During the funny and educational session, the chef scolded latecomers by announcing they'd have to do the dishes, joked about French people ("The only thing I miss about France is the herbs"), and messed up a recipe by adding too much chicken stock -- only to add breadcrumbs and parmesan and masterfully turn it into a lesson on how to recover.
(Another Clean Plate Charlie contributor, Nigel Revenge, also took a class; his review is posted separately.)
Several days after the class, I caught up with the friendly foodie in his office. Here's the first part of our Q &A:
How did you get into cooking?
My mom was a cordon bleu
chef. Ever since I was 4 or 5 years old, I would cook with her. I was
the youngest one of the first four children, so my brothers and sisters
were older and they would go to school and I would stay back and I cook
with my mom all the time. I enjoyed this. I was with her and it was fun
and there was love. It was fun and it was easy.
always cooked, my whole life. When I was 12, I worked in a butcher
shop. On the holidays from school vacations, I always had a job and it
was always a food-related job. Breadmaking, what have you. Then when I
was 14, I went and worked at a 3-star Michelin guide restaurant. I did
my apprenticeship. Then I worked in various restaurants because the best
way to learn, the old-fashioned way to learn, was to work with
different chefs -- six months with one, six months with another.
who go to cooking school, they come out and they can't find their way
out of the kitchen. An apprenticeship in France is about 10 years. And
apprenticeship in the US is about 6 months. When you do an
apprenticeship in France, it's a whole different thing.
How did you end up in Fort Lauderdale?
arrived because I was working on a cruise ship. I
was 18-19, it was French at the time, Paque Cruise Line. We stopped in
Fort Lauderdale on the way to South America, a six-week cruise. I didn't
speak English so I had a tough time. My first jobs were
dishwashers, then I worked as a waiter and improved my English. Then I
worked my way back into the kitchen and I bought the restaurant when I
Wow, at 24? The Left Bank was a pretty famous restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, right?
was different. Back then, a bank would loan you money... now
everything is more complicated because there are so many crooks. It was
easy to get a green card, easy to become an American citizen. Our
customers included Jerry Lewis, Burt Reynolds...
And then when did you start the cooking school?
opened up the school in '95, we had a room next to the restaurant. We
only had a couple dozen students when we started and now we have 17,000
students. [He also runs a company called RezClick.com which provides the
computer registration system for cooking schools around the country.]
We're the backend, the online registration. While I can't program it I
certainly know what it should do.
I have to say, you
seem to have a brilliant business model -- you get all of the joy of
cooking, but you only have to deal with one dish each night instead of
50 dishes for 50 different diners, like you would in a restaurant.
and I eat for lunch what is leftover from the day before! It's like a
restaurant in a way. But I removed all the stress, all the
difficulty of running a restaurant: everybody comes in at the same time,
and everybody eats the same thing.
I sold [the Left Bank] in
1997. I was in the business for 22 years. I only took 60s days off, I
worked 7 days a week. I used to tell my staff, "One day when I retire,
I'm gonna put up my
own restaurant where everybody's gonna eat the same thing, there won't
be a menu!" And that's what I've got today. I wasn't thinking of a
but that's what I did. I created a fun environment.Most of my regulars
come from my restaurant. Many of them are still my customers.
love my life I have a good life now. I don't have any stress at all, I
have zero stress. It's the best job I ever had in my life. I don't have
any competition. A lot of people have opened and closed.
got to entertain. We're not in the teaching business; we're into
entertaining. This is why Rachel Ray has the success that she has! And
because of that, people say, "If she can do that, I can do that!"
Cooking is the easiest hobby in the world to learn. All you have to do
is understand the chemistry of the ingredients. Anybody can cook. Not
everybody can play basketball or play the piano, but I guarantee you
everybody can cook. It's doesn't take a genius to put two ingredients
together. That's what it's about. Understanding the ingredient and then
extracting the flavor and the texture from that ingredient.
pretty easy to understand. It's really really simple. It's logic. It's
not like you have to be talented - unless you want to become a master
chef. There are probably 15-20 master chefs in the world who are
geniuses. I've been doing it for 40 years, but I can show you how to
make a recipe every bit as good as the way I make it. That's the beauty
about cooking. Let's face it, going out to eat at restaurants is
expensive. If you've got a family of four, you better learn to cook.
You'll enjoy it more, you know what you're eating, and it's a lot
cheaper. And it's so easy! Nothing is complicated. A long time ago, you
had to make everything from scratch and produce was very very difficult
to work with. And today everything is easy to work with. So, learning
how to cook is easy -- anybody can do it.
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the last few years, there's been such explosive growth of food
coverage, with the Food Network and celebrity chefs. Do you have any
plans to do a show?
show 28 times. I don't do television anymore, I'm done. I leave that up
to the Rachel Rays of the world. They're taking it into a totally