Scraps equals soufflé

Conservation in the kitchen is a value that any cook should embrace

BRATTLEBORO — Fresh out of culinary school, I found myself working in Florida at an intimate French bistro, Café du Parc. The proprietors, Pierre and Anne Marie Latuberne, moved from their small village in France to southern Florida, where they offered their local delicacies created in the traditional style.

This was classic French cuisine, and I was one of only two sous chefs (assistants to the head chef) in the kitchen.

One day, I was preparing carrots for a stew. The first part of preparing them was to cut off the ends. I cut about an inch off the fat end of each carrot. Chef Pierre approached me and glared at the inch-long stubs. I stopped cutting and stood there with knife in hand. Fixing his gaze directly at me, he grabbed my free hand and turned it over, palm side up.

“This is your raise in six months,” he said, picking up one of the carrot stubs and placing it in my hand.

He picked up another stub.

“This is your Christmas bonus,” he said. He placed the second stub next to the first.

“And this,” he said, holding the third stub in front of my eyes. “This is your week's paid vacation at the end of your first year.”

With the three carrot stubs in my hand, he waited, the glare unwavering. I looked down at the stubs and then at him.

Got it?” he demanded.

“I got it, Chef.” I replied, meekly.


He walked away.

* * *

At the Culinary Institute of America, most of the production kitchens had about three bags of garbage at the end of their shifts. One chef stood out. His kitchen created a mere half-bag of garbage.

Master Chef Roland Henin, who procured my job at Café Du Parc, was a master of conservation. Arguably, he enjoyed his reputation as the finest, yet meanest, chef of the school. Students openly feared and secretly revered him.

Chef Henin taught the “PM,” or dinner, shift. Classes would rotate every month into a new unit. So every month, Chef Henin would have a new group of students.

At the beginning of the unit, he would announce that if the group's performance was particularly outstanding, they could stay after class to ask him questions. Now, “after class” is around midnight, so the last thing any young alcohol-driven culinary student wants is to “have the honor” of staying after class to ask questions - questions that wouldn't even be on a future test!

Except ...

Except that this was Master Chef Roland Henin. Everyone knew it was a rare honor to speak with this great man and that, in turn, offered bragging rights: The later we stayed, the better we looked.

Culinary school was competitive, and we used every possible marker available to distinguish ourselves from our peers, in order to gain the prime opportunities post graduation.

In the evenings, as other classes were ending their PM shifts, you could hear students milling down the halls and heading for the bars. Everyone would take a moment to peek into Chef Henin's kitchen. If the lights were still on, they'd stare jealously at the sacred group who had performed an exemplary job and were duly awarded the privilege of remaining in the presence of the Great One to garner sage secrets of the craft.

One night, our group held the honors. I remember seeing my friends walk by, peeking into the kitchen windows, trying to get a look at who made the grade.

I swelled with pride while trying to focus on whatever the heck it was we were talking about in our kitchen, happily distracted by the attention we were getting in the hallway.

Actually, we were all a bit stunned to find ourselves here. We stood frozen and mute. Chef Henin started asking the questions.

“What ees zee definition of cooking?”

“Cooking is ... the art ... of food preparation?”

“Ees zat an answer or a question?”

“An ... answer, Chef?”

“Zat ees another question, and the answer to both ees no.”

A few more dared to guess.

“Cooking is culinary art?”


“Cooking is the act of changing food to create a more palatable form?”


Then the contrived answers came.

“Cooking is the craft of the palate.”

“Cooking is a dance - the fusion of food, movement, heat, and soul.”

“Cooking is the human's way of agricultural manipulation.”

“Cooking is a form of gastronomic physics.”

No. No. No. Each of us expelled an answer that was vaguely correct but mostly a pathetic attempt to impress and entertain the Great One.

After the last student offered the final inaccurate answer, Chef Henin grew quiet and looked down. He walked over to the garbage can and extracted a discarded salmon carcass. He held it up and waved it in front of everyone's face as he proclaimed:

“Cooking ees soufflé from sheet. Eet is taking zee dried-up, deescarded carcahss and creating ahn eleegahnt feeszh terrine. Eet ees taking zee scraps of vegetables and tahrning them into brunoises [tiny diced vegetables] and flavorful consommé.”

Master Chef Roland Henin's definition of cooking?

Scraps equals soufflé.

Anyone can take quality ingredients and create a masterpiece. A true chef integrates the art of conservation.

Conservation is utilizing as much as possible: removing only the tip of the carrot, using turnip and beet greens, re-creating leftovers, making stock from so-called vegetable waste, and composting the unusable food remains.

It is of dire urgency that we conserve and sustain our resources in all aspects of our life. When we conserve in the kitchen, we gingerly reinforce this practice.

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