedict

    Base is a totally different animal than canned broth/bouillon.

    Most at home cooks aren’t going to have access to bases

  • Vincent

    Custom culinary is available at Central Market stores in texas, as well as on their website.

    Also eggs benedict – most commercial canned stocks are made from bases with added salt. It tastes different, but is basically the same animal.

  • S. Woody

    Re: Garlic

    I believe it is Michel Richard (in HAPPY IN THE KITCHEN) who advocates using a rasp file for making quick work of garlic. A few swipes over the cooking pan and the garlic is finely “minced” (actually grated) into the dish.

    I’m not sure how this would work with some classic preparations, but I’m “just” a home cook and it works fine for me.

    Just make sure you wash the file before using it to make bitty chocolate shavings for a special dessert.

  • Wilmita

    Dear S. Woody,

    Gee, thanks for that tip from Michel Richard! That would be great when I am making Yuca con Mojo for our Noche Buena, (Christmas Eve) Pork fest this year.

    I would make plenty of mojo for dipping the “cuerito”, that crispy garlicky, lime, oregano-flavored skin of the Roast Pork. There is NEVER enough cuerito or mojo for my folks.

    Thanks again.


  • Sandy

    Tis the season to be late to every party it would seem.

    I really must add my pfennig to the comments on the canned broth-stock/water controversy.

    I am one who has used canned and boxed for years completely without any apology. I am used to the flavor. I am comfortable using it. It makes my life easier. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

    I probably never would have bothered even making stock, ever — except I’m one of those souls who needs to watch their salt. At that point, it becomes, where is salt most helpful, yada yada.

    I tried making the homemade, expecting it to taste awful and bland. I was wrong — happily and unusually so. I was used to salt water. Seriously. There was no comparison to me. My roasted homemade opened my eyes to what chicken and herbs and mirepoix tastes like — as opposed to salt water.

    I would not be saying this if it wasn’t true for my palate and my taste buds. I love salt! I like roasted chicken stock better.

    That said, I think line cook said it best. I don’t always have the time. I will go out of my way to use it for certain soups and things.

    I see the trend here to try to call Ruhlman elitist and snobbish. I don’t believe that’s so. Being thoughtful about food, being open to try making a broth or experiment with water, ultimately leaves one with more freedom to choose. That’s a great gift, at least to me. In my eyes, its a reminder that creativity has a place in everyone’s kitchen, no matter the skill level of the cook. This seems to really bother some people, and I confess I don’t understand why.

  • Vincent

    To Wilmita –

    As I have been thinking of what to make for this year’s xmas dinner you smacked me in the face with my favorite xmas meal of all. I lived in Miami (Miami Springs) for years and remember the pigs roasted in La Caja China – the tip that S. Woody gave would be perfect for the mojo de ajo!

    One year I went to a market in Hialeah with a friend and picked out the pig, they killed and cleaned it for us and we were off. As a chef I was godsmacked to watch the process of that cooker – indirect heat on top over so much time. It was awesome! I also remember the older women at the party fighting over the “cuerito” and the inside of the pig’s head!

    I ordered my new “Caja China” from Miami today and it will be here late this week. they are actually distributed in Medley, Fl. -it’s right next to Miami Springs.

  • Vincent

    S. Woody –

    That book (happy in the kitchen) is awesome. The recipe for crimini cigars with ginger remoulade alone is worth the price of the book. His food is so clean and fresh.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Ruhlman writes right

    Use water instead of canned broth. You can always tweak the seasoning of dish you make with water but canned and boxed broth is what it is: duck piss.

  • Wilmita


    You are going all the way and doing the pork with a Caja China? Good for you! That’s hardcore.

    Here it’s too cold for that, so I am going for several perniles delantados al horno, with all trimmings thereunto appertaining. (yuca, rice, gandules, pasteles, etc.)

    Would you be doing pasteles as well, or is the pernil enough torture for you?

    S. Woody, you’ve saved a couple of people here. Many thanks!



  • Bob delGrosso

    Ruhlman writes right

    Use water instead of canned broth. You can always tweak the seasoning of [the]dish you make with water, but canned and boxed broth is what it is: duck piss.

  • Phil Rexroad

    Make sure to pour the non-homemade stock down the drain. And make sure poor people don’t try to catch it somehow…make sure it really and truly goes down the drain. They’ll settle for less; we won’t! And if you come across a non organic veg, toss it. Nobody needs eat any veg not organically grown. Let the peasantry fend for themselves, I say!

  • Dervin

    home-made vs. store-bought

    This is one of those great battles that can only happen on the internet. When Hoi polloi search out the elites for advice, we expect to have some secret revealed to us. Instead, we get the two words Americans hate “work harder.”

    No hidden tips or tricks, no $9.99 kitchen utensil, no trip to Williams-Sonoma, just “work harder, stop being lazy.”

    We want the elite status without working hard, that’s why we call ourselves the childish “Foodies” and not the original term “gourmets.” As a “Foodie” we’re free, we aren’t tied down to any rules, “food is fun.” As opposed to the stodgy humorless gourmets. We want to be praised every step of the way, an honorable mention, a participant’s trophy for stepping up from the bullion cube to the canned stock to the environmentally friendly boxed low sodium free range happy animal organic stock. Oh wait, you want us to do more!!!

    It’s tough, I was reading through the chapter on stock, almost chanting veal as my finger went down the page! My God it’s great! It’ll be so easy!! F*ck chicken stock! I’m going for the veal!!

    And then…

    8-10lbs of veal bones WTF!! How much is this going to take. I live by myself, I pretty much cook for myself and now I have to buy a 10 gallon stock pot in chinatown? Scrounge around every local butcher and supermarket for the bones I’m new to this area, buy a second roasting pan! It’s a culinary punch in the gut. Take out the pencil and paper and see how much I can change the suggestions. (I’ll still need to buy a bigger pot).

    But there isn’t anything that I can’t do the knife skills are minimal, I can take a day off and work from home to keep an eye on it, I can afford $40 bucks for the stock pot.

    It just might be cheaper to hang out by a good restaurant and bribe a dishwasher for a gallon of their stock. We’ll just have to wait for Bourdain to write that article.

  • Maura

    Bob del Grosso wrote: “but canned and boxed broth is what it is: duck piss.”
    OK, I think that could be the end of canned and boxed broth for me, even in small amounts.

    Dervin, I’m not a fan of the word “foodie”, and I can’t call myself a gourmet either. I can’t speak for anyone else regarding those terms, but I think most of us here just want to cook the best way we can.

    I’m confused by this:
    “We want the elite status without working hard, that’s why we call ourselves the childish “Foodies” and not the original term “gourmets.” As a “Foodie” we’re free, we aren’t tied down to any rules, “food is fun.” As opposed to the stodgy humorless gourmets. We want to be praised every step of the way, an honorable mention, a participant’s trophy for stepping up from the bullion cube to the canned stock to the environmentally friendly boxed low sodium free range happy animal organic stock. Oh wait, you want us to do more!!!”

    Are you saying we should be willing to work harder, or that we shouldn’t be pressured to do so? Most of the home cooks I know are willing to do the extra work necessary to make good – sometimes even great – food, so I don’t get the suggestion that we’re lazy. That doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes use short cuts. We just decide what short cuts are acceptable to us.

    With the increase of cooking shows that encourage the use of frozen pie crusts, jarred pasta sauce and frigging seasoning packs, I’m happy that there are also lots of people who want to cook good food, whether it takes a half hour or an entire day.

  • Claudia

    Jim, I’m not petulant and I’m not a bitch. I’m also not given to name-calling. And using the flat of knife instead of garlic press is not “food snobbery” – just long practice. Long before someone throught to design and market the garlic press. Or the salad shooter. OR, for that matter, the egg slicer. And, yeah, anyone who has been using those fairly basic knife skills – whether a home cook or a professional – is naturally going to keep using them and be perfectly secure about doing so. I fail to see how that makes me or anyone else a “food snob”, but if it does, I’ll take the rap for that – along with all the other “elitist food swine” here. Oink, oink.

  • ruhlman

    First, you don’t have to use ten pounds of bones! Use a couple pounds.

    Re water. As the story goes, michelin three-star chef Bernard Loiseau (who died by his own hand in 2003) made a splash, if you will, by promoting water-based sauces, and emphasizing lighter healthier cooking.

    Paul Bocuse was walking in Paris with Pierre Troisgros talking about Loiseau. Bocuse motioned to the river along which the strolled, the Seine, and said, “Imagine how dismayed Bernard would be. To see all this sauce going by.”

  • brad

    Line Cook: I was starting to write almost the same reply to Jim while reading downwards, and then tossed my scratch sheet when I got to your post. Agreed on all counts except 1 – using stock for polenta. Allow me to digress for a moment …

    {Digression: I generally use water as the liquid for polenta, as it doesnt need broth – salt, parm, and butter are all that’s needed. Semolina porridge however, benefits from a little help, as it’s a much more mildly flavored grain … so I use 50:50 broth and milk, in addition to the salt, and finishing with the usual parm and butter.}

    Ok, back on topic. 🙂

  • French Laundry at Home

    I, too, am a fan of ordering multiple starters/appetizers in certain restaurants because I want to taste as many different things as I can. However, doing this so painfully and clearly highlights a common breakdown between front of house and the kitchen. Many servers aren’t sure how to enter the order into the system, and honestly, the expediter isn’t usually much help in that regard, and the timing of service is often thrown off.

    I’ve also had the experience that servers will roll their eyes or give you crappier table service when you order multiple apps instead of one app and an entree, because they feel it means more work for them, and somehow a lower tip because they know apps cost less than an entree… even though 4 apps usually cost more than an entree.

    When you find a place that can be flexible and do it well, it’s a beautiful thing.

  • Brad

    FLaH: I’ve reviewed a few restaurants {not for money mind you – mostly for an old newsletter I used to do for a homebrewing / winemaking / gourmand club} and Ruhlman’s right … the best way on an initial visit to a new restaurant (or an established restaurant that’s undergone a kitchen staff change) to get a feel for sort of food they’re doing is to order a lot of apps … esp if you’re dining alone (such as when travelling) or dining in a small group of people – when entrees would be too much food. I usually olnly order entree(s) on a subsequent visit if their apps entice me to return … or if they’ve already been vetted by a reliable source.

    It’s a standard way of initially canvasing an establishment.

  • Brad

    DERVIN: Easy enough to make a quick chicken or fish broth on a spare burner – no roasting needed and minimal hands on time. However, brown broth/stock from red meats (veal, beef, lamb) are a different matter, and usually need roasting and mirepoix for flavor development, and long simmering times, plus reduction to glace … so (as a home cook) I normally do that only very occasionally (once every few months), on weekends. Better still, I’ll get together with a culinary buddy and make stock (usually while I’m helping him prep for one of his catered events) … and then diivy the results after it’s finished and reduced. BTW, having an outdoor cajun cooker, so that you dont tie up your stove, is a real boon.

    In any case, the point of making glace is that you can get away with only making it very infrequently, and then using a small chunk of it as the magic flavor/texture bullet in sauces, stews and soups.

    The trick is being able to learn and incorporate such techniques in a way that enhances your cooking, without unduly adding to your cooking time – and that’s where multitasking comes in.

  • Bob delGrosso

    A general comment aimed at the folks who think that there is something wrong with Ruhlman’s advice to use water instead of tinned stock.

    Anyone who is passionate to cook really great food but does not want to take time off from work to make it should consider a career in cooking. That way your work will be making great food and the problem will be solved.

    Otherwise, just cook whatever you can afford to cook in the time you have available and don’t try to emulate Ruhlman or anyone else who scratch cooks as much as he does.

    And be real. You cannot and you will not cook as well as he does -or any of the great cooks and chefs you admire for that matter- if you are not willing to do the hard work of making your own stocks, pasta, bread, cheese, cured meats and so on.

    When you are really serious about anything, there are no “cheats” that do not result in an inferior product. Cooking is no different from any other human endeavor in this regard. It’s one of life’s ineluctable dictums, I think.

  • Claudia

    Bobby D, I think you said it all. No one is trying to be a “food snob” and guilt-trip anyone into feeling lazy or apathetic if you don’t make your own stock, etc. – but if you do care that extra little bit about your food, then, yes, you do make your own stock (or otherwise acquire home made), roll your own pasta, etc., etc. It’s as simple as that. There’s no judgments being made here, no condemnation – just “hey, if you want the best results -”

    And Line Cook, you summed it up correctly, too. Sure you can use water in polenta – OR broth. Of course, as you know, it’s even more fun to add cream to it later, or grated parmesan. Just like you use broth in risotto – but, you know, those last few ladles of warmed white wine REALLY help (!)

    Hey. It’s just a thought (!)

  • misterybus

    Why are Dim Sum restaurants so popular – because of the small individual portions. One from column A is enough thank you. Ever wonder why you get soooo many chips with your single piece of fish? Keep the pasty rice pilaf, I’ll do just fine wih a small steak and a green salad. Back when I was young and cleared tables for a living(?), it never ceased to amaze the amount of side dishes that got thrown away. Americans have always wanted just one or two things. We’ve just had more stuff on our plates because we could. But I have found that in most restaurants, speial orders DO “upset us.” I dislike mashed potatoes and gravy. I once requested that the chef hold the gravy. What I got was a double portion of potatoes – yuck. Bring on the “new” trend!

  • Bob delGrosso

    I’ve been cooking professionally for 27 years and have never owned a garlic press. I’ve used them, of course, but have found them all lacking.

    I don’t care how easy they are to clean or how fast they crunch up the garlic, all of them funk up the taste. Pounding garlic with a mortar and pestle, pureeing in a blender or food processor, putting it through a meat grinder and smashing the damn things with a hammer all have the same effect. I am not a fan of pulverized garlic at all.

    Of course, if you like really strong and bitter garlic, and don’t mind having to clean up, all of these tools are great for smashing up garlic -garlic presses included. (I’m not being sarcastic here.)

    I will only cut garlic with a knife. If I need to cut a lot, I will chop it briefly in a food processor. But mostly I use a knife.

  • Brad

    Getting back to the original Blog topic up top … I just read the linked articles by Severson and Bruni, and like MR pointed out, both raised some excellent points. However, I dont think the articles are as mutually exlusive as they appear at first glance.

    Personally, I find that the entree experience is more the embodimenet of the traditional working family home cooking experience, whereas a tasting menu is inherently more restaurant and entertainment/adventure oriented. That’s the kind of thing you go out for because it’s more effort to do that sort of thing at home.

    Like bruni, I love to occasionally tuck into a good porterhouse or a whole cornish game hen (standard fare at a society for creative anachronism fete), and stay with it until it’s done … but there’s definitely something to be said for the ability to take advantage of the appetizer format that allows a chef and their staff to really showcase their flavors and food philosophy.

    It’s all good.

    Although I do have a bit of a bone to pick with our society’s ongoing decline in attention span, I dont really see the rise of the “tapas / buffet” trend as a true threat to the traditional entree – there will always be entrees because that’s how we cook at home, and there will always be people who go out for home style cuisine … albeit done slower, better and with higher quality ingredients than they typically have at home.

    There will always be chefs and customers for both approaches to the dining experience.

  • Stephanie

    Duh! I never thought of ordering just appetizers. Sounds fun! I do love small plates places. When I go to regular entree restaurants, I just taste everybody elses food…getting several appetizers would be much less rude 🙂

  • The P/A

    RE: Death of the Entree / In Defense of the Entree

    I skimmed both Severson’s and Bruni’s take here. I’m with Severson.

    I often want to try (and do try) what everyone else is eating at the table–as Ruhlman suggested–in order to get a better feel for the quality and range of the restaurant’s food. Simple as that.

    I must speak about one of the NYT comments on Bruni’s article, written by “nina-nyc” on Dec. 5th @ 10:16 am. This commenter attempted to associate (if not blame) the “death of the entree” on young diners with the agency to eat well, stating:

    “[i]t is harder and harder to go to some old and many newer restaurants because self-centered young people with no brains and too much money (and few good manners) are dictating how everyone should dine or eat.”

    Could that have been Nina Zagat? I hope not. It would make me sad.

    In any event, eating many small dishes as a meal is hardly some new dumb fad or even distinct to American yuppies.

    Indian cuisine has long offered us multiple small dishes in steel ovals in a “Thali,” (see: and, as “misterybus” stated above, Chinese cuisine offers us Dim Sum. I adore both approaches to eating . . . and I’m not the only one. I actually have enjoyed both with various people of varying ages and financial agency.

    People should be able to eat little dishes in multiples if it suits them. Geesh.

  • Bob delGrosso

    The P/A wrote

    “In any event, eating many small dishes as a meal is hardly some new dumb fad or even distinct to American yuppies.”

    True, true. Part of what’s happening is a trickle down phenom. Inspired by Japanese culture many Michelin *** have been serving like this since the 70’s , that form of service entered NYC in the 80’s reached it’s apotheosis here in the 00’s with The French Laundry, Trotter’s, Per Se, et al. Now it’s trickling down and out to restaurant near you.

    Anyway, Kim Severson and Ruhlman are blowing air like a couple of Vogue columnists. The entree cannot be declared dead until it disappears from Applebees and Outback.

    Sheesh, talk about elitist 🙂

  • Jim


    Thank you for your much-less-childish reply. Since you’ve chosen to write like an adult, I will respond in kind.

    Using the flat end of a knife produces smashed garlic, not minced or pulverized garlic. If you want to emulate the effect of a garlic press with a chef’s knife, then you still have to mince. Or you could just use a garlic press and save a whole bunch of time. It really comes into its own if you have to process thirty cloves of garlic.

    Your comparison of a garlic press to a salad shooter is wholly wrong. A better comparison would be to compare a garlic press to a mandolin slicer. Isn’t a mandolin slicer unnecessary? Can’t you make the same kind of slices with a chef’s knife? If that’s true (it is), then why do chefs use mandolin slicers?

  • The P/A

    Mr. delGrosso wrote:

    “. . . that form of service entered NYC in the 80’s reached it’s apotheosis here in the 00’s with The French Laundry, Trotter’s, Per Se, et al. Now it’s trickling down and out to restaurant near you.”

    Yes. This form of service has trickled way down and out, even to humble Pittsburgh, PA.

    Going out on a limb here by saying this. . . but this form of service, or rather the concept of “small dishes make the meal,” has even trickled into the commercial food chain. That’s not a bad thing, especially for the American gut and butt.

    Wendy’s, for instance, has a 99 cent menu, with small a la carte items (salad, chili, baked potato, mini-frosty).

    I actually enjoyed a couple of small items from Wendy’s this afternoon.

  • Jim

    Bob del Grosso,

    Thanks for your opinion on the garlic press. Not everyone is a fan of every flavor.

    As far as boxed broth being “duck piss”, that’s the same damn retarded chef snobbery. First, not all boxed broth is equal. As I mentioned before, Cooks Illustrated has done several tastings of commercial chicken and beef broths and found some to be disgusting while others were pretty good.

    Read it again: pretty good. Not “stellar”. Just pretty good.

    Cooks Illustrated (and I) freely admit that homemade stock beats commercial broth hands-down. However, if you set the bar of acceptability to be “homemade and nothing less”, then of course anything less is going to be “duck piss”. That kind of snobbery will lead you to wish that every ignorant, unappreciative rube out here to suffer eating food diluted with water until they learn to appreciate real food.

    I cannot say this loudly or forcefully enough: to advocate WATER in place of better quality commercial chicken broth when in the absence of homemade chicken stock is nothing but stupid chef snobbery. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Not everyone here works in a god damned commercial kitchen all week long. If we did, then we’d probably have a pot of stock simmering on hand at all times! For most of us, food is a passionate hobby, not a vocation, and that means we can’t always have the very best that the culinary world has to offer.

    And that does NOT imply that we should suffer with water-diluted food until we can, and there is no amount of snobbery that either you or Ruhlman or any other holier-than-thou chef can conjure to convince me otherwise, so ditch that bullshit!

  • Brad (

    {Aside: sorry for the flurry of posts today – I’m stuck in a boring training class}

    JIM: I think the point is that a chef knife can be used to speedily process garlic in a wide variety of ways (from paste, to crushed, to cracked to minced, to chopped, to sliced, to whole), whereas a garlic press is a “unitasker” that only handles garlic one way (and often not the best way for a given dish), tends to clog, and also tends to harbor bacteria because it’s somewhat of a PITA to properly. In my experience, those who are staunch holdouts for preferring presses are those who tend to be reluctant to embrace improved technique.

    And yes, for doing large amounts of sliced garlic, it’s easy enough to use a paring knife (faster at speed slicing garlic and mushrooms than a chef knife), food processor or mandolin, and to use a food processor or blender for large amounts of paste … but for anything less than large quantities, a chef or paring knife is almost always better for the amounts called for in most modest sized dishes – provided of course you learn how. It’s not very hard, nor does it take long.

    Personally, I find it to be a slightly dubious undertaking to entrench and criticize someone more highly trained and experienced than myself for extolling the benefits of a simple technique that’s much more versatile and liberating. I’m always interested in learning different and possibly better techniques … and I’ll decide for myself which is best suitable for whatever I’m doing at the moment … but that’s just me.

  • Brad (

    JIM: as for your assertion on water vs canned stock … I think you’ve already made your opinion clear. Repeating it over and over, and tossing in unnecessary ad hominems, is unhelpful, undignified, and distracting. Chill out a little.

  • Jim

    Bob delGrosso adds,

    “A general comment aimed at the folks who think that there is something wrong with Ruhlman’s advice to use water instead of tinned stock…
    When you are really serious about anything, there are no ‘cheats’ that do not result in an inferior product. Cooking is no different from any other human endeavor in this regard. It’s one of life’s ineluctable dictums, I think.”

    This really pisses me off.

    This past weekend, I rendered four pounds of lard, slow cooked twenty pounds of smoked ham (that I had smoked myself for twelve hours after brining for twelve hours), and used that as the basis for making about one-hundred tamales. I do this every year for Christmas. There are no “short-cuts” involved. It is not a difficult process, but it is a slow, tedious, and time-consuming process that results in my most favorite hand-made food I can think of. The stock I used for the masa was the turkey / chicken stock which came, partially, from the turkey carcass left over from Thanksgiving. The chicken bones came from the chicken thighs I smoked, the meat of which went into the roasted poblano and green chile enchiladas.

    And yet, from your words, the fact that I would not accept that we all be sentenced to a lifetime of eating WATER-diluted foods until we forsake our heathen ways of accepting inferior boxed chicken broth means that I must be some kind of cheapskate, a cheater, a fake cook.

    I advocate that people learn to forsake time as the commodity in exchange for better flavor and authenticity. That doesn’t mean I’m going to tell people that they’re drinking “duck piss” until they choose to obey my dictums. Instead, I think people should do the best with what they can while working to be even better. Once people taste real homemade stock and figure out how they can work it into their schedule, then they’ll start using it more often.

    I work hard to make real, good food. You denigrate my hard work simply because I didn’t abide by your stupid dogma. You embody the very notion of the pompous, snobbish chef.

  • Jim


    Thanks for your replies. I’d like to answer, but right now I’m far too busy staunchly preferring the garlic press. It’s time-consuming, you see.

  • The P/A

    @ Jim: In defense of Bob delGrosso, you just warped everything he said about Water v. Stock into some tell-all about your own home-cooking skills.

    Your points about using the resources you can afford are valid, but you are a nasty person!

    And your nastiness makes a lot of people stop reading and caring about your opinion.

    Try arguing with a nicer approach and people might warm-up to your opinions.

  • truenorthern

    Personally I love small plate dining for the variety and conviviality it can bring to dining out. Izakaya and Dim Sum are very popular here in Vancouver for just that reason. I do not miss the “meat and three” entree very often. However, when I do miss it is when I’m ordering a casserole or stew of some type, like a Cassoulet, Ciopinno, Bouillabaisse or Pho. Ordering the components separately would be less than the sum of their parts. The same with BBQ. The meat’s the star but what is it without Pinto beans, greens and cornbread? Darn it…now I’m hungry again.

    As for the chef being in the kitchen. My brain says he/she doesn’t need to be there. In terms of brand management and expanding one’s reach it’s actually most productive for a chef to be completley redundant in their own kitchen(s). But, in my heart of hearts, that’s exactly what I want. I think Mathias has it right. It’s the connection I crave. I’d like the remote possibility that a chef who I admire and who has options about how she/he spends their time was actually taking the time to put together a meal just for me.

  • Jim

    The P/A,

    The point of explaining what I did last weekend was NOT to brag about any of my skills, but to explain why I found Bob’s accusing me of cheating to be so insulting, and, in that sense, I haven’t warped anything. I find his chef snobbishness to be very nasty, particularly in light of all the hard work I do to make good, real food.

    In terms of arguing with a nicer approach, one good turn deserves another. For instance, telling me that I drink “duck piss” wasn’t a good way for Bob to start. Wouldn’t you agree?

  • Claudia


    Bob was not referring to your personal integrity per se when he used the word “cheat”, but was rather using term as shorthand for a short cut. Chef Del Grosso is a former CIA instructor, BTW, and if he thinks canned (or tinned) stock tastes like duck piss, he is entitled to his very irreverent, funny (and colorful) opinion. Even if he wasn’t a professional chef, he’s still entitled to said opinion. (BTW, Bob, how DOES duck piss taste?!)

    I really wouldn’get your back up so fast – at least Bob used open quotes using the word “cheat”, unlike your use of the phrase, “petulant bitch.” Ahem.

  • Wilmita

    Gee, Jim!

    Don’t go attacking the mandolin!

    One of my favorite dishes to make is Tortilla Española de Papas. You are quite right one can slice the potatoes and onions thinly with a chef’s knife.

    Since my name is Wilma and not Jacques Pepín, my speed and knife technique are, shall we say a bit lacking. And I LOVE those nice, thin layers of potato, egg and onion when I slice a wedge. Dicing just doesn’t give me the flavor or presentation I prefer.

    Therefore, the old Bron saves the day for me in both speed and uniform thinness.

    The right tool for the right job, says I.



  • Connor

    Bob — I generally agree with your statement above about how there are no “cheats” that don’t result in inferior products. I guess that’s what drives a lot of serious home cooks to make homemade stock, sausage, bread, ice cream, etc., even if the difference in quality is sometimes lost on (or not fully appreciated by) family and friends. To this last point, I once heard someone say that the difference between being a good home cook and a great home cook is knowing when, and how, to take short cuts. I believe this more and more, especially in light of all of the wonderful, local specialty grocers and bakeries out there. It certainly turns the idea of homemade = better on its head, or at least calls it into question. For example, if there’s an Italian bakery that cranks out fresh ciabatta every day in its professional oven, then buying a loaf of it from them is a shortcut that makes sense, while buying my chicken stock from Safeway does not. Although it’s kind of cliche, knowing when and where to buy ingredients (or finished products) really makes all the difference, for chefs and home cooks alike.

  • Tags


    If you’re trying not to sound like a shill for Swanson, your efforts would be helped if you didn’t misrepresent what was written and hope people are too lazy (recurring Swanson theme) to check if you’re right.

    And if you think bluster will help, piss off, Ducky!

  • Jim


    I disagree with your interpretation of Bob’s words. He stated that said short cuts would lead to an “inferior product”, and we already know how he feels about inferior products (“duck piss”). Basically, I believe he thinks that people who don’t cook up to his standards might as well be eating excrement and are either too stupid to know the difference or too lazy to care (or both!). Yes, he’s entitled to his opinion, but there’s a world of difference between saying “I don’t like boxed broth” and “Boxed broth is duck piss”. The former statement expresses a negative opinion about boxed broth whereas the latter statement expresses the same thing with an additional dose of contempt for those who don’t share his opinion.

    Perhaps Bob will explain his usage of “duck piss” if it wasn’t to separate himself from those he deems inferior.

    Additionally, I apologize for my harsh treatment of you.

    Wilmita, I wasn’t attacking the mandolin. I was using it to show that a tool isn’t rendered worthless just because the tool’s function can be performed with the chef’s knife.