9:54pm | November 16, 2011

Food & Relationship


Last week, a young chef and I were talking about a technique. The chef went to a computer, watched a YouTube video, then modified that technique later that day. This has me thinking about how a chef’s learning process has changed in the past two decades. When I was a young chef and I wanted to learn a new technique, I had to find somebody who knew how to do what I wanted to learn. I had to track them down, give them a call, and establish a relationship before I could ask them to teach me a method. This took a lot more time than an internet search, but I ended up with much more than just a technique.

The time I got to spend with Lidia Bastianich, learning her techniques for prosciutto, is a perfect example of how the old-school ways have some great fringe benefits. At 24 years old, I was opening Tra Vigne and I wanted to learn more than the one or two methods for meat-curing that I had picked up from my grandmother. My friend and mentor, Daryl Corti, suggested I contact Lidia, whose restaurant Felidia in New York City was known for house-cured meats. I reached out to Lidia and she talked me through the process, first over the phone, and later face to face when I visited Felidia. Lidia shared with me a mimeograph of her prosciutto method and she continued to make herself available to me for all of my questions as I learned to master her techniques.

Through my friendship with Lidia, Tra Vigne became known for its house-cured prosciutto and salumi. Lidia and her family have become lifelong friends; the techniques she taught me have enriched my entire career.

Hundreds of prosciutto later, I’ve shared what I’ve learned with dozens of young chefs who, I hope, will mention me as they teach the young chefs they’ll mentor down the road. Lidia’s generosity to one young chef has been passed along through three generations. Can watching a YouTube video offer the same rewards?

The internet is an amazing place for any chef to expand their knowledge but I’m not convinced that it’s the best way to learn a new technique. When I talk to young chefs about the difference between taste and flavor, I think of Lidia, and how her care and friendship flavor the prosciutto I make, even twenty years later.

What do you think? Has the internet and the ease of finding recipes and techniques online in some ways made it more difficult for young chefs?





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Leave a Comment

  • Posted by Karen Scotti - November 17, 2011

    Yes, young people have lost the passion behind cooking. The interchange between people shares more then how to do something it shares love, history and knowledge. Remember food is like sex, its no fun doing it alone.

  • Posted by Giovanni Maione - November 28, 2011

    Michael i agree with your point that he internet is not the best way for chefs to learn technique.Unfortuneatly the beauty of technology is fantastic, but there is a loss of passion in the education, especially with the art of food.Food is a love and deep passion that only comes from within the chefs heart with years of cultural inspiration. Always and always the key ingredient comes from being beside watching and feeling the love a great chef gives to his work of art.That ingredient will linger with you for years to come.It will make you more intimate with your cusine and ultimaely mold you into the great Chef you will eventually become. That cannot be replicated on a video screen.

  • Posted by Deb Morgan - November 29, 2011

    Wow – just found your Blog Micheal, really enjoying reading it.
    I heartily agree with the direction you point on both these last two blogs. I’m 46 and have been in the food world my entire adult life- cafe owner and newbie cook, caterer, restaurant owner and chef, executive chef and teacher and though I have gone to a class here and there, clearly who I am as a chef today has been “souly” shaped by three things. 1. Who I have cooked with 2. Who I have cooked for and 3. What I have cooked. Each time I am in the kitchen whether with my grandmom, another chef, my kids or a student, I learn. Each time I receive feedback (whether with words, gestures or my favorite sound, “mmmmm”), I learn and each moment I turn my focus to the bounty of vital energy that is the food itself and really listen to its message, I learn.
    The internet has its place, hey I got to read your words, peruse your menu and sample your recipes. But the real gift that is food is in its ability to convey the energy of love. It sounds like your proscuitto is filled with it thanks to a generous chef named Lidia and your openness to connect with her. thanks for the blog.
    ps – I’m on the dress to match the food side – I’ve been to Bottega and that food deserves the best hottie little red dress I got! shoes to match of course!