I know this might shock you, but I love food and I love to eat out. However, my least favorite trend at restaurants (aside from sharing plates that come in all shapes and sizes) is ordering my food to have it come out of the kitchen as it is ready. No rhyme or reason, no order of preparation, just a random delivery of food. So depending on what is happening in the kitchen – if the pasta line is backed up and the fish station is slow you may get your main course before your pasta. Roasted olives intended to be a starter show up right before dessert. Who knows what will be served with my cocktail. With this convoluted method it’s not possible to pair a wine with each course. As we know, one of the biggest challenges in any kitchen is timing; timing is everything, it takes a talented chef to prepare a variety of plates for each table that are ready to be served together. There is a constant distraction from what is being served when the food comes on a whim and the plates are meant to be shared. It is natural to focus more on the passing and making sure things are divided equally, but that interrupts the experience the dish is meant to give. Randomly putting plates of food on a table is not a sign of creativity – this should not continue as a trend and we should not be rewarding disorganization and laziness.
Cooking with Ernesto is a unique experience, like no other. And while for some a day spent cooking with him can be overwhelming and daunting – for me, it is an exciting and endearing adventure. Not one recipe at a time start to finish, rather many pots on the fire: pasta being rolled out, sauces simmering on the stove, meat roasting in the oven and cookies and cakes baking. Now this is the way I love to cook!
In this experience, Ernesto teaches us that multitasking is how to accomplish the full menu. To start you have to create a plan, nothing happens in his kitchen without a lot of thought going into it. To execute your plan, you have to pace yourself and not over complicate what you are doing. Think ahead and save time – dice the celery, carrots and onion (sofrito) at once and use it over and over again for different recipes. Make the bread dough at the beginning so it has time to rise before being baked or fried. Make one pasta dough but create different pasta shapes for different dishes.
Ernesto also teaches us that making pasta by hand is fun and easy. My advice is start out small – make pasta for one or two – 100g of flour to 1 egg per person. Mix it together and then stretch it out. You can’t overwork pasta dough – it’s not precious like a pastry dough – this is where you can really dig in and work the dough. Once it’s sliced, toss it with semolina and then make into two little nests.
For me the best part of spending a day cooking with Ernesto is the obvious joy of everyone cooking together. With Ernesto, it’s all hands on deck, there’s so much to be done everyone always has something to do. And don’t worry there’s no mistake that can’t be recovered. In this kitchen, there’s no screaming or yelling, no reason to be frantic; we have the whole day together to relax and try new techniques.
At the end of this exhausting day we get to enjoy the foods of our labors. And no matter the order the components were created, because of our plan the dishes are finished in order – and served with a plan: Antipasti, Primo, Secondo with Dolce at the end. Ernesto brings us no randomness, just organized chaos with a goal: enjoying an unbelievable meal together.