A Celebration of Chefs
How do I love Nigella? Let me count the ways. Sometimes she’s bigger, and some times she’s smaller, but she’s always incredibly beautiful. She is incredible intelligent and well-educated, and has had some incredibly hard knocks (including the death of her first husband) and survived with consummate grace. She is a mother over 40 who oozes sex appeal, admits to cooking pasta for herself to eat in bed while watching television, and deep fries candy bars in batter. Most important, in an age of molecular gastronomy and foodie preciousness, she cooks food that is simple, sensuous and exactly what you were yearning for but couldn’t name until you saw the recipe.
A group of good friends, connected by a love of politics and good food,
always used to get together every August in Santa Barbara. Life slowed
down; we’d cook together using all local produce – sweet corn, plum
tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, peppers, tomatillos, Blenheim apricots,
avocadoes, Santa Rosa plums – and then feast as the sun went down
behind rolling hills planted with avocadoes and lemons.
So you can imagine our excitement when we heard that Johnny Apple – the legendary political columnist and food writer at the New York Times – was coming to town with his wife Betsey. Johnny was (as many have noted) a force of nature. I first met Johnny when he came to LA to do a feature on Asian Pacific food. We hit three restaurants in four hours one evening, going from Vietnamese to Chinese dim sum to a Chinese restaurant famous for its “pork pump”. I was so exhausted I begged off the next three days of eating. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone enjoy food and wine more (even that third dinner you have to eat when you’re a critic.)
It’s fortunate that the world’s largest atom-smasher shut down in Geneva, Switzerland this past week and had to be repaired after just ten days of operation. Los Angeles’s own human particle accelerator 2003 Bon Appétit Chef of the Year Alain Giraud was gearing up to teach class at the always stimulating Chefmakers Cooking Academy in Pacific Palisades (Chefmakers.com) last Thursday and there is no way these two powerful kinetic instruments could work at the same time if planet Earth hopes to remain on its axis. (Chef Giraud has a great new restaurant called Anisette Brasserie in Santa Monica and Alain thought he would take a breather from his 7:30 am to midnight duties and teach a class to 26 drooling citizens. I’ve been there for breakfast and lunch and I can barely chew because I’m smiling so much after each bite.)
Sometimes we stumble upon books or products we just have to share. The Military Wives' Cookbook is a fascinating read on so many levels and the meals created are both delicious and timeless.
It is a collection of recipes, anecdotal stories, soldiers' letters home and vintage photographs tracing the history and unique contributions of American military wives. It recreates the scenes and foods that showcase the commitments and sacrifice that military wives have given the nation for more than two hundred years, beginning with the American Revolution.
The recipes are broken down into special events and daily menus, such as The Country Brunch. The entry for Strawberry Butter Spread begins with the following letter:
"An officer made me a miniature churn with a bottle and a little wooden dasher put through a cork. We were at the time marching each day farther and farther into the wilderness, but occasionally came to a ranch where there was a little cream...and as I sat under the tent-fly after we made camp, it was soon transformed into butter in the toy churn." -- Libby Custer
More than thirty years ago I met John Takach, a retired small bluecollar bar and restaurant owner from Cleveland visiting his doctor son in Maine. He was rumored to be a gruff, remote man so I was nervous. It was a beautiful warm August day when he arrived with his heavy vintage suitcase. After introducing myself and telling him how I had been looking forward to meeting him he looked at me and said, let's cook, I have much to teach you!
We were instant friends, as we picked cucumbers and told stories. That day is burned in my mind, we talked about the story of his life and love that he insisted on sharing with me. We chopped and sautéed and talked about life in the old country and coming to America. That night there was to be a gathering at his son’s house and we were expected to make a real Hungarian feast. He had brought along many brown wrapped packages filled with smoked hunks of fat, loops of freshly made sausages, good Hungarian paprika, and a special jug of Whiskey.
There are times when I scrutinize my outfit before I leave the house, and find it absurdly, compulsively over-accessorized. It’s then, as I grab my keys and prance out with red sneakers, mismatched bracelets, and a brooch shaped like a turnip, that I’ll find myself thinking of her. Subtlety, in many things, is often advised; but I, heeding Anne of Green Gables, rarely listen. If at a dinner party, after I’ve gone on and on to someone about a book they’ll probably never read, ignoring every attempt they make to escape me, she’ll just appear in my mind. And often, when faced with a moral dilemma, like whether to leave the last bite of pie for the person I’m sharing it with, or to request that my upstairs neighbors stop rollerblading on the hardwood floor, I’ll ask myself:
“What would Anne of Green Gables do?”
Many years ago I met Chloe, we never knew much about her or how old she was but the one thing that we did know was that she was French and very fussy about her food, specifically her cheeses. Chloe would arrive at the strike of 9 in the morning just as our store was opening for the first of the days baguettes and then off to the cheese case she would run. If you had a wild unexpected racy little french cheese she would relax and tell you a story. If not, she would get a slice of Conte and retreat with her hot baguette till the next week.
Over the years we learned that she was a war bride and had been relocated to a very small town in Maine. She had a lackluster relationship with her husband, bore one son who moved away after high school to become an engineer in Connecticut and he was very busy and visited rarely. She was pencil thin with the most gorgeous out of place red hair, she could be very tender or she could cut glass with her disapproving stare. After many years she started bringing us a “very small” jar of apricot jam in the early summer. With no fanfare she would just reach into her oversized pocketbook and take out a tissue wrapped jar after she had checked out, hand it to my sister or me and leave with any further communication. The thank you’s would have to wait till next weeks visit.
At first glance, the Hollywood restaurant Kate Mantilini's seems an unusual backdrop for life-sized pictures of Mad Men, a show set in 1960s New York. That is, until owner Marilyn Lewis provides the back story.
Q: What's the history behind Kate Mantilini's and why did you put up the Mad Men display.
A: It's been 21 years since we opened Kate Mantilini's, which I named after my Uncle Rob's mistress. My mother wouldn't let me speak to her, nobody would allow us to mention her name, but she was a very strong woman and I wanted to name my restaurant after her. My husband was under contract with Warner Brothers, and he did 50 films in the 1940s before we went into the restaurant business.
Shortbread is simply the most delicious biscuit ever conceived by mankind (though I suspect womankind had more to do with it!).
It would be blasphemy to call shortbread a "cookie". It is, truly, a BISCUIT!
As with all simple things, it is NOT easy to make, so I suggest you try this out on yourself or the family before you present it at afternoon tea to strangers.
Here is my Mother's recipe (I can not refer to that sainted lady and not capitalize - sorry, America!)
In the summer of 1966 I worked as a dishwasher in a summer camp near Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. This was in the pre-automatic dishwasher days meaning dirty dishes were dumped in a super hot sink of soapy water and washed and dried by hand. I used to come in around 6 a.m. to clean the breakfast pots and pans. Henry, a very tall, rail thin man who had been a cook in World War II in Europe, had gotten there at least an hour before me; I usually found him smoking a filterless cigarette and slowly beating powdered eggs and water in a huge stainless steel bowl or ladling out pancakes on the football field-size griddle.
Though he was cooking for well over 150 people every morning he never seemed to be in a rush. Though there was no air conditioning and an eight burner stove going full blast, Henry barely broke a sweat. I started sweating from the moment I got there; and being a not very bright 14-year-old, I often compounded my problems by forgetting to use an oven mitt when picking up a hot pan or getting scalding hot water in my rubber washing gloves.
by Nancy Ellison