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Bill Buford: From Molto Mario to Dessert King

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Bill Buford, whose just-released Heat is the tale of his apprenticeship with Mario Batali, pens an essay for the New Yorker this week about a stint he did at Room 4 Dessert, Will Goldfarb's tiny dessert laboratory on Cleveland Place. As is known in some parts, before opening his dessert bar Goldfarb trained all over the culinary world, including at El Bulli, where his New Gastronomy tendencies were born.

Buford, quite the culinary adventurer of late, delivers an immensely engaging peek into this, the parallel universe occupied by pastry chefs:

The essential mentality of the pastry kitchen, Goldfarb explained, was to regard every item in your life as equally urgent—no one thing should be more pressing than any other—and therefore nothing was ever neglected. You were on call, always. I thought I understood. That evening, I shook his hand as I was leaving and waved to the others near the sink. Goldfarb sat up stiffly and ordered me back. “Before you are allowed to depart, you must shake and say goodbye to everyone here by name. In a pastry kitchen everything and everyone matters the same.” The next day, I had lessons in how to fold a towel as Goldfarb stood by judging my effort.
"You can never overestimate the importance of a correctly folded towel.” By way of illustration, he added, “Thomas Keller”—the highminded chef of Per Se and the French Laundry—“loves my towels. He understands.” I continued folding. Goldfarb continued watching. “I’ve fired people for not knowing how to fold a towel.” He adjusted my cutting board so that it was precisely parallel. “In a pastry kitchen everything is controlled. A decimal point too much or too little of a gelling agent is the difference between inedible and good. Pastry chefs live on a different planet from the rest of humanity. Welcome to our world.”

·The Dessert Lab [NY'er; via Snack]