Friday, October 30, 2020

The Rise: The Cookbook


 Samuelsson's 6 Cookbooks top;
The Escoffier Cookbook lower right.

    What is a cookbook, anyway?  Depends. The late Molly O'Neill, in her Introduction to American Food Writing, An Anthology With Classic Recipes, wrote that much food writing in the first decade of 21st Century belonged to the genre of "My Awakening and What I Ate." She credits this to M.F.K. Fisher's 27 books, describing Fisher's various awakenings and what she ate, in mildly luscivious, gluttonous prose

    Escoffier's classic cookbook is the opposite of that. It has two parts: Part I, The Fundamental Elements of Cooking and Part II, Recipes and Methods of Procedure. Escoffier was a sort of user's manual for the kind of kitchen where Samuelsson spent six months as a commis: The Victoria Jungfrau, in Interlaken, Switzerland. 

The brigade, a hierarchy of specialized operators, functions as a team.

    Samuelsson was trained in the Escoffier method, but his cookbooks show the influence of M.F.K. Fisher. Samuelsson's recipes are more than ingredients and instructions. 

    Six cookbooks and a memoir in 17 years is a lot of awakenings. In Aquavit (2003), Samuelsson awoke to life in New York City and refreshed the Swedish standards with techniques and tastes he'd learned from his Franco-Swiss training and his world travels. 

     In Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa (2006) Samuelsson discovered not only the foods and favors of Africa, but regained his Ethiopian father and half-siblings.

    The New American Table (2009) celebrated the immigrant food of the United States.  Samuelsson himself had become an American citizen a decade earlier.

    His memoir Yes,Chef (2012), divided into sections called Boy, Chef and Man, chronicled the awakening called growing up. Samuelsson made a home, started a family and opened a restaurant in Harlem. The recipes for what he ate are in Marcus Off Duty (2014).

    The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem (2016) reads like a personal diary of what Harlem taught him: the African American experience since the Civil War. The recipes also read like the notebooks of flavor possibilities which Samuelsson kept and reaches to for inspiration. (Playlists included.)

     The Rise (2020) is different, part manifesto, part homage. This is not homage in the same way that Chef Corey Lee's menu for his In Situ restaurant in San Francisco. In Situ is a tastable food museum located in the city's Museum of Modern Art, where Lee presents the signature dishes his favorite chefs, with their permission, of course. You went there, pre-COVID,  to look at modern art and eat expensive modernist metropolitan food. 

    Samuelsson's approach enables you to make and taste future classics at home, and to dream of life of eating out after COVID,

    Yes, The Rise is remembrances and recipes, but with a purpose. Samuelsson uses his Star Chef powers to elevate and make visible Black chefs and culinary professionals from all over the Country. It is, he writes, "a cookbook about race, class and the equity of the American food landscape."

    Recipes are arranged "in honor of" over fifty Black creatives, featuring intriguing histories of their culinary careers, followed by Samuelsson's riff recipes. Like a jazz composer, he encapsulates their stories and recipes reflecting on their particular style. 

    To guide you through these compositions, right up front, a Recipe Guide serves as cross-index organized by drinks, appetizers, soups, salads, fish-seafood-poultry-meat, grains, vegetables, breads and pantry staples. Mise en place lovers will find that Escoffier's Part I lives on in the Pantry Staple section's procedures and ingredients.

     Finding excellent Black chefs from across the country was not difficult. 

    The cookbook groups these talents into four sections, arranged under the headings: Next, Remix, Migration and Legacy. The Next section features  "Cutting Edge" chefs are located in New York and other metropolitan areas. Many were born in the Caribbean, and influenced by the special mix of African and European of each different island. All new to me and intriguing, as you'll see in my next installment: The Food.

    I was on more familiar ground with the characters in the later chapters. Here are figures I've relied on to learn about African American cooking. Some were founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

    Remix touches on variation in Black cooking across geographies and cultures. You'll find the food work of Adrian Miller and Therese NelsonToni-Tipton Martin brought many of the chefs in Remix, and the following chapers, to the ground-breaking Soul Food Summit conference some 5 years ago.    

    Mississippi Mixologist Joe Stinchcomb is featured in the Migration Chaper.  The Legacy chapter honors food journeys from Africa to the Americas, and stories of reclamation: BJ Dennis, Jessica Harris, Leah Chase, Mashima Bailey, Michael Twitty, Rodney Scott, Carla Hall.

    Overwhelmed? I was, and I wondered where to start, how to put together a meal. 

    Here's the secret: once you go down these delicious paths, your mouth will tell you which connect and compliment others. As a student of Atlantic Creole languages, I know that both vocabulary (flavors) and grammar (technique) survived the Middle Passage. Now I can taste the different ways these have flourished in the African Diaspora. I call them distincticve but mutually intelligible dialects.

    On the other hand, I am planning a versus between the Spice Lemon Chess Pie, in honor of Joe Stinchcomb and my Mississippi relations, and the Tigernut Custard Tart with Cinnamon Poached Pears for Toni Tipton-Martin, with gratitude for her leadership.

    As Marcus Samuelsson says: "Let's cook, let's eat, Let's Rise." 

    And may we all rise together and be free.





Wednesday, October 28, 2020

THE RISE Arrives

At your bookstore now.

    In March of this year, as COVID 19 took the country into its grip, Chef Marcus Samuelsson was in Miami, Florida, cancelling the opening of an outpost of his Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster. Like many in his industry, he pivoted to providing meals to his neighbors, through José Andres' World Kitchen. 

    Meantime, police violence against African-Americans in the United States continued. Black Lives Matter crystalized concerns about structural racism, as well as overt and implicit racial bias in every aspect of American society and economy.

    In August, the media behemoth, Condé Nast responded to racism at their flagship Bon Appetite magazine. Two women of color were named to top editorial positions. Shortly later, Condé Nast hired Samuelsson as Brand Ambassador and holiday-edition guest editor of the magazine.

    This last caught my imagination. Could this be a reason to forgive Condé Nast for shuttering Gourmet? My local library had Samuelsson's books and was doing drive-by pickups. I started reading his memoir and cooking from his five earlier cookbooks. I pre-ordered The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food, and cooked from the snippets of it, as shown on Amazon.

    Finally, it's October, and yesterday, I greeted the UPS man as he delivered the book. 

    A cookbook and a manifesto, The Rise is a significant event in the culinary history of our country. Marcus Samuelsson is a Star Chef for the 21st Century. He's the Chef from Wakanda, envisaging an Afro-futurist world cuisine. By that I mean that he enlarges Black cultural creativity to include all members the African Diaspora. Re-centering Africa make it visible as the source for the many foods stuffs, flavors and traditions essential to both New World and European cuisines. 

    But what does a 74 year old white woman who has lived in California for the last 25 years know about Marcus Samuelsson's world? I was born in New York and raised in the suburbs, on a middle class Yankee diet, only slightly less reliant on fish that the Swedish fare Samuelsson learned from his adoptive grandmother. I only passed through Harlem's bustling 125th Street on the train to Manhattan's Grand Central Station.

    As I teenager, I did become familiar with the insular WASP world of Manhattan's magazine, publishing and advertising establishments. My writer father's Ivy League credentials gained him entree, but not full acceptance. He was born in the mid-west, to a Dixiecrat and the daughter of an Irish immigrant, and his refusal to conform to expected behaviours meant limited success.

    I trained as an art historian, anthropologist and linguist. Travel and exploration of the world's different cuisines became my habit. It began in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, and later Europe and Asia, both on the ground, in my cookbooks and my Gourmet subscription. West Africa, I only heard about from my younger sister who did Agricultural Extension work in Mali and Nigeria. 

    In 2009 when Condé Nast shuttered Gourmet, I began a serious study of how the magazine presented Asian food starting in 1941. I learned that while that representation reflected changes in world politics and immigration patterns, it was governed by the tastes of same insular, mostly WASP gate-keepers: magazine editors, advertising executives and corporate vice-presidents. Until Ruth Reichl arrived in 1999, the voices chosen to tell the story of Asian cuisines were seldom Asian, and not always chefs.

    Later I consulted the archives to understand the mechanisms for producing the famous Time/Life Foods of the World series. As with Gourmet, the nominal authors of these cookbooks were seldom chefs. They were chosen because of name recognition in the literary world, often expatriats in cosmopolitan New York City.

    Seen through this perspective, Marcus Samuelsson's The Rise deserves much attention, and I plan to review it in five courses: 

As a cookbook, a collection of recipes. 

For of the food itself. (Always the fun part!)

As an extension of Samuelsson's memoir Yes, Chef, and his previous five cookbooks.

    As both defiance and confirmation of the continuing prejudices of the advertising and publishing establishment. 

As a manifesto for expansion of taste, and recogntion of the work of Black Chefs.

At the suggestion of my friend and colleague, Joi Chevalier, I'll illustrate these words with mixed media collages like this one:



Sunday, September 1, 2019

#ILoveLausanne IV --- The Remains of the Day

After it was all over and the guests had departed...

     As a veteran of high tech, I must have signed or asked to have signed dozens of non-disclosure forms. I tended to view them as something the lawyers did to make doing business more complicated.
     News flash: intellectual property protection is not just for the lawyers. Today's main event at the Good Festival was a panel, moderated by the dynamic duo that is Salt Consulting: Denise Nickerson and Michelle Guiliano. They assembled a panel which approached the question of protecting your ideas and inventions from many levels. The takeaway was the number of simple and relatively cheap ways you can and should protect your work while using it to do good.
     Here are the presenters and their ideas:
*Professor Caroline Hunt-Matthes (Faculty at Webster University, Geneva Campus and trustee and advisor to three think tanks on the rights of nature, Privacy Protection and a whistle blower protection) told the story of a U.N. logo pirated by a paramilitary organization. Upon research, she learned that no one had bothered to register it as a trademark. She strongly suggests being proactive in the realm of patents and trademarks.
*Raphael H Cohen is a serial entrepreneur who developed the IpOp Model. This is a roadmap during the pre-project/ideation stage of seizing an opportunity. You can down-load the English language version of his best selling book, read it and pay him what you think it is worth!
*Nadine Reichenthal
*Frank Persyn
*Patrica Simao-Sartorius

   And then it was time to go home and put the mise en place from yesterday to work. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Two hits and a miss

            As I wrote in my last dispatch, this biscuits-and-sausage gravy quest cannot be rushed; my progress is quixotic.
            At last Saturday’s Carrboro Farmer’s Market, I bought 4 Neal’s Deli biscuits to take home, along with okra, figs, and a cedar scarf hanger. Matt Neal’s lineage in Chapel Hill stretches into Southern culinary history. His parents, Bill and Moreton Neal, birthed two other Chapel Hill legends: La Residence and Crook’s Corner. On our second evening here we took Dick’s mentor and his wife to dinner at La Residence, their favorite for family celebrations. We haven’t tried Crook’s Corner yet, but I digress.
            You can read the full story of Neal’s Deli here: Our Reuben jones took us there, and we were well rewarded by house made pastrami and corned beef. When I encountered the biscuits at the Farmer’s Market, I didn’t resist, and I’m so glad I didn’t. They are large, crusty, and you can freeze them, slice them and toast them and they are as if fresh-baked. The staff selling them assured me that come fall, they will do gravy to go with them. I guess this means my quest won’t be finished until then.
Meanwhile, the Popeye’s/Chic-filet Kerfluffle drove me to another Chapel Institution, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, for lunch after my water fitness class. They’ve been selling their chicken and cheese biscuits at their drive-thru place since the late 1970s. I perused the menu from my car, and saw I could get a container of gravy and a sausage biscuit.  I pulled into nearby parking lot and taste tested both chicken and cheese and sausage gravy biscuit. Eureka! Another contender!
I must end on a down note.  Breadmen, another Chapel Hill classic, was disappointing: No crustiness to biscuits, gravy gelatinous. Onwards!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Grits Gene

The Grits Gene skipped my generation. My grandmother, from a long line of South Carolinians, lived in Greenwich Village, where she made grits for her famed Christmas Breakfast. I detested them. I did like the ham biscuits she also served.

For me, somehow, biscuit love was transmogrified to biscuits with sausage gravy. In San Francisco, Brenda’s French Soul Food is the spot for a B and SG fix. My own biscuits lean towards scones. I’ve never lived in a state where White Lily Flour was readily available. When my son visits, he makes great sausage gravy, and my daughter, whose lived in Atlanta for ten years, great biscuits.

Now I’m in Chapel Hill. The flour is here, but I’m not cooking for a crowd, nor firing up the oven in this heat.

I’m on a quest to find the best in town. Besides a tasty breakfast, this quest gives me an opportunity to look and listen to the people in the dozens of cafés and restaurants along Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, Main Street in Carrboro and other arteries in hub around the University of North Carolina.

As one menu informed me, there are about 800 calories in an order of biscuits, gravy and two-eggs-over-easy, so this meal is good for breakfast and lunch, but not something to eat everyday, even on the way to my water aerobics class.

Findings to date:

Saturday at the Carolina Coffee Shop

The first Saturday of the fall semester: students jam the booths. No wonder, because in spite of the name, the Coffee Shop has a full bar, where I sit and ask the bartender if she’s heard the news about the founder of Bulleit bourbon, accused by his daughter of molestation. Yes, she has, and they are taking it off their shelf.

Breakfast arrives. The gravy is as I like it: peppery and full of sausage meat. The biscuits puzzle me: chewy, soft, as though yeast risen. I suspect this is the softer wheat flour; mine are flakier on top and edges.

The manager says the Carolina Coffee Shop, established 1912, is the oldest restaurant in North Carolina. He corrects himself: oldest and still operating as a restaurant. Last year, a group of loyal Tar Heels invested in the restaurant in order to keep it next to the University; I’m reminded of the similar effort to keep Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo Park.

I tell the manager about my quest. Of course, he wants to know my verdict: The Carolina Coffee Shop’s B and SG is a contender.

Monday at The Egg and I

     I forgot to mention that my trusty steed for this adventure is Chapel Hill’s extensive and free public transportation system. The driver of the first bus kindly points me to where to catch the second one. I get off a stop too early. It’s Monday, and I’m on my way to my water aerobics class at the Y, in one of the planned communities along this stretch of heavily trafficked highway.

     Located on the ground floor of a new mixed-use building, The Egg and I franchise is in almost every state except California. A, t 8:30 am, its booths are slowly filling up. I’m seated too far from the nearest customers to eavesdrop on their conversations. I note a group of business people who greet an elderly gentleman as Coach; this is a sports loving burg.

     The waitress tells me her favorite breakfast is the bacon and avocado omelet, which should alert me that for the Egg and I chain, biscuits and sausage gravy are a nod to the local. I tell her that the gravy could use more sausage. I’ll go back for the avocados, but not their B and SG.

Tuesday at Time-Out

My Tuesday plan was breakfast and then a visit to the Ackland Art Museum. Time- is located literally across the street from the heart of the UNC Campus. I had forgotten that this was the site of Silent Sam, a Confederate memorial statue, toppled exactly a year ago in protest of its message of white supremacy, a story I’ll tell in my blog that is not about cooking and eating!

Time-Out has won national awards for its Chicken and Cheddar Biscuit. When I ordered biscuits and sausage gravy, the owner, Mr. Eddie Williams, said he only makes sausage gravy on weekends. I told him about my quest, but that I’d settle for some of his great looking beef gravy over my biscuits. He insisted he’d make up a batch of sausage gravy to go my biscuit and a bacon and cheddar omelet.

This sausage gravy recipe is at least forty years in the making because that is how long Eddie’s been there. He wanted to know where I acquired my love for S and BG, so I explained my grandmother and Brenda’s. He’s never heard of Chicory Coffee, but knows beignet.

While it’s cooking, Mr. Williams asks me if San Francisco is as horrible as he’s heard. This is a question that I can’t answer, but think about as I learn about this new-to-me part of the country. So I tell him that the people San Francisco, California and those of Chapel Hill, North Carolina seem alike in many ways. As it happens, I can point to his Hispanic chef and janitor as a similarity.

Sausage gravy, biscuit and bacon-cheddar omelete arrive. No wonder Time-Out has been here for two generations. Lots of sausage, peppery, and the biscuit has a crust to it.

And so, dear readers, Time-Out has set the bar high, and is king of these three! Further research, at Mama Dip’s and Neal’s Deli, informs me that this only-on-weekends is trending, but there are many exceptions. Onwards, Sancho Panza, onwards.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Day of the Hunted

Still Life at Foire Gastronomique du Dijon

      Today was the Day of the Hunt and Venison at the Gastronomic Fair. The Table of Lucullus, a revolving display which changes daily, resembled 16th or 17th Century Dutch paintings. Those paintings were at once a celebration and rebuke of earthly pleasures. The Chasseurs de France, the national organization which promotes hunting, provided no-less-than-four brochures about hunting and the consumption of game meats.
     The materials drew on a range of philosophical sources: the Spaniard José Ortega y Gasset once said "One doesn't hunt to kill, one kills, sometimes, because one has hunted." Bruno de Cessole goes on to posit a relation between the hunter and the savage animal based on the hunter's respect for the free and savage animal, and for the ruses the animal uses to avoid death. No less than Jim Harrison (Legends of the Fall) and Mark Zuckerberg are cited in support of eating meat you've killed yourself. Besides, game meat is healthier for you than factory raised. No rebuke there.
     The Table is named for the Roman general who ate and entertained lavishly. It is placed near the center of the hall, opposite what used to be the main entrance. At a table next to it, the five highest ranked "terrines de gibier," looking much like those below, except encrusted in pastry, were ready for judges to taste.

Terrines at Table of Lucullus.
     A half-dozen chefs were the judges. I notice Monique Salera, noted Dijon chef and cooking teacher, and watched her at work.


     When the judges were finished compiling their numerical scores, the audience could sample. Definitely an earthy, earthly pleasure.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dear Molly O'Neill

The Owl (Chouette) of Dijon's Notre Dame Cathedral
     Yesterday, I spent a cold, rainy day walking the streets of Dijon, looking for the houses where food writer MFK Fisher, whom you eulogized for the NYT, lived. In the course of conversations with passersby, I heard of the local tradition to make a wish while placing your left hand on the owl which is carved into the wall of the Cathedral. I found it, and made my one wish.
     I wished for more time for you, and with you. It's a selfish wish. I have only known you for a few years, and in those years I have learned so much from you. About writing, yes, but more than that, about living generously. I want more.
     The owl sees at night, during our darkest hours. My prayer is that your vision carries you through to the dawn of your new day.