2005 Research Chefs Assn. Conference Offers Unmissable Learning Experience

Editor David Feder says next month's Research Chefs Assn. Conference in Montreal offers a learning experience not to be missed.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

Next month, the Research Chefs Assn. will be holding its annual conference in Montreal. I'm going. True, I haven’t been a chef in 15 years — haven't even cooked professionally for more than four people, much less 4,000 — in about a decade.

But the demi glace never completely leaves the blood, and just because I traded my Sabatier for a pen doesn’t mean I quit thinking of recipes on a daily basis, as all chefs do. It is second nature for me to walk into a Whole Foods, Central Market, Trader Joe's or any other market and feel the wheels spinning as I compose recipe after recipe in my head.

I still keep in touch with some of my chef buddies from “back in the day.” Dean Fearing, of the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, is one. Dean will be at the conference, presenting a breakout session titled "Translating Authenticity." Dean was one of the pioneers of Southwestern cuisine and I am certain that had it not been for Dean and the other members of the so-called “Texas Mafia” — Robert Del Grande, Stephan Pyles, Richard Chamberlain — Southwestern and the revival of true Mexican cuisine would not be with us 25 years later.

Dean proved to me early in my career that volume cooking can be done without losing the integrity of a recipe. I was on the team that opened the sister hotel to the Mansion, the Hotel Crescent Court, in 1986. The Crescent was a 300-million-dollar, mid-1980s testament to Texas opulence and hospitality and so three days of gala celebration accompanied the grand opening. Dozens of chefs comprising a "who’s-who-and-a-half" of American chefdom were flown in to create five-star meals for 4,500 local and national glitterati.

Dean made a batch of champagne sauce, built on the foundation of a simple beurre blanc, that simply astounded. I can still recall the taste. In this giddy, no-expense-spared atmosphere he used an obscenely expensive bubbly. Not a few of us lowly line chefs were grousing that no sauce made by the five-gallon bucket-load could retain the nuances of such a fine champagne.

But when Dean passed around tastes we were all completely transported. It was a triumph of golden velvet and grape, suffusing our senses with the retained flavors of the wine. My buddy Jay Valley (now corporate chef of eatZis) and I just stared at each other in speechless amazement. For all his trend-setting of Southwestern flavors, Dean proved that if your cooking is rooted in the classics, there is nothing beyond your reach in the kitchen — for four or 4,000.

An ancient Chinese saying — or is it from the Talmud? — says when the teacher is ready the student will appear. As with the best teachers, Dean taught by example, coupled with an expertise that fit perfectly with his enthusiasm and sheer joy when it comes to sharing his skills. Be sure to catch his session.

I look forward to seeing “old Deano,” Jay, and other friends at the conference. And I look forward to seeing all of you, too.

Editor's Note: To sign up for the Research Chefs Assn. conference, click here.

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