Chef Thomas Keller talks

Sometimes the planets align, and the resulting star show is something to see.

Such was the case on Friday at Crate, the cooking school and culinary store on Greentree Road, Scott. Thomas Keller, the James Beard and Michelin winner who is arguably America's king of chefs, appeared there with the help of All-Clad Metalcrafters of Canonsburg to help launch the late Jane Citron's cookbook, "Living to Cook ($26.95, to order or at local book stores).

Chef Keller this month published his own latest book, "Ad Hoc at Home," (Artisan, $50) a coffee-table-sized collection of family-style recipes served at his restaurant of the same name in Yountville, Calif. Ad Hoc is a more casual venue than his celebrated French Laundry restaurant, also in Yountville, and his Bouchon in Las Vegas and Per Se in New York City, and the recipes in "Ad Hoc at Home" are designed to be doable by home cooks.

"Family" and "home" were clearly the themes of Friday's event, as fans of Chef Keller, Crate staff and aficionados, and friends and fans of Mrs. Citron mingled with her family, which included her husband, Carl, and son Alan and daughter-in-law Susan. Susan Citron edited "Living to Cook." Bob Sendall, the All in Good Taste caterer, served hors d'oeuvres made from Mrs. Citron's book.

"It's extraordinary how food plays an important part in all of our lives," said Chef Keller, in addressing the sold-out crowd of several dozen. Tickets, at $175 each, contributed to the Jane and Carl Citron Endowed Chair in Colon Cancer at the University of Pittsburgh and the UPMC Cancer Centers Patient Assistance Fund.

"The memories of food are some of the most important in my life and, I'm sure, for all of you."

For the chef, those memories include Mrs. Citron, one of Pittsburgh's best-known food writers and cooking teachers, and her husband, Carl, dining at the French Laundry, and he related their meeting.

She had lamb, but felt compelled to tell Chef Keller that while his Colorado-raised product "was really good, she knew someone at home, in Waynesburg, who made better."

That would be Elysian Fields lamb, raised by Keith Martin, who was in attendance at Friday's party. And Mrs. Citron's moxie in approaching him made another link in the long chain of food lovers, Chef Keller said.

"That little introduction 12 years ago has spawned relationships that go across the country.

"I have so many wonderful memories of this woman," he added, noting that it was at Crate that she began her teaching career.

Mrs. Citron died in 2006 of colon cancer at age 73. Fundraisers in her memory have almost raised the $2 million needed to establish the chair at Pitt. An announcement of its first recipient is due soon.

Chef Keller also signed copies of his 359-page book, which features gorgeous food photography and playful photos of him, as well as numerous tips designed to pull you into a cooking style a tick higher than pierogies and a tick or two lower than tuna in home-made waffle cones.

Although he is at the pinnacle of the culinary arts, Chef Keller's cooking roots are humble. He related the tale of his mother making spaghetti, onions and cottage cheese for him before heading out to work. "I thought how weird was that. But at the time, it was normal." He later recreated the dish for a national publication using shallots.

The point is, "Whatever level you are cooking, it's about nurturing people, offering something that nurtures them and gives them a memory."

That was, as people who knew her say, what Jane Citron was all about.

The Grilled Cheese Sandwich

We ran a recipe for Mrs. Citron's "Living to Cook" earlier in a story announcing the Crate fundraiser. Here is one to try from Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home." It's not quite spaghetti with onions and cottage cheese, nor as challenging as other recipes in his book, but he writes that grilled cheese "was a fixture of my youth and still factors in my cooking." The recipe in the book calls for homemade brioche and sweet potato chips, and gives those recipes, should you want to seek them out.

-- Margi Shrum

  • 12 1/2-inch-thick slices brioche
  • 8 to 10 ounces thinly sliced Gruyere
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lay 6 slices of bread on a work surface. Divide the cheese evenly among them and top with the remaining pieces of bread.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and cook to brown the butter. Add half the sandwiches and cook until browned on the first side, about 1 1/2 minutes. Turn the sandwiches over and brown the second side for 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer to a baking sheet, and spread 1 teaspoon of the remaining butter over the top of each sandwich. Put the baking sheet into the oven to finish cooking and melting the cheese, about 2 minutes. Cook the remaining sandwiches the same way and finish in the oven.

Transfer the sandwiches to a cutting board, cut off the crusts and cut each sandwich into quarters. Stack on a serving plate and serve with the chips.

Serves 6.

-- "Ad Hoc at Home" by Thomas Keller (Artisan, $50)


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