The Five Questions: Chef David Robinson
November 17, 2010
I met Chef Robinson at last year’s Roger Smith Foodwriter’s Conference. I gave a presentation on Social Media and Food Writing. It was a first for me, speaking in front of people who do this for a living and have done so for many, many years.
I was very new to the business at this time. Pretty amazing to come so far, considering just a year and a half ago I was working as a drone bee- an executive assistant in the staid and afraid corporate world. I was set free and it IS a gift.
This is an opportunity to reinvent myself after an “off-shoring” exercise.
I am able to say, thank you by my written words.
1. Who taught you to cook? Mother? Father? Grandparents? Television? What was the first thing you remember preparing? For whom?
When I was 8 years old, there was a family friend who baby-sat us for a few weeks one summer. Her name was Mrs. Love – which is a great name for someone who gave me my first kitchen chops. It was my summer of love! She was making us breakfast and was frying eggs. I asked her if she would show me how to make a fried egg. We practiced melting butter in the skillet, cracking eggs, frying the eggs, adding salt and pepper, turning the eggs with a spatula – over easy, over medium, over hard. I had lots of yolks that broke apart in the pan, but we still ate them. Every morning for a couple of weeks we kept making fried eggs – dozens of them. I was so proud when I could turn an egg over easy without cracking the yolk. I spent the rest of the summer making toast and fried eggs for myself and my kid sister.
I felt very useful and grown up.
2. Who is your biggest culinary influence? What was the first thing you recall cooking at home? Was it a success?
My culinary influences have been like my life: An unlikely confluence of seemingly random events. As a kid, I was rounding the TV channels and I discovered Graham Kerr, who was the first person I saw having hedonistic fun in the kitchen; cooking and eating for pleasure. The Galloping Gourmet – part imp, part sybarite, part court jester – introduced me to more European-type fare; what was then called “Continental Cuisine.” Kerr is an extremely funny force of nature and has continued a fascinating trajectory into smarter, healthier cooking and living.
Later in life, I borrowed a roommate’s copy of James Beard’s American Cookery and when the roommate moved he let me keep the cookbook, which was a book that turned out to be extremely influential on my cooking style. Also, I discovered the Fanny Farmer Cookbook that was revised by Marion Cunningham (who also happened to be a disciple of James Beard) and was a really good all-around cookbook for me to cook through with a very American, clean mode of cooking that I found resonated with me.
Julia Child continues to inspire me because she cared enormously about how she wrote and demonstrated recipes and also had tremendous heart. I still watch her to gain inspiration for my own TV work, although I don’t use butter, cream and vermouth as extravagantly as she did. I appreciate that her hands looked as worn out and beat up as my hands do – I don’t know how some of today’s celebrity cooks can maintain a manicure and still actively prep and cook!
3. Do you have a favorite restaurant that you enjoy? What is their style of food? Do you have a favorite dish that they prepare? What wine do you enjoy with this dish?
Ah, where to begin? I love the duck at the Four Seasons in New York (not the hotel, but the classic restaurant in the Mies van der Rohe “Seagram’s Building” designed by Philip Johnson and created by Joe Baum). I dig dim sum most anywhere in New York’s China Town. I really enjoy dining at L’Espandon at the Paris Ritz for a real splurge, particularly because it is the historic home of the chef and innovator Auguste Escoffier. But I also chase down a good croissant when I’m in Paris. I relish the Welsh rarebit at “21”, such a simple, classic dish. Chefs have gone all nuts with variations on Mac and Cheese – adding everything from lobster to truffles – maybe it’s time for Welsh rarebit. I recently had a dish that was made with endive, pigeon breast, chestnuts, cocoa and Grand Marnier at the Verandah Restaurant on the Maiden Voyage of the ocean liner the Queen Elizabeth that was created by Chef Jean-Marie Zimmermann that was fascinating and outstanding. Truly memorable dining.
4. Is there anything you cook at home which has a deeper significance to you? Does it bring a tear to your eye when you prepare this dish? Who does it remind you of? Would you share that recipe with my readers? (or any recipe)
Isn’t it amazing that you can conjure up a memory or a person through a recipe? The aromas and tastes can bring back a flood of experiences – right down to the place and time. There are lots of dishes that do this for me, but probably the two that are most evocative are fried chicken, and my Mom’s Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cookies. My Mom has passed away, but I can bring the memory of her back by making these cookies with their chocolate, chewy oatmeal and the slight whiff of cinnamon.
5. If you could go anywhere in the world right now where would that be? What would you eat when you got there- is it a restaurant? What wine or cocktail would you chose to wash down that perfect meal?
( I’m hoping you enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail!)
It’s a toss-up between Paris and sailing on the legendary ocean liner the Queen Mary 2 (no matter where in the world she happens to be). In terms of beverages, it’s funny, but I really love drinking iced tea with meals because of the slightly tannic, palate cleansing nature of tea – I find it doesn’t cloud my mind or my palate. However, on the Queen Mary 2, Cunard has a signature Port wine that is out of this world with cheese.
Do you use a smartphone *blackberry or iPhone* for Twitter or Facebook?
As for an iPhone, I have one, but only one person has my phone number – there has to be some moments of the day when a person has some privacy! We are setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts for our new DVD series, “Learn How to Cook (and eat your mistakes)!” which is a series of 14 videos we call “Bites” that teach the beginning home cook how to cook with real techniques – over 20 hours of information. We cover everything from knife skills to techniques like poaching, braising, roasting, grilling and baking. There will also be a streaming version of the series for the tech savvy. This is the real deal; we honestly show folks how to setup their kitchens and cook – with zero pretense and no snobbery.
We’re offering simple recipes and lots of encouragement! I knew we were onto something when the film crew (a decidedly blasé gang) would come in and say, “Hey, I had to go home and make that recipe that we shot last week for my family.” I was so thrilled because I created the whole series to demystify the kitchen and get folks cooking – and most importantly to celebrate the camaraderie of the table. The series will be available in January of 2011. www.EatYourMistakes.com
Thank you Chef for being so kind by sharing your thoughts and your recipes on the Five Questions! wb
Mom’s Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Cookies
A Mixing Bowl with a Wooden Spoon (and plenty of arm power) or use an Electric Mixer
Pre-heat your oven to 360-degrees.
1 ½ cups of All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon of Table Salt
1 teaspoon of Baking Soda
1 ½ teaspoons of Ground Cinnamon
3 Cups of Uncooked Oatmeal/Rolled Oats
1 Cup Softened Butter (2 sticks; not melted, but just at room temperature – set the butter out on the cupboard about an hour before you start the recipe)
2/3 Cup Sugar
2/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
¾ Cup (6 oz. or ½ of a 12 oz. bag) of Chocolate Chips (You can also substitute ¾ Cup of Dark Chocolate Chips OR Raisins OR White Chocolate Chips OR Butterscotch Chips – you are the master of your own cookies!)
Non-Stick Cooking Spray, (OR brush on some corn oil OR canola oil) to lightly grease the cookie sheets (you can also line the cookie sheets with parchment paper for easy cleanup).
In a mixing bowl, whisk together all the dry/powdered ingredients: flour; salt baking soda; ground cinnamon and oatmeal/rolled oats.
With a mixer (or with a wooden spoon in a bowl with lots of arm power) cream the butter and both brown and white sugar together until they are fluffy. To “cream the butter” means to use the abrasiveness of the sugars to whip air into the butter so that it is a smooth, lighter mixture with a pale yellow color.
Add the vanilla extract and the eggs and beat together into the creamed butter and sugar mixture until all incorporated together. We like using the real vanilla extract instead of the artificial, but if you don’t have the real stuff, it’s not a big deal, don’t let it keep you from making these cookies!
Add the whisked dry ingredients to the mixed butter, sugar, vanilla and egg mixture and mix all together.
Gently add and stir in the chocolate chips into the batter mixture.
Roll the dough in the palms of your hands into golf-ball sized balls and gently flatten them on a greased cookie sheet (grease with oil, or a spray pan coating – or line with parchment paper).
Bake at 360-degrees in your pre-heated oven for about 12-14 minutes. Remove from the oven. Cookies will still be a little soft and gooey – they won’t have the firm consistency of a cookie at all yet. Let the cookies set up and cool slightly for 3-4 minutes before removing them from the cookie sheet with a spatula. Once they’ve cooled, cookies should be a little crispy on the outside at the edges, but chewy on the inside.
Makes about 2 ½ dozen small cookies.
(about 30 cookies)
LEARN HOW TO COOK (and eat your mistakes)!
>COMPLETE COOKING COURSE
Chef David James Robinson has been cooking for 30 years. For 10 years he has been Executive Chef and Owner of Bezalel Gables Fine Catering & Events in New York’s Hudson Valley, which as a chef, caterer and event planner featured luxuriously handcrafted food from home-smoked salmon to artisanal breads; from fresh-made mozzarella to growing his own herbs; from hand-dipped chocolates to ice cream spun from fresh cream milked by hand.
Chef David has created menus and events for Senator & Mrs. Kennedy, MTV Networks, Brides magazine, Academy-Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Real Simple magazine, among many more corporate and private clients. His events have included an old-fashioned barn dance, an exotic Ugandan celebration, a mountaintop wedding, a martini party in a Manhattan penthouse, a county-fair-themed party covering ten acres, and a two-week, 6-port birthday extravaganza on the legendary ocean liner Queen Mary 2. He has produced menus, food, floral design and décor for 500 full-scale weddings, events, parties, fundraisers and banquets. He has fed more than 30,000 guests in his career.
Chef David is executive producer and host of Learn How to Cook (and Eat Your Mistakes)! – a complete cooking course and learning system on 9 DVDs. He also appears regularly on TV on Weekend Today/NBC Albany and on Farm to Table on PBS. He has created recipes and cooking workshops for the American Dairy Council and he has also written for many home and entertaining magazines and books, including a regular column on herbs with recipes for Culinary Celebrations Magazine and was the restaurant critic for Hudson Valley Inside Out Magazine. He is also on the Advisory Board for DinnerWhere?magazine. Robinson contributed the section on Boutique Catering to the award-winning book Food Jobs by Irena Chalmers.
Chef David trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park (Dean’s List, High-Impact Leadership Scholar) and the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. He is co-founder of Columbia County Bounty, a landmark initiative that connects local farms to local restaurants and chefs in upstate New York. He has working relationships with 30 farms and vineyards for sourcing the freshest ingredients. He has hosted demonstrations and workshops for Eat Smart New York and Cornell and consulted on menu development and recipe creation for regional restaurants.
He is an avid jazz fan and makes his home in Columbia County, New York – in the heart of the Hudson Valley.
Speaking of Tea.. My friends at Tetley Tea just sent me two recipes for tea. Since Chef David is so fond of iced tea with his meals, these make perfect sense!
4 Tetley® Classic Blend Tea bags
3 cups boiling water
1/3 cup honey
3 cups unsweetened apple juice
In a 2-quart pot, brew tea bags in boiling water. Remove tea bags and add honey and apple juice. Simmer until hot. Ladle into cups and garnish with lemon slices. Serves 6 to 8.
8 teaspoons whole coriander
1 star anise
4 cinnamon sticks, broken
2 teaspoons each: whole black peppercorns, allspice, cardamom pods, cloves, dried orange peel and ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 gallons water
6 Tetley® Classic Blend Tea bags
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Honey, milk or cream to taste
In a small bowl, combine coriander, anise, cinnamon, pepper, allspice, cardamom, cloves and orange peel. In a spice mill or coffee grinder, coarsely grind the spices. Mix in ginger and nutmeg. Pour water into a 2-gallon pot and add spice mixture. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add tea and vanilla extract and steep 3 to 5 minutes. Strain liquid into large pitcher and add honey, milk or cream or wait to offer guests on the side. Tea can be served hot or chilled. Yield: 1 1/2 gallons.
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
COCKTAIL WHISPERER, Editor
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Blue Hill/Stone Barns: Time Exists in Harmony with Nature
The Cocktail Whisperer asks Anthony Bourdain Four Questions about Scotch
The Five Questions: Andrew Bell, American Sommelier
The Five Questions Catherine Reynolds
The Five Questions: Lincoln Henderson (Master Distiller)
The Five Questions: Natalie West (Foppiano Wines)
The Five Questions: Randall Grahm
The Five Questions: Sustainable Sushi
A Glass of Bourbon, Branch, and History
Midnight in the Bronx: Visit to Hunt’s Point Wholesale Fish Exchange
A Modern Day Absinthe Alchemist
A Summer Cocktail Party for Artie Shaw
Tales of the Cocktail: New Orleans, Louisiana