This year at the cookout, I invited a group of chefs who really inspire me. One of my good friends is Anthony Bourdain who, for many years was the chef at the much-loved New York brasserie, Les Halles. More recently, Anthony has been busy writing and traveling the world, gathering material for his hit television show, No Reservations. He is a funny guy and a super chef and after all of the recent fame and attention that he has received, he is still the same, genuine guy that I have always known.
José Andrés is a fantastic chef who is originally from just outside of Barcelona, Spain. It was there, at the young age of 15 where José began cooking. Making his way to the U.S., José now owns several restaurants in Washington, D.C. including Café Atlantico and Minibar—a six-seat showcase for his fantastical, ultra-modern cuisine—and Bazaar, his newest restaurant in Los Angeles. I am impressed with how José is able to blur the lines between very classic, old-world flavor and cutting edge techniques of cooking and plating. He is one of the most lively, up-beat chefs I have ever known.
Chef Dean Fearing lives and works in Dallas, TX. His restaurant, Fearing’s, is heralded as a great example of innovative Southwestern cuisine. Dean grew up in Virginia with grandmothers who loved to cook. He spent a lot of time learning from them and still considers their instructions and recipes to be some of the most influential inspirations of his culinary life. He and I have that in common and we talked about watching our grandmothers cook and how their spirit still influences how we cook. He is a true Southern gentleman and a great chef.
Grant Achatz, who I have always wanted to get to know, agreed to be part of the event and it was a real pleasure to spend some time with him. Grant, through his Chicago restaurant, Alinea has made a definitive mark on American cuisine. Chef Achatz is intrigued with the science of food and technique and presents his progressive cuisine in a sophisticated way. A typical meal at Alinea might include 24 different courses!
David Chang is one of the most talked about chefs in the United States right now. His wildly successful East Village restaurant, Momofuku has grown into a family of five New York City restaurants ranging from Momofuku Noodle Bar, to Ko, a fourteen-seat fine dining space and most recently, Ma Peche, a 60-seat midtown restaurant. I have been around David in social settings and he is always ready to have a good time and enjoy himself. It was surprising to me when we sat down for a chat in the Caymans, to find out that he is very intense in the kitchen. He strives for perfection and wants his staff to continue to come up with the best food that they can create each day. Of course this is the hope of every chef and David is certainly producing some of the most delicious and interesting food in Manhattan.
The Cayman Island Cookout’s grand finale is a gala dinner that is held inside the dining room at Blue. Each guest chef creates a course and we all work together in the kitchen to prep, cook and help each other execute the dish. The experience is challenging but very fun because we hardly ever have an opportunity to work together and observe each other’s style. Working in a kitchen together, whether at home or at work really causes people to bond with each other—it is true teamwork.
I really loved being able to sit down and talk with each of these chefs individually and our conversations reveal some of their thoughts on technique, approach and also some interesting recollections from them about where their inspiration comes from. Like me, many of them really reach back to the food that they grew up with and enjoyed around a family table for the basis of their cooking. Starting with traditional flavors is a good way to apply ideas and techniques to make a dish familiar and comfortable, but surprising and new at the same time. Traditional comfort food is also what chefs usually turn to after working hard in the restaurant or at a special event like the gala dinner. Many times we cook very old-fashioned traditional recipes for our staff “family” meals at the restaurant. Back in my home kitchen, I was inspired to cook beef bourguingnon like the ones that my grandmother used to make. Hopefully, this week’s episode will shed a little light on the lives of these extraordinary chefs but also encourage you to think back to your own family traditions and how you can apply them to the way you entertain at home.