I come from a place where all ages spend time together at events and at the dinner table. A dinner party in Natchez often has three generations. It has always been that way and I find it a lovely thing. In fact, that weekend we brought two of my mother's friends with us for the event and a weekend getaway. They are equally my friends, and I have to admit, I have always said "yes, ma'am" to both of them. It is the proper thing to do. We have always been taught that anyone 15 years older than you receives that respect.
So, I must compliment my young chefs for their good manners, even if it was a reminder of that dreaded benchmark, "middle age." Oddly enough, I went from one weekend working at Moss Farms with the ever-so-talented Josh Smith and this absolutely charming and committed sous chef, Jonathan from Local Roots, a farm-to-table restaurant in Roanoke, Virginia, both a generation younger than I am, to last weekend here in Natchez, where I was so very fortunate to work with the ever-so-popular Gunter Preusse from Broussard's in New Orleans, a generation older than I am. We were celebrating our 10th annual Natchez Food and Wine Festival. I quickly came to the conclusion that the older I become, the younger everyone seems on both sides of me. Within two weekends, I was caught between two generations of chefs, and it turned out to be a joyful experience.
Here I am, a chef from the '80s working with chefs from the new millennium and from the '60s, all 20 years apart in age and a 20-year food timeline between each of us. If those 40 years could not tell the story of trends, I am not sure what would. It just proved to me once again that you never stop learning about food.
I try to stay current on food trends, but because I am not in a restaurant kitchen every day I am a bit removed from what really is going on in the professional kitchens of this generation. The "deconstructed dessert," for example, which intrigues me as a diner but even more as a chef, tries to bring a combined taste of something familiar to us in separate components. Josh's dessert from that evening at Moss Farms was a deconstructed goo-goo cluster candy bar. As we got more familiar with each other over the weekend, he and I both agreed about the need to know the basics to be able to be creative in the kitchen. I was fascinated when he and Jonathon prepared a traditional chocolate mousse but slowly dripped it into liquid nitrogen to for "chocolate rocks" (that was a totally new experience for me and I loved it). He then made a powder from peanut butter cookies and a meringue, and the individual tastes, brought together on one spoon, created the taste of the classic goo-goo cluster.
The irony of these three generations of chefs was that the youngest (with the exception of their dessert) were just as committed to the classics as Chef Preusse and I. Their roast heritage poultry was perfection because it was properly brined, marked on the grill and roasted with lardons made from the best quality smoked bacon. One week later Chef Preusse and I were in my kitchen where I made a classic chocolate mousse encased in ladyfingers with a Grand Marnier crème anglaise, the entire time wishing for some liquid nitrogen in the kitchen and thinking of what dessert I was going to make next year for the Food Festival using the new technique I learned from these two talented young chefs. I can hardly wait to go to Roanoke to have an entire meal at Local Roots. I know talent when I taste it.