A Celebration of Chefs

dione_lucas.jpg 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.

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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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oa2012diningSteve Plotnicki and Opinionated About Dining are proud to announce the list of Top 100 Restaurants in America for 2012 as determined by the Opinionated About Dining Survey. Over 3,000 people, including many of the top food bloggers in the country, registered for this year’s survey and contributed more than 70,000 reviews.

The Opinionated About Dining approach to rating restaurants relies on tapping into the experience and opinions from diners who are passionate about where they eat and who describe how strongly they would recommend a restaurant and why. The methodology further gives weight to different kinds of restaurants and survey participants based on factors such as price point and number of restaurants reviewed.  The surveys that form the basis of the ratings are open to the general public and can be accessed via Opinionated About Dining.

“If these survey results have shown me anything, it’s that 2012 is and will continue to be an incredible year to dine at some of the most progressive and thoughtful restaurants in recent memory,” says Plotnicki. “Take the number one restaurant of the year, Manresa by David Kinch, a perfect example of a chef and restaurant that are pushing the boundaries and encouraging the culinary industry’s creativity and advancement.”

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hazanI once had a large collection of cookbooks. This was back in the days before every recipe by every chef in every language was available at the flick of a mouse. In those days we had books. When I’d buy a new cookbook I would read it cover to cover, like a novel.

From page one I was hooked into the intriguing cast of characters; then I’d fret over them as they were crushed, peeled, pounded and quartered and then unceremoniously plunged into hot oil or boiling water. Imagine my delight when they emerged, reborn, reshaped by their trial by fire, to make the world a richer, tastier place to live. We had books in those days.

Now I keep just a few relics that reside on two small shelves in my kitchen. I have only the beauties, the books that hold more than recipes, the ones that document — stain-by-stain — my development as a cook and a human. I kept Julia, of course — although I rarely open it; Feasts For All Seasons, by Andries De Groot, which was my first cookbook and still a source of inspiration; and then there is Marcella, whose books are as vital today as when I first discovered them.

I bought Classic Italian Cooking in 1976 — the first Knopf edition. No, I take it back — I didn’t buy it; someone gave it to me and I can’t remember who it was. Anyway, thanks, you changed my life.

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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!

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