A Celebration of Chefs

pancakes.jpgThere 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.

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militarywives.jpgSometimes 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

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vermont.jpg 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.”

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BrisketMy friend Bobby is a really good cook. OK I know, we all have friends who are really good cooks but my friend is also really, really, REALLY brave. He doesn’t just cook for family and friends the way a lot of good cooks are happy to do, just leaving it at that. No Bobby cooks for famous food critics. Who does that? That’s like inviting Joan Didion or Richard Price to come read my stories. I’d be physically ill.

But Bobby invites Merrill Shindler, editor of the Zagat Los Angeles Survey, host of KABC’s radio show, Feed Your Face, author of several cookbooks including “American Dishes” and thousands upon thousands of restaurant reviews, and his wife over with a few other couples quite regularly. They are neighbors and as friendly neighbors they are prone to eating together. Yikes!!

Bob and his brother Peter Kaminsky, the noted food writer, are east coast guys who grew up loving to eat. Their grandparents owned and lived above a candy store in New Jersey. Bobby remembers his grandmother cooking brisket on the stove upstairs and running up and down to and from the store to brown it, with the candy store smelling like roasting meat and onions! After Peter graduated from Princeton, he used his degree to get a cabbie’s license so the brothers could drive all over Brooklyn searching for ethnic dives to eat in.

When Bobby graduated college he moved to Boston and worked at Joe’s Blues Bar as a bartender / bouncer / fill in guitar player. He’d often invite some of the out of town bands back to his place for home cooked meals. Calling food a “social lubricant” he’d get to hone his guitar skills with some of the best blues guys around while feeding them pasta with home cooked red sauce or his grandma’s brisket.

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kitchenmysteries.jpg“Two eggs – any style”.  If you see that as an option on the menu and your breakfast companion is French culinary chemist superstar and founder of Molecular Gastronomy Dr. Hervé This (pronounced “Teess”) – I’ve got one word for you and it’s “Run!!!” – unless you aren’t doing much for the next three years.  This This sees egg like a bull sees red.

Hervé This is the reason I flew to San Francisco from Los Angeles this past week — to sit at the feet of the master in this sold-out event.  Other spectators ranged from Los Angeles Top Chefs Walter Manske (Bastide) and David Myers (Sona/Comme Ca) to Bravo Top Chef 2nd Season foam finalist with the meringue-peaked hair Marcel Vigneron.

Hervé was in town hawking his recently published English edition of "Kitchen Mysteries – Revealing the Science of Cooking" - and he was also there to change the way the world cooks.

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