as previously published on trufflepig.com
Every time I go to New York, the city teaches me something. When I made my inaugural foray to Manhattan in 1980, I shrugged off the driver’s surprised look as I clambered into the taxi. It was only after we were underway and I looked around that I realized that all the other passengers were sitting in the back seats.
A more recent sojourn to Gotham took me to school—literally. The International Culinary Center is an incubator and launch pad for up-and-coming gastronomic wizards. Its students are disciples of some of the world’s most accomplished chefs, including Jacques Pépin, Jacques Torres, Andre Soltner and Alain Sailhac. The Center’s restaurant, L’Ecole, is a showcase for the school’s emerging talent, offering haute cuisine extraordinaire at very palatable prices.
With the same naivety that put me in the front seat of that taxi thirty-two years ago, I arrived at the Center thinking a chef was just someone in the kitchen, cooking in a funny hat. As I toured the stainless steel-clad classrooms, noshed at L’ Ecole and watched Jacques Pépin’s masterful demonstration of “the basics”, I came to understand that a chef is, in fact, a very complex persona. A chef is a metallurgist who can pick the perfect pan, an artist who can transform a tomato skin into a rosebud, a surgeon who can debone and truss a chicken in five minutes flat, and a pragmatist who understands when it is expedient to microwave that not-quite-dried thyme. Most of all, I learned that a chef is the captain and commander of the culinary ship; the director who orchestrates a supporting cast of kitchen and wait staff to deliver the consummate epicurean performance.
I left the International Culinary Center with a new found appreciation for the cook in the kitchen with the funny hat. I was sitting in the back seat of the taxi this time.