Earlier this week I drove three hours down to Manhattan to attend an unusual and special event to which I had the honor of having been invited. It was a unique opportunity to meet Michel Bras, the legendary Chef from Aubrac near Laguiole, France, where he grew up, learned to cook from his Chef-mother, took over the family hotel/restaurant, Lou Mazuc and opened a new one, the eponymous Michel Bras in 1992 that finally earned 3 Michelin stars in 1999. Bras was joined in the kitchen by his son Sebastien and in 2003 the restaurant was renamed Bras Michel & Sebastien. Bras, the famous chef from the famous French knife making city of Laguiole, teamed up with the family-owned Japanese knife making company KAI (makers of Shun knives) to come up with a unique line of high quality culinary knives that were introduced in 2005. The have since come up with additional cutlery items including two types of kitchen shears a variety of peelers, shredders and graters.
Amidst passed hors d’ouvres and wine, Williams-Sonoma introduced the new kitchen tools along with Bras’ knives and books at their top NYC store in the Time Warner Center in a private event that featured Chef Bras himself demonstrating all his tools. Prior to his demonstration, he took the time to sign copies of his book, Essential Cuisine. My friend, Alex Talbot brought his copies of not only Essential Cuisine, but Bras’ other books as well, all of which Chef Bras happily signed.
Spread throughout the store were stations where the guests could examine and try the various tools with the assistance of Williams-Sonoma sales staff. Still, it was Chef Bras that the crowd, which included luminaries like Chris Cosentino, Amanda Hesser, Kate Krader, Dorie Greenspan, and Francis Lam amongst others, was here to see. Not a large man, Michel Bras is trim and wiry, looking much younger than his actual age. Quite fit, he joked that he came over to New York to scout out the NYC Marathon Route. He is planning to compete along with his son, who he hopes to beat.
Introduced by the President of KAI, Koji Endo, Bras situated himself behind the Williams-Sonoma demonstration kitchen island, which had been decorated to resemble a large scale precursor version of Bras’ famous Gargouillou, the seasonal assemblage of vegetables, roots, flowers, herbs, seeds and leaves along with the occasional slice of ham. Gathering his tools, he spoke of his relationship with KAI and launched into demonstrating the abilities of the various tools using the foods set out before him.
Using a paring knife to peel and trim a broccoli stem, Bras waxed about the values of all parts of a plant and how they could be used to advantage. In regards to broccoli stems, I agree with Bras, who considers them to be the best part of the broccoli plant.
He employed the serrated bread knife on two loaves of very fresh bread, one a baguette and the other a rustic loaf to explain the technique and motion of slicing with a knife, basically rocking into the slice with a graceful, rounded, forward motion. His slices were, in fact, clean and precise, with the crusty, soft interiored bread left uncrushed.
The chef went back and forth demonstrating various instruments. He used a peeler to shave the tough, fibrous outer strands from celery, to create ribbons of cucumber, pithless lemon peel and most impressively ribbons of banana from which he constructed a banana millefeuille using grated nuts, dried fruit, cookies and other ingredients. A moment of levity occurred when he asked for some vanilla and was handed a bottle of vanilla extract. Bras took one look at the bottle, shook his head and huffily refused it. A moment later, a store employee located vanilla beans, which Bras diced finely with his knife to add to his spontaneous creation.
His graters and shredders received much attention having been utilized to grate fresh carrot, the afore mentioned nuts and cookies, hard cheese, daikon and other things. He made it look all so easy!
An artichoke was the beneficiary of two tools as Bras used the paring knife and the peeler to trim away the outer leaves to expose the flower’s deliciously naked heart.
While it was a long way to travel for what essentially was a glorified infomercial, Bras is no huckster and I am glad that I did. I got to meet and see one of the world’s greatest chefs, hang with my son and some friends new and old and came away with a personally signed copy of his book, a set of the grater/shredders and a few other goodies. Bras’ KAI line of goods is not cheap, but they do appear to be of the highest quality and are beautiful to boot. I look forward to trying out my new tools and maybe some day springing for some of those gorgeous knives.