Buttermilk

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There’s this myth surrounding chefs these days, building us up to be much more than just folks going to work and doing their best to create tasty food that we feel good about. Instead, the job title suggests we know every technique, every temperature, and every thought process behind every dish out there. I would like to blame the media or the celebrity-chef consciousness for these assumptions, but the fact is, we as chefs don’t do much to discourage these misconceptions. 

As a group I think we have a very hard time admitting our failures. If a dish isn’t well received, it’s not because the dish doesn’t work. It’s because you, the diner, don’t have a developed palate. We are not vulnerable. Instead, we are “crazy” (for chefs, this is a badge of honor). Before service we get amped up. We fist pump and holler. I’ve even seen colleagues chest pump (an interesting ritual if you have some females in the mix). During a difficult service, we get “hammered.” When we have a great night on the line, we say “we killed it!” When admiring a peer, we describe him or her as a “bad ass.” Much of this behavior is a reflection of how hard a night’s service can be. I have often walked off the line following service and felt as if I had just left the frontline of battle. An evening in a restaurant kitchen is an onslaught of emergencies and a study in putting out fires. These experiences, night after night, nurture the facade our profession projects. 

So when I – as a chef who had endured countless nights on the frontlines of Chef and the Farmer – waltzed into Warren Brother’s kitchen last winter to make buttermilk biscuits with Lillie Hardy, I was confident, possibly cocky. I knew there were only three ingredients. I bought them myself. I also knew Lillie was not known for her cooking. She works with Warren and is an anchor at the farm, but she is not someone who spent her life at the stove. I was certain Lillie had nothing on me. I am a “bad ass,” who gets “hammered” on a regular basis and I “kill it” more often than not. 

Well thank God I didn’t fist pump myself prior to my biscuit class, because Ms. Lillie Hardy schooled me in a major way. I just couldn’t get the flour and the buttermilk and the lard to work together the way she did. Her hands moved without thinking and her eyes rolled so far in the back of her head as she watched me, it’s a wonder she didn’t fall down. Lillie may not have spent her life at the stove, but she had certainly shared many moments with the biscuit bowl. The way she coaxed the flour in, to meet the lard and buttermilk love, was magic, and something I think you must cultivate over a lifetime. By any chef’s standards, Ms. Lillie Hardy is most definitely a bad ass. 
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