A Celebration of Chefs
There is really nothing better than a crisp golden pancake in the morning after a long night of boozing. I woke up yesterday morning with a wicked craving for pancakes and even recall dreaming about them as I slipped into a deep slumber after bar hopping with friends. I have experimented in the past with packaged pancake mixes of various styles and flavors though nothing compares to a homemade buttermilk pancake.
The recipe I use comes courtesy of Alton Brown, the Food Network personality famous for the “Good Eats” series. I owe my fascination with all things gastronomic largely to the Food Network, one of the few channels I watched religiously growing up. While other kids were watching cartoons and local sports, I was at home in the TV room watching cooking shows.
I remember the old days before the Food Network established itself as a predominant channel where the low budget programming could only fill a six-hour slot that ran on a continuous loop throughout the day. Early Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Alton Brown were my favorites and I never missed an episode of their shows.
Although my commute is a short one, traffic puts me in a bad mood. I’m impatient and irritated, not qualities that make for a tranquil drive. My commuter’s grumpiness was recently soothed by none other than Jacques Pepin himself, master chef, teacher, and internet star along with the beloved Julia Child and others. He didn’t actually sit next to me flipping crepes in the passenger seat, but he did write the wonderful book The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), and I borrowed the audio book from the equally wonderful public library.
Pepin does not do the narrating on the audio book himself, and I suspect his accent may have been one of the reasons. The lack of his own voice is perhaps the only issue I have with the audiobook. The narrator speaks with just a smidge of a French accent, so he is easy to understand, but he is not a skilled reader and sometimes lets the natural drama in some of Jacques’s stories fall flat. If you’ve ever seen Jacques Pepin on one of his television cooking shows, you know he has personality, and his energy and humor would have made the audio version of a wonderful read soar. Stories of childhood summers spent on farms during World War II and then years in his mother’s restaurant followed by grueling apprenticeships in classical French restaurants often made me wish my drive home was longer.
Though I am not a foodie, I like watching chefs on TV. They are the new "rock stars" and their antics are often equal amounts amusing, terrible and inspirational (in the kitchen, that is). It's hard to imagine a city's food lovers more connected to a chef than Los Angeles is to Ludo Lefebvre. Trying to get a reservation to his tri-annual, 6-week pop-up restaurant is harder than getting VIP passes backstage to U2. (I'm guessing, but I don't think I'm far off.) When out dining in LA, the conversation, if you're with passionate diners, inevitably turns to the hottest local chefs and eventually to LudoBites - how many you've been to (3), which incarnations (3.0, 4.0 and 6.0) and how much time/how many computers you had running trying to get one of the elusive reservations on OpenTable…before it crashed for those trying to get into 5.0 and 6.0. This last time for 007 (back downtown at Gram & Papas), it went off without a hitch – that is if you got into the system in the first 2 minutes, which by the grace of God my Man did.
It's probably unfathomable to those living outside our city – which is known for its over-hyping everything (see Carmageddon) – why people are so rabid to get into LudoBites. For all the great press he receives from local bloggers and a certain section of the food press, there's equal derision by more traditional outlets that seem to feel that if he is such a great chef he should have his own restaurant. That the "pop-up" thing is just a ploy to make him famous for fame's sake instead of for the quality and creativity of his food. All I can say to that is he's been cooking since he was 14 (he's currently 39) in some of the best French restaurants in the world, so the man has skills. Whether you like how he constructs his plates and flavors, well that's up to you.
I think there is a certain cautious thrill in serving dishes that are so out of style – so out of our contemporary taste aesthetic, that it may very well surprise and delight the senses. (On the other hand, it can also make for an early evening.)
This Dione Lucus recipe for Apple Soup with Camembert Cheese Balls offers such an opportunity. Taken from her The Cordon Bleu Cook Book, published 1947, it offers an excellent change of style and taste, and how can one go wrong with fruit and cheese – even as a soup!
There is one cooking show on television that Jeff and I enjoy watching together: Just Cook This with Sam The Cooking Guy. Actually, it's the only cooking show that we enjoy watching together. Why? Because as the name implies, it's more about Sam than the food. And that's a good thing, because unlike many t.v. personalities, Sam is funny, often irreverent, and completely laid-back. He keeps cooking real. For example, he doesn't delete mistakes from the show. As he said yesterday, "Shit happens in the kitchen, and we leave that in the show. People like that." We do, Sam.
Sam The Cooking Guy tapes his show in his own kitchen (which I can tell you is gorgeous), and prepares no-fuss meals that are big on taste. When he started it in 2001, his goal was to make cooking easy and appealing for the average home cook. So he nixed the fancy kitchen equipment and esoteric ingredients and achieved his goal -- his show has won 11 Emmys. His first cookbook Just a Bunch of Recipes was published in 2008, and he has two more coming out in 2010.
I’d just finished writing my memoir Siren's Feast, An Edible Odyssey, a
coming of age tale filled with recipes from my Armenian youth, my
vegetarian restaurant on the island of Ibiza and various exotic locales
I’d spent time in.
When I first told people I had written an autobiographical cookbook, they offered perplexed looks.
“A what?” was the usual response.
An editor at a large publishing house told me my combination autobiography/cookbook was not feasible for a large bookstore display.
“Where would it be placed?” she asked. “In the cookbook section? With the travel writing? The biographies?”
“Put it everywhere,” I told her. “People will figure it out.”
From the Huffington Post
It is late Wednesday morning and Candy Sue Weaver is on the road again, barreling through Arkansas. Her iPod is pumping Henry Gross, Eagles, and Delbert McClinton through her radio and she is just as pumped. She can taste victory up the road. Weaver is a sportswoman, and she is on a 700 mile drive in her pickup, trailer in tow, towards a baseball diamond wedged between a cornfield and a soybean field in northwest Illinois. But Weaver is not a baseball player. She is competition barbecue cook.
Competitive barbecue may be the fastest growing sport in the nation
with more than 500 cookoffs across the country. Many of the cooks at
each event are locals, but a growing number are, like Weaver, part of a
band of roving gypsies who drive for days and get fired up to go for
gold and glory. Some hit the highway every weekend from May through
In July, that baseball field in tiny Shannon, IL, population 900, becomes the "Barbecue Field of Dreams" because Shannon is the home of the Illinois State BBQ Championship (ISBC) and the destination for a fleet of RVs and trailers loaded with meat and steel and some of the best barbecue cooks in the world. These are the real Iron Chefs towing torpedo shaped smokers the size of sportscars on their way to a throwdown Bobby Flay wants no part of.
Before Julia there was Dione – Dione Lucas. Well, actually for me, Dione came after my early marriage attempts at Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I signed up for Lucas’ Le Cordon Bleu class that was being held in the back of a gourmet houseware’s store in New York. It may have been the last class she taught, as we all knew she was quite ill. She was distracted, grumpy, utterly impatient and divine. She was also usually tipsy on Calvados, and I was her pet student.
I was excited by the opportunity to study under her and I joyfully strived to be perfect at each stage and I guess she noticed, though it was not that difficult to achieve ‘Pet” status, as the other ladies basically sucked at their half-hearted efforts. My favorite sucky moment was when an Upper East Side Idle Grand Dame (I was living in a five flight walk-up painter’s loft near SoHo) brought in a half pound of saffron that her servants located at a pharmacy. We had to provide our own ingredients for our recipes; Hers called for saffron. (A pinch already!) When we finished cooking, we were permitted to take the results home. She, however, could not, as “cook would be vexed.” One must never, NEVER vex a cook!
Dionne’s favorite ingredients were Red Currant Jelly and the aforementioned Calvados, which she used on everything. By the way, both work wonderfully.
Jody Adams is a James Beard Award-winning chef and the owner of the renowned restaurant Rialto, located in Cambridge, MA.
What was your favorite childhood food? Was it something your family made and if so do you still make it?
Semolina gnocchi, no contest. My mother made it for dinner parties with braised short ribs of beef. My sisters and I fought over the crusty edges that were left behind. I make semolina gnocchi for my kids and now they fight over the pan.
It's springtime and we love to do "in season" pieces. Would you tell us two or three ingredients fresh in the farmer's market in the spring that would inspire a Sunday dinner for you.
You have spring farmer's markets? Lucky you. In New England they don’t really kick off until it’s almost summer, but spring greens, radishes, turnips and rhubarb are showing up at Whole Foods and a few CSA's and co-ops. I like keeping prep, cooking and cleanup simple on Sundays. Weather permitting, the easiest solution is to get out the grill. Last week my husband rubbed half a butterflied leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and olive oil, let it sit overnight in the fridge, then grilled it the next day. A whole fish like branzino or mackerel would have also been a good choice; both were in seafood markets last week. To go with the lamb I made a salad of thinly-sliced radishes and turnips, pole beans and greens tossed with a smoked bacon vinaigrette. For dessert we had a homemade rhubarb crostada.
Francois Truffaut has been famously quoted about the process of making a movie being similar to a wagon train crossing the country. You start out the journey with high hopes and the spirit of adventure and halfway through, you just want to get there alive.
That’s pretty much what my journey with cooking has been like. I seduced my husband with duck breast and wild rice pancakes with apricot sauce. That was nothin’. I really loved to cook. People were always surprised by that and I was always surprised they were surprised. What? Women in comedy can’t cook? Every Hungarian Jewish woman has to be a good cook. It’s biological destiny.
by Nancy Ellison