A Celebration of Chefs
VICTORY! SUCCES FACILE! VITTORIA TOTALE!
Oh those personal chefs of Palm Beach – those white jacketed, croc-shod, Bluetooth-eared, clubby bunch that troll the aisles of our local supermarket! Is it simple envy that knowing they wield a knife better than I that has made me feel less than human as I wheel my cart past them? Probably. But, today there was victory! Today, There was Deliverance! Equality – nay – Superiority! (They don’t have to know I usually cut my finger when I cut a bagel – and you don’t have to tell them!)
I am shopping for an intimate Moules Provençale dinner, and I am in a snit trying to find the shallots. I humbly ask one of “them” if he knew where they stocked the shallots. After a delicious amount of time wasted as he poked about the onions and garlic, we simultaneously found them among the potatoes. “Thank you.”
Later he sought me out. “I noticed you were buying shallots. You must be a serious cook.” (Excuse me, that is all it takes for a woman to appear ‘serious’ in Palm Beach!)
It is Sunday late morning, the North wind is howling outside and the rain has changed to half inch hail but the farmhouse walls are more than two feet thick and we are very cozy. We hear nothing, just the sounds of the wood fire crackling, a knife on the cutting board and two friends engaged in a lively conversation catching up on many things since our last visit. We are sitting at a 8 foot long chestnut kitchen table boning out the leg of a wild boar, removing sinew, fat glands and chipped bones from the bullet wound. Alain has told all his neighbors of our visit and one has shot a wild boar for the occasion and foraged for black truffles. It was long decided before the boar was cold that we would make a daube just like his mother made for him in his child hood home in Avignon and it will marinate today and simmer over a wood fire all afternoon tomorrow. Tonight we are having raclette with charcuterie for dinner that they brought home from their skiing vacation in the Alps. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon!
Cooking and travel shows make me angry. That's right, I said angry. For a very irrational reason. They make me hungry, which leads me to snacking which is making me fat. I usually have pretty good self-control, mainly because I don't stock snacks in my home to begin with; however, after watching Anthony Bourdain traveling the globe eating across country after country, Mario Batali delivering another delicious Italian dish and the Top Chef contestants turning vending machine food into gourmet treats, I want to enjoy what they're eating/making right at that moment and I can't.
Thus I get angry and find myself rummaging through my kitchen looking for anything to ease my phantom hunger pains. I'm not really hungry, they've just made me think that I am and when all I can conjure up is stale nuts or microwave popcorn, I get miffed. Sure, I could have more selections on hand, but that would not be helpful to my waistline. Nor would they be as delicious as what I'm seeing on the screen. Getting enough exercise when you work in front of a computer all day is hard enough without these talented kitchen wizards making it worse.
Call it denial having taken this long to write about it. Call it anything you want but there will be NO MORE Gourmet magazine in anyones mailbox ever again and that will take a lot of getting use to. It was always the first food magazine that I opened each month, the others could wait. Of course it's shocking and sad, the end of an era and no more Ruth piloting the ship. And I will most miss her.
I have to admit that I was less then happy when she became the "new" editor, the magazine changed so dramatically or was it overdue to become more modern? Less elitist, less snobby, more real, perhaps? Well, Ruth you sure changed it! Last year I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Ms. Reichl at a literary writers weekend in Camden, Maine. As part of the weekend event the hosts invited us to a Saturday night "church supper" Maine style. In the big, white Congregational church nestled among the oldest grove of Maple trees in full color was the venue for the event. Various restaurants in the area were picked to make each different course for the dinner.
I was with friends last night for an Italiam-themed potluck meal. My firend, Bobbie, brought a dessert she found in one of Michael Chiarello's cookbooks. Rosemary Sand Cake with Summer Berries is a light, lemony cake flecked with bits of fresh rosemary.
I used to watch Chiarello's Food Network show every Saturday. I love his casual style and his down-to-earth approach to food preparation and entertaining. And he just seems like such a nice guy.
He often made use of fresh herbs in the dishes he prepared on his show. For this cake, he chose rosemary.
The recipe calls for potato starch. It has a silky texture, similar to cornstarch and gives the cake a fine delicate texture. Bobbie found potato starch at our local natural food co-op, but I think many grocery stores carry it. It's probably on the shelf with other baking ingredients.
Eating alone is a trying thing for some people, writing cooking and eating off as products of a banal bodily necessity. I love to eat and cook alone, using the kitchen as an improvisational laboratory to experiment with recipe ideas, flavor combinations, and cooking techniques. MFK Fisher, a witty food writer with a fluid, deeply expressive writing style bursting with gastronomic knowledge, shared my passion. She was one of the best food writers out there, blurring the lines between the genres of food anthropology, ecology, travel literature, and cooking.
Simply put, she made being a foodie cool long before it was fashionable. Her great strength as a writer is her ability to drag you into her prose to taste, smell, and feel your way through her experiences in and around the kitchen. Mary Frances was not afraid to dine alone, in fact she loved it, and one short and sweet chapter of her An Alphabet for Gourmets sums up her point of view. “It took me several years of such periods of being alone to learn how to care for myself, at least at table. I came to believe that since nobody else dared feed me as I wished to be fed. I must do it myself, and with as much aplomb as I could muster.” In regards to eating alone, I have taken a page from her book, and as a result treat myself to lavish meals regularly.
Once Anthony Bourdain left The Food Network in a trail of acrimonious dust, he started a second television career on The Travel Channel. The show (”No Reservations”) was better (because, among other things, they allowed Anthony to be his acerbic, outrageous self) but he was gone from my life because the Travel Channel was not available from our cable company. We ordered episodes from Netflix, took them out of the library, and once, in a media coup that rivalled the day when my brother and I tuned in what we believed to be “porn”on the TV in the living room by fiddling rabbit ears and vertical hold, we found one episode of “No Reservations” on “On Demand,” and watched it with the fervor and intensity appropriate for a bootleg copy of Tommy and Pamela.
Then, one day, the Travel Channel appeared as I was flipping up towards the Premiums, bearing the portentous channel assignment “123.” (It’s portentous because I can remember it). We fell, that evening, under the spell of a young man named Adam Richman, and a show called “Man v. Food.” We fell hard. It is fabulous beyond all reckoning that we can now see “No Reservations” before the episodes are two years old, and there are a couple of other shows on the channel that we’ve enjoyed, but Richman is a revelation of how a network can combine really smart and really commercially appealing and create something that appeals to a large and diverse audience.
I have always wanted to cook like Mario Batali.
First, I bought a pair of orange crocs. I figured that would be the first step (ahem …first step!!) toward cooking like Mario.I had to start somewhere – so why not start at the ground and work up. (--- Never mind)
Oddly, that actually didn’t work, so I was driven to consider alternative ways… like maybe buying his books instead. Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style, for example. I am serious. Consider the great recipes in that book, such as Grilled Tequila and Chipotle Rubbed Lamb or Soft-Shelled Crab Sandwich with Spicy Tatar Sauce! My newest addition, which arrived today, is Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking the perfect summer cookbook. (I love the farmers’ market in Martha’s Vineyard where I can stroll around chatting up friends and selecting the wonderful native grown seasonal produce that I will be able to incorporate into his recipes.)
But, I found an even better way of learning to be Mario. I have had the delicious joy of watching him work – up close and truly personal: An auction item from a most worthy charity – Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart – given most graciously by Mario. Clearly a perfect though pricey opportunity to learn from the master! He made his classic white truffle five-course dinner for ten at our home – and what an experience! What delicious subtle flavors! What elegant homemade pasta! What divine truffles! What a cool guy.
M.F.K. Fisher, the simultaneously subtle and brilliant food writer, devoted a chapter in her opus Serve It Forth to the importance of dining alone. She loved to cook and entertain guests which is beautifully rendered in her writing but she never forgot to make time for herself. Even when dining alone Fisher would treat her meal with the same delicate touch and refined style that she lavished on her guests. I totally agree with her notion that eating alone does not have to be a chore, bore, or quick fix of crappy food. She attributes this philosophy of eating well, even when alone, to a Roman noble named Lucullus. Lucullus was a grand gourmet notorious for the wealth he squandered on his food budget and opulent feasts.
One day he verbally abused his team of chefs when they served him leftovers, stale bread, and overly watered wine on an off day from his busy social schedule. When his staff stood apologetically before him they pleaded that since he was eating alone they assumed a lavish feast was not a necessity. He rebuked them by saying that when Lucullus dines with Lucullus the food should be at its very best, going above and beyond what they served his guests. Lucullus ate the finest foods and drank his most potent vintages when dining alone, because he was worth it. I agree wholeheartedly that it is warranted to treat yourself now and again to a special meal made especially for you.
Dear Chefs, kitchen staff, servers, and everyone who fed me in 2011;
I write to thank you for the wonderful memories, the delicious moments, and the extra calories this year. All well worth it and ready for more in 2012.
Chef Zarate, Picca Peru
Una cena en su restaurante me transporta a Perú, y me trae sentimientos de familia y cultura a travez de cada bocado de sus platillos Peruanos. Hasta lagrimas solté al comer el seco de pato por los recuerdos de mi abuelita. Le doy mil gracias por su talento, y que 2012 le continúe a traer éxito.
Chef Stan Ota, Takami
A delightful experience of wonderful dishes, unique presentation, and a fine dinning atmosphere. With my recent work location transfer to Downtown, I will surely be frequenting Takami more often… That carpaccio is calling my name!
by Nancy Ellison