Posted by Mindy Lvoff
One day, if you’re me, you wake up in a panic and realize that despite doing all the “right” things by your very strict Asian parents, you’re miserable. Somehow the Ivy League education, the Wall Street finance job, and the pretty shoes aren’t cutting it for you. Ok, maybe the shoes are great, but the job that comes with those shoes just isn’t cutting it. So what do you do? You quit your job (it took me two years of feeling like this to get there—I’m not very quick) and decide that you’re going to do something that makes you happy. Apparently, what makes me happy is being Igor to The French Culinary Institute’s resident mad scientist, Dave Arnold. And I call him the crazy one…
What’s even crazier is the growing “Dave Arnold Fan Club” that seems to be out there! The other day, a friend brought his friend to my apartment for brunch. This friend-of-a-friend (FOAF) looked at me wide-eyed and said, “I saw your boy Dave in Esquire magazine.” I smiled and made some joke about Dave being a genius, which is both true and ironic. Then FOAF looked at me wide-eyed and wide-grinned and said, “Yeah, I Googled him and there are some great articles! What’s he like? Is he crazy? Is he nice? Is he really smart?” The questions went on and on. Forget the food that I had cooked. Hearing about Dave Arnold became the best thing about my brunch for this guy.
Everyone wants to know what he’s like. People love the picture of him attacking the TIME magazine camera with his cordless drill/hand mixer/outboard motor. They get a kick out of it when he calls a cocktail “f*ing sexy.” And I’m sure they’ve seen the article that has my favorite nickname for Dave: Dr. Delicious. He hates it. We love it. I once had a bartender whimsically say, “Wow, you work for Dave Arnold? I would give anything to be able to work with him for a day…” To which I replied, “Huh?” If I were enterprising, I’d trade places with people for a day and charge them some sort of fee to do my job.
Well, here in Igor’s Corner, I’m going to try and give you a glimpse of what it’s like to actually work with Dave… genius aside. This little section is dedicated to capturing his personality and giving you the opportunity to experience the hilarious chaos that is working within-splash-distance of Dave. This is where you get to understand why former interns can never break free of coming back to hang out with Dave on their one free afternoon a week (that means you, Nick). You’ll understand why everyone who’s ever worked for Dave has a connection with each other—why we become family. Dave is your crazy professor/dad/uncle/brother/toddler. There’s a little something insane there for everyone.
Yes, I’ll be honest—it’s exciting and humbling, but never discouraging, to work with him. It’s also incredibly challenging… and not just academically speaking. Geniuses operate outside of normal convention. Where you might see the importance in something like returning library books, Dave can’t be bothered. This isn’t a joke—in his life, Dave has almost suffered serious consequence from overdue library books no less than three times. He blames overdue library books for not being a martial arts superstar right now. Putting things away is also something that falls by the wayside. He’s been known to look around after destroying a kitchen (copper piping here, piece of cheese there, etc.), close his eyes, and wave his hand back and forth saying, “Make clean. Make clean right now,” as if trying to will the room into cleaning itself. Actually, he does this until someone (intern) reads his subtle cues and gets to work.
So first primer on Dave: if there’s a piece of equipment that we want but it doesn’t exist or it’s too expensive to buy, he’ll just MacGyver his own out of a whisk, some rice, and a penny. I’m sure most people have seen the immersion blender that he combined with a cordless Ryobi drill… It sounds like you’re revving the engine of a Smart Car. If you run it in a heavy pot filled with water, it will actually suction so strongly to the bottom that you can lift the entire pot of water into the air for a good 10-20 seconds. And let’s not forget about everybody’s new favorite: the Red Hot Poker. Oh, and the night before our Sous-Vide Intensive class, he decided to build his own deep fryer. He coiled his a heating element to custom-fit a large, commercial kitchen pot, and added on a thermocouple. He then had a former intern (who just came by to say hi) strip wire and gut out most of a surge protector for him so he could use it to both power the heater and hold a digital display to show and control the temperature. Yeah, he could have bought one, but it would be EXACTLY what he wanted and he would have ripped it apart and rebuilt it anyway. This way, he probably spent about $20, recycled, and got a deep fryer that he wanted that’s also easily portable – it just needs a pot and an outlet.
Dave has been known to saw off copper piping in The FCI hallways. If you ask him what he’s doing while sawing, welding, drilling, etc., he’ll most likely mumble back at you, “cooking.” He has a milling machine that he uses on polycarbonate, which throws flakes of plastic that look like snow everywhere. He once emerged from his milling workshop covered in this fake snow (in his eyebrows, eyelashes, and ears) with a spelunking headlamp strapped to his forehead. Apparently the lightbulb in his workshop had blown out and he just happened to have the headlamp handy…
So I don’t know why I’m still surprised that my best friend and I ended up bolt-cutting metal rods after going to L’Ecole, The FCI’s restaurant, for lunch the other day. It seemed harmless enough—I just wanted to introduce her to Dave and take a Skoaling picture. Unfortunately, the lighting for the Skoal pictures wasn’t mounted yet. Dave had already hand-measured, cut, taped, and lined his own soft-boxes to house his 1 ft light bulbs, so I thought we were pretty safe at this point. When my friend Angie told Dave that he could just buy mounting for the boxes, he quickly laughed at her and started commanding her to find a pair of bolt cutters. Later, Angie commented, “It’s brilliant really. He never ‘asks’ you to do anything, he just kind of looks around frantically and exclaims that he needs ‘someone’ to do ‘something’ until you feel compelled to help.” Finally, someone gets it. Someone finally understands why I came to say hello and ended up 8 feet in the air on a ladder, in heels, tossing nylon strips over an air duct so Dave could mount lighting in our new kitchen.