eat in my kitchen

To cook, to bake, to eat and to treat.

Category: MEET IN YOUR KITCHEN

Meet In Your Kitchen | Love, Rome & Gnocchi

Imagine your friends throw an opulent dinner party in the pulsing heart of Rome on a Saturday night und you take over their kitchen hours before the guests arrive with a film team of four to peek over your hosts’ shoulders into their pots and pans. Sofie Wochner and Domenico Cortese dealt with our little invasion with remarkable patience. They even welcomed us with big smiles on their faces and a plate full of fresh buttery Danish cinnamon buns in their hands.

The passionate couple is a confident team in the kitchen, they complement each other and combine two worlds that are geographically and culturally far apart, but somehow match smoothly. Sofie is a Danish baker and pastry chef with the impulsive temper of an Italian Signorina, self-taught Chef Domenico comes from Calabria, from the southern tip of Italy, but totally lacks the Mediterranean drama that one would expect. His voice is calm and his movements are concentrated, he’s quiet and focused when he works in the kitchen. He says he was born in the wrong country, he feels much closer to the northern European mentality, whereas his woman only feels as free and inspired as she wants to be when she’s in her adopted city, in Rome.

A city kitchen is often a space of improvisation and elaborate compromises, the smallest but also the most charming room of an apartment. It’s the place where everybody meets at a party, making use of every square inch, squeezed and snuggled in, the happy crowd talks, eats, and drinks until dawn. Our hosts’ kitchen is just such a magical place, but it’s also a room where the two chefs manage to create the most wonderful dishes for private gatherings, catering, and highly anticipated supper clubs. When it’s time to open the doors for their Eatery In Rome pop-up restaurant in their flat’s dining room, the kitchen turns into a busy laboratory functioning like clockwork. Loaves of bread and cakes baking in batches in the single oven, pillowy gnocchi rolled and shaped on the wooden board at the window, and bell peppers roasting in the flames of the old gas cooker. The room is bright, facing the pretty balcony, Domenico’s beautiful little herb garden where basil, thyme, and rosemary grow happily under Rome’s ever shining sun – all waiting to be used in the masters’ glorious recipes, like their Stuffed Gnocchi with Mozzarella di Bufala, Confit Tomatoes and Flame-roasted Bell Peppers (you can find the recipe below). The potato gnocchi melt in your mouth like fluffy clouds, the creamy filling makes it smooth and fits perfectly to the candy-like tomatoes and smoky peppers. It’s a delicious stunner, a colorful homage to the beauty of Italian cuisine.

In the past few months, the busy duo made their dream come true and started working on their new baby: Marigold. If you would like to support Sofie and Domenico and help them funding their new restaurant and micro bakery in the Roman neighborhood Ostiense, click here.

Many new Meet In Your Kitchen features took me to California, Japan, France, and Italy in the last few months. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Mozzarella di Buffala stuffed Gnocchi with Confit Tomatoes and Flame-roasted Bell Pepper

By Domenico Cortese & Sofie Wochner – Marigold, Rome

You can find the German recipe here.

Prepare the confit tomatoes and roasted bell pepper a day in advance.

Serves 4  

Flame-roasted Bell Pepper

1 large red bell pepper
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 medium bunch of parsley, leaves only, chopped
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
About 150ml / 2/3 cup olive oil

You can either grill peppers in the flames of a gas cooker (that’s what Domenico does) or grill or roast them in the oven (on the highest temperature, turning them every few minutes until partly black), which is the safer method.

Place the pepper on the gas flame of your cooker set on medium heat. Turn the pepper every now and then, mind that the skin turns dark and forms blisters evenly on all sides. Transfer the hot pepper to a bowl and cover with cling film, let it sit for 15 minutes. Use a small, sharp knife to peel the pepper, cut it in half, and scrape out and discard any seeds and fibers. Cut into strips and transfer to a bowl. Add the garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper and cover with the olive oil. Cover the bowl and let it sit for at least a few hours, or over night.

Confit Tomatoes

8 tomatoes, preferably Piccadilly tomatoes
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
3 medium sprigs fresh savory
4 medium sprigs fresh thyme
10 medium sprigs fresh basil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Olive oil

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Clean and score the skin of the tomatoes. Blanch them for 20 seconds in the boiling water, then transfer to the ice water. Use a small, sharp knife to gently pull off the skin without cutting them. Transfer to a small baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and cover with cling film. Let them rest in the fridge overnight.

Take the tomatoes out of the fridge about 1 hour before roasting them. Preheat the oven to 130°C / 275°F.

Spread the herbs and garlic on top of the tomatoes and cover them completely with olive oil. Roast for about 4 hours or until they are soft.

Gnocchi

For the filling

150g / 5 ounces mozzarella di buffala
50g / 2 ounces Parmesan
3 sprigs fresh basil, leaves only, plus a handful leaves for serving
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper

For the gnocchi

500g / 18 ounces floury potatoes
1 small egg
50g / 2 ounces Parmesan
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
100g / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour, type 00

For the filling, purée the mozzarella, Parmesan, basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

For the gnocchi, boil the potatoes in unsalted water for about 30-40 minutes or until soft. Drain and let them rest for 10 minutes. Peel the potatoes and press them through a potato ricer onto a large chopping board or kitchen counter, form a little dome. Add the egg, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and, using your hands and a dough scraper, mix everything together. Add the flour in batches and mix quickly until the gnocchi mixture is combined. Add more flour, if it’s too sticky; mind not to over mix it.

Form the gnocchi while the mixture is still warm: Cut off a handful of dough, keep the remaining dough covered with a tea towel, and roll it into a 2.5cm / 1 inch-thick roll. Cut into 1cm / 0.5 inch-thick slices. Using 2 fingers, make a dent in the middle of each slice. Add a tablespoon of the filling and close the gnocchi by rolling it in your hands. Transfer the gnocchi to a baking sheet dusted with flour. When all the gnocchi are filled, cook them immediately in salted water (it should taste like the sea) for about 3-4 minutes or until they raise to the surface; or freeze them, but don’t keep them in the fridge.

Using a slotted ladle, transfer the gnocchi to the plates. Arrange the confit tomatoes and roasted peppers on top, drizzle with the oil used to roast the tomatoes, and sprinkle with fresh basil.

Buon Appetito!

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Sofie Yes, I’m Danish and I moved to Rome four years ago to live with Domenico. Straight away, we started our little pop up restaurant in our home here in Rome. I make the bread and the pastry. So we divide the work between the two of us.

And you’re the chef, Domenico?

Domenico Si! Our work is completely separate. I’m not so good with pastry because I don’t like to follow the recipe, but I like the freestyle more.

Sofie You’re a creative soul.

Domenico I’m a chef and I don’t know how to work with recipes. I need to be creative and use my inspiration – from my work at the American Academy as well as from my Italian background. Now I have arrived at a place in my life where I have really found my own style.

When did you arrive here in Rome? 

Domenico It was in January 2000. Before that, I spent 5 years of my life in Holland and I then decided to come back to Rome – especially because part of my family is here.

Where are you from originally?

Domenico I’m originally from Tropea, a small town in Calabria, where I grew up until I was 18.

Sofie, what made you leave Denmark?

Sofie I’ve always been extremely adventurous and I always felt that maybe Denmark, or maybe Copenhagen, was a little bit too small. That the mentality is – without sounding arrogant – but it’s a bit closed and I’m kind of a loud person (laughing)! So I felt coming to Italy, I kind of came home in a way. Here, there is space to be who you are. You don’t need to fit into a little box. But I still love Denmark and Copenhagen and where I grew up. I go back quite often but I really feel at home in Rome.

Domenico Lucky me!

How do you bring your two worlds together, the Danish and the Italian mentality?

Sofie In many ways I’m more Italian than Domenico is. And he’s more Danish than I am in the sense that Domenico is very precise and he’s always on time. Yes, you’re quite organized and structured.

Domenico Honestly, maybe too much sometimes!

Sofie You’re too Danish sometimes (laughing)! In many ways, I’m very attracted to the southern part of Europe because you’re allowed to express your passion and your feelings in a way that comes very natural to me. I feel welcome and I feel very much at ease here. For us, I think we meet in the middle. Of course, it’s not always easy…

Domenico No, not really!

Sofie …being from two different cultures. A relationship is always hard work but in many ways we also find a way to balance it out by being attracted by each other’s cultures. Domenico could easily live in Denmark if that happened one day but I prefer to live here!

Can you tell us a little bit about your supper clubs?

Sofie Yes, it started 3 1/2 years ago now. It came a little bit by coincidence. We both had this dream about opening a restaurant. And you don’t do that overnight. So we thought maybe we could just start at home. How many tables can we fit into the living room?

Domenico Yes, let’s try and see how it will work. Which kind of guests can we get?

Sofie So it started a bit like that and from the beginning it’s been quite successful. It really gave us the possibility to try out our own style…

Domenico … to show to our guests what we can do.

Sofie Domenico, you could really try to work on your own style and I think you discovered more and more about who you are through your cooking here than you’ve done anywhere else. And it’s fun! It’s fun to play around with so many things and we are still using the best, seasonal, and local produce. We don’t necessarily cook amitriciana – we try to use the products in a new way, but still keeping the roots in the simplicity of the Italian kitchen…

Domenico …the basis is the Italian cuisine but of course we kind of try to change a little bit or invent something new.

Sofie It’s a feast! In our pop-up restaurant at home we have 12 people sitting at a long table, so you’re eating with people you don’t know but who you get to know very quickly. It’s one big dinner party with people you don’t know which is very unusual here. And every dinner and every evening is completely different to the others, but there’s always a good energy.

Domenico Yes, I can hear it from the kitchen!

Sofie People are chatting away…

Domenico …and laughing! It’s nice!

Did you ever have a funny experience?

Sofie We had a very, very romantic experience! We had two guests, they both came here before, and then one evening, they were here at the same time – they didn’t know each other – and they started to chat over the table. So they met and they got together and then they came back with their parents and they’re in a serious relationship. And they keep coming back! I think they’ve been here like four times! So they kind of grew with us. It was a really cute thing and they are such lovely people.

And then one day they will bring their children!

Sofie Exactly (laughing)!

Do you think that the people who come to Rome, the tourists, have a very clear idea of what they expect to eat when they come to this city?

Sofie Yes. I think it’s fair enough because you come to the most ancient city in the world, so of course it’s not vibrant, modern, things are not changing every half year with a new trend. Of course you know what you’re getting. Unfortunately, because there are so many tourists passing through Rome the quality of even these key dishes in the city is just not good enough. They don’t respect people enough here, and they’re not being proud enough about what they do. I think that’s disturbs us sometimes. Who doesn’t love a creamy cacio e pepe? Or a carbonara? But you don’t need to put cream in there! There shouldn’t be cream in there. They don’t expect that the people coming here to visit can actually taste what they eat. That’s a bit of a shame because Rome also doesn’t have the best reputation. In Paris, there has been this small revolution and I think slowly I can see it happening here too. The younger generations are observing that there is something to be done here, that we’re losing something if we don’t respect our traditions more. Even though the traditions are very strong, it’s not expressed in the actual plate in front of you.

Domenico, what is your greatest kitchen hack?

Domenico  For the gnocchi, you need to have really good, starchy potatoes. You can choose between two kinds of potatoes, but the trick to make really good gnocchi is to have starchy potatoes!

What about you, Sofie?

Sofie Being a Dane, I have to mention Danish butter because I actually use Danish butter here. Italian butter doesn’t have the right structure. It’s really important when you do pastry that you use the right kind of butter. It doesn’t necessarily need to be organic either. Often, organic butter tends to hold too much water which means your pastry or your cake can become wet in a way – it doesn’t get the right structure. I can only use French butter or Danish butter in my pastry. So, I believe the basic key is to use really, really good butter. And lots of it (laughing)!

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

Domenico My mom. I have a lot of memories as a child, but I remember I really liked the minestrone. She used to strain everything but it was so good.

Sofie I’m very, very fond of the way Chad Robertson from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco bakes his bread. I even went there to see them bake. But for him to bake a loaf of bread for me, take it out of the oven and serve it to me with Danish butter (laughing), I think I would be in heaven!

Mille grazie, Sofie and Domenico!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Sheep, Peace & Tuscan Pecorino at Podere Il Casale

The light was warm and golden as we drove down the rocky alley to Podere Il Casale. It was late in the afternoon, later than expected, but that’s what happens when you enjoy Tuscany. The sun was so low that it almost touched the Tuscan hills that seem to embrace the secluded farm tucked in between Pienza and Montepulciano. I came to visit the celebrated Swiss cheese maker Ulisse Braendli, to see his sheep and goat herds, and try his Pecorino, but I found so much more. There is a silent peace laying over this farm like a blanket, it calms your mind as soon as you walk past the old terracotta-colored farmhouse. As you stand on the terrace, a breathtaking viewing platform, under fragrant pine trees protecting you like an umbrella, as you see the landscape laid out majestically in front of your eyes, soaked in dimmed shades of green and ocher, you can only smile and thank life for such unbelievable beauty.

All the people and places I visited in Tuscany for my culinary trip around the world together with Zwilling had one thing in common, they all give themselves into the hands of nature with great trust and respect. No matter what obstacles they have to fight, what problems they have to solve, they know that nature gives and takes and that there’s a balance. It’s not an easy life, but that’s also not what Ulisse was looking for when he and his partner Sandra left their home country and started a new adventure in Italy almost 30 years ago. Life is tough on this piece of land that they bought, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. They started with 3 sheep and now there are 200 of them, living an enviably good life under the Tuscan sky.

Ulisse loves Tuscany for being real, traditional, and romantically old-fashioned. Electricity only came to Podere Il Casale in 1980, before, it was a very simple, basic life. The farm is the perfect setting for his vision, to “help” nature create beautiful raw milk cheese. All the cheese, vegetables, and olive oil from the farm are organic, but that’s not an option, that’s the standard in his philosophy: “Conventional farming is strange, organic farming is normal. Wasting less of our food than the 40% that actually end up in the bin, is one of the solutions to open the doors for organic, local, and seasonal food for the broader population.” His mother planted the seed for his critically creative mind, she taught him to be open and experiment. “I blame the 60s,” says the cheese maker with a smile on his face.

The cheese at Podere Il Casale is made with just three ingredients: raw milk, rennet, and salt. Every kind of milk is different, depending on the four seasons, the weather, the soil, and the food that the sheep find on the fields. “Great food makes great milk and that makes great cheese – and every season makes a different cheese.” That’s the whole humble secret behind a Pecorino that so many people praise as one of Tuscany’s best. When the animals are outside, when they eat good food and there’s space, you have less problems with diseases, you don’t need chemicals, you can keep it under control with homeopathic methods. The animals eat barley, oats, and beans when they are in the barn, their “power food”, and hay and grass on the fields. Raw milk cheese has a strong connection to the place where it comes from, to the animals and the climate. To taste Ulisse’s sheep and goat milk cheese, young and ripe, pure and refined with white truffle or saffron, was one of the purest pleasures during my trip in Italy. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the farm’s praised restaurant, but eating that wonderful cheese and enjoying the views of Pienza at sunset definitely made up for it.

When Ulisse stood amongst his sheep, playing with his two rowdy snow-white Maremma sheepdogs, the last rays of the low sun in our faces, I asked him what he loves the most about his life and he said: “To be free here on the farm. To do what I would like to do and not to make too many compromises – not to do something because it’s convenient.”

Many new Meet In Your Kitchen features took me to California, Japan, France, and Italy in the last few months. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Homemade Quark (fresh cheese)

By Ulisse Braendli – Podere Il Casale

Makes 1 pound

1.8l / 7.5 cups farm fresh milk, preferably still warm (don’t use ultra pasteurized milk!)
Cheese starter culture (amount according to the package instructions)
Liquid rennet

In a large saucepan, slowly warm up the milk until it’s about 25°C / 77°F, then stir in the cheese starter culture and take the pan off the heat. After 1 hour, add a tiny (!) drop of the rennet, cover the pot, and let it rest at room temperature for about 24 hours. The cheese is done, when the curd pulls away from the sides of the pot.

Transfer the milk mixture to a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl. Keep the milk mixture in the strainer at room temperature for 12-24 hours to drain the whey from the cheese, or until it reaches the desired texture; the whey should be clear. Whisk until smooth and transfer to a glass container, cover, and keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.

 

What made you leave Switzerland?

I decided to start a new experience and when you start a new experience, why not change the place? It was more a about the concept. What is also better here is a shorter winter…

And you don’t like winter?

No, I like winter – it’s better for relaxing but here, winter means you have to go in the forest to cut wood. It’s one thing if you have to heat for two months, but if you have to heat for six months, it’s much more work! But it’s better here – you can make olive oil which is a great product. After the butter experience, the olive oil experience is better. It’s great. Tuscany is a nice place – it’s very real, and has an old style. In Switzerland it’s difficult. It’s just another experience. Perhaps next time I wouldn’t choose Italy.

So you never had a close connection to Tuscany? You just looked at the world and said, “Tuscany!”

No, first it was Piedmont because it’s a bit cheaper! But it’s foggy, there are too many Swiss, and the people are really a bit weird (laughing). I would not say that Tuscans are really open, but they are a little bit better! The further south you go, the better the Italians – in my opinion!

When did you arrive in Tuscany?

In 1991.

How did you find this piece of land?

By chance. We were here for the first time. We had a good relationship to the farmer. He gave us time to find the money, he helped us a lot. It was very simple.

Was it a smooth transition? Did you have a chance to grow into it?

Yes, a bit. Obviously, he had helped us more for the network and less for the cultivation. You have to imagine that these farmers are never really learning, they are just doing what they do because that’s how it’s always been done. Their father did it this way, their grandfather did it this way. It was very simple here. There was no tourism here in this valley. Pienza was sleepy so we really had a bit of this old-style life. Imagine, the farm got electricity in 1980. So, before, life was really simple. Basic. Crop-sharing families in the 60s meant that there were 20 people in four rooms. The farmers didn’t read or write – they didn’t go to school. That’s also Tuscany.

How much did you know about farming when you came here?

Nothing. I grew some vegetables at home (laughing).

Did you have a balcony (laughing)?

No, ground and soil but very small! But my mother always taught me about seasonal food, local food. I’m speaking of the 60s! She taught me about taste, that it’s not convenient to eat something that is not good, to experiment, to not always eat the same thing…

Was there ever a moment when you felt like giving up?

No, no. When I decide something, I go.

What do you love most about your life here?

To be free here on the farm. Not to be free with the society, but here on the farm. To do what I would like to do and not to make too many compromises – not to do something because it’s convenient. I do what I like to do. When I do what I like to do, I can convince people. If I have to do things that I don’t like to do, I’m not convincing. I think that’s normal! That’s why evolution or new things are really based on ideas that come from inside.

The cheese that you produce, is it organic?

Sure. Organic in our case is not really a must or even optional. It’s normal. Because who likes to eat chemicals that are used for normal farming? I would say that normal farming is strange. Organic is normal. Just to explain this better, it’s a question of when you want to be convinced of your product, you have to know what you use. The cheese is made with three products: milk, rennet, and salt. Anything more – that might be normal for processed food – is useless. So that’s why real food is organic food – not because organic is really important but because organic is kind of a brand that is about not needing more than what is necessary.

Do you believe that organic is the future?

I think more local should be the future. Local and seasonal. Organic is already too industrial in certain cases.

Do you think that local, seasonal, and organic works for cities?

Sure.

Do you believe that there is enough food if it is produced organically and locally?

Definitely, because if you are buying food with a certain concept in mind you waste less. We still waste 40% of food. That’s why all this talk recently of “saving the world with genetically modified crops,” that’s all blah blah blah.

Emiko Davies, who introduced me to you, told me that you make the best cheese in Tuscany.

Wow!! (Laughing)

What makes your cheese so special?

Our cheese is raw milk cheese. That means our cheese is connected to the animals – the sheep or the goats. What they eat is transferred into the cheese through the raw milk process, because of the bacteria. You have to know that a rainy day milk is different to a sunny day milk. Spring milk with beautiful clover and grass is amazing milk, but also winter milk is amazing because it’s colder. Summer milk is a bit boring, but it’s still great.

Why is it boring?

There is no food! Look (indicating around him), the fields are all brown! Basically, I always tell people we don’t produce cheese. We just help the great milk to become cheese. The rest is done by the bacteria. The chaos of the bacteria gives the cheese its character. The rest is hygiene, how healthy the animals are…that’s our job. So we create the fundament for a great cheese. But the rest is done by the animals, bacteria, and the environment.

I read on your website that you found truffles on your land and for a long time you didn’t even know you had truffles here! How did that happen?

Because the truffle hunter came and said, “You have white truffles in a really small corner of the forest. Could I have an exclusive deal?” I said, “Sure, I didn’t even know that there were truffles here!” Now, we do truffle hunting with him. He has all the dogs and the knowledge, because you don’t find truffles without it.

You could make a truffle cheese, or are you not interested in these kind of mixtures?

We do a truffle cheese, but a very small, limited edition because the truffle has a very fragile aroma. If you don’t use chemical aroma you really have to use a lot of truffle and that means a lot of money!

Expensive cheese!

Yes, it’s not extremely expensive but it’s not a normal cheese. A few people, for example Russians, they go crazy for truffles. When they see truffle cheese they buy it. But we are here in Italy, not in Russia.

You said that you have a closer relationship to some sheep – do you have a favorite sheep at the moment?

(Laughing) Great! But no, that would be politically incorrect!

If you had one, would you be able to find it?

I have a few that I know very well. There is for example one – now it’s difficult to find her (looking around) – her name is Castagna because she always ate chestnuts. There was a time when we had a period of chestnuts here – not chestnuts in the forest but chestnuts for feeding the pigs. We always gave her chestnuts and she would always follow you if you had chestnuts. But she’s very old – she’s about 8 or 9 years old.

Really? And she is one of them here?

Yes, but she has a bit of a different relationship to humans because she obviously remembers all these chestnuts!

Thank you, Ulisse!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Farm Life at San Gimignano’s Fattoria Poggio Alloro

If I could draw the most perfect Tuscan farm in my mind, in the perfect setting, with the perfect food and wine, with loving people taking care of the land, it would be the almost unreal Fattoria Poggio Alloro. Facing the elegant towers of San Gimignano, you can see straight lines of green vines painted in the landscape, crossed by the gentle curves of the surrounding hilltops. A little pond lays peacefully at the lowest point of the valley creating the serene scene of a Tuscan dream.

Family and food are two basic columns of the Italian culture, they are inseparably connected with each other. From childhood to adult life, so many memories are created by the two of them. It’s the backbone of a country known for its genuine hospitality, where the cuisine is strongly influenced by the fact that food and wine are meant to be shared at the table. Poggio Alloro is an old farm where a family of sisters and brothers, sons, daughters and husbands, aunts and uncles lives together, works together, and enjoys the pleasures of life together – and I’m more than thankful that they decided to share it with the rest of us. This little paradise is a microcosm, it’s self-sufficient, everything you need in the kitchen comes from their own fields, their winery, and the cattle farm. The family produces their own wheat to bake bread and olive oil to dip it in. Whatever you find on your plate or in your glass is of outstanding quality, created by a family that believes in living in harmony with nature. Therefore cultivating organic farming is the only choice in their eyes. They are blessed and they know it, thanks to the way their fathers and mothers have respected and worked with the land for generations.

Renowned chef und cookbook author Sarah Fioroni invited me to spend a day at the farm, to meet her 82 year-old father, Amico, and cook the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina at the grill of their rustic outdoor kitchen together with him. I totally fell for the man’s rugged charm – I guess it’s a talent that Italians just know better to use than anyone else – and I fell in love with his gorgeous vegetable garden: L’Orto di Amico. You just have to watch this man walk through his kingdom, past obscenely lush basil plants filling the greenhouse with their addictive perfume. If you hear him swear that it was the hottest summer in 200 years and that the sun destroyed a great part of his tomato harvest, if you see him stroke the farm’s snow-white Chianina cows, one of the world’s oldest breeds, then you’ll understand how much he has grown together with his land, with the soil, the produce, and the animals. There’s fennel, lettuce, and beans, dark Tuscan kale with long pointy leaves waiting to be picked for the Tuscan Ribollita soup, there are plenty of leeks, as Amico himself loves it so much. It’s all organic, it’s all there to feed the family and their guests at the farm’s fantastic restaurant. You can also stay at the farm that has been mentioned in the Michelin guide for years and imagine that it’s your kingdom – even if it’s just for a night.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

By Amico and Sarah Fioroni

You can find the German recipe here.

Chinanina bistecca must be eaten rare, if you cook it too long, it’ll be tough and lose flavor.

Serves 3-4

1 (7.5-cm / 3-inch) Chianina bistecca, about 1 kg / 2 1/4 pounds
Flaky sea salt
A few black peppercorns, crushed with a mortar and pestle

Heat the BBQ grill, preferably using charcoal. The grill should be very hot for this recipe.

Grill the bistecca for about 5 minutes on each side, flipping once, or until rare. Take the steak off the grill, season with salt and pepper on both sides. Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes, covered, then cut into thick slices and enjoy with a glass of excellent red wine (Chianti of course)!

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your father?

My name is Sarah Fioroni and this is Amico Fioroni, my father. He’s 82 years old, even if he seems 60 years old! We are here at Fattoria Poggio Alloro, right in the middle of Tuscany in San Gimignano. We are an organic, real working farm, and this is our family business.

You’ve just mentioned that this is a family business. Is it always fun to work in a family business? 

It’s not always easy working in a family business but I feel that we’ve been lucky. We have a great relationship, not only with my dad but with the rest of the family. Vero, Babo?

(Amico) Certo!

So things are a little bit easier here because we are so busy working all day long that when we see each other the last thing we want to do is fight. So, we just sit at the table with a glass of wine and some food and life is better!

(Amico) Uniti si vince!

Together we will win (laughing)! It means that together we do something good. Otherwise if you fight, you get separated, you don’t keep going with your farm, or with your family business.

What do you love about your life here?

My father loves the land. And us, the family. We are three daughters and the wife, of course!

(Amico) E la moglie! (And the wife!)

For me, what I love the most is this genuine life here – the feeling of living and growing up on a farm with such a pure and beautiful example of him (my father), my uncle, and my aunt. I think we’ve been blessed. And the love that we have for the land and the nature makes our life here really, really beautiful.

So, I guess you’ve never considered leaving!

No, I’ve never considered leaving!

What does healthy food mean for you?

It means everything. Healthy food is a major part of my life. I’ve been eating healthy and organic for my entire life so I cannot think about eating anything else. We eat food that comes from my father’s hands or my family’s hands. It’s so genuine with a huge respect for the land and where the food comes from.

And for you, Amico?

Supermercato, no! 

(Sarah) He only loves the things that he produces on his farm: organic and seasonal. That’s the way back to the origin where we all come from – to the organic way of life.

This house was already here when my parents arrived in 1955, but it was totally different. I will show you some pictures in black and white, later, so you can see how it looked. My parents rebuilt everything. They worked very, very hard on rebuilding this farm, by planting new vineyards, new olive trees and everything. But the house was already here. Also, the name of the farm was the same – Poggio Alloro.

What does it mean?

Actually, it’s the bay leaf tree! Poggio means little hill, because the house is on top of a little hill. And alloro means the bay leaf tree. So, it means bay leaf tree hill. It’s nice because we have a lot of bay leaf trees and it’s very typical in Tuscany. It smells very good and you can cook with it. It’s really nice!

How many family members live here?

We still have our family house here, so all three families are still here. We are about 15 members of the family working here. Not all of us live here together anymore because the house is still the same. You’re not allowed to build any other buildings here because it’s a very protected landscape. It’s a shame, because instead of living here on the property you have to move somewhere else nearby. On the other hand, it’s a beautiful thing because you still have the same landscape as 60 years ago – and it may be for another 100 years.

Can you tell a bit about your olive oil?

Frantoio, this is the typical Tuscan variety. We have three different varieties: Moraiolo, Leccino, and Frantoiano. This is the Frantoiano, the olives turn darker. By November, they will be a dark purple colour, almost black. That’s the time for the harvest. We harvest by hand in this way: we put our hands in like this (reaching an open, outstretched hand upwards into the branches, and closing the hand as it moves downwards, gathering the olives between the fingers), and we collect all the olives in a net on the ground, and then collect the olives into a basket. Our olive oil, and I would say Tuscan olive oil in general, is very herbal, very grass-flavored, like artichokes, and it’s very spicy. It makes you cough sometimes when it’s fresh! It burns a little bit in your throat! It’s a good thing! All the nutrients and all the flavour are there. It’s a good sign.

Has this farm always been organic? 

Actually, my parents, my whole family, they have been organic for generations. You have to remember that almost 60 years ago, there weren’t even tractors here so they were working the land and fields with their hands and with animals to help them move the soil. It was totally pure organic farming. It’s definitely not a new decision or a new style for our family. It’s embracing where they come from and what they have been doing for so long, for so many years, and they are still doing it now. 100% organic, not using any pesticides, not using any compost or chemical products – just as they did 60 years ago. In the 1970’s and 80’s, when agricultural farming was very tough and hard, we were 80% organic. We did use treatment, but only when we needed it. After that, we decided to go back to our origins and we became a 100% organic farm again. So, that’s their style of living. That’s the way they grew up.

My father really hates the industrial agriculture. For him, organic agriculture is the best agriculture in the world because he says that it’s the natural way to do it, using organic remedies, and not using pesticides. It’s the same for all of the other fields that we have, like the vineyards, crops, fruit trees – not only in the garden, but everywhere on our property. Everything that we produce, wine, wheat, spelt, sunflower, barley, everything is produced organically. It’s always a good sign to see fruits with little bugs inside – you just have to remove the bugs and eat the fruit! The bugs are a sign that the fruits are organic – if the fruits come from industrial agriculture the bugs wouldn’t be present.

Do you believe that organic agriculture is the future?

My answer is that it is the past and the future! It’s the way we used to be. Maybe in a very, very long time starting from now, the buyers or customers will finally understand that buying products of industrial agriculture is not healthy – for themselves and for the environment – and then finally move back to organic farming.

Do you believe that we can produce enough if we only produce organically?

The production will definitely be less, especially if you have neighboring farms that are non-organic – it disrupts production. All the insects will move from one farm to the other and that’s not very helpful for organic farming. Here, luckily, many of the farms are organic so we are in a very lucky paradise here. But in other places, it would be a hard choice if you are the only one producing organically in the middle of an industrial agricultural area. It will be hard. For example, a very natural method of avoiding those stinky bugs – you know the green, stinky bugs? – there is also a smaller type that attacks lettuce and tomatoes– the natural remedy is to plant lots of basil in your garden. And a lot of hot chilli pepper! It really bothers them, so they go away! Going back to the future of organic farming – what I believe – is that yes, we are going to produce less, for sure, but do we really need to produce so much? Do we really need to waste all this food, to over produce, and to overeat every single day? To me, the answer is no, we don’t need to use this massive amount of food. We can produce less in a very organic way. It’s a big dream, of course, I do understand that! But if we eat less we don’t need to have all our grocery stores full of fruits and vegetables that will go in the trash can. Just produce less, eat healthier, and this will help our world to function better. It’s easy to say. It will be very hard to do it, but if we start now in a small way – in our garden, in our backyard – we can change. Little by little!

Grazie, Sarah and Amico!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Emiko Davies & Marco Lami’s Dolce Vita in Florence

Italy is a luscious feast, its abundant beauty captures all your senses. As soon as I cross the border into the boot, I don’t even know where to start feeding my cravings, which food I should try first, which wine I should pick to fill my glass. You can’t help it, you fall in love with this country, over and over again, every day. And when you leave, you don’t know how you should ever put anything else into your mouth than the most perfect Truffle Carbonara from that tiny Trattoria in Orvieto, or the dark Chianti from that dreamy Fattoria enjoying spectacular views over San Gimignano. The kitchens and tables are always filled with the most wonderful treats waiting to be shared, the people have their own pace and a smile for you at any time, the past is treasured yet critically considered and wisely woven into the present.

We arrived in Florence on a cloudy day, the Tuscan hills spread out softly like open arms welcoming us to the next stop of our culinary trip around the world together with Zwilling. Before you even enter the region’s capital, before the man-made Renaissance buildings, sculptures, and gardens take your breath away, it’s nature’s creations, the landscapes that you’ll save in your head and never forget. It’s a stunning scene, seemingly peaceful in warm, earthy colors, but like a romantic painting, you can feel that there’s always the potential for more, a hint of drama in the air. Bright blue skies brushed with pastel-pink strokes are the background for cypress trees swaying silently in the warm wind, the darkest clouds part suddenly and let the sun break through to light up this glorious kingdom.

The farmers markets offer the most colorful produce. Fruits and vegetables grow happily under the Italian sun, and they are proudly celebrated in the country’s various regional cuisines. Italian cooking follows one philosophy: use only the best products, don’t distract from their quality, and be guided by sensible simplicity. Especially in the countryside, you can feel a lot of respect for nature and the will to go back to a more natural and sustainable way of growing produce and raising animals. The younger generation takes a look into the past to learn from the precious heritage of their ancestors. Traditional recipes are being modified yet never erased from the menu, they have always been an important part of the culture, they are memories of the childhood of every Italian and special treats for the rest of the world.

Somewhere in the soft hills behind Florence, between olive groves and cypress trees growing tall into the sky, you can find a heavy iron gate framed by a washed out yellow wall. If you walk though this gate, you’ll see a group of old houses, a former farm, overgrown with ivy, the roofs covered in terracotta tiles, and the wooden shutters painted as green as the lush trees and bushes along the gateway. It’s a little paradise in the heart of Tuscany, it’s the home of Emiko Davies and her husband Marco Lami.

Emiko Davies is the renowned author of two celebrated cookbooksFlorentine: The True Cuisine of Florence and AcquacottaRecipes and Stories from Tuscany’s Secret Silver Coast – and she’s also the voice behind her popular food blog of the same name. She lived in many countries, half Japanese, half Australian, and the daughter of a diplomat, she’s seen the world, but when she met Marco, she lost her heart to this man and his home country. Emiko loves food and cooking, she has a background in art history and fine arts, so Italy, and especially Tuscany’s traditional cuisine is a vast field for her to explore. She’s fascinated by all the regions and landscapes, towns and villages, treasuring their own recipes. The style is Italian, always, but the interpretation is distinct. Everything is done for a reason in Italian recipes: the way an ingredient is used, the season and region that it is used in shapes every recipe. And its origin often lies in the past.

Emiko’s eyes sparkle when she talks about historical cookbooks, about exhibitions at the Renaissance Palazzo Pitti in Florence showing still life paintings of solitary fruits at the Medici gardens. She finds inspiration for her creations at every corner, at the markets, in conversations with the farmers who share their family kitchen secrets with her. She often finds that many formulas, certain combinations and preparations, haven’t changed since medieval times. The food that’s been cooked in Tuscan kitchens for centuries still finds its way onto today’s tables, the stories behind these recipes are still shared when the families sit together.

The cookbook author is lucky, she found her perfect match. Her husband Marco is the sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, he approaches wine with the same love, passion, and precision, with the same curiosity that his wife feels for food. He loves to dig into Italy’s red and white classics and discover new tastes, the hidden gems from his country. To be able to chat about his finds and choices together with his guests and share the mutual love for good wine and food at the table is the greatest gift in his eyes. The story behind a wine maker, the philosophy, gets as much attention from him as the taste. “Ideally, you can taste the idea behind a wine.”

Emiko and Marco, both experience food and wine with all their senses, but they also involve their intellect to discover new fields to learn from, to find new stories and flavors to stimulate their creativity. It’s a passion vividly lived in their household and lovingly passed to the next generation. Their little daughter is already a skilled cupcake and cookie baker, watching what happens in her parents’ kitchen with a curious eye. When we met, the young girl shared some of her baking secrets with me, just like her mother who prepared the fluffiest “naked ravioli” for us – Florentine spinach and ricotta gnudi.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Ricotta and Spinach Gnudi

By Emiko Davies, from “Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence”

(published by Hardie Grant, 2016)

 Serves 4

350g / 3/4 pound firm ricotta, well-drained
300g / 2/3 pound cooked, chopped, well-drained spinach (if making from scratch, you need about 1 kg / 2 1/4 pounds fresh leaves)
2 eggs, beaten
A pinch of salt, plus more for the water
A pinch of ground nutmeg
About 50g / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon plain flour
50g / 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
20 sage leaves
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Handful finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Mix the ricotta, finely chopped spinach, eggs, pinch of salt and nutmeg together in a mixing bowl. You should have a thick, compact mixture.

Place the flour in a shallow bowl.

With hands, roll walnut-sized spoonfuls of the gnudi mixture in your hands, and then in the flour until well-coated. Place on a lightly-floured board until they are all ready.

Prepare a large pot of water (salted with a spoonful of salt) and bring to a simmer. Carefully drop the gnudi into the water and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until they begin to float to the surface.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce by melting the butter in a wide pan over medium heat with the sage leaves. When butter is melted and before it begins to brown, add about 2-3 spoonfuls of the gnudi water and swirl the pan to create a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

When gnudi are ready, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place in the sauce. Turn heat to low and swirl to coat the gnudi gently with the sauce. Serve immediately with the cheese.

Emiko, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m originally from Australia, but have been living in Florence since about 2005. I live in Stettignano, which is a little neighbourhood, hilltop town just outside of Florence and here from home I cook and write cookbooks and look after this wriggly one (her daughter, Mariú). I also write a lot of articles for other publications as well.

And you, Marco?

I’m originally from San Miniato, which is just outside Florence. I work with wine. I work as a sommelier in Michelin star restaurants and I help Emiko, or I try to help her as much as possible with cooking and looking after Mariú.

Why did you choose to dive into the cuisine of the Maremma region for your second book, Emiko?

The second book was basically inspired by 6 months where we lived in Porto Ercole, which is a little fishing village essentially, it’s quite small on Monte Argentario. It’s on the very, very, southern part of Tuscany, on the coast. It just struck me how different that part of Tuscany is from Florence and from the parts of Tuscany that are better known to most people. So I wanted to write about the cuisine there partly because it was so interesting being on the coast and having a cuisine that’s inspired by the seafood, as well as the mountains from that area. It’s really rugged and wild, and a mountainous area. And partly because it’s not very well known. So I wanted to tell the stories of this place that people don’t think of really as Tuscany. When most people think of Tuscany, they think of these rolling hills and olive groves and cypress trees around Florence, the Chianti or Siena, but I don’t think they think of the seaside, islands, and mountains, really.

How important is the connection between the recipes and the region where they come from?

In Italy, I think that every recipe is so connected to a place, either the landscape or the actual region. Even within Tuscany. This is something I wanted to show through the two cookbooks that I’ve written, even within one region the recipes can change from town to town. As many towns as there are in a region, you have that many recipes in many cases. With Aquacotta, talking about the Maremma, that was really evident. Even with towns that are only a 15 minute drive away from each other have their own versions of an aquacotta, for example, which is a soup. Florence itself, has dishes that you only find in the city of Florence. So not only are they Tuscan, they’re actually Florentine. Even a ten-minute drive outside of Florence, there are some dishes that you just won’t see anywhere else outside of that invisible boundary. That’s true for all of Italy – it’s the same! – which is why I really like to write about a place that I get to know by living here or even visiting. I find it just endlessly fascinating how a landscape, or the town culture or a city culture – but even smaller than a city, like what they call in Italian a paesina, a little town – changes from one place to the next.

So first it’s a place and then the recipes? 

Yes, although sometimes it’s the recipe first and I ask “why is the recipe just like that? Is it always just like that?” And then you get to know that landscape and “Oh! It’s because the landscape is this way, or there are certain things that grow there, or certain things that have always grown there, or there are certain things that you only see in a particular season.” Everything has a reason, I find, with Italian recipes. There’s always a reason why there’s that particular combination of ingredients in a recipe and it’s usually to do with the landscape.

So, what’s next?

I have a book that I’m starting to work on, which will be family recipes. There will be a little bit of Tuscany, but also a little bit of some other regions based on Marco’s family history. So we’re going to the south of Italy, and also going to the north of Italy, and then meeting back in the center.

How do you develop and approach new recipes for your books?

It depends on how I come across it to begin with. But the way I usually approach a recipe, it’s often inspired by the market or the season, or visiting a place that I’ve just been to where I’ve tasted something and I want to recreate that recipe. Or if it’s the market, it’s because I’ve seen something really wonderful at the market and I really want to do a recipe. Then I really have to delve into finding out what is really the most traditional version of that recipe and why is it that traditional. So I often go into the history of that dish, I look at historical cookbooks – I love reading historical cookbooks! – so I’ll look at those, maybe talk to people. If it’s at a market, often people at the market know something. Or if it’s not from this region, then I try and talk to somebody who is from that region. So for example, I’ve got sitting in my fridge at the moment a recipe for quince. I found these beautiful quinces at the market and I just couldn’t resist – they looked so beautiful! – I just bought a whole kilo of them and then I thought later, what am I going to do with them? I wanted to try a recipe from Mantova (Mantua) and I just happened to be at the market with a friend of mine who is from there. She told me her aunt’s recipe for Mostarda Montovana, which is a really spicy fruit compote that you eat with cheese. That recipe is one that dates back to about the 13th century and there are many different ways to do it but I was looking at the very traditional ways. It’s amazing because it hasn’t really changed much since then. The recipe that my friend, Anna, gave me is more or less the same recipe that is recorded in cookbooks from centuries ago!

Does it happen very often that you find recipes that haven’t really changed much over the past few centuries?

Yes, a lot! Particularly a lot of Tuscan recipes are like that with no changes over centuries. They’re the same and that is also something that I find really fascinating because I come from a country which is so young and doesn’t have that deep rooted food culture. It’s really a mishmash of things brought from all over the world, in one place. So I’m always fascinated by these old, old recipes that haven’t changed for several hundred years.

Where do you find inspiration for your creative work?

The inspiration for my work really comes from a lot of things. The market, yes, and the season. As soon as it starts getting a little bit chilly, I suddenly start wanting to make soups and stews and baking things, for example. But I also get a lot of inspiration from historical books and cookbooks. I have an art history background and a fine art background so I also love looking at still-life paintings. In Florence, at the Petit Palace, for example, there’s a collection of paintings of still life. One of the Medici dukes had an artist paint all the different varieties of fruit that they had in their garden. So there are these paintings of just figs, and there are maybe forty or fifty different types of figs, each one painted singularly, and the same with apples, paintings of just apples, all the apples they had. And all the lemon trees – they had quite a big citrus collection…

So when you don’t know what to cook, you go to the museum?

Yes! I find it amazing when you see these things and it’s hard to find a lot of those old varieties of fruit, but now they are starting to come back. Well, somebody’s decided to care about it and has started growing these heirloom varieties and you can start to see them sometimes at the market. So whenever I see something kind of unusual and it looks like something from a Renaissance painting then I go “What is that thing?! I really want to cook with it! What can I do with it?” There’s a little old lady that sells fruit and vegetables in Piazza Santo Spirito and she has these heirloom apples that are about the size of an apricot…

…which you know from the paintings…

Yes! I did actually find them in a painting. She said they’re called Francesca apples and they’re from Florence and I saw them in one of these paintings… It’s amazing!

Marco, what makes Italian wine so special?

That’s a big question! So the special thing about Italian wines is – actually it could be a bit of a double-edged sword – is how complicated it is. A lot of wines in the world, new wine regions, even old wine regions, are quite simple to understand. Italian wines, what makes them different, is quite similar to the food. Every region has its own grapes and each grape is treated in a different way to make different types of wines. There are a lot of different wines to be discovered. So there are a few famous wines, a few famous names, but what is actually interesting is what’s hidden under those famous names in each of the 20 regions.

Do you have a favorite wine region?

No, I don’t have a favorite region. I don’t even have a favorite wine! As soon as a wine sparkles my curiosity, or makes me think a little bit it becomes a favorite. I think the good thing right now is that a lot of tradition is meeting with a lot of innovation, and as a general rule, things are getting simpler. There are a lot of wine regions that aren’t really famous that are now coming out with amazing stuff at good prices, which is also important for wine. For example, some parts of Sicily, like Etna especially. It’s for me, right now, one of the best regions in Italy.

What do you love most about your job?

I love talking to people who know more about wine and food than me, so learning! And the idea that wine and food are going back to an idea of simplicity and good stuff.

Is it just about the taste or is the philosophy also important to you?

It’s not just about the taste. The philosophy is sometimes more important, for me at least – knowing the context of something. If you consider wine like food, you cannot just concentrate on the taste. It’s like saying, this tomato is delicious but we had to chop down bushes, etc. to make it. The philosophy behind it is important, the idea of the produce is very important. I think what makes the difference between a good wine and a bad wine is actually what’s behind it. I mean, it’s almost strange for me to isolate the taste. Sometimes something can taste very good, but it’s kind of soulless. If there’s an idea behind it, it almost sounds very romantic, but it’s almost like you can actually taste the idea behind the wine. So sometimes the idea is more important than the actual taste… if you can talk about an objective taste!

Emiko, can you please tell us about the pasta with broccoli please, it’s such asweet story… the famous pasta!

(Laughing) Pasta with broccoli was a very improvised dish, but it was the first thing that I cooked for Marco when we were very early on in our dating phase, very early on. I really didn’t have anything in my fridge! At the time, I was living in this tiny, tiny apartment – the fridge was basically a mini-bar so to begin with I never had much in there anyway. Marco happened to be over and he happened to mention that he was hungry and I said, “Well, do you like broccoli?” and he said, “yes” which I found out later is….

(Marco)…a total lie!

It’s not his favorite food! If you couldn’t tell by the favorite things I like him to cook, he’s really into… he’s a protein man, less of an only vegetables man. But it was the only thing I had in my fridge so I made pasta with broccoli, a bit of garlic, some Parmesan cheese…

And did you like it, Marco?

I loved it.

(Emiko, laughing) He said, “I’m going to marry you!” when he took a bite of it.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be, Emiko?

It would maybe be my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who passed away about 10 years ago. I would just ask her to make me a normal dish that she would make on any normal day. Something that I have lots of memories of. When I was eating her food I was a lot younger – I wouldn’t have recorded everything like I do now when I’m eating with somebody, where I mentally note everything about the dish! I would definitely have another one of her dishes.

And you, Marco?

It would definitely be my grandmother and one simple dish that I’ve been trying to make as well as she used to but it never works out really. It’s the simplest thing. A piece of meat, crumbed with Parmesan, cooked in butter and white wine. For some reason, it just doesn’t come out as nice. And the best part is actually not the meat itself because it’s just a piece of meat, but it’s the sauce that you could probably finish off a whole loaf of bread in it.

Thank you, Emiko and Marco!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Médoc’s Wine and Food at Château Larrivaux

Fine gravel crackled and crunched under my feet, I felt a little dizzy, still overwhelmed by the beauty that I had just witnessed as I drove through the Médoc. If this region were a minimalist painting you’d see a block of green at the bottom and bright blue with white brush strokes at the top, divided by a gentle curve, the horizon. The vines grow in hard parallel lines, covering valleys and hills, and in between you see the most beautiful châteaux, majestic and elegant, the sturdy walls built of bright sandstone reflecting the sun. The grapes are plump, their juices seem ready to burst their skins at any moment, protected by large leaves hanging over the fruits like umbrellas. The region is praised for its food and wine, but its landscapes seduces your senses.

The gravel that I walked on was surrounded by oleander and boxwood shrubs, shaped like pregnant cones. It was a narrow path framing green lawns in geometric patterns, the garden of one of the dreamiest places I’ve seen in my life, the park of the mystic Château Larrivaux – home of the inspiring winemaker Bérangère Tesseron and her family. The estate is famous for its outstanding wines, thanks to the women who took care of the land since the château’s cornerstone was laid on the grounds of Cissac-Médoc in 1580. Château Larrivaux was always in the hands of women, strong women, like Bérangère and the generations before her, her mother, aunts, and grandmother. They are passionate women, they love the family and traditions, and they taught Bérangère the sense of these values. They taught her to create something special at Larrivaux to pass it on to her own sons one day. “I’m just a little person, Larrivaux exists for five centuries, I’m here to take Larrivaux and give it to the next generation. You have to be passionate to work at the château, without passion you can’t work here.” There’s just one problem, the winemaker has four sons. Her brother has a daughter, so the future will show if it will be female or male.

Bérangère’s husband, Basile Tesseron, also comes from a wine dynasty, the equally famous Château LafonRochet, just a couple miles further east. Both of them create the same product, the couple exchanges information about the weather, the harvest, but their businesses are separate. The two estates have different terroirs and approaches and therefore create different wines. “Making wine is all about feeling, intuition. I have more merlot, he has more cabernet, our wines are totally different.” Château Larrivaux makes full-bodied wines, round, with a lot of fruit. “When I drink my wine, I want to eat something. It’s a wine you want to share and finish the bottle.”

Bérangère’s life can easily seem perfect, like a picture book ideal, but it’s tough, making wine is hard work. She learned to love the weather forecast, she has five apps on her phone. “We always think about wine, looking at the sky, thinking if it will affect the wine, that is stressful, but that’s a part of the game.” Due to the frost in April 2017, she only produced half the amount of bottles that usually fill the estate’s wine cellar.

The family loves food and finds relaxation in their charming countryside kitchen inside the château’s thick old walls. The worn kitchen table has been there since Bérangère laid her hands on it as a child. When she chops the vegetables from her garden, she has a beautiful view of the peaceful park. Everything in this room has a story to tell, every polished copper pot, every detail seems to have found its place through the twists and turns of life, not through a plan. The château is a labyrinth of long corridors with creaking floors and more rooms than one can count, full of antiques, velvet covered chairs, old paintings and drawings, wooden toys, and a deer head watching the scenes in the green painted living room for centuries. It’s a fairy tale turned into a house.

The Tesserons love the French cuisine for celebrating the simple things, fresh fruits and vegetables, good meat and seafood. “When you have your plate in front of you, you know what you’re going to taste, and when you have it in your mouth, you recognize all the different flavors.” The kitchen plays an important role in their life, the kids who are 9, 7, 4, and 1 year old, love cooking with their maman, cleaning mushrooms or forming meatballs. They also bake chocolate cake on their own, “I never touch anything, but I watch them,” says the trustful mother. And when she makes her famous Sunday classic, the family’s recipe for Quasi de Veau de Larrivaux (tender veal roast with crunchy bacon topping), the family gathers happily under the ancient tree in the garden, enjoying food, wine, and life.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Quasi de Veau de Larrivaux

By Bérangère Tesseron – Château Larrivaux

Serves 4-5

1 boneless quasi de veau (veal rump roast), about 5cm / 2 inch-thick, 1kg / 2 ¼ pounds
6-8 shallots, thinly sliced
1 large lemon
Around 150g / 5 ounces bacon, cut into small cubes,
A handful breadcrumbs
Ground black pepper
Fine sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.

Place the veal in a casserole or baking dish, just large enough to fit the meat. Spread the shallots on top of the roast and cover with the bacon. Squeeze the lemon over the meat, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Season with pepper to taste and roast for 50 minutes. Add a splash of water and continue roasting for about 10 minutes or until the meat is tender. Let the meat sit, covered, for about 10 minutes before serving. Cut the meat into thick slices, depending on the bacon’s saltiness season with a little salt, and enjoy with a glass of red wine.

 

Can you tell us a little more about the story behind Chateau Larrivaux? 

We found out that we have produced wine since 1850, so it’s one of the oldest properties in the Médoc. And it is unusual that it is run only by women. And I have four boys!

So you have a problem!

I have a problem! But I have a brother who has a little girl, so maybe it will be the little girl.

Was there always active wine production here at the estate?

Yes, it never stopped but a long time ago there was not only wine. We had a lot of cows and it is a really big property, so we had different activities. But wine has been produced since the beginning. For us it is a family tradition. When I was young, on Sundays for lunch, we kids would have a brugnon (nectarine) – peaches with some wine and some sugar, and a little bit of water.

White wine?

Red wine!

To introduce the children to the tradition of wine drinking!

Yes, maybe!

Did you like it?

Yes! (Laughing)

Your husband also comes from a family that produces wine…

It’s totally separate. I have my property, he has his property. But it’s a family story. We work together because my husband and I, we have the same problems when we make wine, so we exchange a lot, but it’s totally separate.

Do you ever keep secrets, if you have a really, really good wine, do you keep it from him? 

(Laughing) We don’t have the same terroir so we don’t have the same wine. Making wine is really a feeling, and we don’t have the same feeling. I have more Merlot at Larrivaux, and he has more Cabernet at Lafon Rochet. So the wine is totally different – you can’t do the same thing at Larrivaux and Lafon Rochet.

Do you see each other as competitors?

No, no, no.

Do you talk a lot about the weather, about the harvest? 

Yes, every day. I love the weather forecast! It’s awful for me now because I have three or five apps on the iPhone for the weather forecast: “Oh my god, tomorrow it’s going to rain 2mm! Oh no, it’s going to rain 5mm!” We are always thinking about wine and everywhere we are, we are looking at the sky to see if maybe it will influence the vines.

Does it stress you?

Yes, but it’s normal when you work in agriculture. You’re always stressed by the weather. It’s a part of the game.

Have you ever considered producing organic wine?

For me, it’s really important to produce wine without or with little pesticides. Because I have four sons, and we live and spend a lot of time at Larrivaux I think it’s important for my kids to be able to come and run in the vineyard and not to be sick after. But for me, organic wine is not the real issue. It’s a step, it’s a good step but it’s not the final issue. The final issue is not to put any pesticides. When you make organic wine, you add cuivre (copper) or bouillie bordelaise (Bordeaux mixture) which is a product you can use in organic wine but it’s not good for the earth. So for me, producing organically is a good step but it’s not the final issue.

So it’s not important for you to get the certificate, the organic certificate, but you also use methods that are used in organic wine production.

Yes, at Larrivaux we prefer not to use a lot of added substances. Sometimes, if you have to use 1 liter of a certain product, we decide to only use half a liter. We accept that we’re going to have some disease in the vine but it’s not a problem. We’re not going to have lovely vines but it doesn’t matter. We want to make a good product but without a lot of bad substances to protect it.

How old were you when you knew you wanted to continue the tradition, when you also wanted to become a winemaker yourself?

When I was young I wanted to be a doctor. So not wine! I studied law at university for four years. In my fifth year, I decided to go into wine law. My aunt was working at Larrivaux but only on the weekends – it was not her principal job. Basile and I got married at Larrivaux in 2005. We went on honeymoon and when I came back, my aunt had a problem and she couldn’t work anymore. I said ok, I’m studying wine, and I want to work in the wine industry but maybe not at Larrivaux. But Larrivaux needed someone, so I decided to stay for a few months… and I never left!

You love it!

Yes. It’s really a passion. When you work on this kind of property, a small property and everything is old, you can’t sell your wine very expensively. It’s not an expensive wine, so it’s very difficult. So you have to be passionate!

How many bottles do you produce a year?

60,000. It depends on the year. This past harvest, we only produced half of what our production normally is because of the frost in April.

Where can people buy your wine? Do you sell it online on your website?

Not on our website, but I work together with some websites, so you can find it online without any problem.

Is there a certain characteristic of the women at Larrivaux? Is there something, when you look at the women before you – and you are a very strong woman – is there something characteristic where you can say, “That’s a Chateau Larrivaux woman?”

Passion! All of my aunts, my mother, my grandmother – the Chateau Larrivaux Woman is a strong woman. They are passionate, they love their family, they love tradition, and they really give me this sense, the family tradition. I really want to make something with Larrivaux to give it to my sons. I think it’s important. I’m a little person and Larrivaux has been here for 5 centuries. So I’m just here to take care of Larrivaux and to…

…give it to the next generation.

Yes!

And what if the next generation is a boy? Is that ok for you if there isn’t a girl?

I only want for my kids to be happy. If I only have one kid, or no kid who loves wine, it doesn’t matter. At Larrivaux, you have to be passionate to work at Larrivaux. If they are not passionate, they can’t work here. So, we’ll see!

What makes the Chateau Larrivaux wine special? 

It’s a wine that’s full-bodied with a lot of fruit. Because we have a lot of Merlot, it’s a round and sweet wine. For me, when I drink wine from Larrivaux, I want to eat something. Which is perfect for me because I love to eat (laughing)! For me, it’s a wine you want to share and to finish the bottle.

What is the essence of French cuisine for you?

For me, it’s simple things: good vegetables, good fruits. You don’t have to add a lot of things. For me, French cuisine is when you have a plate in front of you and you know what you are going to taste. And when you have it in your mouth, you recognize the different tastes of the things you have on your plate.

Do you produce your own fruits and vegetables here at Chateau Larrivaux?

Not all of them, but I do have some vegetables, yes. And it’s not organic – I don’t put anything!

That’s organic!

No, it’s more than organic!

Did food always play an important role in your family? Wine was always there, but the food?

Yes.

Did you always cook with the family?

Yes, yes, yes. I always saw my grandmother cooking, my aunt and my mother too. I always saw people working in the kitchen.

What do you love about the Médoc?

The place itself because there are a lot of places in the Médoc. You have the vineyards, but you also have the seaside. You have the countryside, but it’s only one hour from Bordeaux. There are a lot of things to do in the Médoc, but it’s a secret spot for the moment. So it’s great. It’s good for us. You have a lot of things to do in the Médoc – there’s not only the wine.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who would this person be and what would this person cook for you?

I can only choose one person?

Ok, two! You can choose two.

Two? Ok. Alors… only two?

Ok three! Starter, main, and dessert!

Ok, my grandmother because she makes a huge sort of gougère – it’s a little choux with some cheese. And she makes a big gougère with béchamel and it was delicious! She’s the only person who made this like that. Then, I choose my husband, because for my birthday he sometimes makes paris-brest and I love the paris-brest! I think it’s difficult to have a good paris-brest. So every year I ask him to make one for me.

And one more person for the dessert?

Maybe my mother, to make some profiteroles – some choux with some vanilla cream inside and some caramel on the top. Like a pièce montée. Here at Larrivaux, not every Sunday, but often, we have some choux with caramel.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or with other people?

It depends on the recipe. For family recipes, I prefer to be with my family: my children, my husband, my mother. For recipes I find in a book, I think it’s really important to share them with someone. Everyone has their fashion, they own way of doing things – I think it’s important to learn and to share.

Do you prefer improvised meals or planned meals?

Improvised. I can’t make a recipe and read everything. I always put a little bit, a little more, a little less…

Did you ever cook a meal that was so disastrous that you said I’m never going to cook that again?

Macarons! I’ve never made good macarons! But I want to learn. There is a dessert in Bordeaux – a strawberry macaron – inside you have whipped cream with vanilla and fresh strawberries. It’s very good!

Thank you, Bérangère!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Paris and the Mystery of Chez Allard

Chez Allard

In 1932, Madame Marthe Allard decided to open a restaurant in Paris, Chez Allard. It is the beginning of a story deeply woven into traditional French country cuisine, a story of resolute women who love to cook, who master French classics to perfection, and passionately share their creations on Rue Saint-André des Arts, in the heart of the lively St German-des-Prés, until today. You could call Chez Allard a gourmet bistro, cozily elegant, the flaming red benches and wooden chairs in front of floral wallpaper filled with happy guests for more than 80 years. The interior barely changed, and so did the dishes on the menu, there’s still a strong focus on many of Madame Allard’s original family recipes from Burgundy, passed from one woman to the next.

As soon as her son’s wife, Fernande, joined the family, the chef didn’t hesitate to introduce the young woman to all her kitchen secrets, and so the next generation was secured. Marthe Allard stayed in the small kitchen on Rue Saint-André des Arts all her life, for more than half a century, tweaking and refining her famous rustic staples, like Challans Duck with Olives or Sole Meunière.

After decades of female power at the cooker, there was finally a man in charge for 20 years, but when Alain Ducasse took over the restaurant, he knew he’d pass the reign to a woman again. Chez Allard has a female spirit, a female soul, Chez Allard is a woman. Since 2015, Fanny Herpin has been responsible for keeping the restaurant’s tradition alive, the recipes that became “old culinary friends” to so many guests. The young and celebrated executive chef manages to incorporate this history and at the same time giving it validity 80 years after the first pages of Allard were written. Fanny is calm, quiet, but she’s a woman you shouldn’t underestimate. Her instructions are short and precise, she’s charismatic. When you open the ornate glass door to the restaurant, you stand right in front of Chez Allard‘s heart, the kitchen. The room is open and there isn’t much space to move, this kitchen has to work smoothly and there’s no doubt that Fanny accomplishes this task with grandeur.

Fanny Herpin is from Bordeaux, like Alain Ducasse, they even learned at the same culinary school. Both of them feel the same strong connection to their home region’s famous cuisine and products and have many of them freshly brought to the restaurant every day, like the fois gras on Allard‘s menu. When Fanny talks about food, or when she peels carrots with the precision of a scientist, you can feel her love, her passion, her obsession with quality. When she discovered the wonders of cooking and baking, she was hooked. Alan Ducasse was always her idol, she studied his recipes, she dove deeply into the magic that he’s been creating for decades. So when he called her to ask if she’d like to fill the position at Chez Allard, she was just 26, she remembers, “It was a big day, I didn’t believe it was possible. I asked are you sure, me?” She says that she’s still a little bit nervous when he comes and visits her at the restaurant. There’s a humble heart inside this strong, inspiring woman.

The dish that she cooked together with us felt like a bite of Paris, her Petits Rougets Barbets au Beurre Blanc (red mullet with a buttery, vinegary shallot sauce and sautéed root vegetables) was as pretty and perfect as the city that it was made in.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Chez Allard

Petits Rougets au Beurre Blanc

(Red Mullet with Beurre Blanc and Glazed Roots)

By Chef Fanny Herpin – Chez Allard

Serves 4

For the Beurre Blanc

80g / 3 ounces shallots, finely chopped
150ml / 2/3 cup aged wine vinegar
50ml / ¼ cup dry white wine
3g mignonnette pepper (coarsely ground pepper)
400g / 14 ounces cold Echiré butter, cut into small pieces
Juice of ½ lemon

For the vegetables

4 navet turnips
4 large carrots
1 yellow turnip
¼ celeriac
1 green radish
4 red radishes
4 baby leeks
50ml / ¼ cup olive oil
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground pepper
1 garlic clove, with skin
1 sprig of thyme
500ml / 2 cups and 1 tablespoon chicken broth
30g / 2 tablespoons butter

For the fish

4 red mullet fillets, about 250g / 9 ounces each
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground pepper
Olive oil

For the Beurre Blanc, in a medium saucepan, bring the shallots, vinegar, wine, and mignonette pepper to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the sauce gently and gradually add the butter, stirring and whisking constantly to combine the sauce and the butter. If you add too much butter at once, the sauce won’t bind. Adjust the seasoning and add a dash of lemon juice; set aside (at room temperature).

For the vegetables, peel the turnips, carrots, celeriac, and green radish. Cut the celeriac into diamond shapes, the green radish and turnips into “half moons”. Scrape and rinse the red radishes.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil. Rinse the leeks and blanch until soft. Transfer to a bowl filled with ice water, immerse quickly, and lay on paper towels. Cut the leeks into strips.

In a large heavy pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the vegetables separately for about 1-2 minutes. Transfer all the vegetables to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, thyme, and broth, cover the pan, and cook until soft. Before serving, add the butter, stir to glaze the vegetables, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the fish, season the mullet fillets with salt and pepper on the meat side. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large heavy pan over medium-high heat and sear the fillets, skin side down, for 4 minutes or until the fish is done, the skin should be lightly crispy. Flip the mullets over, then transfer to a grid and set aside.

Arrange the mullet fillets, slightly overlapping each other, on one side of the plate, the vegetables on the other side, and a spoonful of the Beurre Blanc in the middle. Serve immediately.

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and who you are?

My name is Fanny and I’m from Bordeaux. I’m 27 and I’m Head Chef at Allard, a restaurant from Alain Ducasse.

In which part of France did you grow up? Where did you spend your childhood?

In Bordeaux, in the southwest of France. I studied there and afterwards, I left to Paris.

Did the cuisine of Bordeaux influence you a lot?

Yes, yes, yes, of course! The food in Bordeaux is very important for me. There is the foie gras and the duck. My mother was always cooking at home with my family, so I have a big influence from there which is always there when I cook, both at home or in the restaurant.

Do you get products from Bordeaux for Chez Allard?

Yes, the foie gras, for example. I was at the same school as Alain Ducasse in Talence. We attended the same culinary school. So, I know that the products are also important for him.

How old were you when you started your career?

I started at 22.

Did you always know that you wanted to become a chef?

Yes, yes, because I like to eat! Since always! At home, I was always cooking but more sweets, like cakes and everything. I did culinary training when I was 22 – just one week! – and I was sure.

And that was the moment that you decided no more sweets, but cooking, more savoury cooking?

Yes, exactly.

Do you still do sweets sometimes?

Sometimes, but just at home. Because it’s very different: pastry and cooking. It’s two different jobs.

Why did you want to become a chef? Was it just because you loved to eat so much or did you meet other chefs that inspired you?

Yes! Alain Ducasse, of course! When I was at school and I was starting to learn, I read a book about Alain Ducasse – the big book with all the recipes – and I knew that he has a lot of restaurants in the world: the bistro and the 3 star Michelin restaurant. So, I asked to do a culinary training in his restaurant. I did it and after that I was sure that I wanted to become a chef. I really like to manage people. It’s like a family that works together. It’s a lot of work but it’s my passion. I love to do it! I want to do it for the rest of my life.

When you started, did you ever dream that one day you would be here? That you would be the chef at Allard?

Of course I did, but I was thinking maybe after I’m 30. But I became the chef here at 26. It was really fast!

How did you feel when he called you and asked you to become the Head Chef?

(Laughing) It was a big day! I didn’t believe it was possible. I was working in London and he asked me to come here to take the position. I said, “Are you sure? Me?” He said, “Yes, come!” So, I came here one weekend, I saw Alain Ducasse, and we talked about the position here and… let’s go! One month later, I was here and I started work. I have a lot of support because it’s a big company. I am not alone. I’m the head chef for this restaurant but I have other head chefs above me so I am never alone. I always have someone to help me, to support me, if I want it. For that, it’s super!

Does Alain Ducasse come here often to see if everything is going  well?

Yes, of course. He comes sometimes to spend time with friends, but he comes for work, too.

Does it make you nervous when he’s here?

A little bit, of course, but that’s normal. I’m always impressed by him when he’s here but it’s always a good moment.

Chez Allard has a very strong line of female chefs. It was founded by Madame Allard who passed the recipes on to her daughter-in-law who took over from her. There was a female chef before you and now you’re here. Do you think that this restaurant has a female spirit or a female soul? Is Allard a woman?

Yes, it’s tradition! Marthe Allard started to cook here. After her, it was Fernande. When Alain Ducasse took over the restaurant, he said, “I want to keep this tradition because it’s strong.” Laetitia Rouabah, the chef before me, worked here for three years before they asked me to take this position. It’s very important to keep the tradition. When people come here they say, “there have been female chefs here for a long time.” It’s very strong identity. For me, it’s also very important to keep that spirit.

Is there a difference between men and women running a restaurant in the kitchen? Does it feel different?

I don’t think so. It’s not about men and women. It’s just about the person and their personality. We’re all different.

There are a lot of traditional recipes on the menu that Madame Allard invented or came up with – so how much of Alain Ducasse is in the recipes here at Allard?

We keep and use all the recipes, but Alain Ducasse brings less sugar, less salt, and less fat to the recipes. That, for Alain, for all his restaurants, is the way to think and to work now.

How often do you change the menu? 

I keep a menu throughout the year, but some dishes I change according to the season. For example, we have just started to introduce root vegetables and pigeon to the menu. In the summer, it was tomato salads and raw fish. We change the menu every two or three months, depending on the season.

Do you have a favourite season?

It’s now! (late summer) Yes. The pigeons, and all the different birds – it’s a very exciting time.

Do you love Paris?

Yes, of course (laughing)! I really like this city because there are a lot of different restaurants: bistros, Michelin restaurants, and also there are a lot of small restaurants with different food and cultures. So that’s interesting for me. And it’s a beautiful city. You can walk everywhere – it’s beautiful.

Do you go to restaurants a lot?

Yes, sometimes. I try to go once a week.

Can you go out and eat at a restaurant and just relax and enjoy it? Or do you analyse the food?

No, I’m always thinking but it’s less than before (laughing). Before, I was too hard!

What does healthy food mean for you?

Healthy food, for me, is when you use good products, produced in a way that respects the environment, and when it’s good for you, for the body, for your health. Voila!

What is your greatest kitchen hack?

Yes, actually I have something very important for me. It’s when you cook meat, you must let it rest. If you cook the meat for 10 minutes, then you let it rest for 10 minutes. This way, the meat is soft.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what  would it be? Alain Ducasse?

(Laughing) No. It would Laurent Garnier because I’m a BIG fan. Maybe a dessert, like a chocolate cake, something easy and good.

If you’re going to have 10 friends over for a spontaneous dinner, and you don’t have much time to plan or go shopping, what will be on the table?

Foie gras toast! (Laughing) It’s easy!

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others when you’re at home?

Alone, I think, because I can do what I want. When there are a lot of people in the kitchen, it’s like my job here. I do that every day. I always have to check everything and to be everywhere. So, sometimes I really like to cook alone, just me in the kitchen, to relax, and to take the time to cook.

Do you prefer improvised or planned cooking? Again, at home in your own kitchen.

Planned. Always.

So even when you cook at home you always know exactly how you’re going to do it?

Of course! I always know what I want to do – I have everything in my head. Sometimes, at home, if I’m missing an ingredient, it’s ok. I can remove it. Here at the restaurant, it’s not possible, but at home, I can change it.

But there’s always a plan?

Yes. Always. I’ve always worked like that!

Thank you very much, Fanny!

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

Meet In Your Kitchen | Cécile Molinié’s Life and Cooking in Paris

Cécile Monilié

You only need to walk along the Boulevard Saint-Germain on a sunny afternoon to understand Paris. You’ll promise yourself that you’ll come back – for the rest of your life. Once you’ve seen this city, a piece of you will stay there forever. Just walk and gaze up at the facades of the elegant sandstone buildings of the 19th century Haussmann era, dotted with white wooden shutters. Or sit in a café, get comfy on a colorful French wicker chair at a marbled bistro table, a glass of crisp white wine in front of you, order a Galette, crêpe, or escargot, and look at the chic people around you scurrying on the cobblestones. The trottoir is a stage in Paris, and the bistro is the place to watch it from.

We could have just stayed in Paris, visited renowned restaurants and celebrated chefs in their praised kitchens and we would have never had to leave this inspiring city, but when we decided to include France in our culinary trips around the world together with Zwilling, I had to think of the whole picture that the country paints. France, to me, is the trinity of Paris, the countryside, and the sea. It’s the capital’s seductive charm, its haute cuisine, food temples that attract gourmets from all over the world to enjoy the pleasures of French tradition, to create the best food with the most refined techniques and ingredients. It’s a city that rouses and satisfies your appetite, you’ll never get enough of it.

Then there’s the countryside and its more rural cooking, frugal, hearty, and meaty, all those wonderful delicacies coming from the soil and the woods, and also the home of French wine. And which region would be better to learn about the country’s famous wines and winemakers than the picturesque Médoc. There are so many fantastic French reds and whites and there’s a compelling mystique about the vineyards covering the slopes around the city of Bordeaux.

To make the trilogy complete, we have to look at the sea. All those oysters and clams, fresh fish and lobster, these treats that are often served raw or so pure that you can still taste their salty freshness. It’s always better to go to the fruits from the sea than letting them come to you, so we packed our bags and went to Cap Ferret. It’s a long peninsula stretching into the rough and cold Bay of Biscay, where the beaches are long and lonely, the people are kind and welcoming, and you can eat the best oysters of your life straight from the banks, all day long.

So we started our trip in Paris and Cécile Molinié’s kitchen was the first place we visited for a new series of Meet In Your Kitchen features in France.

Cécile Monilié

Four children and a cat called Cookie are enviably lucky to call Cécile Molinié their maman. Her Paris kitchen is the cozy heart of the big family’s beautiful home close to the Jardin du Luxembourg, in the capital’s vivid Quartier Latin. The room is bigger than normal city kitchens and opens onto a spacious, green terrace. It’s filled with lots of light, life, and laughter, while delicious food spread out on the large island and table is a tempting invitation to come together and indulge in maman‘s creations. It’s a family kitchen where the six Parisians, Cécile, her husband, and their kids, meet to share their day, to cook together, and turn their daily meals into little feasts.

Cécile is an excellent cook, her grandmothers passed their passion on to her and this heritage found fruitful ground in the young woman, she’s been fascinated by the excitements of the culinary world since she was a little girl. At the age of 16, Cécile already prepared the meals for dinner parties of 20 guests at her parents’ home. The house was always open to friends, her mother loved to entertain, but didn’t feel inspired by the kitchen herself. So Cécile gladly took over those duties and became more and more skilled as a cook, she refined her taste and became impressively precise through experience and practice. Tender Boeuf Bourguignon, Blanquette de Veau, or petite Madeleines are staples in her repertoire, she loves the famous French classics and curiously dives into the country’s different regional cuisines.

Cécile Monilié

Southern France inspired her to create a recipe for sea bass bedded on sugary-sweet roasted tomatoes. She finishes off the summery composition with lemon slices grilled in the oven until the edges are crisp and golden, it’s a colorful firework of flavors and textures. How could I disagree when she offered to cook this dish together with me in her kitchen? I’ve been waiting impatiently for the day to come to finally meet her, in the kitchen that I knew from her famous Instagram account where she shares visual bites from her life. The pictures are stunning, she’s just as talented behind the camera as she is at the cooker. You can feel her love for her city, so much so that you want to stroll along the Seine, the bistros and boulevards together with her. When she visits her second home just outside Paris and posts episodes from her country life, you seriously wish you could move in with the whole family.

So we finally met in Paris, but before we pulled the pots and pans out of the cupboards in her kitchen to cook, we went to the beautiful market on Rue Mouffetard in the 5ème arrondissement. The shops and stalls of the daily farmers’ market gathered on this street make you want to pack your bags and make Paris your home. We filled our shopping baskets with wonderfully milky Sainte-Maure de Touraine, ripe Saint-Nectaire from Auvergne, and the creamiest SaintMarcellin from Fromagerie Véron. The beauty of the presentation at the fishmonger took my breath away. Quality and freshness are unbeatable, wherever you look. Gills and eyes clear and shiny, crabs are still alive, bulots (sea snails) freshly cooked, and the oysters in the wooden baskets taste salty-cold like the sea. Cécile’s butcher is right next door, you can smell the golden poulet rôti rotating on metal skewers all along the cobblestone street, their hot juices dripping onto the potato wedges perfectly placed at the bottom of the grill. Packed with warm baguettes from the boulangerie under our arms, the baskets overflowing with all these delicacies, we went back to Cécile’s kitchen and started cooking.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Cécile Monilié

Sea Bass with Candied Tomatoes and Roasted Artichokes and Potatoes

By Cécile Molinié

 Serves 4-6

For the sea bass

1kg / 2 ¼ pounds cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
2 organic lemons, very thinly sliced
2 large sea bass fillets
A few young sprigs fresh thyme

For the side dish

4-6 baby artichokes, trimmed
1 lemon
1kg / 2 ¼ pounds little potatoes (preferably a sweet variety), rinsed and scrubbed
Olive oil
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper

Preheat the oven 170°C / 350°F.

Spread the cherry tomatoes in a large baking dish, add a splash of olive oil, salt, and pepper, mix, and roast for 1 hour or until soft and candied.

While the tomatoes are in the oven, spread the lemon slices in a large baking dish, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and bake them, with the tomatoes, for 30 minutes or until they soften.

For the side dish, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the juice of 1 lemon and the artichokes, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse quickly with cold water, and set aside.

Cook the potatoes in a medium pot of salted water for about 15-20 minutes or until almost soft; drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F.

When the tomatoes are done, arrange the sea bass on top of them, season with salt and pepper, and cover with the roasted lemon slices. Roast for about 10-15 minutes or until the fish fillets are done, you should be able to flake the fish with a fork. Mind that you don’t overcook it. Sprinkle with the thyme.

While the fish is in the oven, heat a splash of olive oil in a large heavy pan and sauté the potatoes and artichokes over medium heat, stirring once in a while, for about 15 minutes or until golden and crispy. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately when the fish is done.

Cécile Monilié

What brought you to Paris? 

I came here because of university. My younger sister was admitted to a very good post-baccalaureate school, Henri IV, here in this neighbourhood. As I was the eldest one and I was good with managing a home and cooking, my mother wanted us to go together. So I was admitted to the prestigious law school here, and then…I never left!

Did you fall in love with the city immediately?

Paris? No, because I was the country girl, and there was all this noise….The year we arrived, there was a big strike during the winter and all the cars were stuck and it was a big mess…

So, you didn’t have an easy start?

No, but we could go back to the country every weekend. At the university, I didn’t know anyone – there were 1000 students! And I was the little girl from the country inside the big city…

Were you always interested in photography?

Yes, yes. I remember that when I was a child, I won a little camera because I did a drawing contest, and then when I was 16, my dad gave my sister and I a nice Canon camera – I remember! An old one, you know an analogique (analog).

How did you get into cooking? 

I love to cook. My mother is more an intellectual woman than a….

…a kitchen woman?

Yes! So, I had an interest in cooking – I don’t know why – and I took over the kitchen at a very young age. She let me do whatever I wanted so I tried new recipes, I made notebooks, and as my parents had lots of friends coming from all over the world – they were very welcoming – I used to cook a lot!

So you cooked for the family and for friends! For how many people?

I don’t know! But when I was 16, I could cook big meals and it was great because you have some meals where you need to be in the kitchen and do things at the last moment, so my mother was with the friends and I was cooking!

What’s your favourite dish cooked by your grandmother or one of your grandmothers?

My father’s mother used to make a very good blanquette de veau, a very good one. My mother’s mother, she’s from the southwest of France, so it’s more about zucchini, eggplants, and tomatoes, more Mediterranean – and she cooks very well, too. In my husband’s family, it’s not as we call in France plats en sauce, you know all these stews. It’s more about very good produce, cooked well.

Does your husband love to cook too?

He cooks rarely, but when he does it’s a very elaborate meal. We are great fans of Alain Passard, the chef of the Arpège. I used to be invited to his restaurant when I was a student by a friend. We go there for very special occasions, so my husband has his book and sometimes he cooks from this book. He cooks very creatively and elaborately, but not that often.

So, he’s more the weekend chef?

I would say, once a year!

So, once a year he’s the weekend chef but then he’s fantastic!

Yes, exactly! I think it’s what men do: amazing things, but not that often for food…

Where do you find your inspiration for your recipes?

At the market first because you see the food and you think “ah, I want to do that or this” and then cookbooks. I think I love cookbooks! I love to read them, I like to see the pictures, but I’m not good at following the recipes exactly.

But that’s not important! I think cookbooks are…

…a great inspiration. I still have one from when I was a very young woman and I still look at it, because the recipes are all good. Really, the inspiration comes from the market or from other people. At the market this morning, I spoke to a guy who was telling me what he was going to cook for his parents for lunch – you take ideas from everywhere! And some blogs too, but you need to have time to read them – sometimes it’s easier to have a book.

Do you prefer to cook when you’re here in Paris or in the countryside?

In the countryside, it’s usually the weekend so we have more time. And maybe you think I’m picky but I prefer to cook with gas rather than with induction.

What does healthy food mean for you?

Healthy means first of all cooked with good produce. I want my kids to have veggies and fruits every day. They are picky eaters, I must confess! I try to have them eat fresh fruit and veggies – it can be compote, it can be soups, it can be raw – healthy, for me, is when you have all the nutrients that you need in the food.And homemade, mostly homemade. I rarely buy frozen food. Some frozen pizzas just for when I have no other plan, but I prefer to cook eggs and potatoes instead.

What is your greatest kitchen hack?

When I bake cakes, I use the baking paper. In France, it’s not that automatic to do that.

So, you can’t live without baking paper?

No! And then I always have some veggies to roast. You know, I am very organized, so sometimes I start to cook in the morning – even at 7am, when the kids are just waking up. I always roast some cherry tomatoes, zucchini… And when it’s winter, pumpkin – that kind of thing. I always like to have something roasted.

So being organized in the kitchen is one of your greatest tips?

Yes, when you work and you have a lot of kids, who often come for lunch and dinner. And bread. I’m sorry, but we eat a lot of bread! I always have some bread! And butter! And cheese!

You’re going to have 10 friends for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

It’s going to be pasta – I’m sorry! – because we always have pasta and fresh Parmesan. We often have ham. In French we call that – you know the proscuittto crudo? The big ones that you can slice yourself – so I often have that. I could do pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil – I always have basil – so all good produce but very simple. And a good bottle of wine! That’s something that I would do if I had an impromptu meal with lots of people. Everybody is happy with that kind of food. And then fresh fruits or cooked fruit that’s easy to do.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

I love Alain Passard’s food. So if he could come cook for me, a delicious vegetable dish, I would like it! I like light food.

If you could choose between improvised and planned dinners, what would you prefer?

I like to plan because I know I’m happy to plan something. It makes me happy to anticipate the people’s happiness. But sometimes, it’s stressful to plan something. You want to have a good result. I am a perfectionist, so sometimes when you plan ahead and you want people to be happy, I’m often disappointed by the result. When it’s impromptu, you don’t have much time to think about it and it’s more about the pleasure to be together. You know, I think as much as I like to plan a meal and to share it with friends, when I do something that’s not planned it is super good, too. So I don’t know what I prefer!

You like both! 

I prefer everybody to be happy around the table and laughing. If the food matters too much then sometimes you lose something in the pleasure of being together.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

I like when my kids give me a hand, and I like to cook with friends, because it’s something to share, but I am faster by myself!

Thank you very much, Cécile!

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

Meet In Your Kitchen | Roll your own Sushi at Kyoto’s Awomb

Awomb

Kyoto shares a kind of peace with its visitors that immediately takes control over body and mind. It answers all your questions and makes you speechless.

The city has two faces, the busy modern one of concrete, glass, metal, and noise, and then there’s the quiet side, when Japan’s old capital unfolds its true beauty. It’s not superficial, this beauty touched me deeply. You can see it, smell it, and taste it. Natural materials and clear lines create a compelling minimalist aesthetic dominated by dark wood and coal colored roofs shimmering silvery in the misty light. Silent stone gardens, temples, and shrines erase the noise in your head and fill it with serenity.

If this feeling could manifest itself in a restaurant, this would be the wonderful Awomb. The restaurant is in an elegant traditional house, hard to find in a narrow side alley in old Kyoto. You sit on the floor, on Tatami mats made of rice straw, in front of a low wooden table. The room is filled with natural light, golden warm as honey. The subtle sound of the floors creaking and birds hiding in the tall pine tree in front of the window break the gentle melodies of the traditional Koto music playing in the background. It sounds a bit like a harp, melodic yet hard, pure as single water drops.

The food created here is quite a new concept. Owner Ujita Hiroshi brings hand-rolled sushi, which is usually served at home, to the restaurant table to share with friends. A bowl of white rice, a teapot filled with steaming dashi broth, and a black lacquered tray full of little plates filled with stunning delicacies are the center piece of this culinary experience: you come to Awomb to roll your own sushi in one of the prettiest rooms that I’ve seen on my trip. The food itself, each little plate, looks like a piece of art. Seafood and vegetables can be mixed and combined according to your mood and refined with various seasonings, like fresh wasabi, grated ginger, plum sauce, salted vegetables, dried shrimp with mayonnaise, or tasty soy sauce jelly cubes. You can either add the ingredients to the rice bowl and eat it with chopsticks, or you can go for sushi in seaweed – rolled in your hands.

There’s no chance that I’ll ever have such a vast variety of ingredients to choose from in my own kitchen, but it’s so inspiring, I tried totally new combinations. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t be shy, just try not to use more than 4 to 5 main flavors and you’ll be rewarded with astonishing results. I got a bit excited and went overboard – the German girl came through – but my first “sushi in a bowl” made with pink grapefruit, salmon, fried sweet potato, square bean, gari (pickled ginger), and finely cut green matcha crepes tasted fantastic. Then I combined purple potato mash, octopus, and Ikura (salmon roe) and rolled it in seaweed, which turned into such a delicious beauty that I have to share this recipe with you.

The quality of each ingredient used at Awomb is outstanding, which isn’t a surprise, Ujita Hiroshi comes from a family that has been in the sushi business for decades. However, the young man didn’t want to follow his parents’ footsteps, he decided to start his own food adventure. His vision, to make hand-rolled sushi a delicious and fun experience for friends outside their homes, is a huge success. Long lines and waiting lists call for a well-planed reservation.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Awomb

 

Awomb

Build Your Own Sushi:

Hand-rolled Sushi and Sushi in a Bowl inspired by Awomb

Serves 2

For the mashed purple potatoes

100g / 3.5 ounces boiled and peeled purple potato, cooled
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon butter
Fine sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

For the hand rolled sushi

Dried seaweed, cut into squares
Sushi rice (recipe below)
Octopus, boiled and cut into bite-sized slices
Ikura (salmon roe)

For the sushi in a bowl

Sushi rice (recipe below)
Pink grapefruit, peeled and cut into segments
Raw salmon, sushi grade, cut into bite size slices
Fried sweet potato
Boiled Edamame beans
Gari (pickled ginger)
Matcha crepe, very finely chopped
(if you make your own crêpes, mix 1 tablespoon of cooking grade matcha powder with 90g / 2/3 cup of plain flour)

Seasonings (optional)

Freshly grated wasabi
Freshly grated ginger
Plum sauce
Soy sauce

For the mashed purple potatoes, purée the potato, heavy cream, and butter in a blender or food processor until smooth and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

For the hand rolled sushi, place 1 tablespoon of sushi rice in the middle of a sheet of dried seaweed. Add 1 teaspoon of the mashed purple potatoes, a slice of octopus, and half a teaspoon of salmon roe. Roll like a cigar, add seasonings to taste, and enjoy.

For the sushi in a bowl, add about 2 tablespoons of sushi rice to a small bowl and stir in seasonings to taste (add just a little bit). Add 1 grapefruit segment, 2 slices of salmon, 1 crumbled slice of fried sweet potato, 2 Edamame beans, and a little pickled ginger. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the chopped matcha crêpe and enjoy!

For the sushi rice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine similar to sake)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
180g / 1 cup short-grain sushi rice
240ml / 1 cup cold water

In a small bowl, heat the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt, over low heat, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve; let it cool.

Rinse the rice 4-5 times with cold water, then drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the rice and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the rice for 15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let it rest for 15 minutes, don’t lift the lid. Transfer the rice to a large glass bowl.

Sprinkle the warm rice with the cold vinegar mixture and stir gently, you can fan the rice while mixing, that will help it to dry if it’s too sticky. Cover with a damp kitchen towel while you prepare the sushi. Sushi rice is best served at body temperature.

Awomb

 

Awomb

What inspired you to open a sushi restaurant? 

My parents ran a sushi restaurant that was very traditional but I wanted to do something different, something unique to me. I decided to focus on the idea of customers making their own sushi in an enjoyable way, and I started my own place.

Is that popular in Japan?

Hand rolled sushi (temakizushi) is popular now but it’s basically something that’s not eaten out. Everyone eats it with their families at home or at house parties. I thought that people would probably enjoy it if they could do something different and eat it at restaurants.

Which ingredients do you serve for the sushi creations?

Please let me tell you about aezushi, it’s sushi that you mix and prepare yourself. Firstly, we have vegetables and fish, we have sashimi – grilled conger eel – and turnip. There are vegetables from Kyoto that we often use, and this is yuba – a delicacy made from soybean milk. Further we have mackerel, which is served pickled in vinegar and Japanese scallop. Then we have shirae, a salad with white sesame, tofu, and white miso. We have aemono, which is vegetable, fish or shellfish dressed with miso, vinegar or sesame. Here is squid and fish roe. When you’re preparing the dish, you mix the seasoning with the other things and then eat it. We have lightly grilled skipjack tuna with deep fried tofu. Pickled ginger. Broccoli. There’s also octopus. Conger eel. Salmon. Pumpkin. Pak Choi and Kyoto taro root.

And we also have the soup. I’ll light the flame, once smoke starts to come out, it’s done. Then you mix it with small boletus mushrooms and eat it.

Thank you, Ujita Hiroshi!

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

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