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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preserves lg There is a difference between jam and preserves.  Jam is sweet fruit you spread on toast.  Preserves are a frozen moment in time—a piece of summer that you can carry with you the rest of the year:  high grass, long naps, warm evenings, your front porch… 

My neighbor Mary Wellington makes preserves.

Mary is a farmer.  And not only a single-family farmer--a single farmer.  She works three acres of very diverse orchards of Glenn Annie canyon all by herself, on which she grows over fifty varieties of fruit. 

Her preserves were so treasured and ubiquitous at local farmer’s markets that many people came to call her “The Jam Lady.” Her Blenheim Apricot jam is intoxicating.  Her Blood Orange marmalade is insane.  The red raspberry is well… indescribable.  But Mary Wellington preserves more than fruit.

If you wander up Glen Annie you will find a two story clapboard farmhouse peeking out from behind the persimmon tree.  Mary will greet you with her typical burst of enthusiasm and a clap of her hands.  She will launch into an impromptu tour of her orchard and its latest bounty:  You will flit from tree to tree sampling God’s offerings in a feast of the senses that is literally Edenic.  (I know I get religious about food—but I was raised that way.)   Taste the Santa Rosas… Smell the outside of this blood orange… Look at the color on these apricots... Oh don’t mind the bruise—just taste it.

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nigellabites.jpgHow do I love Nigella? Let me count the ways. Sometimes she’s bigger, and some times she’s smaller, but she’s always incredibly beautiful. She is incredible intelligent and well-educated, and has had some incredibly hard knocks (including the death of her first husband) and survived with consummate grace. She is a mother over 40 who oozes sex appeal, admits to cooking pasta for herself to eat in bed while watching television, and deep fries candy bars in batter. Most important, in an age of molecular gastronomy and foodie preciousness, she cooks food that is simple, sensuous and exactly what you were yearning for but couldn’t name until you saw the recipe.

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flour.jpgI’m not really a baker.  I make perfect oatmeal cookies (once every three years), perfect chocolate chip cookies (if really bored – Laraine Newman thinks the Joy of cooking recipe is the best, I just use the one on the back of the Nestle’s chocolate bits bag) The secret to chocolate chip cookies is fresh nuts, if you ask me, the quality of the pecans or the walnuts, changes the equation.  Sometimes, if I’m feeling really wild, I’ll make butterscotch chip cookies, same recipe, but butterscotch bits instead of chocolate and totally delicious.

I went through a phase where I made bread (when I was at boarding school in Vermont and there was a Country Store down the road that sold 100 varieties of flour from the grist mill down the road) so it was sort of hard to resist.  And we didn’t have a television, but we had a kitchen in our dorm with a sweet old Wedgwood stove and somehow, the smell of bread, and an occasional roast chicken, made it feel somewhat more like home.  But I can’t really find good flour any more and fresh baguettes abound.

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tastenationlogo.jpg Being a Wine Afficianado and not really a Foodie, on June 1st I attended my first gourmet eating event Share the Strength’s Taste of the Nation in Culver City, California, which has apparently become a food-lover’s mecca over the last few years. This event occurs over 55 times a year in locations across the U.S., gathering the top chefs in each place to showcase the best the host city has to offer. At this incarnation, the group included Brent Berkowitz (BOA), Tom Colicchio (Craft), Evan Kleiman (Angeli Caffe), Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill), David Myers (Sona), Remi Lauvand (Citrus) and chefs from about 25 other leading restaurants on the L.A. scene.

None of the restaurants were familiar to me because I choose my dining experiences on cost (under $40 per person), convenience (can’t be more than 2-3 miles away) and what’s on the wine list. If I could get protein from Pinot Noir I would never eat again. Needless to say, I was way out of my element. Thankfully, I went with friends who are Food Network junkies and knew their way around a food festival.

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