Bobby squeaks across the kitchen’s rubber-covered pathway to the pastry section and puts an affectionate arm around the pastry chef responsible for the problem biscuits. Her nook of a workspace is flanked by racks of sheet pans lined with pecan brittle and shelves loaded with vats of almond extract, cocoa powder and maple syrup. Bobby plunges his hands into a mixture of flour and butter. “You want to see the butter running through it,” he says. Sure enough, the butter runs through Bobby’s dough in loose strands. He then shapes the biscuits and pauses to admire his work. “See that? That’s going to make a nice flaky biscuit.”
It’s clear, as he finishes this hands-on demonstration, that Bobby is more of a professor than a repairman. But Professor Flay has a surprising secret: The star chef didn’t finish high school, and by his own admission, he barely graduated from the French Culinary Institute in 1984. “I cut the maximum number of classes you could cut and still graduate,” he says. Bobby learned nearly everything he knows from sweating through decades in New York City restaurant kitchens. There, he discovered new ingredients and flavors and built up the courage to experiment with them on his own. Bobby calls Bar Americain the product of his whole career, a restaurant that embodies everything he has learned along the way. He has included many of these lessons in his new Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain Cookbook, but before we dove into his 11th book, we wanted to know just how this self-deprecating, not-so-traditional student got to the head of the class.