I’m Pretty Famous, Still

Yep.  I’ve been around a while, done a lot of great things.  Life is good.  Still, it’s nice to be acknowledged like I was recently on The Chew.  Michael Symon was demonstrating a unique crab cake, inspired by the “Great Chef” from The Frog and the Redneck.

A minor point:  He called me Jimmy Schmidt.

Tribute to Jean-Louis Palladin

* I found this today, not sure when I wrote it or for what occasion.  Enjoy. *


I’ve been asked to say a few kind words about Jean-Louis.  Yet looking back on the years of screaming that I endured, I have to question why they chose me.

Maybe it’s because I love him anyway.

Perhaps no chef in our lifetime has had a greater influence on cuisine in America than Jean-Louis Palladin.  When he came to the States in 1979, he arrived as the only Michelin-rated chef to open a restaurant here.  AND, the youngest two star Michelin in history.  The Washington Post, by way of William Rice, ran a two page story heralding this great young talent.  Henri Gault, of the Gault/Millaut guide, called Jean-Louis the greatest chef ever to leave France!  Their loss, our gain.

It was a very exciting moment and, although we didn’t know it at the time, American Cuisine was about to come into its own.  What happened next was magical.  First, Pan Am air cargo.  Then UPS.  Then FED EX.  Any product Jean-Louis wanted, Jean-Louis got.  He heard about a guy in Oregon picking wild mushrooms in a National Forest.  He had them the next day.  Another guy, in Maine, had divers in bell helmets picking up scallops off the ocean floor.  Jean-Louis wanted them, forget the cost.  Today, that guy, Rod Mitchell, sells seafood and caviar to virtually every top restaurant in America, including most every chef here tonight.

As an eager student, I watched Jean-Louis take product he had never worked with before, and turn it into a culinary delight.  Like his corn soup with lobster.  Fresh Heart of Palm, Golden Ossetra Caviar, Squid Ink, Lobster Coral, Live Baby Eel, and of course fresh foie gras, became regulars on his nightly, hand written menus.  Nothing got in the way of his needs, even if it meant smuggling in the equipment needed to force feed ducks.  Or smuggling in tiny, defenseless little ortelan, 300 of them.  Or smuggling in seeds for a melon, so sweet that it makes your hands sticky just to touch it.  A melon now sold as the Palladin melon.  Product was king, and Jean-Louis the Master.

I started with him in 1982.  I was just a kid, horny to learn from a master, any master.  He was the old master, much older than I.  And yet, when I do the math, I am shocked to realize that I was 29 years old and he was 35.  Jesus.  How is that possible?  And to think, I was actually scared of him.  But I was there to learn, and learn I did.  I learned about the passion, something you seldom learn in school, and seldom learned about in restaurants, way back when.  Yep, Jean-Louis takes home the Olympic medal for passion.  Anyone who has worked with him, in his own kitchen or in someone else’s kitchen, has seen it.  (And heard it.)  He cooks with all his energy, every time, every dish.  I know that one of the hardest things for him these last few months, is not being able to work the stove at his restaurant.  This man was born to cook.  His talent so great he even made a chef out of me.

Jean-Louis has asked that I express his gratitude to everyone here tonight, not only for being here and showing your support, but for being the kind of customer he needed in order to succeed, for without great appreciative customers, there would be no great restaurants.  And without great restaurants, life would suck.  (My words, not his.)  Your love and friendship over the years have kept him energized and made his life whole.  He wants you to know that he loves each and every one of you, unless Shoffner is in the room.