Forget about pots boiling. I have a corollary to that old kitchen saw: Watched gelatin never sets. At least not for me, and particularly not when I was a line cook a decade ago, working at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. During my brief tenure there, it was invariably a test of nerves—from the moment I clocked in until dinner service began—on the days when aspic was on the menu. First, I'd set about making the consomme, a flavorful distillation of beef or chicken stock that had been prepared beforehand. Next, I would bloom sheets of gelatin in cold water before mixing them with the broth. I'd set out several pans, pour a thin layer of liquid into each, and place them in the refrigerator. Then I would wait. Periodically, I'd poke and prod the chilling liquid, fearful that it wouldn't set before dinner—which, thank heavens, it usually did. Just before service, I'd slice and spoon out the glimmering cubes, adding them as a garnish to a terrine or as the main ingredient in a salad so that the aspic's concentrated flavor could mingle with, say, roasted beets and fresh horseradish. As terrifying as the timing was, the results were always stunning. The aspic was shimmering and cool, and it melted so voluptuously in the mouth.