Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Chef Daniel Scherotta: Graduation Speech And Recipe For Gnocchi Ferrarese with Acorn Squash and Brussels Sprouts

Chef Daniel Scherotta

As some of my readers know I also have an Inspiration Blog called Treasures In The Attic where I post items of inspirational and motivational interest to brighten and cheer one's day. Well yesterday I came across a wonderfully inspiring Graduation Speech given by Chef Daniel Scherotta to a graduating class of culinary students, and it inspired me so much that I decided to post it here at Chatter Platter With Patricia since it is related to the world of culinary arts. Hopefully you will find it as inspiring as it was for me.

Chef Daniel Scherotta is the Chef-Owner of Palio d' Asti which is a top rated Italian Restaurant in San Francisco. He is also the Vice President of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and California Culinary Academy Alumnus.
He was the guest speaker at the August 18 commencement ceremony in the Careme Room. I am also including one of his famous recipes for Gnocchi Ferrarese with Acorn Squash and Brussels Sprouts. Here is what he said to the graduates.

I'd like to congratulate you all on making it this far. Now, for the sake of your career, forget that you have this degree. Forget that you endured a year and a half of knife skills, garde manger, culinary history, safety and sanitation, table service and wine service, French, Italian, and Chinese cooking, mother sauces, and classical garnishes. Instead, pretend that you've just woken up from a long, Burgundy-induced slumber to realize that you want to be a chef and you have no idea how. Now, your real education is about to begin. I can't give you the key to becoming rich and famous, but I can tell you some habits of successful real chefs and also why people fail.
At my graduation from the CCA, Jan Birnbaum gave the address. Jan compared cooks to pans; there's the cheap aluminum pan that gets hot real fast, speeds you up on the line, is easy to clean and cheap to replace when it warps. Then there's the cast iron skillet; it's heavy and it takes time to heat up, takes time to season, and takes time to maintain, but once it's there, it stays hot, cooks evenly, doesn't stick, and lasts for a long time. Most cooks and chefs are aluminum pans. These are people who are the flavor of the month, the hot new thing, the rising star. So many of these one-hit wonders have disappeared since I became a chef a decade ago. You're here to build a career. Careers take time and effort, blood, sweat, and tears, but they last. In these days of fly-by-night celebrity chefs and Food Network stars, resist the impulse to become famous fast; the greats -- Keller, Vongerichten, Danko, Puck, Batali, Soltner -- all took their time. Be the cast iron skillet and do it right.
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray kept on living the same day over and over again, gradually improving, finding his way around, preventing accidents from happening, learning from his mistakes, and earning love he passionately sought, until he finally got it right. That is life in the kitchen. When you start working somewhere, choose well and stay with it. Keep pushing yourself. Choose a place that will kick your butt every day and twice on Sundays. Work where you will learn, where even the prep guy from south of the border can teach you something. Stay there for at least a year, no matter how hard it is, no matter how much you get yelled at, no matter what kind of anxiety dreams you have, no matter how much your feet hurt. Work hard enough to get promoted, ideally to every station in the kitchen. Show your passion.
Most importantly, do not leave before one year, EVEN if you get a better offer, because if you do, down the road, the people you want will NEVER hire you. We want to see dedication and short stints say Flake with a capital F. When you've learned a chef's style and worked his menu for four seasons, ask for advice. Go someplace new and learn what they have to offer. Learn how to cook volume and how to cook fine dining. Listen. Show loyalty and respect to those above and below you, as you will want it in return.
General Rommel, the brilliant German tank commander in World War II, had a habit of burying ammunition in the desert on his advance so that he'd be able to move faster and have supplies on hand if and when he had to retreat. Ours is a very tight industry, so when you move on, leave goodwill behind you. I've seen too many cocky cooks and chefs make themselves unemployable by not playing nice in the sandbox with others, either above or below them, and burning bridges behind them.
When you finally get promoted to sous chef, and you finally get the opportunity to be creative, remember one thing: you aren't the boss, you're the middleman. You are there to help everyone succeed above and below you. Once you start telling people what to do, you're on your way out the door, despite what you may have seen on TV.
Cooking is a trade; therefore, knowledge and experience are bankable assets. Generally speaking, for cooks on their way up the ladder, the better the restaurant, the less they pay. However, the better the restaurant, the more you learn and the faster you get to the place where you can start to pay back your student loans. Think about it: who will become a sous chef first, the woman who stages for two years in a Michelin-starred restaurant for room and board, or the guy who takes the fry job at Chile's for $15 an hour? Now is the time to force chefs to teach you their secrets. Commencement means start, not finish, and that's just what you're all about to do.
You're probably all here because you are passionate and you want to create. How you handle that first opportunity matters. Limits are what force you to be creative. Necessity is the mother of invention and we all work within the limits of the seasons and the concepts and budgets of our restaurants. Remember, cooking wasn't invented by chefs but rather by poor women trying to feed their families with nothing -- keep that in mind every time you're writing your menu and you're lamenting that you have nothing interesting to use because it's January and there's not much on the market or you're over budget. Never use the words "my food" as though you don't fall into that long and noble tradition of turning lemons into lemonade; it implies arrogance and ignorance at the same time. Do not believe the press, unless it's bad, and then learn from it. To paraphrase Woody Allen, there's nothing worse for a young chef or new restaurant than a good review. In my opinion, it's better to have loyal customers and employees than three stars and closed doors. I've had both, I know.
Finally, when you're ready and you finally become a chef, realize that you are not a god. You are the center of a wheel that supports your investors, your employees, your guests, and you answer to all of them. Your job is keep them all together. Nothing you did as a cook prepares you for the balancing act of keeping everyone happy. You will need to earn their respect to get the help and cooperation of everyone around you. You will need to build both a team of workers and a congregation of regulars. You will need to listen to unhappy customers, unflattering critics, unruly cooks, disrespectful waiters, and demanding investors. In your spare time, you may even get to do a little cooking.
So take it slow enough to learn things right, show up on time, stay long enough to learn the fundamentals, focus on doing the best job you can, build your repertoire, develop your network, and always, always leave some ammo behind in the desert, if not in the dessert.

Gnocchi Ferrarese with Acorn Squash and Brussels Sprouts

"The Northern Italian autumn harvest tastes of pumpkin, nutmeg, butter, potatoes, nuts, sage and cabbages. The food is warm, soft and rich; comforting and exuberant at the same time. In this dish, we showcase these flavors in a fun, attractive combination. While a few steps are required in advance, the final assembly of the dish takes almost no time or effort at all. this vegetarian plate pares quite well the meatiest of red wines. I'd recommend a Zinfandel, Syrah or Barbaresco."

Serves 6

Gnocchi Squash

2 lb. russet potatoes
3 ea. two-lb. acorn squash
1 large egg
½ cup brown sugar
1 ½ - 2 cups flour
Kosher salt
½ cup parmesan cheese

Brussels sprouts To Finish

2 lb Brussels sprouts
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup parmesan cheese
Kosher salt
½ cup toasted hazelnuts

To Prepare Gnocchi:

Quarter potatoes and put in cold salted water, bring to a simmer, never allowing a rolling boil (it breaks the potatoes). When potatoes are cooked (knife goes through like butter), drain and put through a food mill or potato ricer. Let cool 15-30 minutes. Spread out mass on a wooden surface lightly dusted with flour. Build a volcano. Dust volcano with a snowfall of ¾ of the flour and all the cheese. Beat the egg and drop into the middle of the volcano. With a fork, gradually work more and more of the volcano and the snow into the egg until you have a dough you can work with your hands. When all is one, roll out into long tubes ¾-inch thick. If the dough sticks, flour the surface and hands. Cut gnocchi about 1 to 1½-inches long. If you like, then roll each gnocchi over the tines of a fork for the traditional sauce-grabbing ridges. Put onto floured cookie sheet without stacking and freeze. If this is too much trouble, buy the gnocchi; the rest is easy.

To Prepare Squash:

Heat oven to 350°. While the potatoes are coming to a boil (above), cut the squash in half from tip to stem and scoop out all of the seeds. Lay the squash halves face up in a deep baking dish with half-inch of water on the bottom. Sprinkle with brown sugar, salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Rub rim with butter and drop a pat of butter in each squash. Cover dish with foil and put into the oven, bake until the squash is soft (40-60 minutes; test with a knife). These will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

To Prepare Brussels Sprouts:

Trim stem and outer leaves, cut in half. Put into a wide pot with butter, salt to taste and almost enough water to cover and bring to a boil, occasionally stirring gently. the ideas is that when they're totally cooked (never al dente), the water will have evaporated and the sprouts will be glazed with Brussels Butter. Let cool, spread out on a cookie sheet.

To Finish:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. If squash are no longer hot, put them back into a 500° oven. Drop gnocchi into water. Brown butter in a sauté pan, add Brussels sprouts and some pasta water. When gnocchi float to the surface, gently add them into the pan with the heated sprouts and sauce. Put a piece of squash into a bowl. Toss gnocchi with sprouts and sauce (add water if you need more sauce) and fill each squash with the dumplings and top with parmesan cheese and toasted hazelnuts.

No comments:

Post a Comment