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Inspiration: The Creative Wind Beneath Our Culinary Wings

Brainstorming for my next article topic, I was coming up empty. Rather than wallowing in my mire, I decided to go to the local organic market. As I perused the meat counter I found myself mesmerized by a wonderfully marbled, bright, vibrant, luscious Hereford strip steak. At that precise moment my article topic slapped me in the face: inspiration. What drives us as human beings to do the things we do? More specifically to the kitchen, what are the determining forces compelling us to create? Why do we obsess over the minutest details when plating a dish? In the end, it is just food on a plate, there for fifteen seconds. Why all the self-imposed torture and mental anguish?

My own culinary epiphany took place in October of 2001. I found myself killing some good time in Barnes & Noble during a lunch break, as per usual, lost in the cookbook section. My gaze fell upon an oversize blue cookbook that I had seen there before and remembered as being white. This particular book was always wrapped in plastic. On this fateful day, some other patron had ripped it open and presumably taken the jacket cover. It was not me… I promise.

This book was The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. There was no way of predicting how much that book would inspire my cuisine. It was as if a door to a whole new universe had been opened in my mind. Thomas Keller is one of America’s finest chefs. He owns two of the five best restaurants in the world, The French Laundry in Yountville, California and Per Se in New York City. His cookbook is composed of a myriad of topics; however, two pivotal points resonated deep within me: taking care in presenting the food and respecting the ingredients.

Cooking in many regards is a mechanical act, governed by laws derived from the chemistry and makeup of the food to be prepared. On the other hand, plating is delving into the human aspect of being a cook. Presenting food artistically provides the opportunity to honestly express the self, while making an emotional connection with guests. Undoubtedly, food can be cooked beautifully, plated haphazardly, and still be amazingly tasty.  However, in my opinion, you can have the best of both taste and eye candy. This is what Thomas Keller inspired within me. As cooks, we consistently take the time to lovingly prepare food, obsessing over every detail of the cooking process.  An empty plate is a blank canvas. When presenting a dish I look at the plate, tweak it, and finesse how the food is laid. Ultimately, the spirit of the exercise is not about being fancy; it is about expressing your wisdom and what you feel inside.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, not just Michelin starred chefs. My foray into the blogosphere has afforded me the opportunity to read incredible blogs. More importantly, I have met a unique group of positive, giving, and supportive cooks. Silvia Gregori, a personal chef from San Francisco, is one of the very best. Her marvelous blog, Citron & Vanille, is well-written and enlightening. Servicing the greater Bay Area, she provides personal chef services, dinner party meals, and cooking classes. Her cuisine is fused with French and Italian influences, reflecting her distinctive familiar background. I like to think of her cooking as Mediterranean chic.

Growing up in Nancy, France, Silvia developed a great love of the land and respect for gardening. Her grandfather, a skilled gardener, grew radicchio, cardoons, green beans, cauliflower, spinach, potatoes, carrots, and fava beans. This influence has stayed with her throughout her life. Her repertoire is all-embracing, including poultry, meat, fish, beans, vegetables, and eggs. Upon moving to San Francisco she was exposed to the eclectic Bay Area food scene and readily incorporated new ideas to explore.

Reading her blog, you realize that her courses exhibit balance and harmony. The plating of her dishes is a master study in color, contrast, and texture. Silvia parallels her thought process of presenting a dish to accessorizing clothes. When you choose an outfit, the shoes must match the dress, while the accessories must complement the main piece. Some of the tantalizing dishes you will find on her website are Grilled Fennel Salad with Red Onions, Almond Shrimp with Broccoli Puree, Chive Crepes with Marinated Salmon and Leek Mustard Sauce, and a decadent Chocolate Pot de Crème. If you reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, book Silvia Gregori for your next dinner party. Trust me, you will not regret it. 

About Lazaro Cooks

  • http://www.frenchpressmemos.blogspot.com Andra

    I have had the French Laundry cookbook for years and cooked from it extensively yet still had no idea the cover under the book’s jacket is blue :) I found Keller to be a fantastic influence in my cooking as well. His recipes don’t just give directions- they teach. And plating in inspiring ways is such an amazing way to make the imagination of your guest flow and to tease the connection between visualizing food and anticipating its taste. My latest post is a Keller recipe and so are many other recipes on my own blog. It would be fair to say that for me he is the ultimate source of inspiration.

  • http://corp-minamiji.typepad.com Christy Corp-Minamiji

    The French Laundry Cookbook makes me feel better just by taking it off of the shelf. Even if I am too busy to cook from it, it has the same effect on my soul as a great painting. Now, I’ll have to check out Citron&Vanille. Thanks for this piece!

  • Carolina

    You’ve certainly chosen one of the finest chefs of our lifetime to be your inspiration. Thomas Keller is without a doubt a genius.

    He’s also such a perfectionist. Sometimes when I’m working in the kitchen, chopping something, I look down at it and it isn’t quite done properly, I think to myself “Thomas Keller would reject that in his kitchen and send you back to your cutting board and start all over.” I hope to eat at the French Laundry one day.

    We’ve dined at a little French bistro in North Palm Beach where he was the chef many years ago when he was getting his start. I enjoy reading the history behind the chef.

    Now I must check out Silvia’s blog to see what’s she’s up to today. Sam

  • Maria Medeiros

    Wonderful article!

  • Betsy Powell

    I have dozens of cookbooks, but will never be a great cook. But I love to buy dishes and plate certain meats, vegies, etc. only on the plate I bought for it. I bought the most amazing medium size platters for fish. They are white and curl up on two opposite corners, like a fish tail. I have also used them for rack of lamb encrusted with pesto. I believe in my soul that plating correctly makes the food taste better, not just seem to taste better. I will buy this book!

  • Stella

    Nice article on inspiration, Lazaro. There are so many things that inspire me about food/sustenance and it’s preparation. I wouldn’t know where to begin…
    Oh, and Silvia certainly is a talented blogger. I would imagine that she is a great personal chef too!

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    Andra…I think you are a talented cook. Your cooking is sophisticated and nuanced. I have seen your recreations of Chef Keller’s dishes and they are spot on. Seems like we’ve both found inspiration in this amazing book. Thank you for the support!

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    Christy Corp-Minamiji…Thank you for taking the time to comment. Please do check out Silvia’s blog, she is fantastic.

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    Sam…Thank you for your support, kind words, and most importantly your friendship. TK has been an amazing influence to so many cooks. I hope you soon get to dine at The French Laundry.

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    Maria…Thank you for checking out the article and for all of your support.

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    Betsy Powell…Thank you for commenting. I think experimenting with different plates and plating techniques is important. It really keeps the creative juices flowing. I would strongly recommend that you pick this book up.

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    Stella…Thank you for your support. I love your blog. I think it is one of the better ones I read and a daily source of inspiration. Silvia is wonderful and an amazing cook.

  • http://alison-trials.blogspot.com/ alison

    yes,silvia is a great and amazing cook,a continuous source of inspiration to me,but and a warm and delicate person!i was very lucky to meet her!

  • http://www.quickiesonthedinnertable.yolasite.com denise

    I follow Silvia’s blog so I have to agree with you Lazaro, on all counts!

    I’d like to add that you pen a very compelling and persuasive piece. Your writing flows effortlessly and crackles with life. Reading this review has been a such a pleasure.

    I definitely look forward to more from you.

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    alison…Thank you for commenting on the article. Silvia is a talented cook, and a very sweet person.

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    Denise…High priase coming from you. You are an amazing writer in your own right. Thank you for all of your support.

  • Olithia Rose

    Love this article! I got a chance to meet Keller a book signing at the Bocuse D’Or U.S. finals which were held at my school in Feb. The book I brought with me was the recent Ad Hoc, another great cookbook. I love what he says about the importance of family as well the necessary repetition in cooking when it comes to improving our craft and skills. The recipes are simple but nonetheless beautiful and I definitely recommend it to complete any TK collection

  • http://kristygourmet.blogspot.com kristy

    No doubt, Silvia is a very special lady and a wonderful chef! We met a couple months ago through FB. I’m glad I’ve met her!
    Blessings, Kristy

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ Lazaro

    Olithia…I do own Ad Hoc, and agree that it it an amazing book. Thank you for commenting!

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ Lazaro

    Kristy…Agreed with you about Silvia. She is a lovely person. Thank you for supporting her.

  • http://www.domesticadventurer.blogspot.com Nicki

    Your article stands alone as inspiration, Lazaro! Through it, I’ve found another great blog to bookmark and another cookbook to add to my Amazon wish-list.
    You write well. Nicely done!

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    Nicki…Thank you for the kind words and the support. I apreciate it very much.

  • http://www.ingredientsofawoman.com/ Ingredients of a Woman

    Lazaro, I love your article.
    Great job.

    Alba H. Rodriguez

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ Lazaro

    Alba…Thank you very much for the support. Glad you enjoyed it. Cheers!

  • http://www.passionateaboutbaking.com/ deeba

    A beautifully balance and inspirational post Lazaro. For foodies like me, it’s an extension of my very thoughts and feelings. Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is pure culinary bliss, and I love the review on Citron & Vanille. FL has been on my list for long …

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ LazaroCooks!

    deeba…Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am glad you enjoyed the article. Love Citron et Vanille, and your blog as well. Cheers!