A Celebration of Chefs
At our store, The Green Spot, in Maine, we seek out locally made, unusual products like freshly gathered honey, artisan maple syrup or rare apple cider made with heirloom apples. But my favorite is a handmade butter that is such a treat melted with lobsters, slathered on the breads that we bake or the sugar-and-gold corn picked that morning.
Over the years we have had several butter makers but undeniably Sylvia Holbrook’s was the best. Sylvia had been making butter for 63 years when we found her. She lives in the small hamlet of North New Portland almost 2 hours from our store on a ramshackle farm. She is a pistol – a thin energetic women in her 80’s that has made butter every day of her 63-year career.
The thing that makes Sylvia’s butter so different from all others is that she know the importance of pasturing her cows so they have a diet of fresh grass and hay from her own fields which gives it a depth of flavor like nothing else and as Spring turns into Summer the butter takes on an intense yellow color that glows through the white parchment paper. Her butter is not just lovingly made, it is what fresh is all about!
Most people go to Vermont to watch the leaves change colors in the fall but I like it in the spring when the leaves on the trees are green, 67 colors of green, so that the bonnets of the trees look like a jigsaw puzzle and the tulips are in bloom and the geraniums and the cherry blossom trees – there’s nothing fancy about Vermont, it’s all straight up plain flowers plainly blooming everywhere, as if the earth is starting fresh again after winter and toward the end of May it hits an optimum equilibrium even if it does rain every other day which if you’re only there for a day and a half isn’t very good odds, at least not of skipping the rain. But people in Vermont don’t mind, they just take out their umbrellas and keep on truckin’….
“And why are we going to Vermont in May, Mom? I don’t get it. Why are we going to Vermont, at all???”
“You’ll see, Anna.”
My mother's bedside table was laden with books about food. On any
given night it might be Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French
Cooking. Or Michael Field’s Cooking School. Or the massive two-volume
set of The Gourmet Cookbook.
I ended up with her copies of those books, and when I took them
home and paged through, I wasn’t surprised that not a single page was
soiled. That’s because although she loved, loved, loved food, she
didn’t actually cook…except for blanching and roasting the occasional
pound of almonds on the cook’s day off.
The pages with Julia’s roast duck and basic quiche recipes are now well splattered, since I not only read those books but I also love to cook. My cookbooks are well behaved and stay in the kitchen, but my bedside table is often loaded with books about food.
The other day, my daughter Hannah and I stopped by Surfas. It always surprises me when she wants to go there, since their prepared food is, lets just say..um..esoteric. She ordered the 72 layer biscuit with ham and cheese and drank a Bubble Up. Oh to be 13, 5’5” and weigh 98 lbs. After that, as we crossed over into the store, a fellow cradling a basket of hot baguettes narrowly missed running into me as he made his way to his station or should I say ‘kingdom’, because this guy rules!
Hannah and I watched him set up the baguettes and tend to a customer at the newly established Cheese Bar. If you haven’t been to Surfas lately, there have been some delightful additions to the whole experience.
When you enter the door at the Beverly Hills Cheese Store - the greatest cheese store in the U.S. of A. (419 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, California 90210), the first friendly face and voice you see and hear on your left will always be that of Cheese Wiz Sebastian Robin Craig working behind the counter like a whirling dervish - unless he is jetting off to the cheese caves of Roquefort, France for a tasting; or Stockholm, Sweden to compose more jazz (go to iTunes for his latest CD “Volition”); or just kicking back and learning Russian.
It all started with my Mom’s 1/2 gal of dill pickles 40ish years ago....I was always facinated with the glass jar itself, the settling of spices in the bottom and the beauty of how the small cucumbers were so artful and lovingly arranged. Our Mother could cook like an angel inspired by Julia and the Time/Life series to guide her. Everyday of the week she watched and read and plotted and planned for the weekend.
Suzanne Goin, the uber-talented celebrity chef of Lucques and A.O.C.
Wine Bar fame, was rumored to be the front runner for the
2005 James Beard Chef-of-the-Year award, and as far as I was concerned,
she could just skip the swim suit competition and pick up her gold
toque and tongs. Because praise the lord and pass the friggin’ salt
cod, if food could cure cancer, it would be this food. May The God of
Good Eatin’ please keep Suzanne Goin’s hands hale, hearty, and forever
heating up the small plates.
Having earlier experienced both the exquisite pleasure and excruciating pain that comes from washing down four or five pounds of Chicken Liver pate with fifteen dollar glasses of 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape, I was careful to prepare my sensitive digestive tract by fasting for practically an entire half-day on Fiji Natural Artisan water, plus a supplemental half-inch rind of smoked salami that I discovered under a plastic tankard of Barefoot Contessa Moussaka that I accidentally made five weeks ago in a bizarre attack of culinary industry. As a note, I have a firm policy of never throwing away any left-over that originally took more than sixty minutes to prepare, unless it starts to stink worse than my daughter’s feet did after two weeks at Catalina Camp, where filth is a fashion statement.
I was sitting courtside as the Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Denver Nuggets for Game 2 of the First Round of the NBA playoffs.
Brian, the waiter, who always works that part of the arena, approached to take my order.
“Chicken tenders, two barbecue sauces, and a bottle of water?” he asked knowingly.
I’m going to have to start re-thinking my order. I’m in a floor seat, in the middle of the electric atmosphere of the post-season, a sellout crowd, media everywhere, and I felt like I just walked into an old movie and told the bartender, “I’ll have the usual.”
By the time the first quarter ended, Kobe Bryant already had twenty points, and I already had barbecue sauce on my shirt.
All in all, it was a good night – for the Lakers and for my dry cleaners.
A few years ago I became a head chef flunky at the Culinary Stage of the Los Angeles Times Book Festival. It was a way to keep up my prep cook skills, meet some heroes (Suzanne Goin, Lidia Bastianich, Martin Yan, Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger, Govind Armstrong, Nancy Silverton) and TV star chefs (Giada DeLaurentiis, Tyler Florence, Dave Lieberman, Cat Cora). The stage’s consulting producer, Michael Weisberg, took a leap of faith and allowed me to bring along Patricia Zarate and a few of her girls from the Homegirl Cafe to assist the celebrity chefs. This will be their third year at the Culinary Stage.
I was recently given a gift of an out of print cookbook called The
Molly Goldberg Cookbook. When I first saw it I was amused and when I
opened it up, I immediately saw a cabbage recipe I wanted to make.
Score! Here was a cookbook that had that “Through The Looking Glass”
aspect to it. These were recipes long forgotten, mysterious in their
1950-ness, soon to be resurrected by me!
I had a faint notion of who Molly Goldberg was; however, despite the constant ‘jokes’ in my house about my age I was actually too young to have seen The Goldbergs on TV. It still amazes me that I saw Amos n’ Andy. The premise of this prototype for all subsequent sit-coms was the lives of Jewish immigrants, usually featuring a solvable family or friend-related problem. Molly, in her infinite “Jewish Mama” wisdom would involve herself in these neighborhood and family dramas dispensing invaluable advice.
by Nancy Ellison