Lifelong Learning: One Soufflé at a Time Monday, Nov 25 2013 

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I can’t describe how proud I am of this photograph. I’ve previously written about my admiration for my mentor and teacher, Anne Willan in a post titled The LaVarenne Way. I was recently able to be her sous chef at Rancho la Puerta and it was such an honor and privilege to assist her, once again. She graciously insists we teach together, but I know better. I may be an accomplished chef and food writer, but with Anne I am the constant student. She’s had an amazing career and each and every time I am in the kitchen with her I learn something.

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I admit I take it personally when folks don’t realize what an enormous contribution Anne has made to the world of food, cooking, and food-writing — or even sometimes who she is. Those who are in the know are also in awe. In May, Anne was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame for her body of work, which includes 40 cookbooks and a 26-part PBS program. The list of LaVarenne alumni goes on and on — Amanda Hesser, Alex Guarnaschelli, Tanya Holland, Steve Raichlen, Kate Krader, and Gale Gand are just a few.

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All those folks may be in media and on TV, but that’s the thing, Anne is, as one review stated, “not the next Food Network Star.” Indeed, she is not, but without her there wouldn’t be one.

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Anne’s latest book is her memoir called One Soufflé at a Time. In it she documents her wonderful, wondrous life in food. It’s peppered with stories of smuggling truffles, as well as the birth of LaVarenne Pratique, the culinary masterpiece that was eventually translated into 9 languages and sold over 1 million copies. (It’s out of print and much sought after on e-bay. However, it will be available as an e-book soon. Make sure to “Like” Anne Willan on Facebook to hear about the release.

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Born and raised in England, she attended Oxford University and graduated with a degree in Economics. Her scores were not stellar and her father suggested she attend secretarial school. Instead, she thought she’d do something different and studied at Le Cordon Bleu. She went on to cook for the Van der Kamps at Chateau de Versailles where she cooked for British royalty, French aristocrats, and Heads of State. She later became the Food Editor for the Washington Star and an editor for Gourmet Magazine. In 1975, encouraged by her dear friends Julia Child and James Beard, she founded the Parisian cooking school LaVarenne, the first bilingual French cooking school in Paris. Whether you recognize her name or not, Anne Willan and LaVarenne were hugely impactful in popularizing French cuisine to the American public. She demystified classic French culinary technique for regular people who love food. Her recipes and instructions are clear and direct, much like Anne.

The reviews of One Soufflé at a Time have been been solid:

“Ms. Willan tells the story of her life—interspersing it generously with recipes, classic French and otherwise—in an easygoing, readable style, full of anecdote and insight. Along the way, she lets us intuit, rather than informing us, just what an influential figure she has been.” — Colman Andrews, Wall Street Journal

“When Julia Child introduced me to her dear friend, Anne Willan, she said, ‘You must get to know Anne, she is remarkable!’ Julia was almost right: Anne is extraordinary! For those of us who love Anne and have admired – and benefited – from her work (she trained some of my favorite chefs and editors), this memoir is filled with insights, lessons, inspiration and so many tales of adventure. And for those of you who are just meeting Anne, you’re lucky – you have a treat in store.”–Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table and co-owner of Beurre & Sel cookies

..a memoir inundated with easy-to-follow recipes for classic French foods than a regular cookbook, the book reinforces what I’ve suspected all along: Storytelling is the best way to teach.” Praised as a “Book worth Buying” by Saveur Magazine

I have to be honest and admit I haven’t quite finished it. I’m savoring it like a French buttery sablé, enjoying bits at a time, sneaking reads in between a slew of deadlines. In it I hear Anne’s clear, strong voice and I feel like I am the constant student, joyfully learning once again.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share Anne’s recipe for Moroccan Roast Turkey found in One Soufflé at a Time. I actually originally tested this recipe as an editorial assistant — over 15 years ago for her cookbook Cooked to Perfection. It’s positively delicious and like much of Anne’s work, has stood the test of time. If you’re wanting to try something a little different this Thanksgiving week, I can’t think of anyone else to trust.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
VA

MOROCCAN SPICED TURKEY
Serves 8

A 10-pound/4.5 kg turkey
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 cup/100 g slivered almonds, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 onion studded with 6 whole cloves
2 tablespoons softened butter

For basting
1/2 cup/110 g honey
2 cups/500 ml chicken stock, more if needed
String for trussing

1. Heat the oven to 350F and set a shelf low down. Spread the chopped almonds and sesame seeds in a single layer in a shallow pan and toast them in the oven, shaking the pan occasionally, until golden, 8-10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.

2. In a small bowl, mix the ground cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger and cloves with the salt and pepper. Rub both the skin and cavity of the turkey with the spice mixture. Set the bird on its back in a roasting pan and spread the skin with softened butter. Put the whole onion inside the turkey and tie it in a neat shape with string. Warm the honey and half the stock in a small pan and pour this over the bird.

3. Roast the turkey in the heated oven until it is golden brown all over and the meat starts to shrink from the drumsticks, 2 1/2-3 hours. During cooking, turning it on one side, then the other, and finally returning it to its back. The turkey is done when you lift it with a two-pronged fork, juices from the cavity run clear, not pink, and when you rotate a drumstick it will feel pliable not rigid. During roasting, baste the bird often and, when the juices begin to brown, add the remaining stock. Dilute with more stock towards the end of cooking if needed as that the honey scorches easily.

4. About 15 minutes before the turkey is done, take it from the roasting pan and strain the pan juices into a small saucepan. Skim off the fat and boil the juices to reduce them if necessary — there should be about 1 cup/250 ml of this glaze. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds and almonds. Return the turkey to the roasting pan, spread the glaze over the top, and continue roasting, basting very often, until the skin is dark golden brown and crisp, 10-15 minutes.

5. Transfer the turkey to a carving board or platter, cover it loosely with foil and let stand 10-15 minutes. Before serving, discard the strings and onion from the cavity.

Buy Grits by Short Stack Editions. And, if you buy any of my books from your independent bookstore or online, I’ll be happy to send you a signed bookplate!

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Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Photo credit – Lisa Ekus

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Awe, Gratitude, and Rooming with Julia Child Tuesday, Aug 14 2012 


L»R: Julia Child, Nathalie Dupree, and a young Virginia Willis

Meeting Julia Child

The first time I actually met Julia I was completely awestruck. My mentor Nathalie Dupree and I were attending a media breakfast event at Food Network. (The very, very first time doesn’t count. It was a booksigning and I was struck dumb and mute. I had to be nudged to take my newly signed book from her and then was escorted away. It was kind of embarrassing.) Anyway, after the breakfast I was in a pre-production meeting for Nathalie in the test kitchen and Julia poked her head in to say what a good job everyone had done on the breakfast and thanked all the cooks. I was so impressed at her gratitude. By that time I was working behind the scenes with quite a few other celebrity chefs and believe me, some of them were not that kind or gracious. Her polite kindness and professionalism really stuck with me.

After working for Nathalie, I left to apprentice with Anne Willan at LaVarenne in Burgundy, France. As if living and working in a 17th century French chateau weren’t life-changing enough – eating new foods, tasting new flavors, learning new cooking techniques – Julia Child would come to visit Anne for several weeks each summer. Seriously. Those were bizarre, surreal times. One moment I would casually say to her, “Ma’am, could you please pass the salad” or “Would you care for cream” as we stood in the kitchen drinking coffee. It was as normal as normal could be. The next moment I would be overcome by screams in my head of “OH MY GOSH, THAT’S JULIA CHILD!!!”

She was always kind, always polite, always interested in what we stagiares were doing. She always said thank you for the meal and our work. She would thank the caretaker, Monsieur Milbert, when they crossed paths in the morning as he dropped off the vegetables from the potager. (I am sure she wasn’t always a saint, but my high esteem for her had a great deal to do with why  I got sooo ticked off about the movie and wound up on the phone with ABC news.)

We cooked together several times over the weeks she was there, and that was one of the more rewarding experiences of my whole, entire life. After all, the primary reason I was in France to begin with was greatly the result of her books and influences on my mother, which deeply affected my thoughts and feelings on food and cooking, as well. LaVarenne, itself, was created at the encouragement of Julia Child. To say she was a “huge influence” on me does not remotely express the fullness and depth of it. And, she affected many, many lives. For all practical purposes, she started food television and was one of the biggest influencers of food and cooking of the 20th century. It was a true honor and pleasure to cook with her.

LaVarenne at the Greenbrier

Summer ended, my apprenticeship at LaVarenne led to a job and in winter I travelled stateside when Anne would go to the US for “LaVarenne at the Greenbrier.” One cold March I drove over from DC to West Virginia along winding mountain roads in freezing rain and snow to arrive long after dark. I was staying with Anne and her husband Mark in their cottage, yet when I entered, I {somewhat gleefully} realized they were still out at dinner. I was very tired and thought what luck! Anne and I can catch up on reviewing my work and recipe testing tomorrow morning. I quickly dozed off and shortly thereafter, I heard a loud “knock-knock” at my bedroom door.

Anne’s crisp English accent called out, “Virginia, are you there?”

I rubbed my eyes and {less gleefully} quickly changed from my pajamas for our meeting. Clearly, Anne didn’t want to wait as I did to discuss the recipe testing results of the previous week. Sigh. We sat around the coffee table and discussed the work. After our meeting, she began to hem and haw. It seemed she wanted to ask me something.

I was a bit grumpy at our late-night meeting and began to be concerned. Anne Willan is not one too hesitate, hem, or haw.

Finally, she slowly, carefully said, “Stephanie is going back to Boston and I’m wondering if you would mind staying with Julia?”

She asked me like it was a favor.

I nearly passed out, but somehow I kept it together and sputtered out a “Yes, ma’am.” The next moments are blurry and I’m not at all certain I slept that night. I wanted to do cartwheels down the mountain. I do know the next morning the bellman came and moved my belongings to a suite with wallpaper festooned with loud, garish pink rhododendrons the size of a dinner plate in typical Greenbrier fashion.

I was rooming with Julia Child.

I treated her just as I did my grandmother. I helped her get from point A to point B. I carried her books and papers, made sure she didn’t forget her cane. Late at night I escorted her back after the long fireside chats. It was incredible. She was always very nice, kind, polite, and very thankful for my assistance.

I don’t think my toes touched the ground for days.

In the next year or so we’d see each other at professional events and conferences. She was always mobbed with people. She was an absolute rock star, yet I never heard a cross word about her or her behavior. One event was a professional dinner in NYC while I was working for Epicurious. It was years after her guest appearance during my stint as Kitchen Director at Martha Stewart, even longer after LaVarenne and sharing a suite at the Greenbrier. My friend suggested I go over to her and say hello like all the others. I declined, I really just wanted her to be able to eat her dinner in peace. Finally, there was a bit of a lull in the adoration so I got up the gumption to go say hello. (Yes, I was still positively awestruck.)

Honestly, I didn’t know if she’d remember me. She met so many young doe-eyed girls just like me who somehow felt that she had saved their lives. I decided I might need to give her a hint, a point of reference. I walked over and re-introduced myself, “Julia, it’s “Anne Willan’s apprentice, Virginia, I am so sorry to bother you…”

In her great, warbly voice she interrupted me, “Yes, I know who you are, I was wondering why you hadn’t come over to say hello.” She then patted the seat beside her and I sat down to catch up. Once again, she was kind, interested, and polite.

Julia Child has long been an inspiration and will long continue to be for me and many others. It was an honor and pleasure to have made her acquaintance. I always endeavor to keep her professionalism and gratitude in my mind and heart.

In honor of the anniversary of her 100th birthday I’m sharing a recipe from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all for a traditional French vegetable salad, Salade Macedoine with my own Southern twist.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS For those of you in New England, I’m at Odyssey Bookshop this Thursday August 16th with a demo, tasty samples, and signing.

Southern Salade Macédoine
Serves 4

Corn, butter beans, and green beans are summer staples in the south. Macédoine refers to a mixture of cut fruits or vegetables of different colors. The key in this salad is everything is cut about the same size. In classic French cooking, the use of an artichoke bottom as a garniture is termed châtelaine, also a term for the mistress of a château, indicating something very elegant. If you wanted to simplify, you could simply put the salade macedoine in a cored and scooped out tomato.

4 artichokes
4 cups water
2 lemons, halved
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
2 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and silk removed
1 cup freshly shelled butter beans (about 12 ounces unshelled) or thawed frozen butter beans or edamame
6 ounces green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch lengths (about 1 cup)
2 carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as tarragon, flat-leaf parsley, and basil)
Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
8 ounces mesclun salad greens

Using a sharp kitchen knife, trim all but an inch of the stem from 4 artichokes. Cut off the top two-thirds, leaving about 1½ inches at the base. Hold the artichoke upside down and pare away the leaves, leaving just the pale green center. Rub the cut surface with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Holding the bottom in the palm of one hand, scoop out the fuzzy choke with a spoon. Place in a bowl of water with the juice of a lemon to reduce oxidation and browning until you are ready to cook.

To cook the hearts, heat 4 cups salted water in a heavy pot over medium-high heat to a gentle boil. Add 1 halved lemon, thyme, an bay leaf, and the prepared artichoke bottoms. Cover with a smaller lid or heatproof plate to weigh down and keep the bottoms submerged. Cook over medium heat until the hearts are tender when pierced with knife, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Line a plate with paper towels. Remove with a slotted spoon to the bowl of ice water to cool.

To cook the corn, bring 2nd pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the corn and cook until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with tongs to the ice water to cool and then transfer to the towel-lined plate to drain. (Do not drain the water from the pot, you will use it to cook the other vegetables.)

To cook the butter beans, add them to the simmering water and simmer until tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. (Taste one and see how tender it is; the cooking time will depend on their freshness.) About 15 minutes into the cooking, add the green beans and carrots. Meanwhile, cut the corn kernels from the cobs and place in a large bowl.

Drain the vegetables well in a colander, and then set the colander with the vegetables in the ice-water bath (to set the color and stop the cooking), making sure the vegetables are submerged. Lift out of the water, shake well to remove the excess water, then transfer the vegetables to the bowl with the corn. Add the mayonnaise and herbs. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Once the artichokes are cooled, remove and pat dry. Drizzle with pure olive oil and season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place artichoke hearts on chilled serving plates, trimming if necessary so they sit flat. Top with the greens and a spoonful of the chilled vegetable mixture. Season with finishing salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

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Photo credit Salade Macedoine: Helene Dujardin
Recipe adapted from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

Anne Willan & The LaVarenne Way Tuesday, Apr 13 2010 

Next week I will be in Portland attending a conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals, or IACP. I am speaking on a few subjects, mostly about cookbook writing, what I laughingly call “sharing my mistakes”. I am only teasing, I am incredibly honored to be speaking to my peers, to be counted as an expert in the culinary world, to be recognized for my work. It’s extremely gratifying.

One seminar however is very special to me, more than the nuts and bolts of my trade, more than being recognized in my field. Several months ago Anne Willan outreached to me and asked me if I would like to submit a seminar titled “Willan and Willis: A Culinary Conversation”. I am not kidding you when I say it took my breath away and made me a little leaky around the eyes.

Thinking about my career, Nathalie Dupree took me out of my mama’s kitchen. She exposed me to things I had never heard of or knew about. I knew Mama made “patty shells” with creamed chicken, but I didn’t know they were puff pastry, and I sure didn’t know what that was or how to make it. Nathalie taught me to cook.

Nathalie shipped me off to France to apprentice with Anne. I learned a lot more about food and cooking when I went to France. Going to France allowed me to see, taste, and be immersed in a whole new culture, a whole new cuisine. The effects of living and working in France, both personally and professionally are immeasurable.

But, the one key thing, the lynchpin, the glue that holds my whole raison d’etre together?

Anne Willan taught me how to write a recipe.

The LaVarenne Way of recipe writing has evolved with Anne’s experience of over 35 years as a teacher, cookbook author, and food writer. She is known on both sides of the Atlantic as a leading authority on the cuisine of France and its culinary history. As the director of Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne, the cooking school that she founded 1975 with the encouragement and support of the grand doyenne herself, Julia Child, Willan has shaped and influenced countless professional and amateur cooks all over the world.

Anne’s body of work is astonishing. Her books have been published in two dozen countries and translated into 18 languages. Her awards include Bon Appétit Cooking Teacher of the Year, Grande Dame of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from International Association of Culinary Professionals. Practically every major food magazine in the US has LaVarenne alumni on staff that knows the LaVarenne Way. The alumni are called tongue in cheek, the LaVarenne Mafia. No secret society, the list reads like a who’s who of the culinary world. It includes among others: 2009 IACP award cookbook nominee and co-author of Golden Door Cooks at Home, Marah Stets; Food52 and NYT writer and editor Amanda Hesser; cookbook author Cynthia Nims; Barbecue Bible chef Stephen Raichlen; James Beard award-winning chef Ana Sortun; IACP award-winning cookbook author Molly Stevens; and Tina Ujlaki, Executive Food Editor, Food & Wine magazine.

Pause for a moment and think how many home cooks are reached by these alumni, how many recipes are written in LaVarenne style. James Beard award-winning cookbook author Molly Stevens says, “I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for Anne Willan and La Varenne. In addition to the invaluable culinary training I garnered in France, working directly with Anne over the years opened countless doors and opened my eyes to the possibility of making a career by teaching and writing. In addition, Anne is one of the hardest working individuals I know, and her drive for perfection has long been an inspiration.”

Originally based in Paris, LaVarenne later moved to the 17th-century Château du Fey. I arrived at La Varenne in 1995, initially as an editorial stagière or apprentice. Working in exchange for room and board I was able to polish my cooking, writing, and editorial skills testing recipes for Cook It Right, a comprehensive work that documents various states of cooking. It was hard work, long hours, and not a whole lot of freedom – after all I was living with my boss. New apprentices are low on the totem pole and chores exceed the confines of the kitchen.

It was similar to interning at a country inn and duties include pre-dawn baguette runs, toting luggage up winding flights of ancient stairs, and picking cherries for the breakfast jam. Cherry picking always seemed to need to happen just before dinner service, something I never could quite grasp. Of course, room was in the château and board included produce delivered each morning from the potager, still damp with the morning dew. It was a precious opportunity to learn how to actually cook it right from Anne herself.

Herbs

I was meant to be there for three months and instead I was there on and off for three life-changing years. I was starving, not just for the food, but for knowledge, for reason, for how and why. Anne gave me that. Wait, no, she didn’t give me that, she made me work for that.

It wasn’t all rosy, believe me. One of the most powerful moments in my entire life was a result of a long day at work. It was the end of a long work day of a long work week. I don’t remember even what it was, but we bumped heads a bit over something. I sulked off to my room and flung open the windows, cursing to myself, “What on earth?! Why I am doing this!” (Okay, I am taming the language for both Anne and my Mama, but you get the point.)

I look out the window and in the brightness of the late summer afternoon stood a massive field of sunflowers covering the hillside. The force of the view was so intense it literally physically pushed me back, it was as if someone smacked me on the chest and forced me down to sit on the bench. Now, I had seen those flowers before, but I had never seen them like that. That was the answer to my question.

One of my favorite tales from my time there is that while preparing for the Bastille Day picnic, I cut off the tip of my left thumb while preparing potato salad. I quickly wrapped my hand in a towel and raised it above my head. I grabbed the severed bit from the cutting board in my right hand, walked into Anne Willan’s office, and told her I had cut myself. She asked to see it. I refused. She repeated herself. I refused. See, I knew it was a pretty good cut. I didn’t want to spurt all over her office. Her eyebrows arched. (Anne is not used to being told “no”.) She insisted.

Finally, opening my right palm, I said, “Well, here it is.” The grand dame Anne blanched and replied, “Oh dear, I think we need a Cognac.”

Quickly, the lost bit was placed on ice and she sent me down the hill to Joigny for repairs.

She, then of course, went back to work.

I developed a tremendous respect for her work ethic and knowledge about food and cooking. Her way, the LaVarenne way is based on a regimen of rigorous recipe testing and editing. My first attempts at recipe writing were returned bleeding in the red ink of her razor sharp pen. I learned the importance of proofreading and attention to detail and I am not alone. Tamie Cook, Culinary Director for Alton Brown and former LaVarenne stagière says, “My experience with Anne Willan at La Varenne was invaluable. Never have I worked so hard and been so rewarded. Anne is driven to perfection like few people I have ever met and her willingness to open the doors of her operation to someone like myself with very little culinary experience at the time is a testament to her passion for teaching and life-long learning.” This premise is the foundation of Willan’s work and emanates from her writer’s desk to the stovetop. Anne says, “Learn the scales before you play the music. Cooking is about creativity, but it’s important to acquire discipline first.”

Practicing the essentials and learning the basis are the fundamental building blocks of the LaVarenne Way. I once asked Anne what part of her illustrious career she is most proud of. Beaming with pride she answered, “Creating LaVarenne where so many people have been through and learned then going out and doing their own things, taking things further and creating their own careers.”

Thank you, Anne.
Gros bises.
See you next week.

Gâteau Breton
Butter Cake

Brittany butter is famous and the richest pastry of all is this gâteau Breton, with equal weights of all ingredients. No flavorings are added so the true taste of butter shines through. The same recipe produces either a single round ‘gâteau breton’ or 18-20 individual ‘petits gâteaux.’ This is great finger food for afternoon tea, or could become an elegant dessert when dressed up with fresh berries.

Serves 8

6 egg yolks
1 ¾ cups/225g flour
1 cup/225g butter
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons/225g sugar

9 to 10-inch tart pan with removable base

Set the oven to 375°F/190°C. Thoroughly butter the cake pan. Set aside a teaspoon of the egg yolks for glazing.

Sift the flour onto a marble slab or board and make a large well in the center. Cut the butter in small pieces and put it in the well with the sugar and egg yolks; work them together with your fingertips until the mixture is smooth. Gradually incorporate the flour using the fingers and heel of your hand, and then work the dough gently until smooth. It will be sticky at this point and must be mixed with the help of a metal pastry scraper.

Transfer the dough to the buttered pan and smooth it to an even layer, flouring the back of your hand to prevent sticking. Brush the surface of the gâteau with the reserved egg yolk and mark a lattice design with a fork.

Bake in the heated oven for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F/180°C and continue baking for 30 more minutes or until the cake is golden and firm to the touch. Leave it to cool then unmold carefully on a rack. Cut it in wedges for serving.

La Varenne Gougères
Makes 20 medium puffs

This is a savory version of the classic French pastry dough pâte à choux used to make profiteroles and éclairs. Gougères are a classic Burgundian treat commonly served with apéritifs at parties, bistros, and wine bars. You can increase the recipe (see Variation, following), but do not double it, as it does not multiply well.

A note of encouragement: don’t panic when you are adding the eggs and the dough starts to look awful. Just keep stirring and it will come together.

3/4 cup water
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese (about 21/2 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper.

To make the dough, in a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to a boil over high heat. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, add the flour all at once, and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan to form a ball, 30 to
60 seconds. (This mixture is called the panade.) Beat the mixture over low heat for an additional 30 to 60 seconds to dry the mixture.

To make the egg wash, whisk 1 of the eggs in a small bowl with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt until well mixed; set aside. With a wooden spoon, beat the remaining 4 eggs into the dough, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. (It will come together, I promise.) Beat until the dough is shiny and slides from the spoon. Add the grated cheese.

If using parchment paper to line the baking sheet, “glue” down the paper at this point with a few dabs of the dough.

To form the gougères, use either a tablespoon for a rustic look, or for a more finished appearance, a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip. Spoon or pipe 12 mounds of dough about 2 inches in diameter onto the baking sheet, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Brush the puffs with the reserved egg wash.

Bake until puffed and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. To test for doneness, remove one puff from the baking sheet and let it cool for 45 to 60 seconds. If it remains crisp and doesn’t deflate, it is done. If not, return it to the oven and continue baking 5 to 10 minutes more. Remove to a rack to cool. Let the puffs cool slightly on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

making ahead: These are brilliantly resilient and freeze beautifully. Once cooled, store them in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 4 weeks. Warm and re-crisp in a 350°F oven, 5 to 7 minutes.

variation: To make 30 to 35 medium puffs, adjust the ingredient amounts as follows: 11/4 cups flour, 1 cup water, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 61/2 tablespoons butter, 6 eggs (5 for the dough and 1 for the wash), and 1 cup cheese.

Julia and Julie: Yes, the Swap is Intentional Saturday, Jul 11 2009 

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THANKS SO MUCH TO EVERYONE FOR THEIR INTEREST, SUPPORT, AND COMMENTS, BUT THIS BLOG POST IS NOW SHUT DOWN FOR ADDITIONAL COMMENTS. MANY THANKS FOR READING AND I LOVE THE DIALOGUE, BUT WE ALL NEED TO MOVE ON. 😉 BEST VA

July 15th I had the real pleasure of seeing a sneak preview of “Julie and Julia”. Tony Conway, owner of Legendary Events in Atlanta hosted an amazing Girls Night Out. Following cocktails and dinner, a group of about 400 women filed into the theatre at Phipps Plaza. The movie doesn’t actually premiere until early August! The event itself was truly spectacular and a perfect example of why Tony Conway is regarded as one of the best in his business.

The movie was so charming that I left wanting to see it again. Based on true stories, “Julie & Julia” intertwines the lives of two women in a fascinating way. I am a huge Meryl Streep fan and she was amazing. She is such a chameleon and, of course, had Julia’s voice and mannerisms nailed.

But, it triggered something that’s been nagging me ever since.

First, the movie. In short, the plot is the story of a frustrated temporary secretary, Julie Powell, embarking on a year-long culinary quest to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She chronicles her tribulations in a blog called “The Julie/Julia Project: Nobody here but us servantless American cooks”. The blog caught on and was eventually featured in a piece in the New York Times by food writer Amanda Hesser. Julie’s life was changed forever, her blog turned into a best-selling memoir, Nora Ephron wrote her screenplay, and now Amy Adams is playing her on the big screen.

The film, also covers the years Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) spent in Paris during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Their portion of the story was adapted from My Life in France, written by Julia Child with nephew Alex Prud’homme. Basically, this was the time when Julia became Julia, attended Le Cordon Bleu and met her collaborators Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. They began to teach cooking to American women in the Child’s kitchen, calling their informal school L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes. For the next decade, as the Childs moved around Europe and finally to their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three researched, developed, and tested French recipes for the American kitchen. The result of this long collaboration was Mastering the Art of French Cooking edited by the imitable Judith Jones.

I promise this will eventually address the source of my irritation. Stick with me.

The first time I met Julia Child was at a book signing when I was in culinary school at L’Academie de Cuisine in DC. I stood there like a zombie in front of her, incapable of speech. A friend eventually jotted me out of my stupor and pushed me along.

After DC, I became an editorial stagiaire for Anne Willan at Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne . I was supposed to be there for 3 months,but was there on and off for almost 3 years. Julia actually encouraged Anne to open the school. My first year I was working with none other than Amanda Hesser (see above), who at the time was also working on her first book, The Cook and the Gardener. During that time Julia would come to visit, staying weeks at a time. The staff at LaVarenne was predominantly young food knowledge hungry Americans. We had grown up seeing her on TV and she was one of the reasons we were there in France. We would vacillate wildly from “OH MY G*D, IT’S JULIA CHILD” to complete nonchalance. It was normal. She was always very pleasant. I don’t remember why, but once at the dinner table, in her famous warbling voice she declared, Eisenhower nothing more than a “big powder-puff”. Sure wish I could remember the context…. One winter at the Food Writer’s Symposium at the Greenbrier we shared a suite. I treated her like my grandmother, made sure she didn’t forget her cane and carried her books. (That was a hoot! I’ll write about that some other time.)

Promise. It’s coming.

After France I moved to New York to work for Martha. I ran into Julia at food events, and that was pretty much the extent of it.

Ok, here we go.

I also read the Julie/Julia Project blog and for a time, I followed Julie Powell. I was very intrigued by her nerve actually, of cooking the book. Pretty stiff stuff for an untrained cook. Good for her, I thought. What an undertaking. But one day she made a comment implying a recipe being wrong for roast chicken. I honestly don’t remember what it was, but it struck me as being so disrespectful, completely without deference to Julia Child, that I stopped. What the hell did she know about food? Had she even heard of poulet au Bresse? Didn’t go back. No malice. Just didn’t want to follow anymore.

That brings me back to the present. Wednesday night I watched the Julie and Julia movie.

Had a lovely time, Tony, thanks so much for a lovely party.”

The next night I saw a link on Twitter from an older article from the New York Times. I clicked through and read. It was in my opinion, decent writing, good writing, but it wasn’t about food. It made me think it maybe needed to be in a blog. It was not appropriate on that stage, on that level. It was the damn New York Times!

To be clear, it was NOT written by Amanda Hesser.

And, then it all made sense. My underlying malaise.

People who happen to eat and are able to type are now our new food experts. The incredible proliferation and self-indulgent blabber of many food blogs has given people the freedom to hallucinate, “I can type and I eat, therefore I am a food journalist”!

Granted, Julie Powell did not present herself as a food expert. I am not saying she did, quite the contrary. It’s also not a case of sour grapes on my part. Bravo for her. Her food memoir was a best-seller. A rising tide floats all boats, and as a food writer, I wholeheartedly thank her.

I am not necessarily saying my writing is better. After all, who am I to question what is published in the New York Times? Of course, I recognize the irony that I am sharing this indeed in an aforementioned self-serving blog. But good grief, people who don’t know how to begin to roast a ding dang chicken without following a recipe can be our new, ahem, food experts? This makes me a bit sad and more than a bit aggravated.

The newspaper industry has starved itself to death. In the past two years 10 dailies have permanently stopped the presses. Indeed, the New York Times has been rumored to be circling the drain. The blogs and online content have taken over. The cookbook publishing industry took a hearty bite out of the poison apple, as well. The prerequisite to getting a cookbook published is brand and platform, not necessarily real food knowledge, editorial training, and a passionate commitment to test and develop recipes.

Face it; Julia Child would not be published today.

I had a meeting with a TV production company last year that possibly is interested in partnering on a TV cooking show. The producer told me the worst thing I had going for me is that I was trained and knew how to cook. Everyone who can wield a butter knife wants a TV cooking show. Seems the masses want entertainment, not education. Enough hair product and a sassy catchphrase seems to be sufficient.

Think about the food writers who spent their entire careers pursuing real food knowledge and good, sound, cooking fundamentals. Think about writers who wrote real literature that happened to be about food: Elizabeth David. MFK Fisher. Anne Willan. The real cooks and writers today, the real experts need to be heard, not just any food blogger armed with an iPhone.

On that note, I am sharing my recipe for Roast Chicken.

Bon Appétit!
VA

PS. IT WAS LATER POINTED OUT TO ME IT’S POULET DE BRESSE, NOT AU BRESSE. I LEFT IT AS IS SINCE SOME OF THE COMMENTS REFER TO IT. I STAND CORRECTED. MY FRENCH IS, WAS, AND ALWAYS WILL LIKELY BE, DISMAL.

Herb Roast Chicken with Pan Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

Meme washed her chickens inside and out before cooking them, removing every last bit of fat, overlooked feathers, and any bruises, blemishes, or blood spots. She said if you didn’t, it tasted too “chickeny.” That bird was sanitized—or so she thought. I would never argue with Meme, but according to the USDA, washing chicken is not necessary. If the bird is contaminated, dangerous bacteria are not going to be affected by cold tap water. Washing the chicken actually increases the chance of cross-contamination; water that has touched raw chicken and splashed into the sink can potentially contaminate other food.

This recipe relies on a classic French preparation: stuffing the bird with aromatics, roasting it to perfection, and using the pan juices plus added shallots, wine, and stock to make a light sauce. There’s not a lot to cloud the plate or palate or mask a mistake. I will often order chicken, seemingly the most boring dish on the menu, when trying a new restaurant. Simple roast chicken is the test of a good cook.

1 (4- to 5-pound) chicken
1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
3 bay leaves, preferably fresh
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large lemon, quartered
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large carrot, chopped
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
11/2 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425°F. To prepare the chicken, trim the excess fat from inside of the chicken cavity. Season the cavity with the herbes de Provence, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Squeeze lemon juice into the cavity and then insert the used lemon quarters. Rub butter over the skin and season with salt and pepper. Tie the ends of the drumsticks together with kitchen twine. Set the chicken in a roasting pan, on a rack if you have one.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes, then decrease the heat to 350°F. Roast for an additional 15 minutes, then add the carrot and onion to the pan. Continue roasting, basting occasionally, until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a knife, an additional 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables to a warm platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

To make the sauce, remove all but several tablespoons of the fat from the roasting pan and place the pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it is reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and increase the heat to high, scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits.

Cook until the sauce is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes more. Carve the chicken and pour any accumulated chicken juices from the cutting board into the roasting pan. Decrease the heat to medium. Whisk in the butter. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken with the sauce on the side.

From Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

VIRGINIA WILLIS CULINARY PRODUCTIONS, LLC © 2009

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