Thursday, November 28, 2013

Remembering Naomi Barry with Alexandre Dumaine’s Eggs Toupinel with Mornay Sauce

Sic transit Gloria mundi

Sometimes my path to a recipe is straightforward, other times it takes a detour –– this one took quite a turn.

Alexandre Dumaine

It all started with Alexandre Dumaine  and his legendary "Hostellerie de la Côte d'Or".

Curnonsky and Dumaine

I had come upon his name in my research for the Jeremiah Tower post and wanted to know more (Tower had said that he wanted his restaurant to be “worth the journey” like Dumaine’s).

The name was familiar –– it sort of buzzed around in my brain and settled in the Fernand Point – Curnonsky realm of French food luminaries from the middle of the 20th century but went no further. I quickly found out that everyone went to the out of their way to dine at Dumaine’s Côte d’Or restaurant on their way to the Riviera (like King Alfonso XIII of Spain , the Aga Khan , Rainier III of Monaco, Orson Welles, Édith Piaf, Charlie Chaplin, Vivien Leigh, Gary Cooper  and Salvador Dalí who booked months in advance requesting the same menu his King had enjoyed).

I did a search to find out more about Dumaine (his own 1972 cookbook is written in French and not easy to come by) and one of the first things that came up was a Gourmet article from 1964 by Naomi Berry –– a Gourmet staff writer I first discovered thanks to a present of a thick stack of 60s and 70s Gourmet Magazines from an elderly Greenwich Village neighbor. By the time I got my own Gourmet subscription in the 1980’s, I knew her work well and was a fan.

Reading the article and the description of this magnificent, easy dish, I quickly remembered what a great food writer she was –– I made the eggs immediately:

“On this memorable first occasion, we were asked at the end of luncheon what time we would like to have dinner. We fixed the hour for 8:15 and chose a comparatively simple dish that I happen to love: les oeufs toupinel. For this dish baked potatoes are scooped from their shells, coarsely mashed with butter, and returned to the shells with a julienne of ham and truffles. A hollow is left in the center for a poached egg which is covered with Mornay sauce. The potatoes are quickly returned to the oven to be gratinéed. To be perfect, the yolks of those eggs have to be runny.”

The Gourmet article captured her friend Dumaine's genius, but also spoke of mining tradition and keeping great food of the past alive:

“Cooking is like music in that, once composed, it requires great interpreters to keep it alive. Alexandre Dumaine probably the greatest interpreter of Carême, Vatel. Prosper Montagué, and Escoffier in our generation. There is nothing that belongs to the cooking tradition of his country that he cannot realize—and with exquisite finesse. He has never limited himself to his specialties but, upon request, is willing to draw from the entire classic repertory. Dishes that became but reading recipes in old books have been brought back to existence...."

“If there is one dominant principle at work in the kitchens of the Côte-d'Or, it is the idea that a sauce should be made supple and rendered light. All the fat needed at the beginning of the cooking process is removed before the end. It takes time—slow cooking, dunging of casseroles, frequent use of strainers and cheesecloths—until every heavy panicle has been spirited away. After five or six hours of such pampering, the sauce is but a suggestion. There is really almost nothing there but a taste. To arrive at what is hoped will be little more than a volatile perfume, twenty quarts of sauce may be reduced to a quart and a half. This lavish concentration is the triumph of the theory that less is more, and it applies to almost everything that is good in life."

Barry let Dumaine tell the secret of orchestrating a memorable gastronomic experience, with a technique that still inspires today:

“You know, the better something is the less of it you should serve,” he once said. “When you go to a party or a reception at someone's house, you are handed a glass once you are inside the door. Why? Make the crowd wait ten or fifteen minutes. Everybody will be thinking, ‘What are they going to give us?’ The suspense grows. You shouldn't cut the pleasure of your guests by showing your opulence.

“Just before people become restless, you serve them something special—a very old Sherry or Port or Château d'Yquem—in a very pretty glass. Just half a glass. Everybody will be respectful. What a marvel. They will sip slowly because they will be afraid they won't get any more. Then you give them a second tear's worth. The service should inspire respect. You don't quench your thirst on a marc 1880 or Hospices de Beaune. You must have the art of caressing on your tongue. That is when gastronomy is beautiful.”

I went off to collect more Dumaine information and came up with another beauty from a 1955 New Yorker piece, “Tempest in the Kitchen”, by Barry's fellow Gourmet contributor and New Yorker writer, Joseph Wechsberg who was allowed 10 pages to Barry’s 3 so went more in depth on the Dumaine story. Another great find (and I will write more about him soon).

Here we come to the reason for Sic transit Gloria mundi. Although I found a lot about Dumaine and Wechsburg, Barry, for all her decades of work, had nothing to search for. It was as if she barely existed. Even I have pages and pages of results on a search on Google and I certainly didn’t write for Gourmet for 40 years. I was shocked that such a fine writer with such a superb body of work could just dissolve into the Ethernet without a trace. It wasn’t as if she died in 1847, she died in May 2013 and wrote at least until 2010.

There are a few books –– some Gourmet compilations like Gourmet; Paris a table, a diminutive book on zucchini, ADORABLE ZUCCHINI as well as a few Gourmet articles on their website, but, not much considering she was a writer for Gourmet, The Herald Tribune and others.

There were goodbyes from Food Arts and from the Overseas Press Club of America. That was it.

It made me incredibly sad to think how short our collective cultural memories can be.

I know I have tried to open a few rusty doors to forgotten treasures at Lostpastremembered but most  subjects are long gone or obscure and it makes sense that few would know about them. For some reason her slim profile really bothered me. I thought I would share her writing, celebrate her life a bit for you and make that potato as a reward (I’ve already made if for myself a few times in 2 weeks, it’s that good)

The Food Arts' piece retold a tale of Barry’s destiny to become a writer of places, people and flavors:

“Once upon a time, Ta Tip, a Chinese fortune-teller in Bangkok, told Naomi Barry what her life’s work would be. “You show others the way to a place”, Ta Tip told Barry. Barry later said. “If experience leads to expertise, then I am an expert eater…. My career generously enabled me to eat in top restaurants all over the world. It was inevitable that I became critical.”

The Press Club piece said her Quai d'Orsay Paris apartment, “… overlooked the Seine and a bright neon sign announcing “Bateaux Mouches”, was filled with original and valuable art, first editions of great books in French and English and ephemera appropriate to one who had left Westchester County, New York, in the 1950s for a rich life in Paris…. Considered the doyenne of Gourmet correspondents, she savored life and liked to describe herself and her friends as "great broads" — charming, sassy, intelligent women of un certain age.” She was 95 when she died.

Marilyn McDevitt Rubin of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, interviewed her in 2003 and discovered how Gourmet “got wind” of Barry in France:

"I came to write the essays by accident," she said.

“It seems that an editor in Gourmet's New York office had got wind of four bakeries, opposite one another at the same corner, in a small town outside Paris. All were selling madeleines, scalloped shell-shaped cakes, eaten like a cookie.

Nadar’s portrait of Alexander Dumas

“Barry went on to write a series of profiles that included among them, Colette, a writer who understood what men wanted; Victor Hugo, who each morning after a good breakfast wrote a hundred lines of verse or 20 pages of prose; Alexandre Dumas, whose "Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine"(there's an English selection from it –– Dumas on Food: (Selections from Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine by Alexandre Dumas père)) published in 1873 contained 600,000 words and two illustrations; George Sand, a writer who took great pride in the proper management of her French household; Jane Austen, who did insightful portraits of woman and all that occupied them; and Henry James, who wrote, "It might seem that an egg which has succeeded in being fresh has done all that can be reasonably expected of it." Barry researched each article by reading through her subjects' collective works and concentrating on their culinary insights.”

For those of us who try to write and are frustrated when things aren't going well, it was heartening to read even a great master’s well-crafted plans can hit bumps. Barry was in Japan doing a story on traditional inns and their meals:

"Everything was a mess, and I was spending huge sums of money in Tokyo and not getting any closer to what I needed," she said. "All my contacts had failed me. One day, in tears, I called a Japanese woman I had met by chance in the airport. 'This is what we'll do,' she said, and she gave me directions and names and numbers that put me on track and resulted in just the article I needed to write.”

It was a great article that I remember. I visited Ryokans based on her article and thought every suggestion was spot on perfect.

Gourmet editor, Ruth Reichl –– one of my favorite food writers, captured Barry this way in  Remembrance of Things Paris: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet:

“As the good times came back to the metropolis [Paris], Gourmet sent off the first of what would be an unbroken line of full-time correspondents to chronicle the life of the city for its eager readers.

“That first resident correspondent was Naomi Barry, who may be the most underappreciated restaurant writer of all time. Reading fifty-year-old restaurant reviews would not normally be much fun; it takes a writer of extraordinary abilities to make you care about meals you will never be able to eat. But with each review Barry offers up such a rich slice of life that you feel you are sitting at the next table eavesdropping on your neighbors chatting with the chef. Her reviews are like little time machines that not only allow you to taste the food she is eating, but somehow transport you back to a city that no longer exists.”

How did this great food writer begin? The Rubin interview revealed:

"My mother was the worst cook I ever knew," said Barry. "At dinnertime, I would run away from home to my grandmother's just to escape the evening meal. I taught myself how to cook by reading books."

I love cooking from books, using both recipes and descriptions. In the case of Dumaine’s eggs, it was a recipe with a bit of history. I read , “This recipe was created in 1898 in a restaurant in Paris near the main theaters of the city, and very famous in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The chef decided to name the recipe name of a protagonist of a vaudeville success this year, Fire Toupinel 'of Alexandre Bisson.” It seems the original is just potatoes mashed with butter and cream and a bit of nutmeg, then the poached egg and Mornay sauce. It can also be made with spinach (there’s a hysterical French video from the 50s on making Eggs Toupinel HERE  using ham and baking the egg with no Mornay). Dumaine kicked it up a notch when he added the ham and truffles to the mashed potatoes.

A recipe by Wolfgang Puck (in Modern French Cooking For The American Kitchen) did the same with ham and truffles but added mushrooms and had a neat trick of whipped cream in the Mornay. I skipped the mushrooms and tried the whipped cream –– nailed it.

I read on the Pink Pillbox that Eggs Toupinel were a favorite of Jackie Kennedy. They are easy to make and delicious. You can easily make most everything in advance and put it together at the last minute. They are truly great comfort food, perfect for holiday brunches. Give a toast to Dumaine and wonderful Naomi Berry, long may they live in our memory.

Eggs Toupinel for 4

4 small baking potatoes –– don't use giant russets
1 T olive oil
bed of rock salt (optional)
4 T truffle butter from D'Artagnan
2 T cream
chopped truffle or truffle oil to taste (D'Artagnan has both)
s&p to taste (remember the cheeses are salty)
pinch nutmeg
1-2 slices ham depending on size, julienned
4 eggs
1 c Mornay sauce
1 T grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 400º. Cut through the skin 1/3 down from the top potatoes but leave the two pieces together and cook for 30 or 40 minutes (or more depending on the size of your potato) on a bed of salt or in an oiled dish.

When cooked, remove the top and scoop out the pulp, reserving the shell.

Rice or thoroughly mash the potato, combine it with the 2 T butter, cream, truffle or truffle oil, s&p and nutmeg. Add the ham. Refill the shells leaving an indentation in the center for the poached egg to sit in–– you can over fill as long as you feel it's stable.

Poach your eggs about 3-4 minutes in simmering water. Remove with slotted spoon and place each egg on potatoes or reserve till ready to use.

Put the Mornay Sauce on top of the egg (although it's not a bad idea to spoon a little under the egg and then more on top) and dot with 2 T butter and the grated cheese. Broil, keeping close eye on it… it burns easily.

Spoon the remaining Mornay sauce on the plate, if you would like.  Set the potato on that and serve.

Béchamel Sauce

2 T butter
½ shallot, diced
1 clove
2T flour
1 c milk
pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg

Heat the milk and simmer while you melt the butter with the shallot and clove. Add the flour to the butter and stir over low heat till all bubbly. Do not let it brown.  Pour the hot milk slowly into the flour mixture, stirring all the while over a medium heat till all the milk is used and the sauce is thickened. Strain the sauce.

Mornay Sauce

1 c béchamel
1 T demi-glace (optional)
1 egg yolk
½ c grated Parmesan
½ c grated Gruyere
2 T whipped cream

Add the demi-glace to the béchamel and reduce a little. Add some of the hot milk to the yolk and blend. Put it back in the pan and warm, do no let it boil. Remove from the heat and add the Parmesan and Gruyere and stir till smooth, putting back on the heat if necessary but only a little.

Just as you are ready to use the Mornay, add the whipped cream and spoon over the eggs

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The First Thanksgiving, What they Had to Work With and 18th Century Apple Trifle

Jan Breughel & Peter Paul Rubens, The Garden of Eden 1615 –– surely what the Pilgrims hoped to find

I think most of us are only possessed of a few sodden old fact-oids about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims –– a date, a place, funny hats, Native American guests, a dinner –– blah blah blah.

Thing is, there’s more to the story –– I thought I’d mix it up a little and set the historical table with a few new dishes.

The Pilgrims didn't come to America in 1620 just to have Thanksgiving dinner.

Daniel Mytens 1621 portrait of James I

James I was the King of England in 1620 and had been since 1603. James was a thoughtful, well-educated man but he had just stumbled into the 30 Years War that year. He wrote a book arguing there was a theological basis for monarchy but was fascinated with witches, attended torture sessions and even wrote a book about the dark side (Shakespeare used James’ book, Daemonologie, as background for Macbeth). Later James softened on the subject, perhaps discovering that some accusations were untrue and people had been tortured and died unjustly, a heavy burden for a pious man.

First King James Bible

It was this James who commissioned the King James Bible translation that was completed in 1611 –– it remained the standard for hundreds of years. Using scholars to translate in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Latin and then poets to smooth out the text (it's a lovely thing to read if you haven't). However, the Church of England under James I was rather strict and punished those who wished to worship outside the state church (with hefty fines or imprisonment). This did not sit well with the pilgrims who had their own interpretation of worship and religion. Many of the group that were to come to America first traveled to the continent to be free to worship as they wished.

The group spent time in Leyden, Holland where they found the religious freedom that had eluded them at home. Although they were welcomed in Leyden, they felt alienated by the foreign language and dreamed of a home of their own –– a NEW England.

The Leyden Pilgrims (as they were later called) scraped together money for the journey and returned to England where they picked up more like-minded souls to join them. Their timing may have been a little off.

On the plus side, they missed the incredibly cold winter of 1620 in England. The Thames froze over and there were 13 continuous days of snow in Scotland. Thousands of animals died –– the pilgrims avoided that.  Still, what possessed them to ship out knowing they were going to arrive in the New World in November?

Of the 2 ships that were chartered, the Speedwell was declared unfit and some of its passengers were allowed to go onto the Mayflower (the rest were left behind). They ran low on funds and had to sell off provisions to go forward including precious butter. Along with grains, dried fruit, seeds and smoked meats, they might have brought live pigs, goats and chickens with them. They did bring 2 dogs, one a female mastiff, the other a springer spaniel.

The Mayflower left port on Sept 6 and arrived in the New World on Nov 21 after a trying journey that lost many and sickened most. Those that did arrive were in sad shape.  Only 57 of the original 102 passengers survived the first winter (it took them a month to build a shelter in the middle of winter). At times there were only a handful of healthy people to tend to the sick in a makeshift hospital.  It seems that the voyage was the main reason for the massive death toll amongst the pilgrims, that and the dearth of supplies.  It was not, I discovered, completely the fault of the New England winter.

I always assumed it was a dreadful New England winter in 1620 but found that was not the case from a  Wikipedia entry on the subject, although pretty hard at first, it was a mild winter:

“Nearly all historians describe the winter of 1620-21 as mild, though the season began with harsh weather early in December just at the time the Pilgrims were exploring the unknown land. Bradford described the conditions of December 7th and 8th: “for the ground was now all covered with snow and hard frozen. Snow depth was half a foot. Another exploration party set out the 16th in very cold and hard weather to reach the southern shore of Cape Cod Bay. The 17th was windy, the weather was very cold and it froze hard as the spray of the sea lighting on their coats, they were as if they had been glazed. (2) The afternoon of the 18th brought snow and rain. (These early winter conditions eventually gave way to milder weather when the winds shifted from the northeast to a more southerly flow.) The expedition then moved to the western shore of the Bay where one of the mariners remembered visiting a large harbor on a previous voyage. Samuel de Champlain had visited this harbor in 1605 and published a navigation chart of the area in 1612. The Pilgrims were not the earliest to visit Plymouth harbor with their landing on that stormy night of December 18th-19th, 1620.

“The winter of 1620-21 was "a calm winter, such as was never seen here since," wrote Thomas Dudley of Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Edward Winslow, one of the original Pilgrims, also wrote about the "remarkable mildness" of that first winter in Good Newes from New England, published in 1624. There was testimony by others to a mild end of December, a moderate January, a brief cold spell with sleet and some snow in early February, followed by definitely mild conditions and an early spring”

Strangely, the first American Thanksgiving was actually in Jamestown, Virginia in 1610 but the Thanksgiving that has always been recognized as the first was given by the settlers at Plymouth Colony in 1621 and celebrated with Native Americans. They ate “venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. William Bradford noted that, "besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many.”

This feast lasted three days, and was attended by about 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

The First Thanksgiving" by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

Edward Winslow, in Mourt's Relation (written 1620-21) wrote of the day:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

It is interesting to think about what the pilgrims did not have to work with. When you think about it, most English desserts were out of the question because things that we take for granted were not available in the new country.

As American as apple pie is really not very, well, American. Apples started as Malus sieversii in southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Xinjiang, China and spread all over the Middle East and Europe as Malus domestica. Surprisingly, the new country of America had no apples –– only crab apples were found on the continent (a close relative to our apple, also available in England but used with much sweetening to make jelly  –– the pilgrims probably didn't have much sugar).

Apples came to America on the Mayflower and were planted immediately at the new colony (using seeds saved from the apples eaten on the journey and perhaps grafted trees). European apples did not thrive at the beginning. First, the grafted trees didn’t do well because they were unsuited to the harsh climate, and second, the trees that did produce had a very poor yield since there were no honeybees ––  native bees did not pollinate with the same fervor as their European cousins, they also did not produce much honey. Honeybees were imported to the American colonies in 1622. Blackstone planted apples on Beacon Hill in Boston in 1623. It is entirely possible that English dried apples made the first thanksgiving but an American crop would be a few years in the making.

Gerad ter Borch De Koestal 1650 (note the much smaller udder than we see today)

They had no milk that first year, except as cheese and probably rancid butter (that the Indians for some reason loved). Cows didn’t arrive in the New World until 1624 on the good ship Charity. The precious cargo on the supply ship included 3 cows and a bull. In The Age of Faith (The Story of Civilization), Will Durant said that a 13th century cow yielded only a pound of butter a week as the cow only gave about 3 pounds of milk per day (1 ½ quarts –– today’s cows do 6-7 gallons!). Rense said it takes 21.2 pounds of milk to make a pound of butter. The butter that was brought on the Mayflower was precious cargo indeed. Cream would have been a huge extravagance for many years.

The dish I thought I would share for Thanksgiving would not have been possible for the first Thanksgiving, but very possible for the November Thanksgiving declared by George Washington in 1789 (there had been an earlier Dec 18th Thanksgiving declared by the Continental Congress in 1777). It is an apple trifle. The recipe comes from 1806, but Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 classic, The Experienced English Housekeeper, had a similar trifle recipe.

Eliza Rundell’s 1806, The New System of Domestic Cookery recipe had a macaroon base that intrigued me and in it I saw the basis for the famous Eton Mess. The original skipped the cookie base for the apple version of the trifle but I loved the idea of the madeira or sherry soaked, orange-flavored almond macaroons at the bottom (I’ve read raisin wine tastes a bit like those fortified wines). I thought it would be splendid with the apples and perfect for the holidays. I did use 3 egg yolks for the custard –– one wouldn’t have held it together very well.  It is still fairly creamy. Also, the original topping would be more like an everlasting syllabub (you can read more about it from Ivan Day's great article HERE), that would be made with 4 parts cream to 1 part alcohol. It would be left overnight and scooped up to top the dessert (leaving a bit of alcohol at the bottom for a chef's treat).

The trifle is a triumph.  An elegant veil of madeira with subtle notes of lemon and orange.  It's rich as could be but doesn't feel that way because the apples provide a fresh note. This will become a holiday favorite.

Apple Trifle

6-10 macaroons*
1/3 c  New York Malmsey Madeira from Rare Wine Company or sherry (use a sweeter variety)
madeira whipped topping*****
candied violets

Put the macaroons at the bottom of the dish.  Pour the madeira over it.  Put the apples on top of the macaroons and then pour the custard on top.  Pipe or spoon the whipped topping on top and sprinkle with violets.  The original recipe says that it is better the next day-- do not put the violets on before you are ready to serve, they melt.


2 oz slivered blanched almonds, ground to meal
2 egg whites, beaten stiffly
1/2 lb sugar
2 drops Aftelier Petitgrain Essence or 2 t orange flower water

Preheat the oven to 375º

Blend the almond meal with the sugar.  Add the orange to the egg whites and  blend with the almond meal.

Put parchment paper on 2 baking sheets.  I got 22 macaroons out of the batter (lots left over for snacking).  Put on the baking sheet and let sit for 15 minutes.

Put in the oven and turn the temperature down to 325º.  Cook for about 15-20 minutes.  The are ready when they lift off the paper without sticking.

Apple Sauce

2 pounds apples (peeled, cored and chopped)
4 T sugar
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 c water
1 drop Aftelier Cognac Essence

Cook the apples over a medium low heat, covered until softened and easily mashed. I like it with texture but you can make it into a smooth puree if you like. Add the drop of cognac essence and cool.


1 cup milk
1 cup cream
3 egg yolks
3 T sugar
pinch salt

Heat the milk and cream.  Beat the yolks with the sugar and salt in a large bowl and add the hot milk.

Return the mixture to the pan (I always like to wait a few minutes so the mixture cools a bit) and use a spatula to continually stir the mixture over medium heat till it reaches about 180º and thickens.  It will never get terribly thick.  Be careful not to let it stick or get too hot.  Remove from the heat, strain and chill.

Whipped Topping*

1 c cream
2 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
1-3 T New York Malmsey Madeira from Rare Wine Company
zest of 1/2 a lemon
3 T sugar

Whip the cream till stiff.  Add the sugar, lemon peel and madeira.  Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar till stiff and add to the cream mixture.

* if you would like to be authentic, to 1 c cream add 1/4 c madeira. Get the egg whites started then add to the cream and sherry and whip like the devil and let sit over night.  The alcohol will pool at the bottom and the fluff can be removed and put on top of the dessert. You can see the result HERE.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jeremiah Tower, Great Menus and Black Bean Cakes with Duck Mole and Lime-Pumpkin Sour Cream

Jeremiah Tower 1989

This ad made me smile the first time I saw it –– a dapper fellow balancing a Liliputian stone arch on a Dali-ish crawfish tray with a whippet bearing Scotch doubling as an armrest.

The playfulness continued with copy that read “Aristocrat, confident and a self-described monarchist. “Everyone likes to have things their own way, I just admit it.”

The star of this ad was Jeremiah Tower –– a patrician renegade –– a guy who made a Molotov cocktail with a Dom Pérignon bottle and an old Hermes’ scarf and loved Kettner's Book of the Table(that I wrote about HERE) –– my kind of guy. The Wall Street Journal’s brilliant Bruce Palling called him the Orson Welles of food.

Most of you know him as one of the founders of what has come to be known as California Cuisine through his own Stars Restaurant in San Francisco and Berkeley's Chez Panisse, but you may not know that his innovative nature had a classical grounding –– he has a deep love for culinary history that appeals to me enormously.  He had an enviable library of over 1000 cookbooks from the 17th century to signed modern classics that he shared through annotated book-notes at the end of his fabulous autobiography, California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution –– just for that I loved this book. He brilliantly advocates for rare entries like Elizabeth David's much loved  What shall we have to-day by Marcel Boulestin as well as so many other shouldn't-be-forgotten gems on this list. Many are a revelation. I asked Tower why he included the list in his autobiography and he replied "for fun, information, something new."

After Stars closed he moved to New York and then New Orleans after 9/11. Hurricane Katrina took many of Tower's books, the rest were sold at Omnivore Books in San Francisco in 2012. “I sold what was left of the books because I was living in a tropical climate and that is no good for leather bindings or paper. Also I had read all of them, including the 18th and 19th century books, a few times, was completely inspired by them, and it was time for them to go on and inspire their new owners.” (Cindy Pawlcyn got an Elizabeth David and Thomas Keller snagged Fernand Point’s Ma Gastronomie).

Young Tower from California Dish

Palling’s great interview with Tower revealed that Tower’s love of food started at 6 when an Aboriginal showed him the secrets of coconut cracking and fish grilling in Australia.

The rest of his peripatetic childhood (nearly devoid of parental oversight) found Tower using elegant restaurants, dining rooms and kitchens all over the world as playgrounds –– on land and at sea. His father’s work had the Tower family traveling a good deal in his youth,  although after Australia, he was mostly raised in England (staying in great hotels, beautiful country houses and ocean liners when he wasn’t in odious boarding schools). He also had an Auntie Mame - aunt named Mary who was married to a white Russian rocket scientist named Constantine Levovitch Zakhartchenko who taught him about the even finer things in life (specially vodka and buttery blini) and bankrolled eating trips to Paris. You can see the results of this upbringing in everything Tower was to become.

”Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play” (Heraclitus) –– so true.

Aside from having a great sense of play in their work, the best artists have a substantial foundation in the craft and history of their art –– knowing what has gone on before them puts more colors in their crayon box –– Tower had this grounding,  often fed by the work and friendship of legendary food writers like James Beard and food-poet Richard Olney.

Tower recalled being bowled over by his The French Menu Cookbook in the 70's. In it,  Olney wrote “The rock on which my church was built was the provincial kitchen of my home in Iowa.” from this Tower, "... wondered what he would think of my rock: eccentric lives and the life of travel around the world with its great hotels, ships, and trains. I had been, like Olney, “cooking with a passion that could be gleaned from books –– Escoffier, in particular.” We must be eternally grateful that Tower held on to his youthful notebooks so that many important Escoffier-inspired or Tower generated menus in his life have been saved. The menus are an education (and yet another reason to buy his autobiography).

He said the first menu he wrote in his culinary notebook in the 60’s was one for a party given by Cecil Beaton in the early 1930s at Lapérouse in Paris. From it he conjures a whole evening, fleshing out characters, surroundings and the rarified tastes of the group –– one of the highlights of the book. “Following the turtle fat with foie gras tells me also that whoever ordered the menu was very securely a gourmand of deep appreciation for the art of dining: knowing how to push one’s guest’s sensibilities to the limit without embarrassing them with a troubling surfeit later in the meal. Obviously they were all aesthetes, and saw themselves that way.”

Fat of Turtle
Chateau d’Yquem 1860

Cold Foie Gras

Truffles poached in champagne

Canard Rôti Lucullus
Burgundy, a priceless one

Doyenne de Comice pear, juste à point


Crusted Port

Cognac Napoleon

Romeo and Juliettas

His undergraduate and graduate education (for architecture) came at Harvard. There he drank breathtaking amounts of old madeira, great wines and champagnes and cooked up a remarkable storm for a 20 year old:

First Dinner in Our Own Kitchen

Cambridge 1965

Frozen Vodka

Consommé Madrilène

Saumon en gelée aux truffes
Pouilly-Fumé 1962

Filet de Boeuf périgourdine
Château-Neuf-du-Pape 1957

Strawberries and French Cream
Asti Spumante


“Napoleon” Armagnac
Sercial Madeira 1884

He was around at the dawn of the new era of American food as the chef of Chez Panisse in the 1970’s ––  in fact, he was one of the prime movers of that renaissance (although he feels that it began in the 1950s with New York’s Four Seasons –– they lit the torch, he picked it up and ran with it). Starting with French classics he knew well from a youth spent eating fine food and skills developed at home and at Harvard where he cooked for one and all, Tower starting riffing on French food, believing quality ingredients were as important as the recipe.

Ad that Jeremiah Tower answered (California mag)

His first menus for his Chez Panisse “audition” in 1971 were simple ––considering a full, 4-course meal there was only $4.50:


Gougére à la bourguignonne
Haricots verts natures
Matelote à la normande


Oeufs rémoulade
Madrilene of beet and onion
“Haricot” of oxtail, Alice B Toklas

Tower and Willy Bishop from Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary Book

Alice B Toklas and her wonderful cookbook (that I wrote about HERE and HERE) inspired Chez Panisse a good deal. A now-famous menu from 1974 came in the form of a poem with a marvelous Gertrude Stein stove drawing by Willy Bishop:

Menu from California Dish

It was only a matter of time before American food was taking center stage for Tower –– inspired by a recipe for Mendocino corn chowder in one of his favorite 19th century cookbooks. Tower wondered why he couldn’t do that at Chez Panisse. “ I reread Charles Ranhofer’s cookbook from Delmonico’s The Epicurean[that I wrote about HERE]. I realized I had been improvising for years, so why fret any longer about authenticity of “French” ingredients for French regional food? Why not just go shopping in Northern California and call that the region.”

Tower from Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary Book

The Northern California Regional Dinner
October 7, 1976

Spenger’s Tomales Bay bluepoint oysters on ice
Cream of fresh corn soup, Mendocino styles, with crayfish butter
Big Sur Garrapata Creek smoked trout steamed over California bay leaves
Monterey Bay prawns sautéed with garlic, parsley, and butter
Preserved California geese from Sebastopol
Vela dry Monterey Jack cheese from Sonoma
Fresh caramelized figs
Walnuts, almonds, and mountain pears from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market

Jeremiah Tower upon opening Stars in 1984. Photo: The Chronicle/Pete Breinig

By the time he got to his own restaurant, Stars, his cooking had been further distilled to clean flavors with great ingredients. He said while still in college, ''My goal was to cook the way Balenciaga cut clothes -- simple in form, without ornamentation, always in harmony with the lines of the body.” His menus of the period express this philosophy:

A Dinner for Sophia Loren
March 31 1995

Mushroom Timbale
Fava beans and purple asparagus
Smoked Pheasant
Oven-roasted vegetables and lamb’s lettuce salad
Ginger Mousse
Warm ginger cookies

I wondered if Mr. Tower had any predictions for food's future and asked him, "Do you think food is blending regional/national cuisines like language in Blade Runner?  Do you think it's going to destroy
regional personalities or strengthen them?"  His succinct reply,   "Making new regions." Queen's Bhutanese and Los Angeles Mexican is already happening but so are New York, Chicago and San Francisco styles that are often tied to local ingredients.

One of my favorite cookbooks is his 1986 Jeremiah Tower's New American Classicsfrom the STARS period.

After all these years I still make so many things from this book. His aunt’s coleslaw, lamb hash, duck sausage, pumpkinseed sauce, berry puree, spicy lamb sausage, corn soup with crayfish butter, ham with black beans … and black bean cakes. I love those black bean cakes.

Since my task this month for the Creative Cooking Crew was  cocktail appetizers for Thanksgiving, I wanted to gild the bean cake lily and Tower’s recent description of a Duck Mole he had just thrown together brought my dish together brilliantly –– Duck Mole on those black bean cakes sounded fantastic. I also added lime-ginger-pumpkin sour cream (which is fabulous) and beet and chili salsa instead of the traditional sour cream and tomato salsa. It tastes like a refined, deconstructed chili with beans made into a cake instead of in the chili.   I got my gorgeous Rohan duck from D’Artagnan (you can get it online HERE).  Should you desire, this can be made with bone-in chicken thighs or even left-over turkey.  If you want to go vegetarian or very simple, just skip the duck mole altogether.

This dish is best prepared over two days. The mole does have a lot of ingredients but it comes together fairly quickly –– it's my favorite mole recipe (although lighter than usual because I burned my first batch of chilies thanks to a phone call and didn't have enough anchos left for the mix!).  You will have lots of extra mole which freezes beautifully and can be popped out of the freezer for a quick meal with chicken or duck that tastes like you've worked all day. If you want to use all the duck mole, you will need to double the bean cake recipe. The original was only sour cream and salsa.

Black Bean Cakes with Duck Mole, Pumpkin Sour Cream and Beet Salsa (serves 4 as an appetizer or makes 16 hor d'oeuvres)

3 cups cooked black beans, left out to drain for 2 hours - they will look nasty but it works
1 T ancho chili
1 T cumin
1 small hot green chili, finely chopped
½ c chopped cilantro
¾ t salt
¼ c duck fat, lard or olive oil

1 recipe Lime-ginger-pumpkin sour cream
1 c duck mole
¼ c salsa
24 sprigs cilantro
fresh chili rings from 1 or 2 chilies
2 shallots sliced thinly

Put the beans through a food mill or in a grinder (my food mill did not work well since it has small openings, a processor was easiest). Add the spices and cilantro leaves and salt. Make into 4-12 balls depending on whether you are making appetizers or snacks.

Put between wax paper and press, they should be around 1/4" high (although the originals were 1/8").
I like the crisp outside and moist inside.

Fry in the fat 2 minutes per side

Top with a spoon of duck mole, a spoon of cream and a bit of salsa. Garnish with cilantro and chili rings.

Duck Mole

Duck meat, torn from carcass and shredded (you could do a pound or so of chicken thighs or leftover turkey)
Mole Sauce

Start with 1/3 of the mole sauce and see what you would like for consistency –– you may want to add more.


5 ancho chilies, seeded
3 guajillo chilies, seeded
1 chipotle chili, seeded(optional)
1 T oil
¼ c raisins
5 prunes
4 tomatillos
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 T duck fat, lard or oil
½ plantain
¼ c almonds
¼ c shelled pumpkin seeds
½ cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
½ t peppercorns
5 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 t dry epazote (optional)
1 t oregano
3 T sesame seeds
1 c chopped tomatoes (fire-roasted muir glen are great)
1 to 1 ¼ c stock (your duck broth is perfect for this)
1 to 1 ¼ c chili soaking liquid
½ tortilla, darkened in cast iron skillet and torn into pieces
salt to taste
2 T kejap manis, dark soy sauce or molasses or to taste
3 T dark rum
1 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate, melted.

Preheat the oven to 350º.  Rub your hands then the chilies with oil. Cook the chilies on a baking sheet for 5 minutes till fragrant (pay attention, they burn very quickly, especially if they are not moist). Remove and cool. Crumble and put in water to cover with raisins and prunes.

Soak for 1 hour.

Put the peeled tomatillos (you remove the paper husk) in the oven and roast for about 10 minutes.

In a cast iron skillet, toast the almonds and pumpkin seeds with the cinnamon stick. Put aside. Add the spices and sesame seeds and toast. Set aside.

Saute the onion, garlic in the duck fat till softened and set aside.

Strain the chili mixture, reserving the liquid.

In a large blender or food processor, add the chili mixture, tomatillos, onion mixture, seeds and nuts and spices. Add the tortilla and tomatoes and some of the stock and strained chili liquid and blend, adding the rest of the stock and chili liquid as needed to blend (you want less liquid at the beginning to get a good creamy texture, only enough to move the blades. Add the chocolate, rum and ketjap manis or molasses and salt to taste. Set aside. It is better the next day.


1 Rohan duck from D’Artagnan (you could use bone-in chicken thighs as well - 2 -3  pounds)
1 T garam masala
1 T salt
1 carrot
1 stick celery
1 onion
2 star anise,
cilantro stems
1 coin size piece of ginger
1 t peppercorns

Heat oven to 275º. Rub the duck with salt and garam masala.

Roast the duck for 1/2 hour, breast side up in a pan with the vegetables. Turn and roast for another hour. If you use chicken thighs, only roast 1/2 an hour, skin side up.

Remove the duck and put into a stockpot with all the accumulated juices (if you don’t have one that is large enough, cut the duck in ½).  Add vegetables and spices, cover with water and cook 1 to 1 ½ - hours at a very low simmer or until tender. Remove from pot and cool. Take the meat off the bones and put the bones and skin back in the pot and simmer for a few more hours to make a strong stock.

Lime-ginger-pumpkin sour cream

½ c sour cream
3 T pumpkin pureé
2 T lime juice
½ t grated lime peel
½ t grated ginger

Combine and let sit for an hour.

Beet Chili Salsa

2 cooked beets, diced
1 small chili, diced  (with or without seeds depending on how hot you would like it)
1 small shallot, diced or sliced
¼ t cumin
3 T lime juice

Combine all.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

New York’s Gotham Bar and Grill and a Great Ham Sandwich

Gotham photo from website

In the beginning I heard things –– nattering about a $10 hamburger that was worth the freight ($10 was a lot for a burger the mid 80’s), then louder, more insistent recommendations –– something about the wonders of tall food –– “You have to go to Gotham, this Alfred Portale's food is amazing, it’s like art." Tall food?

Alfred Portale, NYT photo
In 1985, NYT critic Bryan Miller wrote “In a short time, Mr. Portale has transformed the Gotham into one of the most exciting ''new'' restaurants in town. His cooking approach is contemporary and personal, but not free-wheeling; his dishes are visually dazzling but rarely incongruent.”

Gotham was just around the corner from me. I lived on 11th Street and it was on 12th Street. One day, I walked over and peeked in the window. My first impression was not positive –– I hated the way the restaurant looked (for me, it epitomized everything that was wrong with late-20th century design), but then I saw the food –– the way the food looked ––  that was amazing. Loved it.

photo from 1997 cookbook
photo from NYT today

It was tall food –– deconstructing it was fun and delicious. In 1993, NYT’s critic Molly O'Neill said of Portale’s plate-art, “The dishes soar in height as well as flavor. Gotham Bar and Grill is the home of tall food. The salads look like mountain ranges.” 

I know food with levels is not extraordinary today, but in the 80’s it was striking. One of the first things I read about Gotham’s chef Alfred Portale was that he had been a jewelry designer before becoming a chef and when you looked at his dishes you think architecture and flower arrangements, not dinner. But it wasn’t "just another pretty face" on the plate, his dishes are full of flavor and texture.

photo from Modern Culinary Art, 1950 ed.
photo from Modern Culinary Art, 1950 ed.

When the artist in Portale found food, magic happened. After seeing Henri-Paul Pelleprat’s book, Modern culinary art –– L’art culinaire modern, full of mad illustrations and busting with classic recipes (that I wrote about HERE), he threw himself into The Culinary Institute and graduated as the top student in his class. He got ridiculously lucky translating for Michel Guérard  in NYC in a pinch and through that meeting,  hooked up with the Troisgros brothers doing his  “French tour" (then as now, requisite for great young chefs) working at their top restaurant. His work at a NYC restaurant led to his job at Gotham and he never looked back.

photo from 1997 cookbook

Ulterior Epicure Photo from today

The restaurant still makes the top 10 list of  NYC's best restaurants and has generations of fans –––  being open nearly 30 years and still great in NYC is quite an accomplishment. It’s not just the food, it’s the service. People say over and over again that the staff is remarkable. Reichl said it well in 1996, “The service is a big part of this equation. The people who work at Gotham Bar and Grill have figured out how to make Americans feel at ease in the presence of fancy food. This is harder than it sounds; there are no rules and different people have different expectations. At Gotham, the waiters take their cues from the customer, tuning in to almost imperceptible vibrations. Give the waiter the slightest hint that you are interested and he will describe the food in loving detail. Indicate that you are not and your order will be taken without a word.” They treat you well whether you are ordering big and expensive or sharing appetizers. I've never had a bad meal there.  Waiting at the bar is always fun because it's like a stage.

Thing is, what brought me to write about Gotham wasn't a Portale-styled towering dish like you would expect.  I was making something simple from his 1997, Alfred Portale's Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook ––  a ham sandwich, and it was so good I decided to share it with you.

Photo from Gotham Cookbook, 1997
The page in my copy is a bit of a mess, it has a few sauce splatters from many visits, always a badge of honor in my book. It couldn’t be simpler –– great bread, good ham and cheese and a killer sauce. This is a sandwich that came from Portale’s Buffalo, NY past. The first restaurant that he ever worked at was in Buffalo and it had the sandwich on the menu, the owner of the Chevy dealership next door had the sandwich everyday for lunch –– it’s that good.  I love it with cucumber pickles and my new favorite that takes 2 minutes to make, David Leibovitz' pickled onions.  You might want to make more of that sauce –– it's terribly good.

Yes, I love the elegant food at Gotham –– Portale's mustard custard is one of the best things on the planet, but he does a simple soup just as well.  You'll love the restaurant and his cookbooks (there are more recent books with simple food too). You can still order their great burger, –– check out the menus HERE and enjoy!

Grilled Ham, Smoked Mozzarella and Red Onion Sandwich from Alfred Portale serves 4-8

½ c mayonnaise (bought or homemade*)
5 t ketchup
½ t cognac ( I used more – more like 1½ t)
8 slices crusty bread (my long-rise bread recipe is HERE)
8-12 oz fresh smoked mozzarella* (2 - 3 slices each sandwich)
8-12 oz smoked ham* ( 2 - 3 slices - I like Whole Foods rosemary ham for this)
1 small red onion, sliced very thin
4 T unsalted butter

Serve with pickles, pickled onions and chips.

In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, ketchup and cognac. Spread onto 4 slices the bread, layer the cheese, ham and onion and top with another slice of bread. Spread 1/2 the butter on one side of the sandwich

Heat 1/2 the butter in a pan and sauté the sandwiches on both sides, unbuttered side first -- around 5 minutes.  I put a lid on the pan after I flipped to melt the cheese.  I also used a sandwich weight after I flipped to even out the surface.

Cut in half and serve.

* if you have thinner slices of bread, use less.  I'd say 2 oz. each is plenty.  3 oz. each is a very hefty sandwich.  I would say the larger size is enough for 2!

*Mayonnaise from Alfred Portale

2 room temperature egg yolks
2 T lemon juice
1 T Dijon mustard
coarse salt and pepper to taste
cayenne to taste
1 c olive oil
1 c canola oil
1 garlic clove mashed to a poast with a sprinkle of coarse salt.

Blend the yolks, lemon, mustard salt and pepper and cayenne. Whisk the oil in drop by drop until it emulsifies. Add the garlic, and taste for spices.

(the original recipe for the mayonnaise in the book includes 1/4 c of ginger juice squeezed from 8 oz of grated ginger)

Goodbye Charlie Trotter, I will always think of you as the young genius who laid flavors on a plate like an artist lays paint on a canvas.  You had so much life ahead of you.

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