A Celebration of Chefs

serveitforth.jpgM.F.K. Fisher, the simultaneously subtle and brilliant food writer, devoted a chapter in her opus Serve It Forth to the importance of dining alone. She loved to cook and entertain guests which is beautifully rendered in her writing but she never forgot to make time for herself. Even when dining alone Fisher would treat her meal with the same delicate touch and refined style that she lavished on her guests. I totally agree with her notion that eating alone does not have to be a chore, bore, or quick fix of crappy food. She attributes this philosophy of eating well, even when alone, to a Roman noble named Lucullus. Lucullus was a grand gourmet notorious for the wealth he squandered on his food budget and opulent feasts.

One day he verbally abused his team of chefs when they served him leftovers, stale bread, and overly watered wine on an off day from his busy social schedule. When his staff stood apologetically before him they pleaded that since he was eating alone they assumed a lavish feast was not a necessity. He rebuked them by saying that when Lucullus dines with Lucullus the food should be at its very best, going above and beyond what they served his guests. Lucullus ate the finest foods and drank his most potent vintages when dining alone, because he was worth it. I agree wholeheartedly that it is warranted to treat yourself now and again to a special meal made especially for you.

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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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cordonblue.pngSpending 14-hour days in command of a restaurant kitchen can take a toll, both physically and emotionally. So when it’s time to move on, where do chefs go?

It turns out, not very far. In most cases, successful chefs do not retire in the traditional sense. Instead, they often begin a second act, where they re-invent themselves – in classrooms, lower-key kitchens, or at different kinds of food-industry jobs. Rarely does a dedicated chef completely shut the door on the culinary world.

“There’s definitely an addictive aspect to the restaurant business,” says Richard Hanna, an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena.

Hanna, 47, has been an executive chef for restaurants and owns Mission Bistro, a corporate food service company, but a high point of his second act is teaching. He finds students are eager to learn from an experienced chef, and “I’ve been doing this so long I have 3 different ways I can show them” any cooking challenge.

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marceau_marcel.jpg When I was 15 years old I went to Royce Hall at UCLA to see Marcel Marceau.  I really hate admitting that because people razz me about it all the time, but honestly, I was dazzled by what I saw. The idea that you could make people laugh without uttering one word fascinated me.  Seeing him play the strong man in the circus and give the illusion of holding an enormous barbell as he bends all the way back to the ground, or “walkeeng against zee weend”, or being trapped in ‘zee box’, just blew me away man.

I don’t know what gave me the balls to do this, but I went backstage. After gushing for 5 minutes I asked him if he could recommend someone in Los Angeles who could teach me the technique. Let me first say, that when he opened his mouth and spoke, out came a high-pitched, reedy voice. He chose the right trade. But the guy was so kind and gracious. He told me that Richmond Shepard was a former student of his and a good teacher. 

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100footposterWorking for a food magazine, your life pretty much revolves around eating and drinking. Not as much as people might think, but more than the average person in America. I am more of an oenophile than a foodie, but I know great food when I taste it. It’s food that lingers in your imagination for days after the experience and that you just can’t seem to stop telling other people about. Flavors that come right back to you, when you think about THAT bite and how surprisingly delicious it was. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be memorable, but true culinary genius is, like most talents, not a common thing - the theme of this sweet and sumptuous little film.

Sure it has big backers behind the scenes - anyone heard of Oprah and Spielberg? - but the story of a young Indian chef on his path of culinary self-discovery is simple, funny and heartfelt and will leave you hungry for more. Forced by tragedy to leave India, Hassan Kadam and his family find themselves in the small village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. The locals don’t know what to make of the family and they certainly are not necessarily lining up to enjoy their Indian cuisine, but the family refuses to give up and slowly begins to make headway in the village.

Though he has no formal training Hassan, who learned everything he knows about taste and spices from his mother, is made the chef of the family restaurant, Maison Mumbai. The family’s loud and ethnic presence makes their direct neighbor Madame Mallory, the chef/owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant Le Saule Pleureur, very, very unhappy. What ensues for the first half of the film is a comic War of the Roses with both sides trying to make the others’ lives miserable, while gaining business for themselves.

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