An Appreciation of All-Clad

An Appreciation of All-Clad

Written by Lee Schneider

When my 22-year marriage dissolved not with a whimper but with a bang I left nearly everything behind in the old house. I took only my cameras and negatives but my memories and cooking gear remained as a legacy of my old address. When I moved into my new place, I knew I wanted to start fresh. My son would be living with me part of the time, and I was looking forward to cooking again. If I was going to teach him the noble art of feeding oneself properly, there was only one kind of cooking equipment for me to get – All-Clad. I outfitted the new kitchen with it almost exclusively. To know why, you’ll have to journey with me to New York, back when I was aspiring to write, but cooking for a living.

I had moved to Manhattan, written a few plays and disturbingly enough, was not yet famous. Success was elusive I saw and I conceived of a bold plan to wait tables for cash. Tragically, nobody would hire me because I had no experience. To make things worse, I had been humiliated before other waiter-candidates because I had failed to correctly identify Steak Tartare in one restaurant’s entrance exam. “Steak Tartare is steak with a special sauce,” I said. The response? “Get outta here.” I crept into the next restaurant on the block and asked if they needed waiters.

The owner said, “Can you cook?” I said, “No.” He said, “You’re hired.” He set me to work immediately painting the restaurant. Eventually I traded the paint brush for a decent knife and started working as prep cook for a succession of troubled chefs. Each one met a terrible end. The first slipped on some carelessly spilled oil. I watched him achieve perfect vertical levitation – complete detachment from the floor – before his arm shot out for the nearest stable object. It happened to be the hot stove and his cry was heard well past New Jersey. Outta there, in an ambulance no less.

The next chef was a delightful woman who turned out to know how to cook just one thing: gumbo. It was delicious. She was fired. The next guy had a great resume. He came from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and peacocked around the kitchen like a general. One night, though, he was caught reading the New York Times cookbook under a metal table in the back of the kitchen. His frantic fingers paged through the book to discover something, anything, to make for tomorrow. He had just one great menu in him and when the owner asked for another – alas, he ran aground. He was scuttled.

Eventually, the chefs got better and the restaurant thrived. As I learned how to make omelets by practicing on a case of eggs at a time and also how to dice mushrooms without including my finger in the recipe, my writerly mind noted a consistency about all the chefs I worked for. They all used All-Clad. They insisted on it. It always performed. It distributed heat consistently. It would take what we dished out.

I remember one night I was holding down the kitchen myself, completing order after order and hurling the finished pans twenty-five or thirty feet to the slop sink with a good degree of accuracy and a tremendous clatter and bang. Eventually the restaurant manager came in and asked in a meek voice, “Lee, is something wrong?”

I thought of saying, “You’re paying me too little and I work 14 hours a day. I love this work but none of the good-looking waitresses will come home with me. It’s not enough of a health plan to finish off the bottles of wine that people send back – I’m pissed and I’m taking it out on the pots instead of running around with a sharp knife!” I ran those words around in my head, then reconsidered the usefulness of the truth. I needed the job. I said, “No, really, everything’s fine.” He nodded and backed out of the kitchen.

Those pans and skillets could really take it, though. May I recommend the All-Clad four-quart saute pan and an All-Clad four-quart sauce pan to start? It’s what I started with when I started over and they’ll get you where you need to go. And if you teach your kid how to cook, you’ll always eat well.