A Celebration of Chefs

green_apple.jpgThis recipe, which originally appeared in the NY Times in 1973 in an article by Jean Hewitt, was featured by Amanda Hessler in her ‘Recipe Redux’ piece in the November 4, 2007 Times Magazine.  It looked scrumptious and easy so I tore it out, as I do with many NY Times recipes, and put it aside.  “Aside” is also where I put the card the secretary in my Dentist’s office handed me to remind me of my next appointment.  It’s where the little yellow rectangular stub the shoemaker gave me without which I can’t get my shoes back went. 

And it is also where the Gelson’s receipt, on the back of which I had illegibly scrawled the title of a song I heard on the car radio that would be perfection playing over a scene in the screenplay I was working on before we went on strike, was moved.  You can pretty much take it to the bank that whatever is put there will never see the light of day again.   Aside, as it turns out, is my own personal Bermuda Triangle.

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Dear Madeleine,

kamman1.jpg You probably don’t remember me, but as you read this it may all come back to you after the leagues of students that you have mentored pass by in a blur. You changed my life and I’m sure there is a long line behind me. The first time that I came to your cooking school in Newton Center, Massachusetts with Heidi Wortzel to introduce me, I was where I had always dreamed of being.

The smells on the outside of the entrance pale in comparison to how wonderful it smelled inside. Students were whirling around, busy making puff pastry and tending to their pots on the  stove tops all with smiles on their faces. It was magical..I remember thinking you were so busy but so very welcoming as you talked about your school. The brick walls were covered with well-used, brightly-polished copper pots and oddly an upside down framed autograph from Paul Bocuse. It was where I wanted to be and I couldn’t wait to roll up my sleeves and learn all that I could.

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sirensfeast.jpgI’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.”

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homegirl.jpg 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.

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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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