Its Time to do the Laundry

5 Teens and the French Laundry Cookbook
 Thomas who? The French what? Some of you may be able to fill in those blanks, but most would have trouble identifying them. No worries though, I’m about to give you a lesson in fine dinning 101. The French Laundry by Chef Thomas Keller is located by the vineyards of Napa Valley (California). Opening just 16 years ago (1994) the French Laundry slowly but surely has risen to the top, becoming what then New York Times food critic, writer (and later Gourmet Magazine Editor) Ruth Reichel called “ the most exciting restaurant in America”. The food speaks for itself as each dish is plated artistically and offers a variety of flavors. The menu prices begin with a prix-fix (you pay one flat price) nine-course tasting menu and no single ingredient is ever repeated throughout the menu. Chef Thomas Keller is one of the most highly recognized and respected chefs in the Culinary World. He has been named “Best Chef” by the James Beard Foundation and is the only American born chef to hold multiple 3-star Michelin rating (thats the highest rating a restaurant can get). He also owns 3 other restaurants, Per Se (which is The French Laundry’s sister restaurant in New York), Bouchon (with locations in Napa, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas), and his latest restaurant Ad Hoc also located in Napa. Now that you know the what’s and who’s, it’s time to tell you why.  I decided to take on the impossible and get my friends to cook from the French Laundry cookbook. Call me crazy but it was a culinary adventure I just had to take on. Of course I couldn’t do this alone, I needed the help of my friends to help me set up a “3-star restaurant” in my own home. 

Our French Landry dinner table (check out the clothing pins on the napkins)

 At first it was tough, I had to find recipe’s within the book that would be “kid-friendly” and approachable, but don’t expect to go to the French laundry and find a kids menu. After searching I came upon 3 dishes that I thought were perfect. To start, a Parmigiano-Reggiano Custard with Romaine Lettuce, Anchovy Dressing, and Parmesan crisp’s. The main course was Sautéed Potato Gnocchi with a Balsamic Glaze. To finish the meal off, the French Laundry’s twist on an old classic, Strawberry Sorbet Shortcakes with Sweetened Crème Fraiche Sauce. Believe it or not this meal was not difficult but it requires some prep work. In order to save time I made a few items the day before, the Strawberry Sorbet, Balsamic Reduction, Chive Oil, and Lemon Oil. I began by pureeing strawberries, then strained them and added sugar and honey to the mixture and finally freezing it in my ice cream maker over night. The Balsamic Reduction was a success because, according to Chef Keller  the key is to not boil or simmer your liquid but to let it reduce low and slow (2 cups for 2-3 hours until thick). The chive oil began with 1 cup of chopped chives run under hot water for 2 minutes then pureed with canola oil and strained. 

Making crouton rounds and checking the "book"

Making Parmesan crisps

Mixing the biscuit dough

Eric, Paula and Aviva straining the Crème Fraiche

At 12:00 PM the next day my friend Aviva arrived and we began to make the Parmigiano-Regiano custards by infusing milk and cream with a block of Parmesan Cheese. I also started to make the anchovy dressing, which called for 2 packed anchovy cases bathed in milk which made the dressing thick and creamy. Balsamic, shallots, dijon, and lemon were all pureed creating a sweet and salty sauce. Soon after, Paula, Eric and Jordan arrived, eager to get started. Eric and Paula made crouton rounds from a French baguette while Jordan made Parmesan crisps. Next on our prep list came the dessert. The biscuits were an easy mixture of flour, baking soda and powder, sugar, milk and buttermilk. Our delightfully rich Crème Fraiche Sauce was warmed in a small sauce-pot and infused with vanilla beans. Finally it was time to prepare our gnocchi. The potatoes roasted for 1 hour until cooked all the way through. They were then scooped out of their skin and riced through a food mill. We then cut in eggs, flour and salt into the potato forming dough. Anyone and everyone can do the next part. We all rolled little potions of the dough into “snakes, cut it into 1-2 inch pieces and rolled them into balls. 

Paula cutting the vanilla bean for the Créme Fraiche

Cutting the strawberries for dessert

"Ricing" the potatoes

Rolling the dough

Spidering the cooked gnocchi

 Using the back of a fork we rolled the balls into ovals giving each piece a stripped look. All that was left was to cook the gnocchi in a pot of boiling water. They cook incredibly fast and you can tell when they’re done because they float to the surface. We finished up the gnocchi later on by sautéing them with the rest of the ingredients. I wanted everyone to experience what it’s like to work in 3 star restaurant so I set up a plating station at my kitchen table.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Custard with Romaine Lettuce, Anchovy Dressing, 
and Parmesan crisp

Everyone in front of their salad platings

Sautéing the gnocchi

Plated gnocchi

Dessert assembly and plating station

Strawberry Sorbet Shortcakes with Sweetened Crème Fraiche Sauce
For each course everyone got to plate their own dish, and they all were spectacular to look at just as if we were at the French Laundry. In the end each course had a unique flavor and beautiful presentation created by 5 teens, impossible you say…I don’t think so. In fact I think we would have made Chef Keller proud. Laundry is a good thing!

Keep on Cooking!!

**Chef Thomas Keller has inspired Chef’s, cooks and food lovers from all over the world. Some may not have the opportunity (or can't afford) to visit the French Laundry, but if one could it would be a once in a lifetime experience. In the meantime I highly recommend the “French Laundry Cookbook.**

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