Critical Writing Senior Fellow Tom Devaney's class collaborates with Chef Fritz Blank

Chef discusses common sense and camaraderie of cooking

The Daily Pennsylvanian
November 9, 2009

According to Chef Fritz Blank, learning how to cook requires the use of six senses: taste, touch, sound, sight, smell and common sense.

Blank, a renowned culinary expert on French cuisine, paid a visit to the sixth floor of Van Pelt Library Monday night to talk to students and faculty members about the intricacies of cooking. During the discussion, Blank also shared information about the collection of 10,000 books, recipes and pamphlets he donated to the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2006.

Originally from the "swamps" of southern New Jersey, Blank has lived in Thailand for the past four years. From a very young age, Blank had a "natural inclination to want to know food." One of his most vivid childhood memories is grabbing onto his grandmother's apron in the kitchen.

But before turning to food as a career, Blank worked as a microbiologist in Crozer-Chester Medical and Regional Burn Center. He argued that cooking and science are inevitably linked, adding that swine flu and other food-borne diseases can be best prevented by frequent hand-washing.

According to Van Pelt curator of rare books Lynne Farrington, "Cooking is the oldest form of chemistry."

In 1979, Blank opened the French restaurant Deux Cheminees in Philadelphia. After a fire destroyed the original location in 1987, Deux Cheminees was relocated to 1221 Locust Street.

During his talk, Blank emphasized that although the field of cooking is competitive, the public often underestimates the sense of camaraderie that exists among chefs. He talked about his strong friendship with Georges Perrier, owner and founder of Le Bec Fin, a five-star restaurant that opened in Philadelphia in 1970. The two would share meals, kitchen supplies, and recipes, he said.

Blank emphasized that sometimes people can be too precise and argumentative about food. He declared, "Opinions are like ass holes - everybody has one."

Professor Thomas Devaney, Senior Writing Fellow in the Critical Writing Program, discussed a project he assigned during the Fall 2007 course, "The Art of Eating". Students read Blank's collection of vintage recipes and wrote about the meals they would want to cook and ones that they found unorthodox.

"The interesting thing about this project was. . .the continuum of people talking to each other, trying to figure things out," Devaney said.

Wharton junior Hamad Almudhaf said he attended the discussion because he is interested in a career in the restaurant business.

"It's something I think I would enjoy doing," he added.