Superchefs Talk Candidly on Campus

Yesterday morning, world-renowned chefs Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck and Dan Barber gathered at Tufts University to give undergrads advice in a panel discussion moderated by The Atlantic Monthly's Corby Kummer, and assembled by Boulud's daughter, Alix, a Tufts student. The Feast was there to tell you what you missed. Class notes, below:

1. Wolfgang Puck's dad was mean to him. Like, really mean.
Puck opened the panel by discussing his beginnings as the son of a coal-miner father in Austria who always told him he was "good for nothing." He left home at 14 to work at a restaurant, where "the chef there was just as crazy as my father, and drank as much too—and also told me I was good for nothing." He recalls standing over a bridge for an hour, contemplating jumping to his death, before heading back to the restaurant and hiding out working in the vegetable cellar—and the rest is history. "It's better to cook than become a coal miner, because you eat better," he says.

2. Dan Barber became a chef thanks to Wolfgang Puck.
When Barber was a junior studying at Tufts—and reading lots of Philip Roth, it was disclosed—he discovered Puck's Adventures in the Kitchen at a bookstore. "I said 'What the hell is 'Wolfgang? What the hell is that?'" he recalls. "Then, I remember, I opened up to smoked salmon pizza. And I thought—it was smoked salmon and creme fraiche and red onion….One of the great loves of my life was smoked salmon and bagels with cream cheese. I was with a friend, and we went back to his fraternity and started making smoked salmon pizzas." This led to an undergrad catering stint, which led to, well, you know.

3. Daniel Boulud once believed children raised in France were better off.
After close to a decade in NYC and a stint revitalizing the cuisine at Le Cirque, Boulud, who hails from Lyon, France, attempted to move back to his mother country to raise his daughter. "Alix was born in '89, and I wanted to go back to France then—I felt that maybe it would be better to raise her in Lyon," he says. "And then I felt, well, that New York was really where I belong. I felt out of place already, going back to France." Lucky us.

4. Dan Barber drops f-bombs, throws curveballs, wins in the end.
Shortly after Blue Hill opened in New York and Dan Barber was running on fumes instead of sleep, he discovered before service that he had 15 cases of asparagus in his walk-in. Burnt out and exhausted, he declared: "Tonight, every fucking dish has asparagus on it." His cooks took his word quite literally, and every single dish that night contained asparagus: there was asparagus soup, asparagus with steak, asparagus sorbet. This was the same night that food critic Jonathan Gold paid the restaurant a visit on behalf of Gourmet. "Instead of saying, 'What a joke of a restaurant,' the review read, 'Welcome, America, to the new farm-to-table restaurant," Barber recalls.

5. Puck panders to the crowd, compares making a dish to a one-night stand.
"To me, cooking is like making love," Puck said at the close of the panel to the audience—which, we should note, included his son Cameron, a senior. "You see great ingredients, take them home, and make something exciting." [The Feast]

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