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To My Brilliant Cooking Teacher Madeleine Kamman

by Brenda Athanus
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Dear Madeleine,

kamman1.jpgYou probably don’t remember me, but as you read this it may all come back to you after the leagues of students that you have mentored pass by in a blur. You changed my life and I’m sure there is a long line behind me. The first time that I came to your cooking school in Newton Center, Massachusetts with Heidi Wortzel to introduce me, I was where I had always dreamed of being. The smells on the outside of the entrance pale in comparison to how wonderful it smelled inside. Students were whirling around, busy making puff pastry and tending to their pots on the  stove tops all with smiles on their faces.

It was magical..I remember thinking you were so busy but so very welcoming as you talked about your school. The brick walls were covered with well-used, brightly-polished copper pots and oddly an upside down framed autograph from Paul Bocuse. It was where I wanted to be and I couldn’t wait to roll up my sleeves and learn all that I could.

makingcook.jpgI talked to you about appling for the chef’s course and you said that I had to make a genoise frosted with a simple butter cream and bring it in for your approval to see if I had  a chance to be admitted. I signed up that day for as many other classes that had openings and left with your book.

On my way home I thought the world was my oyster. How lucky to have found someone so brilliant and so early in my life. But what the heck was a Genoise? I panicked that I would never be admitted to chef’s course not knowing what a genoise was and I wanted to be admitted so badly.

Grabbing all my mother’s cookbook I started researching genoise cake, devouring all the information that existed and back then there wasn’t a whole lot. Back in Maine in my kitchen I got all the ingredients, including the freshest eggs and unsalted butter, which I had never used in baking before and started cooking for my future or not. The first cake was a disaster, a mere 3 inches high, the second cake was maybe a little higher not not much.

genoiserecipe.jpg I fretted, maybe it was how I was “catching” the butter, maybe I was over folding so I studied the proper way to fold and started my third cake. By this time I am frantic and my last 3 eggs rolled off the counter, onto the floor and broke. Time to go back to farm and get more eggs, maybe a couple of dozen because it looked like a long night ahead.

I made 6 cakes, frosted them all with butter cream, boxed them, put them in the trunk of my car and headed back to Massachusetts with tears in my eyes. I was devastated, humiliated, exhausted and soon I thought to be publicly embarrassed, but I was determined to take all my cakes to you to show that I was really serious and needed to come to your school because I had a lot to learn.  I couldn’t even make a genoise! In I walked carrying my 6 white cake boxes, everyone staring at me like I was making a delivery from the bagel shop . Madeleine, you immediately saw me and asked what I had brought in the six boxes. I said “my cake” but why six boxes? I wanted you to pick your favorite.

You sort of laughed but not really. I opened all the boxes and showed you my cakes. There was silence for the longest time or so I thought and then you started laughing, "Brenda, you have the highest, lightest most beautiful genoise I have seen today. European cakes are never high, they have no baking powder." I couldn’t be hearing correctly or was it a dream but if it was a dream it lasted for 4 wonderful years.

Madeleine you taught us to cook  by starting with the basic like  eggs with a small amount of flour and the next class, eggs with more flour until we understood the principals of omelets to brioche. You taught us to pay attention to what was happening in the bowl, in the oven or on the cutting boards. We watched, we tasted, we listened and we learned  the basics. You taught us about regional cooking in france by talking about the composition of the soil, what kind of weather in that area  and what kind of food could grow successful. It made perfect sense!  I don’t know if going through the front door of your school on that first day was  ultimate luck or was I showing up for my destiny or maybe it was a combination of both but no day goes by that I am not grateful for my passion for cooking and I thank you for that.


Fine 6-egg Genoise

6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. flour, sifted
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1½ tablespoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons clarified butter
Butter the baking pan and lightly dust with flour the bottom of the pan only. Warm the unbroken eggs in warm water. Sift the flour. Preheat a 3- to 4- quart bowl with boiling water; dry it. Break the eggs into the bowl and place it on a protective pad over a stove burner on medium low heat; use a metal protector for an electric stove, asbestos or metal for a gas stove. Start beating the eggs immediately with the electric mixer. Add sugar little by little in a regular stream. Add the salt.
Within seconds the batter will swell considerably. Continue beating until a light ribbon forms and the mixture feels frankly "warm" to the finger; the eggs start poaching and the sugar forms a syrup, trapping the already dilating air in the foam. Remove the bowl from the heat, add the flavoring, and continue beating until cold; a twisting ribbon will fall from the beaters. Do not let the batter reach the soft-peak stage or the cake will look and taste cotton-like.
Return the already sifted flour to the sifter. Sift one third of its total volume on top of the egg foam. Fold the flour into it, using a large rubber spatula or your right hand with the fingers extended. Repeat the same operation with the other two thirds of the flour. Do not add the flour in more than three additions or the cake will be overfolded.
Gently pour half of the butter on top of the batter. Try to catch it with your spatula before it has time to fall to the bottom of the bowl. Fold only until the butter is incorporated; repeat with the remainder of the butter.
Holding the bowl very low over the prepared cake pan, pour the batter into it very slowly. Bake the cake on the lowest rack of a reheated 350F. degree oven. The air dilation and steam pressure will continue regularly and evenly. Test doneness as you would any other cake. Do not let the cake shrink too much from the pan sides. Invert on a cake rack as soon as removed from the oven.
Baking time:  40 minutes
Recipe from: THE MAKING OF A COOK by Madeleine Kamman, Copyright 1971, First Edition


Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot.

The Green Spot
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



0 #15 Susie Cantor 2013-03-09 17:19
It certainly was! My ex husband and I went to Chocorua to look for a location, and checked out so many wild possibilities and Fred and Ramona's place was a perfect match. And in the world of business on a handshake, we stayed there for a weekend to work out the deal and lead a catered wedding event for them at their Inn to "enroll them" in our reliability and integrity. It was a magical 6 mos of 8 adults and Madeleine all living under one roof in the depths (and I mean depths) of winter in NH filled with all the excitement and drama of a reality TV show.
0 #14 Susie Cantor 2013-03-08 23:55
Just post your email addresses like this, so it's not hyper linked: susie cantor at mac.com.
We can start our own group. Tho' Facebook groups have worked really well for me. Susie
0 #13 Dawn 2013-03-08 14:29
Good morning Holly! You were in my class, you probably remember me, I was the first one out. I don't know how to share emails here either but I assume you would have to contact whomever runs this site. are you on Facebook? I connected with Jeannie there, saw her last summer, and reached out to Joanne but haven't received a response from her yet. If you're on fb send me a friend request, I'm out there. Have a good day!
0 #12 Holly Beernink 2013-03-08 14:03
Hello Dawn, Susie and others. This is Holly again. I studied with Madeleine in Glen, N.H. In 1985, not 1980 as originally posted. My, how the time flys!
I'm not sure how to get email addresses from this site, but I woul love to connect up with all of you and get more information about your training with Madeleine and what you are doing now. Please let me know how to get and give out email addresses. I've had too many bad experiences with Facebook so I no longer have an account.
Holly B.
0 #11 Dawn 2013-03-08 01:14
Susie, I'm in NJ. I just reached out to a former classmate to see if she had any info. I'll post here if I get any news. Was the school you set up in Chocorua at Ramona's place, Staafords-in the-fields? Great place, I loved it there!
0 #10 Susie Cantor 2013-03-08 00:57
I'll let you know if I make a connection. Thanks for the quick reply Dawn! Where are you? I'm in Seattle
0 #9 Dawn 2013-03-08 00:38
Susie, her two sons and husband are to be found on FB, but not Maddy.
0 #8 Susie Cantor 2013-03-08 00:30
My Valentine Card addressed to Vero Beach just got returned to me. I too would like to know where she is, how she is, how Alan is.... I'm doing some super sleuthing on Facebook. I think I can find her. My ex husband and I set up her cooking school in Chocorua, NH in 1983 after she closed up shop in Annecy. Her cooking class was the most exhilarating, extraordinary learning experience of my life. I love Madeleine.
0 #7 Dawn Daino 2013-01-19 03:22
This message is for Holly: We were in Madeleine's class together in the New Hampshire mountains. Would love to be in touch! I assume you can get my email address through this site. Hope to hear from you. Signed, (as Gustin called me) Delta Dawn
+1 #6 Donald Newman 2013-01-15 17:17
Madeleine was a wonderful person and great teacher. The class that I was in located in Chocura, New Hampshire, was great fun--challengin g, but great fun. I look back on the time with fond memories.


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