What Makes Chefs Gods?

by Joe David / Sep 15, 2009 / 0 comments

THE PLAINS, VA: The wine festival at the Great Meadow Polo Grounds this last weekend provided polo and wine aficionados an opportunity to learn between wine tasting and polo exactly what makes great chefs great. Executive Chef Terry Sheehan, The Boar’s Head, Charlottesville, demonstrated by preparing a flawless Curried Lobster Profiterole.


Chef Sheehan, Lobster Profiterole

Chef Sheehan, Lobster Profiterole

Chef Sheehan took a multi-part recipe and showed step by step how it fitted together to make one smashing hors d’oeuvres, and how important key parts and leftovers can be used to create other foods. For example, mirepoix, a mix of carrots onions, and celery, an excellent basic flavor in French cuisine, “is often incorporated into other dishes such as stews and sauces, and the leftovers from lobster shells or the liquids for poaching the lobster can be saved, frozen, and used at another time in bisques or sauces to create a rich base for them,” the chef explained.

The pâte à choux is another excellent all-purpose recipe, which he uses to create his curried Lobster profiterole. “This excellent shell can be used to hold a variety of different hors d’oeuvres,” Chef Sheehan said.


Chef Sheehan


While researching Gourmet Getaways, Author Joe David who had traveled the country interviewing cooking school chefs, used Chef Sheehan as an example of what he thinks a competent chef should be. “When good chefs teach a recipe,” David said, “they aren’t just teaching a recipe but also techniques that can be used to create other recipes and deeper flavoring for their foods.”

David shared six important questions that he believed the audience should ask themselves before placing a chef on a pedestal to worship like a god.

What distinguishes good chefs from ordinary cooks?

“Good chefs, really good chefs,” David said, “set high standards in their quest for excellence. Part of the secret to Patrick O’Connell’s success (at the Inn of Little Washington) is that he is continuously trying to outperform himself with each meal he prepares. He has been known to prepare the same food over and over again, until he discovers the exact formula that will bring about the right balance of flavors, before he even considers serving the food to his diners.”

How do chefs know what’s really good?

“They must sample some of the best foods available, prepared by master chefs,”
David said, “and use what they have tasted as a benchmark for measuring their successes for creating the same food. Remember: No one can create a great brioche, if he first hasn’t tasted one.”

Has he learned the tricks of the trade?

“You can’t succeed in any professions without knowing some of the tricks,” David said. “Good chefs have in most cases gone to top schools either here or abroad or have worked with extraordinary master chefs where they have learned the essentials. Some have made it to the top by studying the books of such notables in their field as Simone Beck and Julia Child.

“From their master chefs, they should learn important methods from simple grilling to mousse-making that will unveil essential cooking concepts and techniques, that can be used to cook a variety of different recipes.”

What is the chef’s cooking philosophy?  

“A commitment to the right point of view is essential to success in the kitchen,” he said. “In San Francisco, PBS Chef Hostess Joanne Weir is a strong proponent of California Cuisine. Translated, this means she only uses fresh, in season, organic, and locally grown foods. To her, it is very important to know her food source, and she only buys from those sources that she trusts will deliver the best and freshest foods available. Her culinary goal is to make healthy food tasty.

“In New Orleans Chef Frank Brigtsen also shares Chef Weir’s point of view about food. Like her he insists on using the best and the freshest ingredients from reliable sources to create those authentic Creole and Cajun flavors he so dearly loves. In his quest for perfection, he believes a good chef must give special attention to each ingredient he uses – so that it will release its full flavor when added to the other ingredients and give it that depth of flavor that makes good meals taste so good.”

How does a good chef distinguish himself from the other good chefs?

“A good chef will want to find his own signature style,” David said. "Two possible ways for achieving this are: He will fuse new flavors with traditional flavors to create something original and exciting or he will refine traditional foods until they become absolutely perfect. Regardless of what culinary journey he pursues, a good chef is always attempting to break through new frontiers and achieve some excitingly delicious flavor for us to enjoy that will distinguish him from other top chefs.”

In conclusion, what makes great chefs gods?  “All that I’ve already mentioned,”
David said, “and one very secret ingredient: They know what is the perfect wine to pair with their food to give the meal a liftoff.”



This weekend the wine chosen to go with Chef Sheehan’s Curried Lobster Profiterole was Philip Carter Winery’s chardonnay, which Philip Carter Strother introduced with his tips for good wine pairing. “When pairing wine and food,” Strother said, “the dominant flavor and the chemistry of food and wine together are important factors in your decision to select a wine. You must always keep in mind that neither the wine nor the foods over-power each other.”


Chef Sheehan and Philip Carter Strother (blazer). The man in the background is the Chef's sous chef.

Chef Sheehan and Philip Carter Strother (blazer).



Joe David is our Gourmet Getaways Editor. He is the author of five books, including The Fire Within and Teacher of the Year. His latest, Gourmet Getaways, takes readers on a journey to over fifty gourmet getaways around the country, introducing them to the chefs, foods, facilities, and much more. His writings have appeared in numerous publications, including U.S. Airways, Chile Peppers, and The Christian Science Monitor. You can find him at www.gourmetgetaways.us


The Boar’s Head, a 170-room resort situated on 573 acres in the Virginia
countryside, offers Four-Diamond dining, a state-of-the-art sports club,
award-winning tennis, championship golf, a luxury spa, children’s programs,
currently 22,000 square feet of meeting space including a new meeting and
social pavilion, and close proximity to Monticello, the Blue Ridge Mountains
and numerous wineries.  The Boar's Head is owned and operated by the
University of Virginia Foundation.  Executive Chef Terry Sheehan has spent
over 25 years in the food industry. He was inspired to this life in the
kitchen by his parents who were food and beverage executives for the
Marriott Hotel Group. www.boarsheadinn.com

Philip Carter Winery is on a 27-acre property in the Virginia wine district,
co-owned by Philip Carter Strother and Dick Zweber. Although the history of
the winery stretches back to 1759, Philip Carter is a new winery, which has
produced a handsome choice of premium Virginia wines. Today Philip Carter
Winery proudly claims, “before Jefferson, there was Carter.” This year
Philip Carter Winery will receive The Virginia Favorite Winery Award for
2009 at this Wine Festival. www.pcwinery.com


Photos courtesy and copyright of Joe David.