Are the chefs lying to me?

Biscuits: the homemade variety. Photo by Tovin Lapan

This is a blog about biscuits. Incredible biscuits. But it’s also about the truth.

It all started last year when I picked up a copy of Saveur in the Denver Airport and opened it to find a picture of Island Creek Oyster Bar chef Jeremy Sewall with his famous biscuits. Giant, fluffy, golden monsters draped in honey rosemary butter that sell for $4 a piece at the Kenmore Square restaurant in Boston, these biscuits had become a minor obsession for Tovin and me since we tried them a few summers ago. I’d tried to get the recipe through a half-hearted Twitter campaign. But the ICOB social media team stayed tough. Damn them.

But thanks to Saveur, the recipe was mine. There was much rejoicing and texting.

Tovin and I whipped up a batch not too long after landing back in Vegas. We followed the recipe step by step, but the dough was dry and crumbly. So, we tried again, shaping bigger biscuits this time, hoping to approximate Island Creek’s pillowy carbo goodness. More crumbs. Finally, I asked a pastry chef for her professional diagnosis. More buttermilk, she said.

Our third attempt was the best one yet—dough that kept its shape, large, hot biscuits with soft, fluffy centers and lots of that honey butter. But something was still off. We were still eating amateur hour.

I mentioned my plight to a friend whose work involves the restaurant industry, and she laughed. Chefs never give out their real recipes, she said. What we’d gotten were general guidelines, a rough sketch that with the proper technique and generous tweaking could come close to the real deal. The recipe wasn’t a blue print, it was paint by numbers directions.

Which brings me (finally) to the question I’ve really been wanting to ask: Are the chefs lying? Are they keeping the secrets of their signature dishes even as they claim to reveal all? Is it all a big farce?

Either way, I’m determined that Tovin and I will conquer the Island Creek Oyster Bar biscuits. (On a recent trip to Boston, a friend with some inside information mentioned layers.) With some experimentation, a few more batches and maybe a tasting session or two at the source, we’ll get closer. And when we want the real thing, well, we’ll know where to go.

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