When I started working at Chez Panisse, there was something called crème anglaise on the menu…and my job was to make it. Of course, I had no idea what crème anglaise was – other than something with a funny name that I got in trouble for pronouncing wrong on several occasions. But I pretended I knew what it was when everyone was talking about making it to go with the desserts. And luckily for my career, after a few years, I probably made at least one batch everyday for the next thirteen years, and stirring up a batch of crème anglaise became second nature to me.
Results tagged Chez Panisse from David Lebovitz
Well, the anniversary fête for Chez Panisse finally came to an end and I was more than glad that I came for the weekend of events. From the moment I had my first sip of Bandol rosé on Friday afternoon to the big final blow-out event for the hundreds of people who’d worked in the restaurant and café on Sunday, hoo-boy, the weekend marked a milestone in my life. And although Alice Waters swore there wouldn’t be another anniversary celebration like this, I’ve learned never to count out this fiercely determined woman.
One of the main things I learned at the restaurant, and from Alice, was that less is more. I’m as guilty as the next person of saying this, but when I hear people say they didn’t like a restaurant because they left and were still hungry, I’m glad that I no longer feel the need to qualify a restaurant based on how distended by stomach feels. Yes, we eat the feed ourselves, but I’m not so sure the hype about extreme eating and so forth have had all that many positive effects on society and our health. During breakfast with a friend at a local café, I was amazed at the amount of food on the plate that was presented to me. (Although I did somehow manage to eat it all, as well as the heaping plate of carnitas I had the day before. So I should keep my mouth shut, in more ways than one.)
When I started working at Chez Panisse way back in 1983, from the moment we opened the doors at 5pm for dinner, the place was packed. I worked in the café upstairs, which opened because the restaurant downstairs had become a little more formal than anticipated and since the original idea for Chez Panisse was to be a casual dining spot, they opened a café with a no-reservations policy.
At the time, Chez Panisse was garnering a lot of publicity across America and everyone wanted to eat there. So a line formed outside of people waiting for that moment, at 5pm, when the host would go downstairs and open the front door to let everybody in.
Before I started working at Chez Panisse, way back in the early 1980s, I didn’t really know all that much about the restaurant. Prior to moving to California, I’d read an article about “California Cuisine” and of all the places listed, the chef of each one had either worked at this place called Chez Panisse or cited it as inspiration. So I’d picked up a copy of The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, which listed menus and the recipes featured in the restaurant.
As I read through the book over and over, I was intrigued by this place where people injected tangerine juice for multiple days into legs of lamb then spit-roasting the hindquarters so that those syrupy-sweet juices not only moistened the meat but caramelized the outside to a crackly finish. There were descriptions of salads of bitter greens drizzled with walnut oil that were topped with warm disks of goat cheese, which were made by a woman who lived an hour north of the restaurant and had her own goats.
Thinking about it now, I am sure that I’d had goat cheese on backpacking trips through Europe, but never really paid attention to it. But these fresh disks of California chèvre that oozed from the bready coating that were part of one of the menus in the books sure sounded pretty good. And a tart made of sliced almonds, baked in a buttery crust until toffee-like and firm, and meant to be eaten with your hands, along with tiny cups of strong coffee alongside. I kept that book on my nightstand for bedside reading for months.
One of my biggest, deepest-darkest secrets is that a few times a year, I buy a frozen pizza. I used to do it on the sly, but lately I’ve even got so brazen that I’ll go out and do it in broad daylight. I am sure after my goings on about the popularity of frozen foods in France that I was going to get busted one day standing in line, clutching an icy box containing a pizza jambon speck, roquette, mozarella at the frozen foods store. Yet so far I’ve escaped detection.
But it’s not the fin du monde and everyone has the right to enjoy a frozen pizza once in a while, right? I used to make homemade pizza a lot more when I lived in California since it’s a simple thing to make, and you can turn out a couple at a time and eat the leftovers later. They reheat so nicely but for those of us who are impatient, it’s nice to know that cold pizza makes a great breakfast, too.
(And we used to take home leftover pizza dough at the end of the night when I worked in the restaurant, so it was especially easy to roll ‘n bake a pizza on your day off.)
I just got a copy of Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan, a nifty book full of recipes for cooking for one. Joe came to Paris a few years ago and like everyone who meets him, I was charmed off my pieds by his graceful intelligence and instant friendliness, and we ended up sharing a couple of meals together.
Seeing as I don’t get out as much as I’d like to, I’ve never really thought about what would be my “desert island” cake. Or should I say “dessert island” cake? As in, what is the one cake that I would want with me if I couldn’t have any other kind. Chocolate figures largely into the equation, but as much as I love Chocolate Orbit Cake or a custard-filled Coconut Cake, I’d have to say that this Almond Cake would be the one that I would choose to sustain me through thick and thin.
We made almond cake at least once weekly when I baked at Chez Panisse, which I’ve adapted from one of my baking bibles, Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere. Lindsey was the executive pastry chef of the restaurant, and co-owner, since the beginning, and she told me she used cook and bake everything in a home oven stowed away in a shed behind the restaurant, which is those days, was akin to the backyard in Berkeley. I always imagine something like a kid’s rickety fort, except one that smelled a little better.
I can deal with a lousy oven. I can use crummy cookware. And I’ll admit that I can bake a cake in a flimsy pan. But I refuse to use a dull knife. It’s not only that they’re hard to use, but a bad knife is downright unsafe. Some people are terrified of sharp knives when in fact, when used properly, they’re actually safer: Most people cut themselves when a knife slides off something they’re slicing rather than when it makes a clean cut right through it.
Professional cooks bring their own knifes to work and take care of them themselves. It’s something I still do to this day. And when I go away for a weekend to someone’s house in the country, if I plan to do any cooking (which I usually do), I bring along at least one knife of my own so I know I’ll have a good, sharp knife to cook with.
I have a stack (actually, about four stacks) of cookbooks that arrived this year, many of them riddled with bookmarks for recipes. Some of them I managed to get to, presenting recipes on the blog or baking for friends and neighbors, and a few I didn’t get around to yet. In this year’s round up, I did sneak in a few recipes from favorite classics cookbooks in my collection, but there’s a nice representation from books that came out in 2009. Included are a few guidebooks that I found indispensable, plus I tossed in a couple of cookbooks that I’ve had my eye on, which are en route, that I’m looking forward to getting dusty with flour, and smudged with butter.
Here’s my annual round-up My Favorite Cookbooks from 2009:
Rustic Fruit Desserts by Corey Schreiber and Julia Richardson
I met Corey Schreiber a decade or so ago when he launched a restaurant in San Francisco. Shortly afterward he moved up to Portland to re-connect with the outstanding ingredients of the Pacific Northwest. This best-selling book features everything from a lemon-swathed Blueberry Buckle to Caramel Apple Steamed Pudding with Ginger. But it’s the Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake that is sitting in my batter’s box (or batter box?) to try.
New Flavors of Appetizers: Classic Recipes Redefined by Amy Sherman
I’m the first to admit that when I invite people for dinner, because I live in France, it’s easy to stop at the charcuterie for a few slices of country ham or hit the Arab market for a bag of salty olives. But Amy Sherman’s book is full of do-able recipes. I’m a bit fixated on her Baked Asparagus, Leek, and Goat Cheese Bites, and as soon as spring rolls back around, I’m going to tackle that one. In the meantime, there’s plenty to get me through the winter, like Olives and Feta Marinated in Lemon and Ouzo and Smoky Eggplant Dip with Cumin-Crusted Pita Chips.
I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita
I get so many inquiries about macarons that I had to compile a post of the best advice out there. (Making French Macarons.) But this little book, in English, promises a fool-proof method of making the little devils. Because of their popularity, I did a special write-up of I Love Macarons!, which offers more details about the book.