OK. Let's get right back into this. First off – sorry, sorry, sorry. I know – I don't write – I don't call – no news for too long. I've been sick – still sick if you can believe it – the killer cough from hell – and the worst part of it is that I hear it all around me in Paris – every other person has the same cough. Can we say Twelve Monkeys? Gross. And my computer's been sick. But please don't feel bad – I've been thinking about you – guilty that I've been neglecting you – you and my mom.
OK – where were we? Herve This molecular gastronomy seminar. OK first off – no food. No food! I was kind of expecting beakers of food experiments bubbling away and then we'd all rush up afterwards to get our little spoonfuls – exchange surprised smiles – and then be on our enlightened little ways. But no – no food.
Got to Ferrandi with Karli. Here's what I love about this country. Not only can I walk into a cooking school with my dog – but a world-renown monthly seminar too. And presided over by a world-renown scientist. And not one question about my dog. God I love this country sometimes.
So I get there with Karli – late. My fault – not hers – though the extra sniffing does eat up the minutes – that's her sniffing. Just before I walk in I have one of those moments – do I walk in late or should I just ditch? School flashbacks. Of course I walked in – figuring I could survive the few seconds of embarrassment to sit through about two more hours of lecture.
Walk in. It's a demo kitchen. With a little white Molteni in front. So cute. So cute compared to the big red monster at ADPA. Like a smart car version of the monster truck ADPA Molteni. I try to scurry up the side all the way to the back. Someone in the audience is talking. I kind of half turn and do that international kind of head bowed-half smile indicating I'm sorry I've just walked in late – a stranger, with my dog. I see Herve This – sitting up front – facing the rest of the group. He very nicely asks me to introduce myself. Thinking that it's to check me off the list – you have to have an invitation to attend the seminars – and/or to have me thrown out by security – I give my name. "And you're a chemist?" I pause mid-step – have I just walked into the wrong seminar – late, with my dog? This is the third Thursday of the month isn't it? Uh no. "Are you a cook then?" OK – yes – yes, I'm a cook! "Where?" Where? Good question. Where? Uh, I'm American, but I'm a cook in France. I think he kind of senses that asking anymore will result in an irrelevant slew of answers. Ok. And I'm in.
The lecture. I alternately think – oh my god this is the coolest thing in the world! And oh my god – we are the biggest bunch of fucking nerds on the planet!
Apparently in the last meeting it was decided that the group would do experiments cooking potatoes and chicken breasts in water, milk, and oil – with red food colouring – to determine the amount of absorption. Not only were there photos and charts – cross-sections, from under the microscope, temperatures, weights – but all kinds of insane factors were detailed and discussed.
I tried to explain it more to Grace when I got home – but then she pretended to nod off and clunked her forehead on the table. I think she was pretending.
But here's the weird thing – yes, weirder than sitting around looking at microscope pictures of chicken.
After the meeting, I went up to thank M. This for letting me attend – after the groupies took their pictures, had books signed, etc. – weird enough. When he finally gets to me it's clear that he's got to get out of there – starts turning out lights. We start talking then end up having one of those impassioned dialogues that you see people having all over Paris – especially by the Sorbonne – where we're heading.
He starts telling me about the most important discovery that he made last year. OK. Well now I have to walk with him. I'm thinking it's some kind of new technique – some new science that I've got to have the scoop on to bring with me to El Bulli.
He starts telling me about having a sandwich with friends. OK. And how that sandwich can be the best meal that one has ever had. Yeah. I'm imagining he's drugged some grad students and is now revealing to me his experiments with them.
I should note that M. This is obviously one of those really, really smart guys – speaks English pretty perfectly – and in that super-fast, brain's working too fast for his mouth kind of way. Walks that way too. We are rushing – flying – over to the Sorbonne. Occasionally he seamlessly speaks in English and French - in the same sentence. He is on fire as he's walking and talking.
"The most important ingredient in cooking," he races on – me practically sprinting literally and mentally alongside – " the most important ingredient in cooking is love."
I think I may have stopped. I know I stopped short mentally. What? What! And he continues telling me about his conversations with his friend Pierre Gagnaire about this – how M. Gagnaire confirms that this is his primary concern in his cooking.
I'm back up to running speed again. Love. I think I grabbed his arm a couple of times – wanting to shake him – what the hell are you talking about man? Do you know what the hell you're talking about? Do you know how hard it is working in a gastronomic kitchen? That love is the last thing we're thinking about as we're plating your food? Speed, care, panic – perfection – yes. But love?
How do you measure that? How do you deal with that as a scientist? Well – he tells me – love can be measured – heart rates, chemical changes – it can be measured – but he says, "That's my concern as a scientist – not yours," he adds "Your concern as a chef is to create."
What is this man saying to me?
He continues - do you ever consider that your grandmother's recipe is never as good as when your grandmother made it? Maybe because the central ingredient that is missing is your grandmother's love?
I really need to lay down.
Eventually we bid farewell at the Sorbonne – his wife has finally called so now they can meet.
I find the Metro at Maubert-Mutualite with Karli – we used to live right up the rue towards the Pantheon. Place Maubert incidentally was the site of horrific tortures and hangings in the 15th century I think. And parts of our old building dated back to the 13th century. I was always sure it was haunted.
Find our way to the Metro to make a quick stop at Muji at Les Halles – closed early – typically French.
But make it over to Galerie/Librarie Food for a book-signing event – not closed early – also blessedly typically French – some things are sacred – as long as they have to do with food and wine. They did little clever little tastings in those plastic lidded takeout cup-lets – the kind used for hot sauce or sweet and sour sauce – with a tiny gelato spoon sticker-ed to the top – the sticker printed with info on the contents. I think I had a carrot veloute.
I was still too stunned by the walk/talk with Herve This.
Finally got home and Grace had made topoki. Told her about the conversation - that's when she did that forehead clunking thing - but then she jerked her head up and gave me her look.
"The most important ingredient is love? Girl – he's got a dick."
I quietly ate my topoki.