Is it possible to re-create restaurant dishes at home?

What to eat. What not to eat.
Jan. 21 2009 6:36 AM

Cooking Their Books

Trying to re-create restaurant dishes at home.

(Continued from Page 1)

The following week, I tackled "cumin-crusted salmon with chive mashed potatoes" in Chanterelle, which required five pots, a blender, a food processor, several measuring cups, and an hour and a half to prepare. It tasted great and looked similar to the photograph, with one exception. My potatoes were pale green with dark green specks—not uniformly pea-green. I had prepared the potatoes as instructed, blanching the chives, then chopping them and pureeing them, but my blender proved useless. So I transferred them to a food processor and pureed them before returning them to the blender, still to no avail. I consoled myself by drowning them in the luscious citrus-butter sauce, which, true to restaurant form, required half a pound of butter for four servings.

At Chanterelle the following day, I knew I'd aced it as I ate the salmon, which tasted virtually identical to mine, as did the citrus-butter sauce. However, Chanterelle garnished its salmon with haricots verts and micro chives, and its potatoes were uniformly green. When asked how they were so perfectly hued, my waiter replied that the chives were blanched, then pureed in a blender and added to the mashed potatoes. Clearly, I either need to invest in Chanterelle's blender or hire their sous-chef.

Advertisement

All of the recipes I tested resembled their originals, but none perfectly recreated the restaurant version—not an entirely surprising verdict. As Kenny Shopsin writes in Eat Me, "My regular customers know that if they order the same thing they got last week, there is a good chance they won't even recognize it. I don't do it differently on purpose. It's just that everything I cook, every time I cook, is an event in and of itself." Variable factors like ingredient quality, temperature, and timing will ensure that a dish is different every time it's prepared, whether at a restaurant kitchen, or a home kitchen, or even from one day to another at the same restaurant.

Why, then, do we still buy restaurant cookbooks? Perhaps because we aspire to be restaurant insiders. Making a pilgrimage to Chicago to dine at Alinea was once considered impressive. These days, a true foodie won't bat an eye unless you can identify every ingredient in every dish—a party trick that requires either an excellent palate or close attention to the recipes in Alinea. Besides this cheat-sheet function, restaurant cookbooks help us tap into a chef's creative genius—they help us understand how a handful of ingredients can be transformed into a restaurant-worthy meal. When we rely on regular cookbooks, we at best become good cooks; with Eat Me or Carmine's Family Style-Cookbook or Chanterelle, we become pseudo-restaurant chefs.

Of course, a restaurant cookbook is still, ultimately, no more than a collection of bound pages. At home, Kenny Shopsin didn't insult me (which is really an integral part of the Shopsin's experience); I missed out on people-watching at Carmine's (enthusiastic hordes devouring heaps of pasta); and while my salmon resembled Chanterelle's, I didn't get to taste the complementary deviled quail egg canapés and homemade rolls with two types of artisanal butter. At home, I had to play the part not only of chef but of waiter and dishwasher, too, with no chance of a tip.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 23 2014 10:55 AM This Isn’t the Syria Intervention Anyone Wanted
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 23 2014 10:24 AM How Bad Are Your Drinking Habits? An 18th-Century Temperance Thermometer Has the Verdict.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google CEO: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.