Podcast Episode 30

‘Technique is Paramount’ – Executive Chef Bob Scherner Gives Advice on Educating Today’s Culinarians

Bob Scherner | 38 Minutes | February 15, 2022

In this episode, we chat with Bob Scherner, Executive Chef at Escoffier’s Boulder Campus. Chef Bob is a veteran in the industry with over 40-years of experience running some of the best kitchens in the country, including Flagstaff House-Boulder, CO; Charlie Trotters-Chicago, IL; 221 South Oak Bistro and Allred’s Restaurant-Telluride, CO. In 2002 he was invited to the James Beard House for the “Rising Star Chef Series” – a prestigious honor that few chefs ever experience. Chef Bob has been featured in Gourmet, Food and Wine Magazine, USA Today, and Wine Spectator, and was voted top 10 restaurants in the US by Esquire Magazine in 2002.

Listen as we chat with Chef Bob about his extensive career and how he helps mold aspiring chefs by keeping them focused on the technique.

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Notes & Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Escoffier Boulder’s executive chef, Bob Scherner. Chef Bob is a 40-year-plus veteran in the industry. In 2002, he was invited to the James Beard House for the Rising Star Chef Series, a prestigious honor that very few chefs ever experience. Bob has been featured in Gourmet, Food and Wine Magazine, USA Today, and Wine Spectator, and was voted Top Ten Restaurants in the US by Esquire Magazine, also in 2002.

Join us today as we chat with Chef Bob about his extensive career and how he helps mold aspiring chefs at Escoffier Boulder’s campus.

Welcome, Chef! Thanks for being here this morning. Happy New Year!

Bob Scherner: Happy New Year, Chef! Thanks for having me. I’m really looking forward to this.

Kirk Bachmann: As am I. It’s not as if we haven’t seen each other just recently.

Bob Scherner: Two minutes ago.

The Early Days of Portland’s Food Scene

Kirk Bachmann: I think what people will discover very quickly is that we’ve met. And not only have we worked together for years here at Escoffier – and I’m going to give our ages away here – we also attended culinary school together in Portland, Oregon, which seems like a thousand years ago. How much fun was that? Personally, I have so many fond memories of my time at Western. Same for you?

Bob Scherner: Oh my gosh, yes. It was the time of my life. For the record, I wasn’t cool enough to hang out with Chef Kirk’s group, though.

Kirk Bachmann: We kept an eye on you. We kept an eye on you. You were increasing the scale in every one of the classes. Who’s this Bob guy?

Bob Scherner: Oh gosh. It was so much fun. It was like all I had to worry about was where my next gas money came from and where my next bag of ramen came from. It was amazing. It was so much fun. I got so much out of it.

Kirk Bachmann: Portland was different back then, too. I think right after we finished culinary school, Portland kind of blew up on the food scene. It became a real destination spot. Did you work while you were at school?

Bob Scherner: I did! My first job was I worked as a janitor from midnight to 4 a.m. You won’t find that on my resume anywhere. I did work in a small French kitchen in south Portland.

It was a really interesting time back then. It was just right on the cusp of the whole area really discovering what was there. There’s just seafood galore. There’s wine country. There’s hazelnuts, the berries, wild mushrooms. It’s just incredible local ingredients that are right at everyone’s fingertips. I think things really took off after I left.

Kirk Bachmann: Same here. There were some restaurants that started to pop up on trendy 1st Street, or 21st, 23rd, up there in northwest Portland. I’ll never forget: I was at the Benson Hotel. We had a chef there, a Swiss chef that had been there for 40 years. One day, the director of restaurants, myself – I was the director of the London Grill restaurant there at the Benson – and we took Chef Xavier up to one of these fancy new restaurants. A guy named Bruce Carey opened up some restaurants in northwest. He had been in San Francisco for years. Ironically enough, went to college with Bruce.

He went away, came back, and we went in and we had lunch, and the produce was spectacular. Xavier didn’t say a word the entire time. The entire time. He enjoyed his meal. We got back and everybody heard it. He called every vendor in the city of Portland and was like, “I want the same produce.” But that’s what put Portland on the map. It became local, fresh product. That sort of the thing. And I think they carry that same reputation today in Portland.

Bob Scherner: It’s a mecca for growing conditions, not only for wine, but for so many other different types of produce. It’s a wonderful destination now. It holds its own with any other major metropolitan area.

Roots in Colorado and Cooking

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. You’re a true Boulderite. I don’t know if that’s a word or not, but you were born in Chicago, moved to Boulder at a young age, right?

Bob Scherner: Right. I’m as close to a native as you get these days. I moved to Colorado in – well, I’m not going to say the year – but when I was three years old. My parents helped, of course. I’ve been described as the salmon of the family; every time I leave Colorado, I always end up coming back. My time in Portland, I came back to Colorado. My time in Chicago, I came back to Colorado. I just love it here. Boulder is quite a special community.

Kirk Bachmann: 100 percent agree. I can’t believe how many parallels between you and I, other than the competition at culinary school. I, too, grew up in Chicago, born and raised there. We came here a little bit later than you did, but I keep coming back to Colorado as well. Super, super happy we’re here.

So where did the cooking come in? You’re three years old. You move to Boulder. I know that you did a lot of stuff with sports. You were a skier and all that stuff. When did the cooking kick in?

Bob Scherner: It happened like any other kid growing up in Boulder. You get to 15, 16 years old, starting to feel some independence. You can drive and it was time to get a job. My first job was up at Chautauqua Dining Hall up in Chautauqua Park.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s right! I forgot that.

Bob Scherner: I washed dishes there, and it was perfect. It was only open in the summer time. It was a real novelty for the population of Boulder. There was an opening and closing. It was kind of like THAT is what started summer, when Chautauqua opened. I fell in love with it immediately. I went back for seven summers after that. In fact, the owner of the restaurant actually sent me to culinary school on a scholarship, provided I came back and worked for him.

Kirk Bachmann: I was going to ask. Wow! That’s great. How old were you then?

The Kitchen is a Stage

Bob Scherner: Well, I was 15 when I first started, and then I worked there my last summer there I was 22 or so. I worked my way up. I was dishwasher, saw the entire building get remodeled. That was really cool because we kept all the historical features of the building. I kept coming back and I kept getting a little bit promoted each time. I ended up the kitchen manager for dinners. We had the concert series that happened two or three times a week, and those were the nights that were just crazy busy.

Fell in love with it right away. I fell in love with the people that worked there. Fell in love with the pace, very much like going on stage every night. You practice and you practice and you practice, and you still don’t know exactly how it’s going to come out. There’s still that little element that gives you a little edge, and that’s what I really fell in love with.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that analogy. It’s such a great message for students, this whole concept of being on stage. All eyes on you. Move gracefully in the kitchen.

For our listening audience, Chautauqua is a really special place. Try to imagine almost every seat in the house, including the porch out front, is facing the Flatirons to the west. It’s just absolutely gorgeous.

Bob Scherner: Yeah. It’s a special place.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s still open today.

Bob Scherner: It was almost comical. People would come up for breakfast and lunch, the really popular meals during the day. And people would come up to the podium and say, “There’ll be four of us. We’d like to sit on the patio.” And the host would say something like, “Yeah, well, that will be about two and half hours.” And they’re like, “Okay. We’re just going to throw the Frisbee in the park.”

Kirk Bachmann: We’ll walk around. Yeah. I love it. That was a time ago, right? People seem to be in a little bit more of a hurry today than they were back then.

Bob Scherner: Absolutely.

Kirk Bachmann: Any influences back then? The best is yet to come for Chef Bob, in Chicago, and Telluride and such, but any influences at that early age, working at Chautauqua?

Bob Scherner: Some of the people I worked with were just awesome. I really enjoyed seeing how they approached their job and that buzz that you got before service time. It’s like going on stage. You get a little flutter. I’ve kept that my entire career. Before service, I always have that little bit of flutter. “I don’t know. We’ve practiced, and we’re not still 100 percent sure how it’s going to go, but we’re going to give it our all.”

Kirk Bachmann: How do you pass that message on to students, that little tiny bit of anxiety is okay?

Bob Scherner: Yeah. It’s something you embrace. It’s something that comes from all of the preparation. We emphasize preparation here with students over and above everything else. That’s really what it comes down to in the industry. If you’re prepared, if your crew is prepared. You’re prepped. You know your role, then you’re ready to go. If you’re not, it’s probably not going to go as well as you thought.

The James Beard Legacy

Kirk Bachmann: It’s going to be a rough night.

We’ll bounce around a little bit. I wanted to talk a little bit about James Beard and the James Beard House. For our listening audience, you’ll probably have to share a few things about how important James Beard was. Portland native. Spent a lot of time up there. I’ve had the luxury of helping cooking at the James Beard one time, but I had a lot more fun just being a guest at the James Beard House. No pressure and such. I know that you’ve been there a couple of times. What is that experience? Maybe set the stage a little bit, too, Chef. Who is James Beard, and why is this house that Julia Child ensured never went away in that beautiful neighborhood in New York City, why is it so important? Why is it a pinnacle for a chef to get there?

Bob Scherner: I think the first thing: James Beard was really an ambassador for food. He wasn’t really a professional chef, but he entertained. If you’ve ever been to the Beard House, you know –

Kirk Bachmann: It’s set up for that.

Bob Scherner: The kitchen and everything it’s just set up for a party. You go in there, and the first room you walk into is the kitchen because the party’s always in the kitchen. He’s an incredible advocate for cooking locally. This was kind of at the time when Cajun and Creole was really making a big impact. He was bringing the attention to, “Hey, you know what? We don’t have to try to cook French food or Italian food. We can cook our own food right here at home.” A really pivotal point for Americans and American chefs.

James Beard, when he passed on, Julia Child was a very good friend. She organized, I believe, Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck. They purchased his home and they created the James Beard Foundation. Along with all kinds of things: scholarships, fundraisers, they do an Academy Awards of Chefs every year. It’s quite an honor to be nominated for that type of thing. They do events throughout the year.

The first time I went there, I went with Charlie Trotter. Of course, he didn’t need an introduction at that point, so we went. World’s longest shift, for me. I tell my students this story. It was 52 hours long and we just went. We just went nonstop from prepping in Chicago our regular service, to get to New York, set up, cook the dinner. Then we all realized, “Hey, it’s midnight and we’re in New York so we have to go and have a good time.” That was a really incredible experience.

Then being invited back as the Rising Star Chef Series. For me that was like walking into Carnegie Hall, if I was a musician. Just the history and you just flash through in your head who came there to cook before you? The list just keeps running and running. It’s unbelievable. You feel like, “I have to knock this out of the park because of all the other chefs that have done the same thing.”

Kirk Bachmann: And there’s nowhere to hide. To your point, the kitchen is right there, and everyone wants to be there even though some parts of the house are set up like a dining room. But everyone wants to be in the kitchen. It’s completely open. Does that add to the pressure or does that increase the excitement level?

Bob Scherner: Well. Both, I think. Guests would come it. They want to chit-chat, and you’re like, “Uh…”

Kirk Bachmann: I’m cooking! I’m cooking!

Bob Scherner: I’ve got something going on here. But my family came in from all over the East Coast and had a table.

Kirk Bachmann: Wow! That’s great.

Bob Scherner: I was lucky enough to bring a lot of my crew. The really cook thing was because I’m a bit of a competitive person…

Kirk Bachmann: No! No!

Bob Scherner: The original invite came with a set of concerns by the Beard House. “Telluride is teeny, tiny little town. People might not know it. We’re worried about the draw. We’re worried about selling tickets.” Well, we had people in tables in the hallway because we had oversold it. It was really cool. I got the final, “I told you so,” to the James Beard House, a little bit.

It was incredible. Watching my crew experience that for the first time was magical. It was really cool.

Timeline of Influential Chefs

Kirk Bachmann: From a timeline perspective, when you are in New York for the first time you were at the Beard House, where were you in your career? How many years removed from culinary school? I’m trying to put you on a timeline. Not give away your age.

Bob Scherner: After my Chautauqua time, I, of course, went to Western Culinary. I came back as part of my scholarship obligation to work one more season at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Then I moved to the Flagstaff House. I worked there for two years. The job couldn’t have been more perfect. It took all the training I got in culinary school and I got to hone that and really perfect those skills and techniques.

From there, I went to Trotter’s. I’m not going to say years again, but I was pretty young, mid-twenties, when I worked for Charlie Trotter. We were all bone and gristle at that point. We were a pretty tough group.

Kirk Bachmann: How important is an institution like the Flagstaff House, the Monette family? Thirty years, forty years, consistent level of cuisine, high level of cuisine.

Bob Scherner: It’s incredible. The Monettes have done such a tremendous job up there. It’s all in the family. It’s run by the family. I believe the father purchased the Flagstaff House in 1971 and it’s been a landmark destination since then. Really, really cool. The wine list speaks for itself. It’s as deep as the Atlantic Ocean. Don Monette has a private cellar there. The door is this really big, heavy door and it’s filled with cork. I was lucky enough to go in that room. He didn’t show it to everyone. That was all the wine that he bought at auction. He was showing me hand-cut Schramsberg glass bottles he bought for tens of thousands of dollars. It was the best of everything. Really had a good time there. It opened the door for my experience in Chicago.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely, and that temple is right up the hill. We can almost see it here from the campus.

Years ago – again not giving away ages – when I was running a restaurant on the western slope, I had a young man at the time who had spent five years with the Monette family, and I can attest that his technique, his level of technique was unlike anything I’d seen. Just spectacular prep cook, great presence in the kitchen. So comfortable. Love that.

Bob Scherner: If you look at the setting and you look at the views: he didn’t have to make his own pasta. He didn’t have to make lobster bisque from scratch. But he did, out of integrity. I think that’s what I really admired about the Monette family. They didn’t cut corners at all. It’s pretty incredible institution they’ve built up there.

Everything Can Be A Little Bit Better

Kirk Bachmann: To your point, the view alone, the drive, the view, the walk is enough to pull people up there. Putting that kind of food on the plate is just another plus.

Chef, we’re hinting around. You’ve worked at some of the top restaurants in the country: Flagstaff House, Charlie Trotters, 221 South Oak Bistro, Allred’s in Telluride. How do you still approach innovation when you’re creating dishes, perhaps that have been on the menu for years, or you want to tweak them a little bit? How do you approach that every night, and is there a personal pressure that you take upon yourself every single night because you know it’s got to be perfect? People drive from all around the country to come to these institutions. Here you are. Charlie’s not cooking. Don’s not cooking. You are, but you’re reputation’s on the line every night. This is a good question, because students will listen to this. How do I prepare myself to walk onto that stage every single day, every single night?

Bob Scherner: There’s so much to it. I get my inspiration from ingredients and cooking within the seasons. You’ve never seen anyone get so excited about a Brussells sprout when they start coming out. That, to me, it the ultimate homage to pay to not only the product but who grew it. Grew it or raised it or caught it or whatever it may be. I don’t think there’s a chef out there that really doesn’t put that pressure on themselves. But allowing that enthusiasm to spill over onto your crew, I think, is critical. You have to have them on board because you just can’t be an island in this industry. That enthusiasm really needs to be contagious. Funny word I should choose in this day in age, right?

To get them excited about what you’re excited about. A lot of collaboration. I think the mindset of everything – everything – can be made better. It doesn’t matter. You’re only as good as your last dish. I think one of the challenges in this industry now is when chef’s get their menus set, they’re slinging plates out into the dining room, and you start to lose that a little bit if you don’t pay attention to How am I going to tweak this to make it a little bit better? Not always adding something. It could be taking something away, making it simpler. Having that mindset of, “I can make this better.”

That’s what we try to instill in our students as well. This society moves so quickly and students get in the mindset of, “I like it. I hate it,” and then they move on. It’s like, “Wait a minute.” We reel them back a little bit and say, “Okay, let’s take a look at that and see what it is about that dish that you love or you hate and why?”

And I always ask them to ask themselves a question when they finish the dish. If they had to make that dish exactly, right then and there, exactly the same way, what would they do differently. A lot of things come to the surface for them. “Oh, geez. Well, I would’ve cooked it in a hotter pan, or a lower oven. I would have cooked it longer/not as long. I would have seasoned this a little bit, or I might have added a little something to that.” Those are all the lessons that we try to pass on to our students that are lifelong and really, really important to have in the industry.

Balancing Technique and Product

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. When I hear you talk about the seasonality of ingredients and how much respect you have for the grower, for the farmer, for the ingredient itself, and how critical thinking plays a part in the experience of a student at culinary school. Maybe talk a little bit about technique. Is it on the same level as quality ingredients? I know that technique is king or queen for you. It’s really important to get those foundational techniques. Maybe speak a little bit about that.

We’re probably going to just keep talking for the hour and a half! This will be the best part of my day! Revisiting what we do in the classrooms every day. Maybe just talk for a moment about the importance of understanding technique and how that’s applied to these ingredients.

Bob Scherner: You can’t have one without the other.

Kirk Bachmann: Well said.

Bob Scherner: If you have great product and you don’t know how to treat it, you’re just kidding yourself. And if you have product that is old or tired or bought from halfway around the world, it doesn’t matter what technique you apply to it, it’s still not going to improve. You can get a little idealistic, I think, which is sometimes a hiccup that some students have, but there’s that balance between technique and product. I use the adage with students all the time of same, “It doesn’t matter what you’re working on sometimes; it matters how you’re working on it.” The technique is absolutely paramount. Not just from your standpoint, you have to communicate that to your staff, and you have to have them on board with having that dedication.

Cooking at 10,000 Feet

Kirk Bachmann: And that commitment to technique is important every single day, whether you’re at sea level or at 10,000 feet. Let’s talk about the uniqueness of not only Telluride, but Allred’s. On a mountain? 10,000 feet?! How do you do that? I get the way that you can get people, your guests, up there on a gondola and bring them down. But what about employees? What about product? What about problems that you have at 10,000 feet? Walk us through that.

Bob Scherner: That was a really unique time in my career. To give you some framework around that, there’s kind of a ridge of mountains that divide the town of Telluride, the historical town of Telluride, and the town of Mountain Village. The owner or the president of the ski area, his name was Ron Allred. He was starting to step down and step away from the company, and he had always had this vision of creating a restaurant right there. He was a good customer of my restaurant that I had then, 221 South Oak.

He invited me up to the top in the gondola. I was kind of curious. I wasn’t really quite sure what he had in mind. We trudged out into the snow on a platform and he said, “There’s going to be a restaurant about 30 feet above us, and I would really like you to be a part of it.” I was like, “Okay. Let’s do it.”

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me because I got involved in the building and the design. Designed all the wine cellars and wine cabinets and the kitchen, of course, and the dining room and all that stuff. It was just amazing. His instruction to me was, “I don’t care what you spend, just don’t screw it up.”

Kirk Bachmann: It kind of feels like the Grinch up above Whoville, looking down.

Bob Scherner: The challenges were incredible. The gondola, of course. The guests and employees would come up via the gondola. The gondola ran from six in the morning until midnight every day. We had that span of time, which was pretty doable. But we couldn’t transport product on the gondola cars; we had to use snowcats to bring that up. In the winter time, we’d have specially designed boxes. They were actually designed not to keep food cold, but to keep food warm. For leafy greens and herbs and that sort of stuff, we would throw a couple of jugs of hot water in with these containers to keep the basil from freezing, and that sort of thing.

That was tough, getting food up. Then we would take, of course, in a separate snowcat, we would take the trash and recycling down.

Kirk Bachmann: There’s a cost there, too, or are those favors from the ski patrol?

Bob Scherner: No, that was all built in. It was certainly a unique situation. There were times the gondola would stop at midnight, and there were times I remember very well running through the restaurant at ten to twelve saying, “Everybody get out of here! We need to go.” The employees would get out. There was more than once where I found myself spending the night up there.

Kirk Bachmann: Skiing down.

Bob Scherner: We had emergency evac procedures. Snowmobile and that sort of thing. It was really an incredible opportunity. The views were facing the town of Telluride, which was 1800 feet below where the restaurant was. The views were breathtaking, really. Very unique place.

Kirk Bachmann: Technique still equally important at 10,000 feet as at sea level. Right?

Bob Scherner: You can’t cook a bean at 10,000. It was actually 10,551 feet. You can’t cook beans. You can’t cook dried beans at that altitude. I was a little idealistic, and I wouldn’t use a pressure cooker because I don’t like how aggressive that technique is. We would cook beans for days and they still would just never get done because the water would only get so hot.

Remembering Chef Charlie Trotter

Kirk Bachmann: Could only go so far. Another lesson for students there. I love that.

I’m going to move back over to Chef Trotter just for a minute because I know that this was a very memorable time in your life. Quick story on Charlie Trotter: boy, when he was at the pinnacle of his success, and even at the beginning of his success, he was doing things that no one had done before. The cookbooks were spectacular. I know you had a part in some of those cookbooks as well.

I remember a time I had a restaurant on the western slope here in Colorado, and thought it was a good idea to line my restaurants with the menus of other chefs’ restaurants that I admired. Here’s the age thing again! It was before the time of the internet. I couldn’t just send an email or upload something. Literally called Charlie Trotter’s, got a hold of someone, and literally a week later here comes a package to my restaurant with a couple of his menus and an autograph from Charlie Trotter that said simply, “Keep on cooking.” That menu still hangs in my house today.

Talk a little bit about Charlie Trotter and your time there and how that changed your life, as it should have.

Bob Scherner: It was one of the more difficult sections of my career, but one that I wouldn’t trade for anything because it really shaped who I was. Then I was cook. I was a sous chef there. It really shaped who I became as a chef. So many great lessons from Charlie Trotter. One of my favorite books that he wrote is called “Lessons in Excellence.” It’s all about striving for perfection. Of course, once you hit perfection, it no longer exists; it’s no longer perfect. But if you strive for that, the least you’re going to do is hit a high level of excellence.

That was his expectation from the minute you set foot in that kitchen. You were all in. There was no, “Eh, I think I’ll check this out, see if I like it. Not really quite sure about being in the culinary arts.” You would last about ten minutes in that environment. It was really challenging from a physical standpoint, from a mental standpoint, an emotional standpoint. He didn’t accept anything less than 1000 percent every minute of every day. You quickly learned three words to respond to Charlie Trotter. One was “yes,” the other was “no,” and the other one was “Chef.”

It was always interesting an interesting time. I found myself closing down a kitchen one night. It was about three o’clock in the morning, and he comes up and he goes, “Ah. You know what? I forgot about doing a cooking demo tomorrow at Macy’s for about 150 people. So I need you to put together this dish for 150 people.”

Kirk Bachmann: Yes, Chef.

Bob Scherner: Nowadays it would be, “You know, gee, Chef. It’s three o’clock in the morning. I’m kind of looking forward to going home.” No. It was like, “Yes, Chef. When do you need it by?” I was there at four in the morning making 1000 crepes and putting all that together. It was a crazy time.

But what I appreciated about Trotter, also, was that he had a really interesting way of reinventing himself. When the public was [wondering] “what’s he going to do next?” he would come up with something to get everyone’s attention. He remained at that level for twenty-five years. It was really, really impressive. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that for a short time. Just an incredible presence and force in culinary arts.

When I was there, we transitioned. We stopped offering an a la carte menu, and we offered all-tasting menus. Now that’s kind of a normal things for a lot of restaurants in the country, but back then it was…

Kirk Bachmann: Unheard of.

One of the things I was most amazed by – I spent a day there one time – the cleanliness of the kitchen. The sanitation was second to none. I can remember being there for a whole day and then having family come in to dine later in the evening. Around 4:30, the entire kitchen was being broke down and cleaned from ceiling to floor. I was like, “What’s happening? Are we closing?” “No, this is pre-service cleaning.” It was amazing. It was impeccable.

Bob Scherner: He set the tone. You were either on board or you weren’t. It was a crazy time, but I learned so much there. The attention to detail was in the stratosphere, as far as I’m concerned. It was all-encompassing. If you had a refrigerator repair person come in the back door, you offered to help them with their equipment and you made them a cappuccino, and you offered to clean up after they were gone.

It just enveloped the entire operation. Servers were impeccable. They were actors in a lot of ways. They had to memorize their lines. The food was very, very intellectual. That was the thing. You couldn’t go to Trotter’s and just grab a bite and just kind of eat. He forced you to think about what you were eating and what the combinations were. It was a great time.

Lessons in Continual Progress

Kirk Bachmann: Incredible life lessons. Memories of a lifetime.

What are some of the things you believe, the lessons – I love the name of the book, too, “Lessons in Excellence” – what are some of the lessons that you believe you’re now in a position to pass along to students, specifically from that time with Charlie?

Bob Scherner: That’s a tough one because there’s so much. I would say one of them is attention to detail, for sure. It’s how you place your knife down next to your cutting board. It’s how you fold your towel. It’s the movements that you make in the kitchen. There’s no wasted movement, it’s all choreographed.

Kirk Bachmann: You’re on stage.

Bob Scherner: Absolutely. Being 100 percent committed to it. It’s a process. I would never have survived in that kitchen if I went into that kitchen right after culinary school. The progression for me to get to that state. When I left, he was like, “Let’s see. Where could we send you. We could send you down to Emeril Lagasse’s in New Orleans. We could send you to Norman Van Aken in Miami.” At that point in my career, I was like, “You know, I just need to…”

Kirk Bachmann: I want to go home!

Bob Scherner: I want to do a little camping and I want to catch my breath a little bit. I still had the Colorado in me.

Kirk Bachmann: But he becomes a friend for life. He becomes a fan for life. I love that. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. Just great, great stories. So happy that’s part of your career, and over the last ten years, as first an instructor here at Escoffier and the last several years as the Executive Chef – who gets the benefit of all those stories are students. It’s a beautiful thing.

Chef, we’ve come to the end, sadly, of our chat today, but before I let you go – I’m not going to let you off the hook before I ask you, What is the Ultimate Dish? Your repertoire.

Bob Scherner’s Ultimate Dish

Bob Scherner: That’s a really hard question, that and “What’s your signature dish?” is a difficult question for me. The ultimate dish, for me: there was a time in my career where I had to hit every highest-rated restaurant around the United States. It was French Laundry it was Bouley in New York, it was Boulud. It was all of that. I spent some time in Europe and eating at some of the Michelin three-star restaurants.

But the one meal that sticks out: I was invited to El Faro in Spain, northern Spain, to visit my suppliers for olive oil. Huge fan of Spanish olive oils. This particular kind was made from arbequina olives, so a really, really fruity and beautiful oil. The owners invited me over to check out their facility.

Their English was about as good as my Spanish, which wasn’t so great. But we had the common language of food. So one day – it was kind of a rainy day – they invited me over to the farm for some lunch. I said, “Great, I’d love to come.”

Jesus – I forgot his last name. Sorry. He had this giant rack that folded together that you could put meats and fish and everything into. On the ground, no barbecue or anything like that, but on the ground were these arbequina branches that were embers and coals, that sort of thing. He brought in some chorizos and some fresh bacon, and all these different kinds of meats. He put them in the rack, and he set them right on top of the coals. We flipped it over. A little bit of sea salt on there and we all went inside and had copious amounts of olive oil and some vegetables. It was amazing. At that point, I understood that it’s not really so much about the food; it’s about who you’re with, where you are, what your mindset is. All of that encompasses an ultimate dish in my mind. That was number one for me.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely beautiful. You recite it almost as if it took place yesterday.

Bob Scherner: It feels like it. It feels like it did. It was amazing. Just such a warm feeling.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Brilliant answer. Chef, thank you so much for spending time with us today. Thank you for everything you do for the students of Escoffier and our community.

Bob Scherner: Thank you, Chef. That was great. I’m glad we spent this time together today.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Lots of fun.

And thank you for listening to The Ultimate Dish podcast brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links, and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.

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