Kyotofu Using Thomas Keller’s Flour For Gluten-Free Treats That Don’t Taste Like Disappointment

Japanese bakery Kyotofu introduced New Yorkers to a brave new world of soybean-based treats when it hung out a shingle in Hell’s Kitchen in 2006. Its inspiring menu of mouthwatering, artisanal tofu-filled weirdness quickly garnered all sorts of accolades, even earning New York magazine’s coveted Best Cupcake title – in a city with the Carrie Bradshaw-endorsed Magnolia. But rather than rest on its beany laurels, Kyotofu has upped the ante by diving headfirst into the gluten-free game. Based on their initial foray, which we recently sampled in the office, they’re in it to win it. To add some star power to their celiac-friendly selections, Kyotofu teamed up with Cup4Cup, a 100% gluten-free flour from chefs Thomas Keller and Lena Kwak of the renowned French Laundry. The results are impressive.

As a relatively new member of the G-Free club (ten months and counting), I can’t help but make a beeline toward any baked good labeled gluten-free (usually in large letters to attract suckers such as myself). Yet this so often leads to disappointment, with bland cookies and dry, insipid cakes masquerading as proper desserts. Fortunately for those of us trying to live a gluten-free life in a wheat-filled world, the Kyotofu/Cup4Cup collaboration finally gets it right.

Kyotofu’s acclaimed chefs have used the cornstarch- and rice-based flour to create such sublime baked goods as yuzu vanilla cupcakes (pictured); sweet potato mini pound cakes; and black sesame, green tea and genmai shortbreads. Don’t be fooled by their innocent little flower-shaped designs, they all pack a satisfying, sugary punch. My particular favorite: Kyotofu’s miso brownies, which have a perfectly moist fudgy consistency, and its green tea financiers: plump, buttery angels straight from gluten-free heaven.

Finally, gluten-free desserts that don’t feel like a compromise. If I could eat like like this forever (and never gain a pound) I’d never crave gluten again.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listing for Kyotofu]

Bye Bye Foie Gras: Good For Ducks, Bad For Foodies

Last Monday, I gleefully sat down to a rich plate of foie gras French toast at STK downtown. The lady-friendly steakhouse was packed with stylish people gorging on the same dish I had, plus chewing on steaks laden with creamy foie gras and foie gras butter. The scene was affluent and chic, and starting Sunday, July 1, will not be an experience you can have at STK in California. You also can’t have the foie gras terrine at meat-happy Animal in Los Angeles, or the popular foie gras au torchon at The French Laundry in Yountville.

“Like Chicago, I hope we can realize that the few ways we can enjoy ourselves is to sit around the table and enjoy food,” said French Laundry proprietor Thomas Keller to the Daily Meal during the James Beard Awards. “I hope our representatives in Sacramento realize that the enjoyment around the dinner table is sacred.”

While Keller and many other chefs feel this way, the law, which was passed in 2004 but had aseven-and-a-half-year grace period, aims to stop a practice animal advocates have deemed cruel for a long time—stuffing a feeding tube of fatty food down the throats of geese, ducks, and chickens. With the ban, the production and sale of food stuff resulting from any force feeding of birds that causes their livers to enlarge beyond the normal size, is illegal and comes with a $1,000 fine. That’s right, foie gras just got more expensive.

“That’s a lot of money to flout what is, in essence, a morals clause,” wrote Jonathan Gold in an article for the Los Angeles Times. He continues:

Which raises the question: In a period when New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pushed through a regulation banning supersize soda, California banned the sale of sharks’ fin soup and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asked whether the federal government could force an individual to buy broccoli, can kitchen morality be legislated? Do the ban’s largely vegan supporters see it as a first step toward a larger ban on meat? Does a prohibition on products obtained from over-fattened ducks and geese protect animals or erode liberties — or both?

"It’s not just foie gras,"’ says Josiah Citrin, the chef and owner of Mélisse. "Most people don’t eat [it], so they think it doesn’t have anything to do with them. The problem is, what’s the next step, chicken?"

Lucky for me, I live in New York where places like STK can continue to dish out this luxury item, and eating a foie and jelly doughnut at Do or Dine and gorging on Marcus Samuelsson’s celebrated foie gras ganache at Red Rooster isn’t rebellious, but delicious. Despite how you feel about foie gras, just as Gold said, the real question comes down to morals and whether or not force-feeding a bird is cruel. Daily Meal’s Ali Rosen took this question to a duck farm upstate where farmers graciously let her tromp around and talked all about the process, which you can see below. It may surprise you to learn the difference between the way our throats an livers work vs. a bird’s. Readers, what’s your take on this ban?

Chef’s Night Out: Pregaming for the James Beard Awards

Saturday may have rocked Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day, but for true culinary connoisseurs, Sunday was the night to party. The start of the evening featured a killer set by DJ ?uestlove, who is teaming up with Chicago-based chef Graham Elliot to pair food and music together. The two met at Lollapalooza in 2010 when Elliot acted as the culinary ambassador for the festival and something clicked, creating a match made in pop culture heaven. Last night they showed their partnership under a large yellow moon at the penthouse suite of the Mondrian Hotel in Soho. While ?uestlove served the beats, black-clad waiters passed out delicate truffle deviled eggs, fried mac ‘n’cheese on a stick, and hefty fried “Love’s Drumsticks”—all a sneak peek into what the team plans on doing in the future.

To drink they offered cocktails including the NY State of Mind, a mixture of gin, sparkling wine, and Ty Ku sake, and the Brazilian ‘”Roots,” which had Lebion Cachaca, cane sugar, and lime. Sipping drinks and taking in the killer view were Park and Recreations actor Aziz Ansari, Onion writer Bartunde Thurston, and Top Chef contestant Carla Hall. Like Hall, Elliot was also on Top Chef as well as Iron Chef America, and he has been nominated for three James Beard Awards.

Speaking of the James Beard Awards, last night also kicked off the 2012 JBA with Chef’s Night Out, an annual event celebrating the nominees. Campari helped sponsor the event at the Chelsea Market, and there were top bartenders like Dushan Zaric from Employees Only mixing up the Bouleuardier, a stiff drink akin to a bourbon negroni, and Damon Dyer from Rum House doing a fresh Campari with Fever Tree soda water. Jane Danger who runs the darling Jane’s Sweet Buns created devious shortbread with the sprit, which was also topped with rhubarb bitters cream. In the main hall, revelers indulged in melt-in-your-mouth Iberico ham served by Forever Cheese, whipped lardo from Dickson’s Farmstead Meats, tangy mac ‘n’ cheese by The Green Table, and dense chocolate brownies made by Fat Witch Bakery.

Some of the chefs, restaurateurs, and TV personalities enjoying the night included: Curtis Stone of the new Bravo show Around the World in 80 Plates, Ted Allen from Chopped, world renowned chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller, Tony and Marisa May of SD26, pastry chef Pichet Ong, John Besh, chef Madison Cowan from BBC’s No Kitchen Required, Daniel Holzman from The Meatball Shop, Salumeria Rosi’s Cesare Casella, and southern chef Hugh Acheson—plus a whole lot more. Tonight many of these people will be waiting for hours at the James Beard Awards and this was the calm before the storm of tonight’s parties and prestigious honors.

Industry Insiders: Chef Kevin Long, Travelin’ Man

Kevin Long stretches his expertise over state lines on a daily basis. He serves as executive chef at both SHRINE Asian Kitchen, Lounge and Nightclub at MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Scorpion Bar, located in Foxwoods Casino. Long also heads the kitchen at Tosca and Caffe Tosca in Hingham, Massachusetts. Humbly starting his career at family restaurants on Boston’s South Shore, Long rose to work alongside one of his idols, Thomas Keller, at The James Beard House and the Park Avenue Cafe.

What’s in a typical day for you? A lot of my days are consumed with driving, as the restaurants are two hours apart, and I oversee all of the operations in the kitchen, menu development, sourcing, and trying to keep connected with the food.

Commuting alone sounds like a lot of work. I’m a workaholic … I never really think about it, but I’m very passionate about my work: one restaurant is a high-end Italian, very creative. The other is fun Italian, another is an up-market nightclub and the last is a Mexican restaurant. And I can pick and choose what to eat every day!

How’d you get your start? I’d gone to college, working for a computer science degree, putting myself through in kitchens. I hated washing dishes, but got into the cooking very gradually — one of those things that started when I was 16 and got to prep the food in a small, local restaurant, and then it became what I was interested in.

When did you realize cooking was your passion? When I was starting out, I worked with some great chefs who exposed me to different aspects of the business. I love to travel, I love to eat out. Every time I walk in the wilderness, I see food. It’s amazing how it becomes your life, whether you’re looking at food on television shows or perusing a small town’s restaurants, I couldn’t imagine doing something else. There are people out there who hate themselves and their jobs, and I just thought, I’ll never be that person.

Go-to spots? I love The Violet Hour in Chicago, it’s off-beat, hip, really great. In Nantucket, I like Corazon del Mar. To go to Boston and visit my roots, I like Locke-Ober under Chef Lydia Shire. It’s Kennedy’s Boston, so fabulous … just sitting at the bar is a little getaway.

Other chefs you admire? Any chef nowadays calls on Thomas Keller, who has been a massive inspiration; I’ve had the luxury of working with him, and he’s just one of these guys who is going to be known forever as the modern day Escoffier, one of those guys who recreates everything in modern restaurant. The guy branches out and still maintains the quality.

Worst part about the recession in relation to dining? Something unhealthy — I hate to be a dark cloud — but the market right now has constricted people’s wallets which makes it tougher. Everybody wants lavish dining. It’s so much fun for us to produce it, but it can really put a damper on the cost-conscious.

Something people might not know about you? Everybody thinks I’m a monster, but I’m really quite approachable, a very nice guy. It’s just that I have an intimidating air in the restaurants.

What gets you through tough days at the restaurants? I love streaming radio and can’t get enough of it. It’s very hard for me being so busy working seven days a week. I don’t have time to manage my iTunes, so this is at your fingertips, instant gratification. It’s really quite a ride for me.

Industry Insiders: Adam Tihany, Designer Dude

Since 1978, Tihany Design has held the champion title for worldwide restaurant and hospitality design. The company namesake, architect, and restaurateur, Adam Tihany is the creative force behind Aureole New York and Las Vegas, La Fonda Del Sol, Daniel, Charlie Palmer at The Joule, Le Cirque, and Per Se among other fine-dining establishments. His design work in hotels includes One&Only Cape Town, Mandarin Oriental Geneva and Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental Landmark. The top name in hospitality design shares a look inside his boutique agency and list of posh accomplishments.

How would you describe yourself? I’ve been called all kinds of things. You can call me a designer who has done a lot.

What are some of your favorite recent projects? Aureole at Bryant Park Place. The art is pretty mind-boggling and will transform it into something quite exciting. We recently renovated Daniel, and that has been quite successful and received favorably. We just completed La Fonda Del Sol at the Met Life building. Also a happening place. We finished the One & Only Hotel in Cape Town. I designed the whole hotel; every single corner, nook, cranny, suites spas and two restaurants, Nobu and Gordon Ramsay.

You do have the Midas touch. You can bring a horse to water, but if the chef doesn’t follow suit, you fail. Fortunately, we’ve tried with great chefs and great staffers. Restaurants should be showcases for food and not for design. I’ve been called a “portrait artist” or a “custom tailor.” I try to do spaces that reflect the personality of the owner, their brand of hospitality, their aspirations, and in the process — especially when you work with celebrity chefs — you end up doing a portrait of them. It’s true for Per Se’s Thomas Keller, and Daniel Boulud.

How’d you end up in this business? I believe I’m the first person in this country to call themselves a restaurant designer. I didn’t coin the phrase, but I started it. I went to school in Milan in the late 60s. During my time there, there was really not much work in architecture in Europe, particularly in Italy, so designers and architects designed furniture and graphic art, product design, anything they could put their hands on. That was the birth of contemporary Italian design, When I immigrated to the States, people would ask me what I do, and I’d say, “Give me the problems, I’ll design the solution.” But they wanted me to be specific. Everybody needed a niche, so you had to specialize. For years I refused to do it. I got involved with everything from night clubs to department stores and apartments, and then in the late 70s, somebody asked me to design a restaurant, and it so happened to be that it was to be one of the grand cafes of the city: La Cupole on Park Avenue South. When they opened, they became instantly famous. I did the architecture, the furniture, the uniforms, lighting, everything. I found in restaurants all of the things that I like to do. I bought a sign: Adam Tihany, Restaurant Designer. A roll of the dice, and here we are.

What are your spots? First, the new Cigar Bar and Lounge at the Lanesborough in London. Always Daniel in New York City and Jean-George’s Market at the One&Only Palmilla in Cabo San Lucas.

Who’s doing it right in the restaurant business? There are so many incredible people, and today we’re at the threshold of sensory overload with food and restaurants with what’s on television alone. There are people who are wonderful, long standing people I have learned from tremendously, among them Sirio Maccioni. We‘ve been working together for 25 years. George Lang is a person I met early in my career who is a friend and mentor. From the contemporary group, I would say Thomas Keller.

How do your operations run? My employees used to have to work and live in restaurants to see what it was really like — the back of the house, away from the silver and pretty flowers. That accounts for a lot of my clients, who see me as a colleague, but as a designer who’s got it inside and out. I know the business. When you deal with bigwig hotel suppliers or small boutique owners, we’re not just doing the interior; we live and breathe what we profess. Can’t make too many mistakes.

Current trends in restaurants? It delights me that in the past 26 years, dining is a day-to-day activity, and so much a part of the psyche. Restaurants are clean and safe. You go for two hours to another environment, another culture where people can’t really have their own kitchen and treat going out as second nature, a complete necessity, not a choice. With that comes responsibility and sophistication and people are selective. They really care. I like it when people send food back, although some people will eat garbage rather than return a dish. That alone keeps anyone in the kitchen on their toes as they’re working for a discriminate customer.

Anything you want to change? Cooking shows drive me nuts. Not the ones that are actually about cooking but the chef talk and the reality shows. They’re about success and failure, and I find that humiliating.

Guilty pleasures? I love the travel end of my lifestyle. I’m an avid traveler and an avid hotel dweller. If it was up to me, I would live only in hotels. I am a cigar aficionado, and I know a thing or two about single malt scotch whiskey.

UPDATE: Alice Waters Did Not Diss Per Se

imageWe’re eating a prix fixe service of crow as it turns out Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters was in fact in Chicago this weekend, and so could not have been the angry diner who objected so strenuously to the salty situation at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York. A Per Se person denied it was Waters, claiming restaurant staff had a name on the reservation and knew who the dissatisfied party was. And various sources (including Twitter — DAMN YOU once AGAIN, Twitter) place Waters elsewhere. Mea culpa, apologies all round, et cetera. For amusement value, original non-Waters sighting reproduced after the jump.

Much subtle and tasteful fawning over Alice Waters at Per Se lunch on Sunday. [NOTE: Was not actually Alice Waters. – ed.] At first didn’t notice but by mid-meal she had ramped up the much-storied bitchiness. Sent back her entrée, a duck breast, for it was “oversalted,” and took this is an opportunity to also note that the previous dish, Hawaiian blue prawns, was also on the salty side. After her main had been traded out for a more palatable lamb dish, she proceeded to explain how she would have done a vegetable preparation differently. The maitre d’ actually stopped her and returned a few seconds later with a notepad to write down her “recipe.” There was also an interruption of the presentation of chocolates to complain about something else, but was too quiet to hear what. All in all it took about 10 minutes for her to select a satisfactory chocolate. To the staff’s great credit, if we hadn’t been so close, all of this would have went totally unnoticed, they handled it with such subtlety.

Of course, there might be good sport finding out who this actually was. After all, it’s one thing if an egomaniacal superchef criticizes another, but what civilian has the stones to abuse Keller in his lair? To the point where the host actually writes down your suggested recipe? If you know — or care to guess! — feel free to say so in the comments.

Industry Insiders: Alfred Portale, Top Chef

The 25th anniversary of Gotham Bar & Grill finds Alfred Portale, the executive chef and co-owner, celebrating his restaurant’s continued success but also reflecting wistfully on his own beginnings. He sounds off on the evolutions of both his career and the industry, oversized pork sandwiches, and Top Chef.

How would you describe your role in the kitchen? In terms of the day-to-day operations, that’s my role. Twenty years ago, I would cut fish, butcher lamb, get on the line, and cook. Now it’s more or less being in the restaurant each night and overseeing the service. Spending time in the dining room and greeting guests. We have a huge amount of regular guests and friends of the restaurant who come each night. I’m now sort of splitting my time between here and Miami. I opened a new restaurant in Miami Beach at the Fontainebleau. It was re-opened after a billion-dollar renovation. It’s a wild culture down there.

Do you have any partners? The restaurant was originally opened with my partners. There are four: Jeff Bliss, Jerry Kretchmer and Rick and Robert Rathe.

What’s changed in the past 20 years? I’m more of a global operator now. My role was very much kitchen-centric twenty years ago, but it’s changed.

How did you get your start and eventually end up at Gotham Bar & Grill? I was a student at the Culinary Institute of America, and then I got recruited. While I was at school, they opened up a gourmet food shop in New York City from Michel Guérard, who at the time was one of the greatest chefs. I saw it as my ticket to France. I came to New York and worked for Guérard for a year. Then I was invited to cook for a year in France, and later returned to New York. I did a year as a sous chef for Jacques Maxima, another great chef at the time. And then was looking for a chef’s position. I had heard this place made a big splash. It was a unique restaurant. This is essentially the way it looked 25 years ago — a fun, large, cavernous space that got a lot of attention for the scene and for the architecture, but not for the food. So, I was attracted to the space and the opportunity.

What are a few of your favorite places to wine and dine? Fishtail by David Burke, the seafood restaurant. It’s on the Upper East Side in a very elegant townhouse. It’s not a late-night cool kind of place, although they do serve late. I also go to places like La Esquina. I still love going to Balthazar and getting the seafood towers. I often start with cocktails at Soho House. I also like places like the Gramercy Park Hotel. It has remained really, really hip and cool.

What about guilty pleasures? In Italy, you’ll see these stands where they have a whole pig essentially on a fantastic piece of bread — some meat, some of the crisp skin, some of the heart and the liver. They chop it all up and pack it into the sandwich — it’s extraordinary. It’s called porketta.

Who are some people you admire? The first guy that comes to mind is Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He was so creative and unique when he opened JoJo many years ago. He had two or three restaurants in New York and somehow maintained the quality very well. I thought Greg Koontz was a great chef — I have great respect for his food. Of course, I admire Thomas Keller. It takes so much work and pain and suffering to really accomplish what he does. The demands he places on himself, the kitchen and the staff is extraordinary. I admire hard work and success. I grew up in a generation where if you wanted a culinary education, you had to go to France, back in the 80s. So I was influenced by French chefs and continue to be. Now the big restaurants are in the United States. So if you’re a young cook and you want to be inspired and get great training, you can go to San Francisco, Chicago, or New York.

What’s the one common trait among all these people? They’ve all achieved a level of success through extraordinarily hard work. You need to have a skill level and be creative. There are enough chefs that try and take the fast path to success, more driven by public relations and self-promotion. These guys come in quietly through tremendous hard work and talent and create what are now empires, through perseverance and passion.

What positive trends have you been seeing? Tremendous interest in cooking, chefs, and restaurants in this country. You look back 25 years — which I’ve been doing a lot of lately — and it’s a different landscape entirely. There are chefs and restaurateurs who have gained a lot of respect and popularity. We don’t have the same culture in this country about food or wine that they do in, for instance, Spain and Italy. It’s great to see how far we’ve come in such a short period of time in terms of the restaurants and the fantastic products we’re producing and an appreciation for fine dining.

Do you think reality TV has helped this? Well, it’s had a profound effect. Television and TV stars have raised awareness for sure. I think that I’m speaking about chefs who just embrace farmers and sustainable agriculture, organic and all these things that have crept into and are part of everyday life. I think that was all mainly chef-driven. But certainly the Emerils and Tom Colicchios have turned it into a spectacle.

What else can you say about the 25th anniversary? We’re offering a $25 prix fixe luncheon — which is a bit of a bargain. It’s composed of six dishes from our past, and they all carry the date when they went on the menu. It’s turned out to be a lot of fun for guests who recall, “I remember this dish.” In the evening, we’re doing a five-course meal for $75. We created a champagne that carries our name that we’re pouring freely with that. It’s been great. In these dire economic times, it’s perhaps not such a great idea to have a massive celebration, but to keep it low-key. We’ve invited lots of our old guests and old employees and customers to come back in throughout the month. And there are new faces too.

What was it like overseeing wannabe Top Chefs as a guest judge? I had a lot of thoughts about that. There are two challenges. I was quite impressed during the Quickfire at how free-thinking and spontaneous they were as a group. I was a judge early on, and there were at least 10 chefs I was judging. They had 30 minutes to put something together, and the results were stunning. The next day after they were given a whole night to think about it, a couple hours at night and couple hours the next day to prepare a dinner, they pretty much all fell flat on their face. It’s a funny thing — it’s like if you have to think too much about it, you screw up. I don’t know if that’s real life. I think some of those guys are good chefs. I feel like I oversee the aspirations of a lot of young chefs in the kitchen and have over many years. I’ve seen lots of talent come through the kitchen and gone onto being successful. There’s been a dozen or more stars. That’s been a really nice thing to be a part of.

Do you think that turning it into that kind of competition is a negative thing for the field? No. I don’t. I think in order to be successful in the kitchen or this environment, you have to be extremely competitive, driven, and focused. I’m not worried it’s a negative thing. Chefs, more than any other profession, so often come together in charity situations. I just can’t think of any other profession where we are called upon. We get asked almost once a week to do something for the Opera, C-Cap, City Harvest, or Citymeals-on-Wheels. I think it’s good. We share employees and ideas. Sure there’s a lot of competition, but it’s a close family.

Industry Insiders: Jonathan Benno, Per Se Persona

Jonathan Benno, chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s Per Se Restaurant at the Time Warner Center in New York, on the downside of popular gastronomy, BMW motorcycles, and escaping the kitchen to make time for the fam.

Where do you go out when you’re off duty? Al di Là in Park Slope. It’s a husband and wife team I’ve known for a really long time. They do traditional Italian cooking, and it’s just a place that’s from the heart. She does the kitchen, and he does the dining room. It’s small and special. Either of Michael White’s New York restaurants — Convivio or Alto — because he has such a command of Italian cuisine, and he’s a really, really nice guy. Hearth by Marco Canora, formerly of Craft, and Paul Greco, formerly of Gramercy Tavern, is great because the place is a real labor of love for two guys who were at the top of their games at successful restaurants. They borrowed the money to open this little restaurant in the East Village, and they made it work.

How would you describe yourself? I’m a quiet, focused, disciplined, and passionate person.

How’d you get started? The turning point for me was the first time I worked at the French Laundry. I worked there about 15 years ago, during the first year that it opened. I started at Daniel where Café Boulud is today, then worked for Christian DeLuvier at the Essex House. I spent most of my time working at Gramercy Tavern for Tom Colicchio before I traveled to southwest France to work for Gilles Goujon at L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, then went back to the French Laundry for a couple of years before the opening of Per Se. In my mind, I always look at the French Laundry as the turning point for me.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? Thomas Keller for what he’s done for our industry and people’s perception of a chef/owner. Never mind the fact that he’s really set the bar for fine dining at the French Laundry and Per Se as well as Ad Hoc and other venues. Somebody said that he’s a “cook’s cook,” and after all the accolades, that sums him up best. Also, Danny Meyer, for what he’s done for American restaurants and service over the course of the past 20 years at Union Square Cafe. On so many different levels, whether you’re having the tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern or you put up with the lines at Shake Shack, these are two wonderful restaurants at both ends of the spectrum. I was fortunate enough to have worked for him for two and a half years at Gramercy, and it stays with me today.

Name one positive trend that you see in the hospitality industry. I think the downward trend in the economy affects restaurants at every level. You’re not going to see the Per Se’s and the Daniel’s open in the near future as freestanding restaurants. The trend is going to be towards more casual restaurants, and I hope chef/owner-driven small restaurants with a lower price point will make it for the next year or two until the economy comes back.

Negative trends? The use of chemicals in cuisine. There’s this whole molecular gastronomy movement. I object to the manipulation of food that’s been developing over the past couple of years. Even to take a carrot from the green market and juice it and then add chemicals to it to make beads or whatever — why use high-quality ingredients and corrupt them with chemistry?

What is something that people might not know about you? I’ve always daydreamed about being a BMW motorcycle mechanic.

Any non-industry projects in the works? My wife and I have a nine-month-old baby girl. So, they’re my projects out of working hours. I like to read, but it’s like stealing time, and so is going to the gym.

Industry Insiders: Chef Corey Lee of French Laundry Fame

The French Laundry’s chef de cuisine Corey Lee on late-night Chinese food delivery, his non-scenester bar of choice, and the rigorous work schedule of a culinary master.

What’s your job description? I’m a chef at a fine dining restaurant, French Laundry. My job includes a lot of things; mainly maintaining the standards of the restaurant — making sure that the restaurant continues to evolve and gets better but in a way that’s consistent with the identity of French Laundry and with the chef/owner Thomas Keller. Those are the things that are important … that we’re not locked into the same things that we’ve done for years, but making sure that the changes are sensible and still identifiable with French Laundry.

Any culinary guilty pleasures? My one culinary guilty pleasure is definitely American Chinese food. It stems from getting takeout in New York. You can go home from work and have delivery to your home within ten minutes at three in the morning.

Where do you eat or go out? Three come to mind right away, and it’s just a coincidence that they’re sorta Japanese-based. One is Masa at the Time Warner Center in New York — Masa Takayama’s restaurant. The other one is Urasawa in L.A. Those are really the two best meals I’ve had in the States. There’s a certain amount of personality and intimacy that’s conveyed when you eat at those restaurants, and it has to do with the size of the restaurants and that they cater the meal to each individual diner.

The last one is a small bar called Angel’s Share on St. Mark’s in New York. It’s a small bar, but it’s unique in that it’s very much like the kind of bar you’d find in Tokyo where the service is really great. It’s not a scene, it’s not a trendy bar, and it’s been around for 15-16 years now. It’s a place where they make the cocktails very well; the bartenders are serious about what they do. They train for years to finally tend bar, and they have a great whiskey list and great scotch list. It’s one of those places where it’s not about the place that you’re going or the backdrop, it’s about the person you’re with. It’s quiet enough to enjoy your companion. It’s like hundreds of bars you’d find in Tokyo but are hard to find in New York.

Have you noticed any positive trends in your industry? You hear these terms like “ultra-modern cuisine” or “molecular gastronomy” — whatever you want to call it. But to me, the basic idea is that you have a scientific understanding of what’s happening when you cook and what happens to the food. Certainly this trend is happening with food that’s very new and very modern, and it’s something I like not necessarily because of the results but because it’s allowed chefs to have a deeper understanding of what they’re doing on a scientific basis and not just out of tradition. There are so many misconceptions and things you were taught from previous chefs, or that you’ve read in books, that are just blatantly wrong; like folklore, really. And finally we’re coming into an age where chefs — not just industrial chefs, like, say, the people at Frito Lay — but chefs at restaurants are collaborating more with scientists to get a better understanding of what they’re doing and how to better their food.

Negative trends? There’s so much interest in restaurants and chefs the past decade or so; it’s almost been at a vertical slope in terms of outside interest in the restaurant industry. Unfortunately in some instances it’s made the goals of chefs very different than they were a few years ago. Certainly the interest is great for business, it helps people understand the cuisine and helps people understand what we do, but at the same time people have come to associate being a successful chef with having a certain amount of fame. And more and more you see young cooks coming out of school and pursuing those aspects of the industry. That’s not what you should be in the hospitality industry for. We’re there to serve our guests and to work as craftsmen; we work with our hands. That should be the premise behind becoming a chef, not the pursuit of some kind of fame or accolades from the media.

What are you doing tonight? Well, it’s Friday night, so I’m at the restaurant preparing for the evening. Ask any chef what they’re doing on a Friday, and more often than not they’re working.