I have been in the public eye long enough to have met my critics. Those individuals for whom my work does not only displease, but offends.
My first year at Eva, my use of huckleberries in February sent a customer into a snit. “These taste as if they had been frozen, and that’s disgusting in and of itself. I can’t say anything more for this dessert.” The offending dessert, a huckleberry trifle with layers of huckleberry soaked genoise, a thick huckleberry compote, and none other than pierre herme’s lemon cream layered in a highball glass was on the Valentines Day menu. The comment was delivered to me along with the picked at dessert, and it sent me reeling.
Of course my huckleberries were frozen, it was February. Jeremy, our forager had picked them himself, frozen them properly during season, and stored them in his deep freezer for us. Sure, we were on our last of the stock, but they were still absolutely delicious.
I dropped everything I was doing, pulled another trifle from the reach in, and started tasting. A slight relief came when it tasted exactly as I wanted it to, exactly as it had when I made them, exactly right. But then I wondered, was it me? I made everyone taste it until the owner started laughing. He reminded me in his way that you set your own standards and live up to them, because no matter what you are going to have critics. Like the huckleberry hater.
Teaching is yet another avenue for me to collect critics. My first class, called “Tips from a pro” had an outright heckler. You see, I am young for a chef, 28 now and this was 2 years ago. So I was standing up there professing knowledge at a mere 26, and I tend to look even younger than I am. This older woman had clearly been baking longer than I had been alive, and was vocally skeptical of my tips and tweaks to the recipes. It was really starting to get to me, but I pushed on. And after the class, when we tasted everything, her face brightened and she said, “Well, I’ll be. This really is the best lemon tart I have ever had. And that pie crust is flakier than mine! I am going to freeze my flour every time now.”
It doesn’t always end that way. One woman wrote down every word of mine that she didn’t agree with, and called a culinary school to prove that how blatantly wrong I was. She then provided the school I teach at with a list of my offensive quotes and her contradicting information. She said I was a terrible teacher and was hampering the education of the students in my class by giving them false information. She also wrote a paragraph about my hygiene, with a hand washing count, and focused on my coffee cup I had been drinking from while lecturing. She thought the class was a failure because I had to bake a cake in a sheet pan instead of a tall pan to save time.
When this email was passed along to me I knew how to handle it. I screamed in my head, vented to my husband, and simply wrote, “I have had critics before and will have them in the future. I stand behind every word I said, and will take from this what I can.”
What offended her most was my method of measuring dry ingredients with a cup measurer. She was taught to sift the flour before measuring, I never do and told the students so. But that isn’t the problem. The real problem is the fact that we are using the cups in the first place.
This is such a perfect example of why the professional pastry chef employees a scale to weigh all their ingredients. My cup of flour will never be exactly the same as your cup of flour, but 6 ounces will always be 6 ounces.
Now I will do you one better. Not only have I completely converted to the exclusive use of a scale to measure my ingredients, I have also converted all my recipes into metric measures. So my cup of all purpose flour is 150 grams.
Why would I do this, when I live in a culture of cups and spoons? It is a million times easier to increase and decrease recipes based on grams. It is also much easier to understand what percentage of the bulk of a recipe an ingredient occupies. When a recipe needs tweaking, it is much easier to think about adding 30 grams of sugar to 100 grams of sugar than it is to add 1/8th of a cup to 1/3 of a cup.
My work is much more accurate now, and as a baker that is something we all strive for. It’s not enough to know how to make an amazing brownie, you have to make it equally amazing every time, in any size.
So if that woman every sat in my class again, I would start the lecture with a little bit I do every time, that if you ask 100 chefs how to cook an egg, you will get 100 different answers. I simply give the information I use to achieve my best results, and why. And I would tell her to forget what her grandma told her about sifting the flour and buy a scale.