Patrick and Dana Farjas are great people who we met professionally and who have
turned into really great friends. Dana is the structure of the family. She has
small town roots and strong values that shine through at all times. She loves
children and good people. She's practical, but fun loving. She smiles a lot.
Patrick is over the top. He's a French Master Chef (for those of you who don't
know, this is a really, really big deal that you don't win on some reality TV
). He has a genuine love of life
and gives out wonderful advice to his children and ours "Learn every day. Life
is short and you don't want to die stupid." When you're around him, you will
laugh, play, and truly enjoy your life.
Today, my family and I went with these two on a Chanterelle hunt. In one
brief hour of hunting, we found about 10 pounds. It was an amazing day filled
with hiking, great food, and a good cheer. On the way home, as we were eating
chocolates from Donnelly's Chocolates in Santa Cruz and drinking coffee from
Santa Cruz roasting company, we decided to cook dinner together at our house.
Earlier, we had discussed fun things to do professionally with Patrick's
background. One idea we kicked around was having private cooking lessons in
someone's home. We thought of techniques, shopping for equipment, reviewing the
equipement in the kitchen and what to get rid of and what to buy, which
cookbooks to use or to ignore, or flavor combinations, how to make the master
sauces and a whole lot more. We figured this would be hugely exciting to any
amateur home chef.
As it turned out, we were right. When we cooked dinner tonight, it was as
a family. Patrick and Dana were not working, they were having fun with us.
That said, I reflected on the dinner and what I learned even when I wasn't
being explicitly trained. As an aside, I am a fairly strong amateur chef. I
have read a ton of books on techniques, can successfully make dishes using
molecular gastronomical techniques, classic or plain mundane. With that in
mind, I recorded all of the new things I learned it while it was fresh in my
mind just to illustrate how cool of an opportunity this is to learn from
Patrick. Along with my daughters Bayaan & Sakinah, son Ismail, and wife
Alaine, we learned the following new things.
* Salt the oil, not the fish if you are cooking white fish and the fish
will not crumble nor break in the pan. With Salmon, you can just salt the
tray/pan without the oil.
* When using a fish spatula, turn it upside down in order to get the fish
off of the pan and the skin will not "fold like a fan."
* I learned how to make a Hollandaise sauce and how to make it picture
perfect every time. The secret is holding the bowl above the steam pot and
when the bowl is too hot to hold, take the sauce off of the heat. If it's too
hot for your fingers, it's too hot for your hands
* I learned the Sabayon is the Hollandaise sauce with sugar
* The Bearnaise is the Hollondaise sauce w/ shallot, chervil, peppercorn
and tarragon in a vinegar reduction added.
* "Cooking is simple." We're simply making sure we do not throw things
away. Patrick used everythign. We cleaned a spice grinder with some grain,
that became a coating for a fish as well as an ingredient in a sauce.
* Poached eggs can be made in batches. Bring the water toa boil, use red
vinegar, not white, salt just prior to dropping the eggs. The whites will cling
to their own yolks. Pull the eggs and in dunk in an ice bath and serve.
* Whisking can be done w/ a single finger. You can whisk for hours if put
the handle in the palm of your hand and simply wiggle the handle with a
* You can make a sauce of sugar, salt, soy, and balsamic vinegar and boil
cipollini onions until the sauce is nearly a caramel and have the most delicious
* Peeling white asparagus is absolutely critical to their edibility. The
fibers are otherwise inedible (which explains why my prior usage of these were
* To figure out where to cut the asparagus on the bottom, tap with a sharp
knife until it goes through easily and there is the cut line.
* You can save a Hollandaise for the next day, add dijon mustard, cover a
white fish, broil and when the top is brown the fish is done and delicious
* Spending more than $5 on a paring knife is a waste of money.
* Hard, expensive steel is a pain to sharpen and avoided by professional
* People spend WAY too much money on labels and names on cooking ware and
have equipement which isn't as good as a cheap professional pan.
* Powdering dried mushrooms in a spice grinder and adding to a sauce is an
amazing way to thicken the sauce and add a ton of flavor.
* You can make a "souffle omelette" that will feed 6 people with 3 egg
whites. Simply whisk, add a little sugar, add to a non-stick pan with butter,
while frying add fruit to the top, flip the "omelette," dust with
sugar, caramelize the top, serve. There's a great story of the invention of
this dish from some women in France who had to feed tons of people with very few
* A simple test to determine a great chef is have them cook eggs. Eggs are
tricky and the techniques people use determine how good they are as
* Vanilla pods can be used for amazing flavor. Cure them in sugar to make
vanilla sugar, which is something I had. Now, take the sugar cured pod, shave
with a micro plane into sauces and add incredible flavor. "These damn pods are
too expensive not to use them!"
* Dover sole wrapped around a scallop is a fantastic dish.
* A freakishly good salad dressing can be created with a lemon. Slice in
1cm slices, take the seeds out. Then mince the lemon. Add the whole thing to
olive oil and 6 or so raspberries. Add salt and a whole lot of pepper.
Macerate the berries and lemon until the dressing is red. No vinegar is
* A pasta is almost always improved with a light dusting of pepper like a
cayenne or chipotle powder. This enhances the savory flavor and you can
actually use less salt this way.
I learned that a 9 year old girl can feel like a million dollars when a
kind chef tells her how wonderfully she's doing. "You're peeling those
asparagus even better than your papa!" His constant encouragement and lessons
to my daughter was like a drug. She smiled from ear to ear as she got to help
cook the entire gourmet meal.
I know there were lots more lessons as Patrick grabbed spices and would
make a quick comment. However, I wasn't taking notes nor in a this-is-a-lesson
mode. This was a dinner amongst friends. So, how much could one learn if they
were trying to get the most of the evening and Patrick was in full on teaching
mode? I imagine one could learn an amazing amount. Most importantly, one could
learn how to use their kitchen to its maximum advantage. They could learn what
changes to make, how to do things better and how to enjoy cooking in their home
I hope Patrick and Dana take up this idea of private lessons in someone's
home and if so, I highly encourage anyone who loves cooking to take advantage of
a private lesson from one of the world's most distinguished chefs. It's a rare
opportunity and most of all, it is one heck of a fun way to spend an