Good Is The Enemy Of Great

“Du beurre, encore du beurre, toujours du beurre.”

Fernand Point

 [As seen in Boomer Magazine’s October – November 2014 issue]

 Some 80 years ago, when asked what made French food so good Chef Point replied “Butter, more butter, always butter”.  Can it really be that simple?  I think not.  Think of it like money, more money, always money.  Sure, it sounds good on paper, but it’s hardly the whole picture.

Which begs the question: Just what is great food?

As a culture, Americans have quickly progressed from a kettle over a fire to Swanson’s TV Dinners, Howard Johnson’s fried clams (their corporate chef was once Jacques Pepin), big steakhouses and burger joints, Modern American Cuisine, and now, Farm to Table.

Chefs have been taught that great ‘western’ cuisine is based in six hundred years of French tradition and training.  The French wrote the book(s) on eating.  And rules there were: each sauce had a name and must be made exactly the same way each time.  If you tried to take a shortcut, you risked being locked in a cooler, or even slapped up the side of the head.  Why so serious?   Ask Escoffier, Carême, Brillat-Savarin and the other great (albeit dead) masters.  Or go watch Ratatouille again.

Then something changed; cooking became more about love than rules.  Do not misunderstand: French technique is a must.  It teaches us everything from flavor profiles to knife skills.  It teaches us that crushed shallots are bitter; but when cut with a very sharp knife they’re sweet and rich.  We learn the importance of seasoning foods at the right time in the process and what utensils to use for what results.


I learned a lesson nearly forty years ago while working at the original Le Cordon Bleu in Paris:  The chef had cracked an egg into a bowl and then, slowly and deliberately, he used his thumb to wipe the inside of the shell.  His reward was a smidgeon of egg white that would have been left behind.  He looked at me and said that one day I would understand why he did that.  I’m thinking, why bother?  It’s hardly worth the effort.  You know, time is money and all that.  Then, a few years deeper into my training I understood.  It’s not about economizing, it’s about respect; respect for the product.


So, if you’re looking for great food in a great restaurant, look for passion and certainly look for training and experience.  Good cooks can be self-taught, but great professional chefs cannot.  Like any great profession, you need to learn from those that came before you.

So what about the butter?  If you’re going to use butter, use good butter.  And use it in moderation.  Then add a bit more.


“If you stop eating butter, your skin will turn to dandruff.”

Julia Child


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