Putting Together a 13-Course Meal

Questions about the financial dealings of American University's president include a 13-course meal that may have been billed to the school. Chef Adam Busby of the Culinary Institute of America tells Linda Wertheimer what it takes to cook and eat such a feast.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The board of trustees of American University in Washington, DC, is investigating the school's longtime president, Benjamin Ladner, to determine whether he misspent university money. They want to know about a whole list of expenses, including airline tickets, a highly paid social secretary and food and wine that included a 13-course meal for four people. We want to know about that purported 13-course meal. Right or wrong, that is a lot of food. How do you prepare, serve and eat 13 courses? We've called on an expert. Chef Adam Busby directs continuing education at The Culinary Institute of America. He joins us from Berkeley.

Thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. ADAM BUSBY (Chef, The Culinary Institute of America): Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So what is the largest number of courses you've ever served in a single meal?

Mr. BUSBY: I did a meal a couple years back for a consul general where we served 17 courses in about four hours, something like that. It was two or three bites of really small, highly crafted, highly tasty little flavors, if you can put it that way.

WERTHEIMER: Now I would think that preparing so many different dishes must take quite a special level of organization.

Mr. BUSBY: Well, you know, from putting one of these things together--chefs call it mise en place. It means everything in your place. You've got to have all your ducks in a row, if you like it that way. And you just have to--we approach each course and say, you know, `How many hand movements does it take to put this food on the plate?' So every time you have to put something on a plate, that's one hand movement. And for a long menu, we try and reduce it to ideally two or three hand movements per dish.

WERTHEIMER: Eating that many courses--suppose I sat right here in the studio and my personal chef, Chef Busby...

Mr. BUSBY: Mm-hmm.

WERTHEIMER: ...brought me a 13-course meal. How long would it take...

Mr. BUSBY: Right.

WERTHEIMER: ...for me to eat that?

Mr. BUSBY: Well, three or four courses per hour I would say would--probably good pace for you, so we're talking, you know, three, three and a half hours, something like that to get through 13 courses at a reasonable pace. And, you know, that makes it the main event--Right?--for the evening.

WERTHEIMER: When I get to the end of a meal like this, what should I feel like? I mean, do--would I feel like a big fat pig, that I just ate way too much?

Mr. BUSBY: No, no, no. That's the whole idea. When you get to the end of the meal like this, you feel like you've had lots of fun, playful textures, a really good gustatory sensation, that you've almost been on a trip, a culinary trip in your mind, in the flavors that you've tasted, and that you're satisfied, and you have something to talk about and think about. It wasn't just a meal, it was an adventure.

WERTHEIMER: Adam Busby is the director of continuing education for The Culinary Institute of America. He joined us from Berkeley.

Chef Busby, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. BUSBY: You're very welcome.

WERTHEIMER: The time is 22 minutes before the hour.

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