Why the funny name?

My Friend Maillard. I know it sounds like an odd choice for the name of my personal chef service, especially if you are unfamiliar with Louis-Camille Maillard and/or the eponymous chemical reaction. I could blather about amino acids and sugars, but most of it I would probably get wrong, so I'll spare you. All anyone really needs to know is that the smell of baking bread and the crust on a perfectly seared steak both occur because some molecules do a happy dance at a certain temperature. Yum! So when, in 1914, a French doctor explained what the molecules were doing, they named the reaction after him. Oh, and he got a metal...and then in 2014 I named my fledgling business after him too![1]

I love cooking, and that love comes mostly from knowing why a process works or what processes and tricks will produce a desired result. I firmly believe that cooking is synonymous with technique and baking is synonymous with ratio.  This is why I rarely cook to a recipe. Of course I read them all the time, but I rarely “follow” any one in particular[2]. Instead I use them to look for more science behind cooking. I love coming across a unique description or added step in a recipe, it could just be some crazy person with an idiosyncratic stove/oven, but what if that one person knows something everyone else doesn't. I want to know it too! It may be needless but I'm going to say it anyway, I'm a huge fan of Alton Brown and America's Test Kitchen.

I like to think of cooking like mixing paint: occasionally I want Cadmium Red  or Ultramarine for themselves, but far more often I’d like to swirl them with some Payne’s Grey and Permanent Rose plus a whole bunch of water to create a more subtle color wash, something more appealing to my taste[3]. Not that I have a problem if you want to just slap some Ultramarine straight from the tube to the canvas. Do it. It sounds beautiful. And I will gladly look at it.

What’s that? You want an example of this color palate theory? Well, okay. For dinner tonight I am making roast chicken with an apple[4] buttermilk dressing.[5] There are more ways to roast a chicken than I really have any use for. So, Instead of starting with a recipe, I determine what I want the food to be like while I’m eating it. When I know I want to end up with a muted, faint painting I find the colors that will give me that result. I prefer dark meat in poultry but I'm not going to throw away the breast so i need to prevent it from drying out. I’m a sucker for golden juicy crispy chicken skin but will pass every time if it’s chewy or soggy. I’d like the chicken juices to flow freely into the dressing, but the bird is too small to guarantee stuffing it inside the bird will be safe. Lastly, I want some lemon in there somewhere. luckily I’ve got those colors and will now use technique/experience to guide me in the mixing and applying.


Ultimately, I decide to spatchcock[6] and dry brine the bird with some lemon zest and pepper, before cooking I’ll spread some butter underneath the skin then put it on a roasting rack with the dressing spread in the bottom of the pan, cooked first under the broiler[7] for a few minutes then finished with the oven at 350. I’ve never seen a recipe that combines all of those techniques on one page. But because I know why recipes would use any combination of them I can envision them together and tell you why this makes the perfect meal, or, to complete the metaphor, painting, for how I feel right now.

So that is why I paint rather than follow. I know what flavors and textures I want as an end result and pick and choose techniques that will get the food stuff to that point. Hopefully, you will consider letting me use my knowledge to paint in your kitchen and leave your fridge and freezer stocked, then you can enjoy eating home-cooked meals without having to find the time or follow any recipes yourself.


[1] Indirectly. I didn’t actually know he was a doctor, or when he lived, or even his first name until I researched him after I had already settled on My Friend Maillard but the whole exactly a century later thing is a pretty awesome coincidence.

[2] I’m now realizing this may be because of the usage of following…but let’s pretend I’m less petulant than that.

[3] Personally, I use Windsor & Newton’s Cotman Watercolors, but I’m always open to suggestions.

[4] I got a peck of beautiful Stayman apples at a roadside out in Rappahanack Country last weekend, so good.

[5] Inspired by Canadian Thanksgiving, of course! Who cares if I’m not Canadian and I live in Virginia, if someone is going to give me a chance to celebrate a food holiday twice a year I will take it and ask no questions.

[6] A chicken spine is a boon to broth lovers everywhere, ALWAYS recycle.

[7] FYI, The browning then roasting method of cooking a bird starts with the Maillard reaction. Thank you Louis-Camille.