Making gravy is both a science and an art. I learned this some years ago when I went to write about a class chef Philip Tessier, executive chef at Bouchon, was leading in Yountville. It was titled Revillion, a French Christmas Eve celebration.
Although I was there only to write about it, I imbibed this wisdom from it: the best way to make gravy was not to drop a cup of flour into pan juices, add stock, bash out the lumps and tell your children that’s what home-made gravy always looks like.
Mais non. I learned from Tessier the art of the roux, a little flour, a little fat, whisked perfectly smooth, the adding of hot stock and then you have gravy.
The first time I made it this way at home, my son said, “Mom, there’s something wrong; there are no lumps.”
Tessier, who was then executive chef at Bouchon in Yountville, went on to even greater feats than teaching a clueless journalist how to make gravy.
A native of Williamsburg, Virginia, Tessier attended The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. and worked at Roger Verge’s Le Moulin de Mougins in France, and Eric Ripert’s Le Bernadin, as well as Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, Per Se and The French Laundry.
At The French Laundry, he became involved in the pursuit of a goal that had long eluded American chefs: winning a medal at the Bocuse d’Or.
Founded by French chef Paul Bocuse in 1987, the Bocuse d’Or culinary competition, held in Lyons, France, every other year, is considered the culinary Olympics, drawing teams from around the world. U.S. teams had participated but never brought home a medal. Then, in 2008, a group of U.S. chefs — Jerome Bocuse, Daniel Boulud, and Thomas Keller — decided to change this, and formed a foundation, Ment’or, to provide support and training for a U.S. team.
The U.S. showings promptly improved but it wasn’t until 2015 when Tessier was the head of the U.S. team, that they finally won a medal: the silver.
Tessier then became coach for the 2017 team, working with them as they trained, as intensely as any athlete, for the competition. Last January, led by Mathew Peters, from Per Se, they won the gold.
Keller, president of Team USA, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “I promised Monsieur Paul (Bocuse) 10 years ago that we’d make it to the top of the podium. We made it in nine.”
After the glory of Lyon, Tessier had two projects in mind: one was to start a restaurant of his own in Napa Valley; the other was to write a book about the Bocuse d’Or. “This is about patriotism,” he said. “I was in this room with a community of chefs, saying this is going to happen; this is our goal. I wanted to invite people to come along on this journey.”
But along the way, Tessier became involved in yet another project that would become the means of teaching even more people to cook: the Hestan Cue.
A couple of weeks ago, I was contemplating an empty schedule of food stories for the Register, when I discovered that Tessier would be teaching a class on sauces at the CIA at Copia. The prospect of adding to my repertoire of gravy was enticing. I signed up.
When I arrived the class, a volunteer from the audience was already making gravy with Tessier. The curious thing was, it appeared that in the well-equipped Napa Valley Vintners kitchen at Copia, they were cooking on a hot plate.
Not exactly. Tessier was introducing the Hestan Cue, an induction burner, and smart cooking system, which he helped develop, working with Stanley Cheng, owner of Hestan Vineyards and owner of the Meyer cookware company, based in Vallejo.
After testing Hestan’s prototype induction burner, Tessier signed on to become a co-founder and culinary director of Hestan Smart Cooking, working with engineers and scientists to develop a new platform for cooking in the home.
The system begins with the induction burner. According to theinductionsite.com, induction cooking is “completely different from all other cooking technologies,” such as gas or electricity, in that “it does not involve generating heat which is then transferred to the cooking vessel, it makes the cooking vessel itself the original generator of the cooking heat.”
An induction-cooker — the burner — is a powerful, high-frequency electromagnet, with the electromagnetism generated by sophisticated electronics under the unit’s ceramic surface.
When a magnetic material — the cooking pot or pan — is placed in the magnetic field “that the element is generating, the field transfers (or induces) energy into that metal.” The transference of energy heats the cooking vessel. That transferred energy causes the metal cooking vessel to become hot.
The advantage of induction, according to fans, is its performance, as well as its safety. The pan heats up, but not the burner, and it’s possible to change temperatures swiftly.
“Induction is everywhere in Europe,” Tessier said. “There is a reason for this. It’s incredibly efficient. No one in Europe quite understands the American attachment to gas cooking.”
After using induction burners during the Bocuse d’Or, Tessier said, “I’d never go back to gas.”
The Cue, however, goes further than just providing a nifty cooking element. Technology links the pan (or pot), the burner and an app, filed with recipes and directions, which Tessier helped develop.
How it unfolds, for example, in gravy-making, is this way: On a counter is the burner, a saute pan, and sitting on a perch, an iPad. The cook calls up the recipe for gravy, and follows, step by step, the directions; and the pan heats and cools as necessary. “The pan talks to the burner and the app talks too the burner,” Tessier explained. The cook does stir the gravy.
The Hestan Cue system was launched in April and is sold through Williams Sonoma. Other similar systems are being launched, Tessier said; it’s at the point of introduction where it’s to be determined which will be the Beta and which the VHS system.
And it’s not just for gravy but for hundreds of recipes, from stews to crepes.
The Hestan Cue, he said, is “a game-changer” when it comes to home cooking, a way for home cooks to adventure beyond “the five or six recipes they rely on each week.”
“My 8-year-old daughter can use ours to make pan-seared salmon all by herself,” he said.
The response to the new Hestan system, he said, is impressive. “America’s Test Kitchen has called us to learn about how it works.”
“It’s been an exciting four years,” he concluded, considering the Bocuse medals, the book, and the Cue.
But he hasn’t forgotten his restaurant plans. “When I have it,” he said, “it will have a wood grill and induction burners.”
And, he added, “I do want to teach people to cook.”