I faced a set of baby blue doors that marked the entrance of Per Se, named the best restaurant in New York City by the New York Times a few years ago. The maître d’ didn’t blink an eye at the backpack I was wearing to one of the nation’s finest restaurants. Her hospitality was impeccable. Still, I took the backpack off my shoulder to carry it like a “purse,” as I waited for Chef David Breeden, the visiting chef from The French Laundry and Chef de Cuisine, to come get me.
“Hi! You found us!” he said cheerily. Yeah, I was on Kim-time and was 15 minutes late, sweaty from running through 90 degree New York wet summer heat. So bad. He told me it was his last day doing the exchange at Per Se and he was anxious to go home and see his family, but he basically didn’t have any time commitments in the afternoon and wanted to talk about saffron.
David started off by giving me a tour of Per Se’s kitchen. Since starting a job at Rumi Spice, I honestly admit that I’m floored every time I get to see the operations and the kitchens, where all the magic happens, of the finest dining establishments in America.
At Per Se, the kitchen is all ceramic tile, stainless steel surfaces, and it’s very open for easy communication and interaction among chefs. It was modeled after the French Laundry and each section of the kitchen is designed for preparation of a different piece of the menu. David started out showing me the choicest chicken and fish – each station has its own cold storage unit rather than a walk-in room for the convenience of the chefs.
As we left the kitchen, David handed me a spoon filled with runny egg yolk, caviar, and some green buttery tasting goodness, and said, “Canapé.” Apparently just a casual hors d’oeuvre in a spoon for afternoon snack. We sat down in a long white gorgeous dining room did a blind test of their current Spanish saffron versus Rumi.
“David, I’ll be honest, I think your current Spanish saffron is top-of-the-line, and this may be the first time we’ll be beat,” I said.
“Just wait,” he said. “The flavor is all that matters. Let’s do the test.” We diligently measured out about 4 tablespoons of water, equaled out the saffron, and watched the threads turn the water a bright sunshine color while both sets of threads stayed the same deep red color. David then told me to give him one after the other while he closed his eyes.
“It’s definitely number two. The escalation of flavor is just staggering from the first to the second. It’s got miles more flavor. It’s so much more complex. Which one was which?” Almost sweaty again, I breathed a sigh of relief and joy. Sure enough, Rumi saffron came out on top! I don’t have to tell the chefs. I just have to show them and their palates do the rest.
David and I spent the next hour or so discussing weaponry (he has his own set of firearms at home) and MREs (Meal-Ready-to-Eat), which are gross to me and fascinating for him. With his Tennessee drawl, military-like command of the culinary team in the kitchen, easy-going professionalism, and affinity for guns I felt that he was an infantry platoon sergeant in another life. Instead, he’s a chef de cuisine at one of the top culinary establishments. The military and the restaurant business are eerily very, very similar.
I came out of there with only the highest respect and admiration for Chef David Breeden and his culinary team. It’s not so far from the military. Except much, much yummier.
Kim Jung, CEO and Co-Founder of Rumi Spice