Chef Jean-Pierre, Interview Part 1: "It Doesn't Take a Genius to Put Two Ingredients Together"
During the funny and educational session, the chef scolded latecomers by announcing they'd have to do the dishes, joked about French people ("The only thing I miss about France is the herbs"), and messed up a recipe by adding too much chicken stock -- only to add breadcrumbs and parmesan and masterfully turn it into a lesson on how to recover.
(Another Clean Plate Charlie contributor, Nigel Revenge, also took a class; his review is posted separately.)
Several days after the class, I caught up with the friendly foodie in his office. Here's the first part of our Q &A:
My mom was a cordon bleu chef. Ever since I was 4 or 5 years old, I would cook with her. I was the youngest one of the first four children, so my brothers and sisters were older and they would go to school and I would stay back and I cook with my mom all the time. I enjoyed this. I was with her and it was fun and there was love. It was fun and it was easy.
How did you end up in Fort Lauderdale?
Wow, at 24? The Left Bank was a pretty famous restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, right?
And then when did you start the cooking school?
I opened up the school in '95, we had a room next to the restaurant. We only had a couple dozen students when we started and now we have 17,000 students. [He also runs a company called RezClick.com which provides the computer registration system for cooking schools around the country.] We're the backend, the online registration. While I can't program it I certainly know what it should do.
I have to say, you seem to have a brilliant business model -- you get all of the joy of cooking, but you only have to deal with one dish each night instead of 50 dishes for 50 different diners, like you would in a restaurant.
Yes, and I eat for lunch what is leftover from the day before! It's like a restaurant in a way. But I removed all the stress, all the difficulty of running a restaurant: everybody comes in at the same time, and everybody eats the same thing.
I sold [the Left Bank] in 1997. I was in the business for 22 years. I only took 60s days off, I worked 7 days a week. I used to tell my staff, "One day when I retire, I'm gonna put up my own restaurant where everybody's gonna eat the same thing, there won't be a menu!" And that's what I've got today. I wasn't thinking of a school, but that's what I did. I created a fun environment.Most of my regulars come from my restaurant. Many of them are still my customers.
You've got to entertain. We're not in the teaching business; we're into entertaining. This is why Rachel Ray has the success that she has! And because of that, people say, "If she can do that, I can do that!" Cooking is the easiest hobby in the world to learn. All you have to do is understand the chemistry of the ingredients. Anybody can cook. Not everybody can play basketball or play the piano, but I guarantee you everybody can cook. It's doesn't take a genius to put two ingredients together. That's what it's about. Understanding the ingredient and then extracting the flavor and the texture from that ingredient.