Never before in human history has mankind been so utterly fire-hosed with recipes – the Food Network, celebrity-chef cookbooks, vast recipe databases on the internet. But how many meals should a man really work to master? How many key moves will allow a guy to shine every time it counts – whether it's the fiancée's birthday, a dinner party, or anytime he simply owes himself a righteous steak?
The answer, it turns out, is five.
Not six, not four, but five.
How do I know? I asked Thomas Keller, the most celebrated chef in the country – the tall, wry son of a Marine drill sergeant, and the only American ever to have two restaurants simultaneously holding three Michelin stars, which is like the food-world equivalent of winning the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscars in the same year. Keller so enjoys the refinement of the classics and is so good at teaching technique that my personal copies of his 50-dollar coffee table worthy cookbooks hang together with duct tape and spilled Bordelaise sauce, reassuring me that if I just follow Obi-Wan's instructions, I'll triumph every time. And he not only agreed with my premise, he offered to help define the Ultimate Culinary Short List.
But Keller even went a step further, making an offer that comes along about every 20 lifetimes for a food lover: two full-blown master classes, eight hours total, laying out every nuance of every dish on what is now a definitive list for the ages – first at his Napa flagship, the French Laundry, and then at his Manhattan redoubt, Per Se.