Thanks for the rec opinionatedchef. I'll have to try Picco this weekend. I looked up the recipe for the chocolate chip cookies after you mentioned it: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...
I'm convinced that the basics are the most challenging test for chefs. There's no hiding behind luxurious filet mignon or lobster. The ingredients are very simple so the challenge is to avoid being plain and boring. Think of mashed potatoes -- I've eaten them everywhere in Boston, and the only version that stood out enough to be ordered again (and many times more) was at the Franklin Cafe.
When the dish is basic, like chocolate chip cookies or mashed potatoes, the temptation is to take shortcuts. But it's patience and painstaking technique -- soaking the dough in the eggs for at least 36 hours for cookies, using an ultra-fine sieve for Joel Robuchon's pommes purée (1) -- that distinguish the best versions.
(1) Gordon Ramsay on making Robuchon's pommes purée: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life...
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