Being Couth: Meeting Thomas Keller in Pasadena

In my almost three years of living in Pasadena, I’ve met some great people at various signings around the city. Bill Clinton, Barbara Walters, Chef Curtis Stone are just some of the authors I have shook hands with in the Crown City (technically I met Martha in Glendale). The locations of the events have either been Vroman’s or Sur La Table but when I heard that Thomas Keller would be in town I was surprised to see that he’d be at Williams-Sonoma. I love the high-end kitchen store, my mom buys those $20 apples for everyone on her Hanukkah/Christmas list and I normally walk in for samples or sale items. I put the date in the calendar, but with Josie in Berkeley for the week I wasn’t sure, the night before I decided to head to the event solo. As my dinner was in the oven, I ran to the store 20 minutes before closing to get the book Ad Hoc at Home with the receipt, so that way the following day I just had to wait in line. I live a few blocks away so this morning I walked by the store maybe an hour before he event. The line didn’t look that intimidating so I decided to run to SBux for an Iced Venti Soy Chai Latte. I finally got in line and began to sip and twitter.

The line was filled with Le Cordon Bleu culinary students, housewives, and some of my foodie friends. Kung Food Panda and Limer35 were just behind me. The weather was beautiful and it felt fantastic to be outside on a Thursday before noon. The event was so well coordinated and executed. Thomas Keller arrived early and the event began early. We were given cupcakes and faux pomegranate martinis in line and a dog was served water in a beautiful glass bowl from the store. One person in line asked if they could have a photo signed and the staff was super kind even when saying no. They said they asked Mr. Keller and he wasn’t comfortable with that because he’s not a celebrity but that he would happily take photos.

As I was approaching the Williams-Sonoma door on my way to Keller, once again everything was beautifully handled. They were letting in people three at a time, the Post-Its with the correct name spelling were in the book, and we were instructed to have our cameras on and hand it to the woman in the blue shirt.

Within moments it was my turn. He got up, shook my hand, sat back down, signed the book, and then stood for a picture. He called me Carina and he was sweet and shy. I had no uncouth statements and I didn’t slip him a business card, as I have done with others. He’s not that kind of guy. He is classy and respectable. Sure meeting someone like Richard Simmons is fun because they are outrageous and kiss you without asking and Chef Curtis is a guy that is begging for you to flirt with him but Keller, well Keller, is a man to respect and act appropriately around. He shows up early and starts early and I left feeling pleased, not starstruck and giddy. Williams-Sonoma was a great venue for him as they are a proper store that delivers exactly what you would think: good service, products, and no surprises.

I am sure that it is his demeanor, properness, and attention to detail that has restaurants constantly rank some of the best in the world, whether it is Per Se or The French Laundry. I was impressed and I was on my good girl behavior. I thanked him and if I knew how I would have curtsied. The Williams-Sonoma staff took my book and dried it with their hands. It was the smoothest retail operation I have seen and I am sure it was up to the Keller standards.

I grabbed my book, asked my blogger/twitter friends to join me for lunch, and a had a lovely stroll through my neighborhood. It was the most couth I felt in a long time and I thank Keller for this feat. What’s next, drinking milk and reading the bible? I am lactose intolerant and a Jew so instead I went for jalapeno yellowtail sashimi from Japon Bistro and looked for the Anais Nin journal about incest at Cliff’s Books. I want to make a joke about Keller’s inscription and a book on incest but I will restrain…if only you could take the uncouth out of this girl for good.

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Foie Gras: Oh ya!

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How can something this delectable be so wrong? Well, to some it is wrong and to some it is all right (note: not alright). The Uncouth Gourmands always put our tummies first but we do acknowledge the line between scrumptious delicacy and duck force feeding until livers expand to 10x their size for the sake of that food.

When we arrived at Vroman’s to see Mark Caro, author of Foie Gras Wars, we weren’t sure if we were in the right place becasue the first woman we saw was clearly an animal rights activist. We were a little nervous when we saw how warmly she received the author, she even invited him to a hoedown at her farm. At the point I had sent Josie a text message that read, “He already had a groupie offer him a hoe down.” We laughed and waited for the discussion to begin. We didn’t know anything of the author prior and after this encounter we figured he was probably very anti-foie gras. When he finally began speaking he started by explaining the issue at the most basic level. People like ducks, they are seen in cartoons and in most city ponds, and duck jokes are some of the smartest. There is no negative connotation with the word, as Mark pointed out, like with cow, pig, or chicken. You think of a lucky duck or water off a ducks back but neither is bad in the slightest. Plus duck is not a common food except among the wealthy, so there are not as many mixed emotions if you didn’t grow up eating it. He then went into the more complex issues like where everyone draws their own line, the small farms, the treatment of the ducks, the so-called disease, the silly Chicago ban, the underground foie gras restaurants that popped up in Chicago at that time. What an interesting time in American Food history and Mark Caro, a reporter (mostly Entertainment) at the Chicago Tribune, was the catalyst for this whole thing.

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Our favorite thing about Mark and his book is that you will all be able to draw your own conclusions from the nonbias facts he lays out. As he pointed out a writer in Chicago said that this book made him stop eating foie gras and yet Salon said it was the best justifaction for eating it. Even in the small reception at the bookstore I noticed the exact same thing. The UG ladies were nodding along with the animal activist and we were both interpreting his words entirely differently. That is a mark (pun always intended) of a true reporter. When he opened the floor for questions, of course, the first question asked was, do you eat it now? He said on occasion, I nodded happily and the activists gasped. He said he doesn’t eat veal or pork and rarely red meat and tries to eat organic, free range, and cage free poultry but it is difficult to be consistent.

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We were thoroughly impressed and sure this rollercoaster of books (coined by Josie) would leave each reader with a very different conclusion and we liked that. Personally we tend to side with Bourdain on the issue. Okay, I will admit it, we just want to be like him in every respect but foie gras is mighty delicious and I hope the foie gras ban that is supposed to come into play in 2012 in California is repealed.

Oh and buy the book. Mark’s newspaper employer is one of many going under so help a thoughtful eater out.

So what did we do after this discussion? We had a hankering for poultry and headed to a chicken institution in Los Angeles, Zankou. We were also celebrating our highest number of daily blog hits. Josie introduced me to the Tarna and I don’t think I will ever go back to the simple chicken plate after that.