“You cannot be nervous and make a sauce hollandaise. The eggs will feel it, and they will separate.”.
- Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), Hundred Foot Journey
This is a weird year. I’m not sure what’s more taboo to talk about at this point… Politics or Diet. TV Evangelists on every channel have been replaced by Doctors that are trying to market their latest versions of snake oil treatments that are guised as diet fads and each one is more comical than the last. The Carnivore Diet – a diet that eliminates carbs by cutting out plant material? Am I having a stroke? What’s going on?
What happened to everyone being all goo-goo and gaa-gaa about French food? Well, just like everything else in the world, there is an ebb and flow to culinary trending, and different cuisines come and go, sharing the spotlight with their food friends, so everyone dish from every culture gets its 15 minutes.
I feel very fortunate that I came up in the culinary class of French Food. Being an early 20’s cook or sous chef in a French kitchen gives you a certain sense of pride - once you get past all of the yelling and screaming and stuff getting thrown at you for not going a good job, of course… But who cares right? At the time French food was gold, and I wanted to have the Midas touch… so it was worth the torment. The attention to detail I learned in those kitchens fully and completely transformed my mentality about food and about what it is to be a cook, but it wouldn’t be until later in my career that I would fully understand or embrace why I had to endure what I did to get to where I am now. And if it wasn’t for all of those blood, sweat and tears I put in early on in my career, I’d never be able to tell you this story – which is my favorite story of all of my kitchen stories. So I hope you enjoy it.
As I mentioned above, I came up in mostly French kitchens. I am very passionate about French food, and have a very special place in my heart for French sauces, more specifically, Mother sauces, and more specifically yet, Sauce Hollandaise. There was a point in my career that I could make Sauce Hollandaise blindfolded. Heck, I even had the time of making it down to three minutes. AND AND – what do you do for someone that can achieve a feat like that? You give them a nickname… And mine was HollanDave. Hollandaise was my favorite sauce in the world and I was not afraid to tell you about it. So when I got my very first kitchen as Chef, and I was tasked with finding a Sous-Chef is where my story begins. I put an ad in the paper, got some resumes, made some calls, and in a few days I had a guy coming in for a working interview to make me an Entrée so I could test out his cooking style and abilities. So, I told the guy he had 15 minutes to go and look around and see what was available and 1 hour to cook me a completed Entrée plate (main item, starch, veg, sauce). The guy asks me if I like Hollandaise Sauce. I told him yes, and not to make it for me as I’ve had the best Hollandaise sauce I’m ever going to have (It was at a restaurant in Jolly Harbour, Antigua btw) and I make a pretty mean Hollandaise myself and to please find something else to make. But this guy was insistent… First red flag. So after and I’m not kidding, 10 minutes of arguing with this guy, I finally relent and tell him to make his Hollandaise. To which his response was, “Do you want me to make it the real way or the quick way?” I ask him what “the quick way” is but he won’t tell me . So I told him to go on and make it the quick way and I found a place to watch where he couldn’t see me. Now, it is at this point of the story that I have to tell you that I have bought food coloring twice in my life, and neither time was it for me. So the idea of me having it in one of my kitchens is out of the question.
The guy grabs a pot and puts it on the stove. Then goes into the cooler and gets a gallon of milk and proceeds to pour some into the pot. Next he pulls out some eggshade food coloring, and then dumps cornstarch into the pot of cold milk and food coloring (WITHOUT EVEN MAKING A SLURRY!!!) It was at that moment the buttons started popping off of my chef jacket as HollanDavid Banner morphed into the Hulk. I about took the doors off of the hinges coming into the kitchen to kick him as far out of my sight as possible. I’ve only been that angry a handful of times in my life… Needless to say he didn’t get the job.
The reason I’m telling you this story is because I just finished up a Sauce Workshop, and though you might not be making Hollandaise sauce anytime soon, knowing how to make sauces can make the different in something being good and great, and sauces are also very important as the added moisture and fat in the sauce will act as a lubricant and help you to keep chewing – making it possible to finish that whole steak or chicken breast or pork chop you worked so hard to prepare!
Next time you need some In-sauce-per-ation, come back and check out some of these recipes that pair well your next meal! Oh, and I’ll throw in my Hollandaise Sauce with Bearnaise Variation so you can practice and become an In-Home Saucier! Salut!