Truite Farcie Fernand Point

truite farcie

The first main dish listed in A Treasury of Great Recipes is Truite Farcie Braisie au Porto, hand written on the menu from March 7, 1964 at La Pyramide.

The Executive Chef and Owner of La Pyramide was the remarkable Chef Fernand Point, the father of nouvelle cuisine. His recipe for stuffed trout is the first actual recipe in the Treasury.

Vincent Price noted that La Pyramide’s trout were caught locally and kept alive in an aquarium until meeting their death in the kitchen. I’m not sure how practical this is for us home cooks, but it’s not impossible. Here in Chicago, the freshest fish come from a short list of preferred suppliers, most notably, Supreme Lobster or Isaacson & Stein. I am a big fan of The Fish Guy on Elston Ave. However, Dirk’s has recently caught my eye because of how fiercely they champion sustainable and ethical fish farming.

Trout run in the waters of Illinois and if I were disposed, I could drive not too far from the city to fish for my own. When1 I cook truite farcie for the podcast 2 I’ll be headed out to the Bolingbrook trout farm with a cooler and a rod and reel.

Find out where the chefs in your neck of the woods get their fish. Go there. Cook it thusly3:

Truite Farcie Fernand Point

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 small carrot
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 6 medium mushrooms, minced
  • 1 truffle, minced
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 6 T butter
  • salt, pepper
  • 4 T flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 C milk
  • 2 trout
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1/4 C port
  • 6 medium shrimp
  • 1/2 cream
  • 1 lemon and some slices for garnish
  • parsley chopped for garnish
  • 1 C fish stock
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  1. if, did, didn’t, why
  2. God willing and the creeks don’t rise
  3. Original recipes from 1965 edition, tested by cookbook author, Anne Seranne

Whore

(originally posted in 2011)

And so I willingly become a whore. Gladly. Openly. Embracingly prostitutional. 

This experiment with food is getting interesting as I seek out opportunities to build my knife skills and learn the back of the house. My goal, as stated previously, is to gain confidence in the kitchen—enough to enable me to cook a dinner for 40 with the grace and aplomb I’ve been witnessing under the tutelage of Chefs Lauren Parton and Efrain Cuevas, of Clandestino Dining. 

I am now confident enough to jump feet first into washing dishes for large dinners, a skill I may have possessed previously but never employed. You need a dishwasher for a feast? Say no more.

And so I find myself in the kitchen at Opacity, an underground supper club wherein diners eat their multi-course luxury tasting menu in total darkness. 

Someone tried this in L.A. to poor effect. “Dining in the Dark” does a good job in Boston, and Opaque is pulling the wool over people’s eyes in at least three cities. Opacity is new to the blind dining scene and may prove to be the best out of the bunch since they have two very important things those other joints don’t: Executive Chef Lauren Parton’s culinary panache, and . . . Kitchen Bitch.

Have Soap. Will Travel.

I wouldn’t say I begged Parton for work at Opacity, but I did, perhaps, needle her. I may have inveigled. I’m almost certain some whining occurred. Unfortunately, like all good chefs, Parton has a heart made of solid granite and remained unaffected by any of that crap—but she needed a dishwasher so I was in.

Why I want to work back of the house on a project I’m not going to get a book deal from is beyond me. I think I was just excited about the possibility I might get to see their signature signage: a naked woman slathered in obsidian pigment. However, that stygian delight was a one-time promotional naked chick. When I arrived on my first day I was greeted by a distressingly un-naked life-sized suit of amor wearing night vision goggles. My inner child was disappointed.

I walked into a downtown home of such luxurious appointment it sported not one but two porches on the first floor. A main porch you could land a jet on and a side porch for more intimate parties of 10 or less. 

Now I don’t want to take away from Opacity’s worthiness or their lofty goals (raising money for awareness for the blind) but I work the back of the house and my time at Opacity is spent in full hunker, washing dishes, plating courses, and trying to keep Willy from stabbing me in the ass with his tongs. I’m concerned with the culinary efforts of this worthy endeavor and in that capacity, eyes behind the scenes kind of thing, I’m paying attention to practical things and learning the—look: what I’m trying to say is I don’t go out front. I don’t serve. I don’t make any speeches like I do at the EVP dinners. I work. My. Ass. Off. 

It’s fast. It’s hard. And I love it.

I love watching Parton and her sous chefs, Mandy and Willy, switch abruptly from a snarkolescent conversation about the worthiness of mix-tape come-ons to being fully engaged in placing crisped basil leaves exactly right on a plate of scallops with lemon sabayonne, a plate as beautiful as any in Chicago, which none of the 44 guests will ever see (unless they cheat). It’s whiplash dialectics mixed with searing hot grease, 300 dollar wicked sharp Japanese chefs knives, and fire. Jesus Christ, who wouldn’t love that?

However, just like at the Clandestino dinners, I remain keenly aware that I am an interloper. If this project is Almost Famous for Foodies, then I’m that kid that was never in the band. I do not belong. I am the conscientious observer. So I may be part of the ensnarkulated babble between platings but that weird split second when the mood in the kitchen changes from ass-grabbery to finely focussed, I’m left standing there with my ladle in my hands wondering what the hell just happened. The kitchen hive mind has yet to assimilate me. I am the Enemy.

It’s whiplash dialectics mixed with searing hot grease, 300 dollar wicked sharp Japanese chefs knives, and fire. Jesus Christ, who wouldn’t love that?

What I observe, so far, is this. For a dining experience in which all the remaining senses are piqued by the absence of sight, Opacity made sure to hire a chef that plates like a pro. Parton has paid plenty of attention to the interplay of the senses in each dish, even in the tiniest details of how each dish appears. Take the second entree: the house-made lamb sausage, cardamom parsnip puree, mint chimichurri, and a thyme and lavender gelee in a crisp radicchio leaf.

The cardamom parsnip puree is savory sweet, a plain alabaster knob of puree nestled onto the radicchio, which is crunchy, bitter, and bright burgundy. The taste and the textures oppose to the benefit of the diner. But what they miss is how the competition of colors leaps off the plate: burgundy vs. alabaster; the toasty caramel of the sausage vs. the frozen sea green of the gelee. Each dish is like this, a careful balance of opposites that deliver that most important element of the dramatic: tension. 

And that is, perhaps, one of the unspoken draws of Opacity and dining in darkness, the tense thrill of anticipation. We judge our meals first with our eyes. Having that taken away, we are left vulnerable to the chef. It is not unlike the game some of us played as kids (in college; yesterday) where you feed your blindfolded friend who trusts you won’t open a can of cat food or stuff a raw Habanero in their mouth.

You pay your money, you wear the blindfold, you reach for your food. I’ve heard good things about that next part. I can tell you, from the kitchen, it looks really good.

Next time: A speechless chef, broken dishes, and blood in the water.

Volaille Pyramide

voilaille pyramide

The Treasury of Great Recipes delivered to America classic French cuisine and recipes from Michelin starred restaurants around the world. Reading these recipes is an adventure—and a little frustrating. The ingredients are listed alone, but their measurements are buried in the recipe.

Also, the recipe is written for 1960s housewives and amateur cooks not steeped in a decade of food TV and YouTube cooking lessons. Most people in America these days can hold a decent conversation about knife skills. Not so half a century ago, when powdered peas and canned grapes were the norm.

For instance, in the recipe for Volaille Pyramide, you are walked through making a Bechamel sauce using some of the braising liquid, thickened with egg yolks. It is not called a Bechamel sauce, which for most folks cooking off the internet, would be sufficient. It doesn’t tell you to temper the egg yolks before adding them to the sauce. It spells everything out.

Check out this recipe for Volaille Pyramide then look at how it’s listed in the Treasury. You’re welcome.

The Recipe

Volaille Pyramide

Ingredients

  • 1 large, 1 small truffles
  • chicken
  • 1 C butter
  • 1 leek
  • 1 onion
  • 8 small carrots
  • 2 C white wine
  • 1 lemon
  • 6 C chicken stock
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 3 cloves
  • 1/2 t peppercorns
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 2 egg yolks

Instructions

    Chicken
  1. shave truffles
  2. loosen skin at the neck of the chicken; insert your hand carefully to separate the skin as far as you can--do not pierce the skin, don't force anything. Love your chicken.
  3. Insert the truffle slices, fitting them accordingly (the biggest slices cover the breast, the smallest into the skin on the legs).
  4. Melt butter in a braising pan
  5. Place the sliced leeks (white parts only) and the carrots in the casserole.
  6. Lay the chicken onto this bed of vegetables. Brown on all sides over moderate heat. Finish with the chicken on its side.
  7. Add white wine and stock (enough stock to reach halfway up the bird)
  8. Add salt and peppercorns
  9. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, braise for 1 1/2 hours, turning side to side at 20 minute intervals, adding more stock when necessary. When cooked, keep hot in the stock.
  10. Sauce
  11. In a saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of butter
  12. Stir in 1/2 cup flour, stir and cook but don't brown
  13. Gradually stir in 3 C of stock from the chicken, cook until sauce is thickened
  14. add one small carrot
  15. add an onion stuck with cloves
  16. Cook sauce over very low heat for about an hour
  17. Remove vegetables
  18. Stir in, piece by piece, 1 T of butter
  19. Beat 3 egg yolks with a little of the sauce, then add to the sauce and cook, stirring briskly, for about 1 minute
  20. Squeeze some lemon juice in there, season to taste.
  21. *Presentation!
  22. Place the chicken in the center of a warm platter, surround with leeks and carrots. Spoon sauce over chicken.
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Busting a Cherry at Eating Vincent Price

The secret dinner location: and abandoned convent in Chicago.

I’m drenched in sweat. My feet hurt. I’m embarrassed. I’m pretty sure I did everything wrong. I feel weird because I was just there to watch. But I got put to work right away and over the next six hours, I rolled napkins, poured water, fried Zucchini fritters, ran here, ran there, washed dishes, dried dishes, stripped chard, marinated rasberries, mixed a dessert cream, ruined a dessert cream, and stood around in an unairconditioned cavern of a building at an undisclosed location on the south side. I got sternly schooled by a couple of killer chefs.

I had the time of my life.

Cooking with real Chefs

Tonight I cooked with Clandestino for the first time. I thought I was just showing up to observe. I intended to take pictures and notes. I meant to journalist the thing. But as soon as Chef Lauren Parton showed up with a van full of food and dishes, she put me to work and didn’t let up until I couldn’t feel my feet and I had killed her dessert. More about that later.

First, some ground rules. Clandestino is a supper club, a pop-up restaurant, and has been recognized as one of the world’s best at it. They put on a beautiful seven course meal, the kind of ridiculous paen to gastronomy that leaves you weak in the knees and begging for more. But it’s all a secret. The location, the kitchen, the food itself. You don’t get to know what and where until you pay for your seat. In respect to their clandestine spirit, I don’t want to give everyone’s name out. The Chefs you know (Efrain Cuevas and Lauren Parton). The other cooks, like in any restaurant, are anonymous. Unless you cook with them. Then suddenly these people you never see, never tip, never thank, are very real—and in my case, telling me what to do. I want to write about them because they are going to be a huge part of my growth from nameless idiot kitchen bitch to fearless badass chef. However, they must also remain anonymous. Therefore, bad nicknames and, also, our cast of characters:

The Original Crew of Eating Vincent Price

Willy the Pimp—prep cook, budding chef, aspiring apiarist. 

Front of the House—a future queen in the hospitality industry and the person responsible for making sure the tables are beautiful and filled with food. Scared of bugs but capable of driving an expensive knife through your bicep if you pull a stunt like that again (it was Willy’s idea).

R2tattoo—the itinerant cook from a nearby restaurant who knows these folks well enough to walk in and hang out and jump in if they need her. Known to bike. Well inked.

Undisclosed Beautiful Woman No. 1—She came in with a dog, took a seat in the breezy window, and hung out talking to UBWNo.2 for a few hours then left. I have no idea who she is but I suspect she’s dating the chef. Still not sure.

Undisclosed Beautiful Woman No. 2—I believe she is the mother of Willy the Pimp.

Danamite—She’s . . .  the hostess’s hostess

Chef Efrain“E” Cuevas—Who spent most of the night washing dishes and stepping in with timely advice, wild questions about the location of the sugar, and the coup de grace on my ruined dessert (more on that later).

Chef Lauren “I Make Kitchen Boys Cry” Parton—Who spent most of the night cooking the shit out of some fantastic food, chatting up the clientele, and making sure everyone was doing what they were supposed to do, goddamit.

And, of course, myself, Kitchen Bitch, who spent, perhaps, too much time adjusting his do-rag.

I know, some that sounds vague and poorly researched and trust me, I feel like a dumbass but you have to understand, I didn’t sit down until I poured myself into my car at 12:30.

My first job was rolling napkins, a task I approached with all the science and get-to-it-ism I could muster. I was actually nervous I wouldn’t get them all done. I’m standing there with my lips about to form a question when “I Make Kitchen Boys Cry” turns to me and says “The way it works is, I’m the chef and you only ask me the important questions. Anything else, and you ask Willy the Pimp or Front of the House.” Then she turned around and forgot I existed.

How a Pop Up Works

Clandestino operates like any restaurant. There is a chain of command, an order to things, an ur-language of nods and nudges and half-sentences built up over severl years working together. Clandestino does not operate like the kind of busy restaurants we’ve all seen on TV and in movies. Their commitment to food is top notch. Three star. Pro. (I witnessed a well known restauranteur walk back into the kitchen with a big stupid grin on his face to shake hands with Cuevas and Parton like he was meeting a couple of rock stars). But their attitude, the personality of the back of the house, is decidedly laid back. There’s no yelling. There’s no verbal abuse. There’re no weeds.

The Monday night dinners are a gift to the industry, and to themselves, from Clandestino. The dinners are family style so there’s no plating. Roles are reversed. Cuevas, usually running the kitchen as Chef, is washing dishes. Front of the House, usually a line cook, is running the front of the house. Danamite is administration, PR, but she’s meeting and greeting, setting and seating.

Cuevas thinks it’s good for people to swap roles. Thinks it makes for a stronger kitchen and more rounded staff. Plus, he enjoys washing dishes. Seriously, he kicked me off sink and that’s the one thing I can do. I can wash a plate.

Unlike most restaurant customers, Clandestino folks brought their own dishes back. They took a moment to thank the staff, to tip their hand to the kitchen. One guy not only bussed his own plates, he cleared the ones around him. And he was ecstatic to do it. Overjoyed.

My role had been reversed as well. As I cleared post-dessert dishes, I glanced out the window into the charming courtyard of this southside abbey. Well dressed people who love food and can afford to shell out 40 bucks to eat food that is outstanding are standing around enjoying the last of their wine. There’s clinking. Chatter. Laughter. These people are my people. I know them. I am them. It felt weird looking at them from behind a service apron.

It felt fucking awesome.

Escargot de Bourgogne

IMG_2159

No classic French dinner would be properly begun without escargot.

Snails are one of those foods whose origins surely lie with someone starving to death. Like oysters, crawfish, and durian fruit, no happy, content adult looked at a snail and thought “Hmm, I could eat that.”

No, it was a woman crawling through the weeds on her way to die from a lack of food who saw a bird peck a fat snail from a blade of grass and thought to herself, well, if a bird can do it . . .

You can’t eat just any snail. These are the most common varieties:

  1. Helix aspersa; the petit gris, or small gray snail. Common from the Mediterranean up through France and in some part of England. It can live almost anywhere and has become an invasive pest in California and some of the east coast states.
  2. Helix pomatia; The escargot Bourgogne; also called the apple snail, the Roman snail, Moon snail, and, because Germany hates small words, Weinbergschnecke.
  3. Iberus alonensis; the Spanish favorite, Vaqueta1, or cow snail.
  4. Tala lactea; The vineyard snail
  5. Cepaea nemoralis, Cepaea hortensis, Otala punctata, Eobania vermiculata, Helix lucorum, Helix adanensis, Helix aperta, Theba pisana, sphincterochila candidissima—there are a lot of edible snails.

But nothing compares to my personal favorite, Achatina fulica, the Giant African Land Snail, which, though it is listed as edible, I cannot believe anyone actually consumes as it can grow to more than a foot long.

If you manage to chase down and capture an Achatina Fulica2, apparently they will work in this recipe, though I think a vaqueta might be a better idea.

Mon dieu!

 

Escargot de Bourgogne

Ingredients

  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces butter, softened
  • 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 1 (7 ounce) can snails, plus shells
  • 2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°
  2. Beat butter, parsley, garlic and shallot in a bowl till combined, then beat in salt, pepper and wine.
  3. Put a small amount of the butter, then one of the snails into each empty shell and fill up with butter mixture.
  4. Press the fresh breadcrumbs into the butter.
  5. Arrange on special escargot dishes or an ovenproof dish with the opening facing upwards.
  6. Put in the oven for 8-10 minutes until butter begins to bubble.
  7. Serve immediately with crusty bread.
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  1. Apparently all snails in Spain are referred to as Vaqueta
  2. with the help of your fierce and well-armed village warriors . . .

Brioche de Foie Gras

The very first menu item listed in The Treasury of Great Recipes is an appetizer from La Pyramide: brioche de foie gras. This is an appetizer, a classic French hors d’ouevres.

Brioche de Foie Gras

Ingredients

  • One prepared brioche roll.
  • Fois Gras

Instructions

  1. Slice the top off the brioche. Scoop out a well for the fois. Fill the well with the fois. Top with additional ingredients if desired, like asparagus or cherries.
  2. Bake at 350° for about three minutes. Serve warm.
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Mousse de Saumon Perigueux

The Treasury of Great Recipes | Menu from La Pyramide

Perigueux is a classic French sauce that started with one of the mothers (demi glace) then added a local specialty, truffles, to develop a unique flavor profile. Julia Child loved Perigueux and recommended it for “filet of beef, fresh foie gras, veal, egg dishes, and timbales.”

Some recipes call for Madeira instead of cognac and some recipes call this sauce Dorgogne. However, there is a great difference between cognac and Madeira, and the is a great difference between Dorgogne and Perigueux. France is divided into regions and departments. There are 27 administrative regions, 96 departments, and 342 arrondissements. I’m certain the divisions continue until you’re marking off parts of a single French kitchen, however, for our purposes, it is important to recognize the origins of this sauce in Perigueux, known for its truffles, which give this sauce its unique profile.

Most recipes call for frying the shallots in goose fat, but I’m partial to duck over goose so I’ve changed this recipe a little feature the fat of my favorite bird.

Mousse de Saumon Perigueux

Ingredients

    Salmon Mousse
  • 1 medium sized, fresh, salmon
  • 3 tablespoons tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 1.2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1/2 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lemon juice and a few slices
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon butter softened
  • a few sprigs of dill
  • salt and pepper
  • Sauce Perigueux
  • duck fat
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 T cognac
  • 1 med onion, sliced
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 3 truffles
  • 1 T beef stock
  • 1 T flour

Instructions

    Salmon Mousse
  1. (Prepared the day before.)
  2. Cook the salmon in the oven, let cool and peel the flesh (discard skin and bones).
  3. Crumble in a bowl.
  4. Butter the mold.
  5. Add salmon flesh cream, tomato paste, shallot, juices
  6. Add 5 tablespoons of lemon.
  7. Add salt and pepper.
  8. Mix everything 3 min in a food processor.
  9. Pour the mixture into the mold and press with a wooden spoon.
  10. Leave overnight in the refrigerator.
  11. Sauce Perigueux
  12. Fry the shallots in the duck fat.
  13. Add the wine and brandy, then light on fire.
  14. In a separate pan, brown the onion. Add a little beef stock.
  15. Prepare a peanut butter roux with a little duck fat
  16. Add the onions and shallots with their liquid, stirring everything into your roux. Simmer over very low heat for about an hour. Stir!
  17. Salt and pepper to taste
  18. Dice your truffles into small pieces.
  19. Strain the sauce, add the truffles.
  20. Reheat and serve.
  21. To Serve
  22. Slide a knife along the sides of pan and unmold onto a small, chilled plate.
  23. Use the sauce to decorate the plate, allowing a few drops to fall onto the mousse.
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Pate Chaud Beurre Blanc

The Treasury of Great Recipes | Menu from La Pyramide

The second item from the first menu in A Treasury of Great Recipes, this classic French small plate is so firmly a part of Vietnamese cuisine that Google can hardly pry a French recipe out of its search results. Here is my best effort for Pate Chaud Beurre Blanc.

Pate chaud Beure Blanc

Ingredients

    Pastry and Filling
  • 1/3 lbs ground pork or chicken
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pork or chicken liver pate
  • 2 eggs (1 beaten, one in the mixture)
  • pinch ground black pepper
  • pinch ground white pepper
  • tablespoon chives, chopped
  • 1/2 shallot, chopped finely
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cup mushrooms (your call)
  • 12 square sheets puff pastry, 5" x 5"
  • Beurre Blanc
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 dry white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of white pepper to taste
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small cubes

Instructions

    For the Chaud
  1. Roll out your puff pastry to partially thaw.
  2. Heat oven to 350°.
  3. While it is thawing:
  4. Combine the ingredients in a bowl.
  5. Using a 2.75" ring, cut the pastry into circles.
  6. Place one tablespoon or so into the center of each circle.
  7. Place a second circle on top of the mixture, then crimp the edges with a fork.
  8. Place on lined baking sheet.
  9. Use the tip of a paring knife to make two tiny slits in the top of each.
  10. Brush with beaten egg.
  11. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.
  12. For the Beurre Blanc
  13. Boil wine, vinegar, and shallot in a 3 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until liquid is syrupy and reduced to 2 to 3 tablespoons, about 5 minutes. Add cream, salt, and white pepper and boil 1 minute. Reduce heat to moderately low and add a few tablespoons butter, whisking constantly. Add remaining butter a few pieces at a time, whisking constantly and adding new pieces before previous ones have completely liquefied, lifting pan from heat occasionally to cool mixture.
  14. Remove from heat, then season to taste with salt and pepper and pour sauce through a medium-mesh sieve into a sauceboat, pressing on and then discarding shallot. Serve immediately.
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Bull Garlington

Bull Garlington

Goorin fedora.

Bull Garlington is an author and syndicated humor columnist whose work has appeared in parenting magazines including Chicago Parenting, New York Parenting, Michiana Parent, Tulsa Parent, Birmingham Parent, Carolina Parent and more. He is co-author of the popular foodie compendium, The Beat Cop’s Guide to Chicago Eats. Garlington’s features have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the nation since 1989; he won the Parenting Media Association’s Gold Award for best humor article in 2013. His book, Death by Children was a 2013 book of the year finalist for the Midwest Publishers Association, and was named 2013 Humor Book of the Year by the prestigious industry standard, ForeWard Reviews.

Fiction and More by Bull Garlington

His fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Bathhouse, Slab, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. His short stories are available for free, readable on any device, at Smashwords.

He wrote the preface for the new edition of A Treasury of Great Recipes, edited and published by Victoria Price, out in 2015. He is currently working on a print version of Eating Vincent Price, a travel memoir, Sleeping Through Britannia, and a collection of genre short stories.

Short Bio for Bull Garlington

He was born in Birmingham, AL. in 1964 and grew up in small town Florida. His first real job was the copy desk for the Orlando Sentinel, where he wrote book reviews and club reviews until leaving to [insert a string of ‘colorful’ life choices here]. He was the front matter contributor for Florida magazine, then the back matter contributor for Orlando magazine, before moving to Chicago.

He’s married to Colleen, a patent attorney and Chicago native. He has two children, two dogs, and a cat. He lives and works on the Northside in the delightful Edgebrook community, a neighborhood sans curbs, drives a late model Camry, smokes Eurora churchills, and makes a mean Gumbo.

Eating Vincent Price: A Book About a Dinner About a Book

Published in 1965, the Treasury contains recipes from the greatest Michelin starred restaurants of the world at the beginning of the 60s, all collected by American horror icon, Vincent Price.
Eating Vincent Price, this blog, the podcast, the videos, the dinner series, and the book are all part of my exploration of this incredible book, how it formed the foundation of my life as a writer and a cook, and how it introduced me to the world of flavor and culture beyond the good booth at Red Lobster.

It Starts With a Baby

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The Treasury of Great Recipes

This project started in 1965. I was one year old. My parents lived in Little Five Points, the soho of Birmingham, AL. My dad, Bull, was a master plumber. My mom, Libby, was a hospital receptionist. They would go out to eat then visit bookstores and one day Bull saw this gorgeous cookbook: A Treasury of Great Recipes.

It was red, bound in padded silk, with gilt pages. When Bull Sr. picked the book up he saw the clincher: it was written by Vincent Price.

As I grew older, I became aware of this book and would sit at the counter and thumb through it, grooving on the pictures, digging the recipes, and wondering what it must be like to have the money to eat like that. Only once did Bull cook anything from the book: Venitian peas and rice. Otherwise the book sat in a cabinet and then through the convolutions of life, through divorce and resettlement, through me growing up and out, I never saw it again.

Years later, after my father passed away, I inherited this book and kept it with my other cookbooks. But I never took it down. I never cooked from it. Probably for the same reason Bull never cooked rom it: kids, job, career, etc., etc.

Then Julia and Julia came out and my wife wanted to go see it because we maintain a strict 1:100 chick flick-to-actual movie ratio in our house. For every single actual good movie I take us to, we have to see 100 sappy films about relationships where there is not a solitary explosion.

Frequently, when a character in a film is doing something heinous, or wonderful, or hilarious, my wife will smack me in the shoulder. In J&J she did it, bruising me, and whisper-screaming:

You should do that!

But we’re watching the movie they made about the person who actually did that.

Oh so what.

So it’s been done.

Your’s would be funny.

Yeah, because it would involve plagiarism.

Go get me more popcorn.

I let that idea drop. But later on I was going through my books looking for a recipe when I pulled down the Vincent Price. I got lost in it again, lost in the luxury of it, in the richness of the food, in the arch celebrity of name dropping. And I realized maybe my wife was on to something.

So here we are. A book, a cook, and a hook.

The Treasury of Great Recipes is not a cook book. It is a recipe book. There are hardly any instructions in it. And those that do exist are insane (freeze your bechamel sauce for later, how to use powdered peas). Any cook goes into it blind because you are expected to understand how to cook the dishes presented, how to follow the barest instructions.

And I need more than barest instructions. I can cook all of two things well: gumbo and guacamole. I would say I can grill alright but I’m still not

Menu from La Pyramide

Menu from La Pyramide

convinced grilling counts as cooking since most people will eat anything that comes off a grill as long as it’s coated in enough barbeque sauce or it’s on a stick. I cannot, for instance, properly poach an egg. I’ve been working on this every morning for a week and I got one good poach. All the others looked like discarded alien babies. Even the dogs wouldn’t eat them. I made gazpacho twice yesterday—TWICE—and it tasted like wet carpet both times.

Great People Rush to My Aid

When I went into this project my usual way, with no planning and feet first, like a guy jumping off a cliff because he heard there was a lake at the bottom, well, I didn’t think about this whole can’t-make-gazpacho thing. I just decided to try and cook some world class menus from some of the world’s most revered restaurants for my friends. What could possibly go wrong?

Fortunately, I also feet-firsted a bunch of letters to local chefs and one of

Chef Efrain Cuevas with bloody jazz hands.

Chef Efrain Cuevas with bloody jazz hands.

them, Chef Efrain Cuevas, of Clandestino fame, responded with the clarity and elequence of a man who knows what he’s capable of: he wrote back “I’m in.”

Cuevas and I met at the Hopleaf and he looked  through the book with an eye for foody detail I don’t have, came up with some fantastic ideas, and we agreed to do some dinners. Then we met with his partner, Chef Lauren Parton, who very eloquently and very diplomatically and very carefully agreed with me that people who would be paying for dinner would not want it cooked by a guy who can’t poach an egg.

“Maybe a little training is in order,” she said. Actually, I think she said Are you ^^%$! crazy!? But I’m paraphrasing.

Originally, I was going to wing it and cook a meal. Oncein the company of actual chefs, however, I realized this was a terrible idea for a couple of reasons. First, and I have to be clear here, chef’s are cool. I don’t mean that in the rock star sense (not entirely, though having spent a lot of time with musicians, I can tell you they’re eerily similar) but in that they exude the

Chef Lauren Parton

Chef Lauren Parton

kind of confidence in their skills we all wish we had. They don’t have to sell it. They radiate it. Where I look at a recipe for lobster bisque and blanche in fear, they start adding things. More, they were cool in these sense that they are not yellers. They are not sellers. They are not agitates. We see Gordon Ramsey screaming at people and we buy it, we believe chefs are like that, and that it’s ok to toat such titanic arrogance in the kitchen. But Cuevas and Parton are the opposite of Ramsey. They’re calm. They’re quiet. They’re polite and I sense they wouldn’t yell at you if you were on fire. And within that centered zen quiet, is a total lack of arrogance.

Secondly, they speak in code. And by code, I mean they speak French. They speak the language of culinaria. They don’t just cook, they live through food. They think through food. They exist through food.

They both said it there in the quiet heat under the brickwork of an abandoned convent where we will be serving dinner: it’s about the food.

I suspect all great chefs are like this and I suddenly realized that for me to cook these cherished recipes, to wing it, was arrogance of the highest order. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just step in and give it a whirl. That would be about me. This is not about me.

It’s about the food.

Instead, I will be starting like any decent cook: at the bottom. I’ll begin my journey at the beginning of every chef’s journey: as kitchen boy. Peeling, turning, mashing, scraping and washing the ingredients they will turn into the magnificent dishes from this magnificent book. From there, I will move up the ladder as my skills improve until I finally make my way to the stove. Chef Cuevas told me, when I’m doen with this, I’ll be fearless.

I hope he’s right.