A Celebration of Chefs

crocs_batali.jpgI have always wanted to cook like Mario Batali.

First, I bought a pair of orange crocs. I figured that would be the first step (ahem …first step!!) toward cooking like Mario.I had to start somewhere – so why not start at the ground and work up. (--- Never mind)

Oddly, that actually didn’t work, so I was driven to consider alternative ways… like maybe buying his books instead.  Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style, for example. I am serious. Consider the great recipes in that book, such as Grilled Tequila and Chipotle Rubbed Lamb or Soft-Shelled Crab Sandwich with Spicy Tatar Sauce! My newest addition, which arrived today, is Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking the perfect summer cookbook. (I love the farmers’ market in Martha’s Vineyard where I can stroll around chatting up friends and selecting the wonderful native grown seasonal produce that I will be able to incorporate into his recipes.)

But, I found an even better way of learning to be Mario. I have had the delicious joy of watching him work – up close and truly personal: An auction item from a most worthy charity – Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart – given most graciously by Mario. Clearly a perfect though pricey opportunity to learn from the master! He made his classic white truffle five-course dinner for ten at our home – and what an experience! What delicious subtle flavors! What elegant homemade pasta! What divine truffles! What a cool guy.

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moldedshortbread.jpg Shortbread is simply the most delicious biscuit ever conceived by mankind (though I suspect womankind had more to do with it!).

It would be blasphemy to call shortbread a "cookie". It is, truly, a BISCUIT!

As with all simple things, it is NOT easy to make, so I suggest you try this out on yourself or the family before you present it at afternoon tea to strangers.

Here is my Mother's recipe (I can not refer to that sainted lady and not capitalize - sorry, America!)

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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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mfkfisher.jpgEating alone is a trying thing for some people, writing cooking and eating off as products of a banal bodily necessity. I love to eat and cook alone, using the kitchen as an improvisational laboratory to experiment with recipe ideas, flavor combinations, and cooking techniques. MFK Fisher, a witty food writer with a fluid, deeply expressive writing style bursting with gastronomic knowledge, shared my passion. She was one of the best food writers out there, blurring the lines between the genres of food anthropology, ecology, travel literature, and cooking.

Simply put, she made being a foodie cool long before it was fashionable. Her great strength as a writer is her ability to drag you into her prose to taste, smell, and feel your way through her experiences in and around the kitchen. Mary Frances was not afraid to dine alone, in fact she loved it, and one short and sweet chapter of her An Alphabet for Gourmets sums up her point of view. “It took me several years of such periods of being alone to learn how to care for myself, at least at table. I came to believe that since nobody else dared feed me as I wished to be fed. I must do it myself, and with as much aplomb as I could muster.” In regards to eating alone, I have taken a page from her book, and as a result treat myself to lavish meals regularly.

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daveludoForty-seven-years-old and I could not remember the last time I cracked an egg. So it was a bit surreal to find myself standing with Ludo Lefebvre, a top chef, and have him ask me to separate dozens and dozens for a multi-course dinner for 80 people. I took a deep breath and secretly hoped I would not be the reason my wife’s nightmares about this evening would actually come true.

It started as a crazy idea. Why not add a kick-off dinner in Paso Robles for The Garagiste Festival - that my wife coordinates – and ask Ludo to be the guest chef? This event, which promotes artisan winemakers from all over California, was in its second year and they decided to expand the schedule. Three days of seminars, tastings and parties were planned to celebrate 48 wineries who for the most part are making wine in such limited quantities they're hard to find, never mind get your hands on. Since so many of the attendees were coming into town for the weekend, adding events to help keep the wine flowing seemed obvious.  

When we initially discussed it with Chef Ludo and his wife Krissy, we weren’t sure it would actually happen. They were excited to see the Central Coast and loved the idea of the Festival, so we got a date on their calendar. Then came what could easily be the busiest time in his life as he released his cookbook his cookbook LudoBites, began filming The Taste and planning for his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, along with the pressure of pulling off the last of his famous pop-ups, LudoBites10. In the midst of it all, Ludo was still excited to come to Paso and help make our winemaker dinner a night to remember.

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