eat in my kitchen

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Category: TO COOK

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 | Chez Boulan’s Oysters at Stunning Cap Ferret

Cap Ferret is a dream in pastel blue and pink. The beach seems endless, the sky sinking silently into the waves that hit the shore like a rock, angry thunderous foam vanishing meekly on the golden sand. It’s a place you never want to leave again, just walk forever, barefoot and happy, and the sun in your face.

I came to this headland touching the Atlantic in the Aquitaine region in France to eat oysters. It was a simple mission, I expected good, pure and honest tasting oysters, fresh like a sip of the sea, but I wasn’t prepared for so much beauty! In the summer months, the seaside villages turn into a crazy beehive, we skipped that and were welcomed by tranquil bliss. Two landscapes dominate the cap, the open sea and vast beaches on the west, and the lagoon on the east, the Bassin d’Arcachon changing its face constantly due to the tides. This is the lap where mother nature lets the best oysters in the world grow slowly over 4 to 5 years, nurtured and rinsed by clear French waters.

Alison and her husband Alex run Damien Boulan’s wonderful Chez Boulan restaurant. It’s a bit like a beach hut, built out of wood, the wind blowing the salty air through the open kitchen, the garden looks almost tropical. There’s a wooden pier above the fading water that seems like the perfect place to sit and enjoy a plate full of fleshy oysters and a glass of white wine – if only I could sit there every day. Damian took over the family business from his father, he’s passionate when it comes to oysters and spends most of his time taking care of them at the banks. They are like babies, you have to look after them. It’s a lot of work that the whole cap seems to be dedicated to, with deep love for their work and the sea.

When Alison told me to pick oysters from the baskets at the entrance of the restaurant for my lunch, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Various shapes and colors, small and large shells, and they all smelled and looked so beautiful. I had an oyster tasting, which I highly recommend to get a feeling for the fine differences – there are no rules, you just follow your taste. The same counts for serving, some prefer this treat from the sea pure or with a squeeze of tangy lemon, or with sour mignonette, French shallot vinaigrette, just a few drops are enough. Alison added a new inspiration to the palate, freshly chopped mint leaves. Whatever you go for, just make sure that the oysters come straight from the sea, freshly cracked open in front of your eyes, like at Chez Boulan.

If you plan a trip to Cap Ferret, stay at the stunning La Maison du Bassin hotel. Each room looks like an old captain’s cabin, the wood is dark and the view is breathtaking. And don’t forget to book a table for dinner, the food and wine are divine. You might order too much wine and champagne from their fantastic menu, but don’t worry, the hearty breakfast with eggs and croissant will make up for it.

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!

 

Cap Ferret Oysters à la Chez Boulan

Serves 1

For the mignonette

60ml / ¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon shallot, very finely chopped
Ground black pepper

6-12 fresh French oysters (preferably from Cap Ferret)
1 lemon
A few fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

For the mignonette, in a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and shallot and season to taste with a little pepper.

Arrange the oysters on a large plate and enjoy them pure, with a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of mint, or a drizzle of the mignonette – and a glass of chilled white wine!

 

How long has Damian Boulan been in charge of the family business?

For 10 years. He grew up here but after university, he went to Paris to be a journalist. He and his father used to speak about the idea to create a degustation – like this garden. This is the garden where we welcome our guests, but it used to be the garden of the Boulan family.

So, the family lives here?

Yes, the mother still lives on the other side of the cabin. They used to talk about the idea to create something like this. Unfortunately, Damian’s father died and Damian was told to come back to take over the business, to work with oysters, and to continue the family history. When he was told about this project of his father, he created it.

But first he didn’t want to become an oyster farmer?

No, but when you see him working with the oysters, you can see this is a real passion now. It’s his history.

Where are the oysters?

Most of our oysters are behind the Mimbeau – the Mimbeau is the sandbank that you can see – and they are just behind there. You cannot imagine it but behind there are a lot of banks and most of our oysters are there.

Is there a season for oysters? 

We have a saying in France, that you eat oysters during the months with an “R”. So, September, October, November, and so on. The idea that it’s “bad” to eat them in the summertime is because this is the period of the “milk”. That’s why. But you can eat oysters all year long.

What is the milk?

The milk is the way for the oysters to reproduce. During that period, you can see a bag of milk , but not like milk that you can drink. We call it milk because it’s creamy.

(Oysters are protandric and spawn in summer, they look swollen and milky. During their first year, they spawn as males by releasing sperm into the water. As they grow over the next two to three years, they spawn as females by releasing eggs.)

Someone told me that some people specifically like them during this time of the year.

Yes, yes. In summer, we tell people if the oysters are milky or not, because they are very surprised when they realise that this is the period, although it’s totally normal.

How do environmental changes affect the oysters?

I’m not a specialist but as we work very closely with the production, we know that the oysters need more time to grow because of climate change. They used to need 3 years to grow, but now it’s 3 to 4 years. It depends.

Because the water is warmer?

Yes, because of the water, and there is less food for the oysters.

Do you have a kitchen hack that you can share with us?

There are two ways to open an oyster. You have to choose the one you like, but the idea is to keep the oyster “safe” and whole. We (at Chez Boulan) open it from the base of the oyster. We put the knife in here just like this and then, we lift the knife up, and then we cut. The idea is that when you have the second part of the oyster, there is nothing on the second part.

Thank you, Alison!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Meet In Your Kitchen | Taka’s Japanese-Italian Fusion Cuisine in Kyoto

Taka Kyoto

Eating at Taka‘s restaurant in Kyoto feels like having a Japanese feast celebrated with your exuberant Italian family. The place is tiny, it’s in a narrow old house tucked into a small secluded alley right in the old city’s busy heart. An L-shaped counter separates the celebrated chef from his hungry guests, however, there’s a lot of interaction going on. The kitchen is open so you can follow all of Chef Nishimura Takashi’s steps, how he grinds the fresh wasabi in smooth circles on a shark skin-covered wooden board (the only proper way to grind the green root as I’ve learned). The charming chef looks like a versed dancer. He quickly grabs pots and spices from the shelves behind him and then, in the next second, turns around to briefly cook tender chicken sashimi (see the recipe below) in the flames of his little grill; or local beef, or mackerel until it has a crispy golden crust all around. The restaurant’s menu is a revelation, sea urchin spinach and tempura lotus root sprinkled with matcha salt are simply divine. Sitting at the counter and enjoying Japanese tapas is a feast in its true meaning: You eat, drink, and share delicious treats with old and new friends.

Kyoto born Chef Taka has lived and worked abroad for years, in Australia, Denmark, and in Italy, in Milan, where he also met his wife Akane. Before they opened their gastro pub in Kyoto, Taka worked at Armani’s Nobu Milano restaurant for 10 years, which explains why you can also find wonderful organic Tuscan wines and Mediterranean style dishes on the menu, like the fruitiest eggplant slowly cooked in an aromatic tomato sauce. It’s the combination of these two worlds that makes the couple’s restaurant in Kyoto so exciting, yet at the same time it’s so relaxed. It’s the kind of place where you end up chatting with the guests sitting next to you, exchanging stories and dishes, saying Kanpai (cheers) with a glass of red wine in your hand or ending the night with an extensive sake tasting involving everyone in the room.

Taka and Akane love food and people, the people who visit them, their guests, and the people they work with, their kitchen team, but also the suppliers who deliver fresh produce and products of the best quality to this tiny kitchen in the heart of Kyoto. The couple knows all of them personally, they’ve been working with them for years, most of them coming from the area. Having lived and worked in two food meccas in the world, Italy and Japan, the restaurateurs say that they can only create fantastic food, if the ingredients are perfect, vegetables picked at the peak of their season, the meat coming from animals that were bred and fed with care and respect. Japanese and Italian cooking is similar, both cuisines are very simple and focus on good ingredients, and at Taka, they create a very complete fusion.

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!

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

Grilled Chicken Sashimi with Wasabi

By Taka Nishimura

Chef Taka uses chicken of outstanding quality, he knows the farmer and he can guarantee the meat’s quality and freshness, which is why he can serve this dish almost raw. However, it is highly recommended to cook chicken until it’s cooked through.

Serves 2

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast tenderloins, sashimi grade
Freshly grated wasabi
Rock salt
4 wooden skewers

Heat the BBQ.

Cut each chicken tenderloin into 6 pieces and thread onto the 4 skewers. Grill lightly until just done.

Spread the chicken with freshly grated (!) wasabi and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Nishimura Takashi. I lived in Italy for a long time, about 15 years. I worked in a world-renowned restaurant called NOBU. And about 2 years ago I moved back to Kyoto, my hometown, to open this small restaurant.

What is your most cherished childhood memory connected to the kitchen?

A cherished memory would have to be, when I was a child, all I watched were shows about food on TV. All I watched were cooking TV shows, and I remember cooking a lot with my siblings when we were small. No one in my family is a cook, I’m the only one who followed a career as a chef. And it was when I was in primary school that I decided to become a chef, it was then that I decided to learn how to cook Japanese cuisine.

Why did you decide to move to Italy and work in Italy as a chef?

Well, I had always made Kaiseki cuisine in Kyoto, I trained in Kyoto Kaiseki for about 15 years. And so then, at that time, Kyoto was amazing, it was a narrow entrance into Japanese cuisine. Now foreigners come here to learn how to cook Kaiseki, but it wasn’t like that at all back then. So I wondered why? Japanese people go to Italy to study Italian cuisine, and to France to study French cuisine. So I thought, why don’t foreigners come to Japan to study Japanese cuisine? I figured that if that was the case than I wanted to go abroad to teach Japanese cuisine, that’s what I felt I wanted to do. And I remember feeling that I’d been a chef for 10 years, I’d learnt a lot in that time and wanted to share my knowledge abroad. So I chose somewhere that had similar food. I first chose Italy because I thought they had a simple way of cooking, and ingredients that had a lot of umami, where Japanese cuisine would be accepted by Italian tastes. And then I worked at NOBU in Italy.

Now, in the last 10 years, things changed. Many chefs come to Kyoto and Osaka, Tokyo, studying the Japanese style.

What changed over the years? 

That was probably because Japanese chefs became more open-minded. I think one reason is that they began to look outside Japan more. Also, famous chefs wanted to learn more about the mentality behind Japanese Kaiseki cuisine and how to make it. Making each course and slowly serving one small plate after another is Japanese Kaiseki’s style. That’s how you draw people to your restaurant. You’re delicate even when you serve the food, there is even a special orientation for each plate.

Every country’s cuisine is wonderful, but in Japan it’s all about the cut. For example, how sashimi is cut, how the vegetables are cut, how the meat is cut. These cuts create an excellent style of cooking, it’s Japanese cooking. It’s “katsuru” which means “cuts”, which is what gives it such a high aesthetic. Even with sashimi the chefs cut them beautifully. It creates a very unique Japanese aesthetic. The kitchen knife cuts amazingly, every day you need to sharpen your knives, and sharpening them is one part of a chef’s training, and I think even foreigners now sense this beauty. That’s what I think. Vegetables cut straight, how they’re beautifully peeled into hexagons, all kinds of shapes, the manual work that goes into it is amazing.

What makes a good knife? What are the important features of a good knife?

Of course how it cuts, the better it cuts the more beautiful the cut is. Also, how it feels when you hold it. You might have the same knife, but their weights can be different. Or there are knives that suit only you, so Japanese chefs will always buy their own knives. There’s also a balance to them. And chefs are using them for a long time, for the entire day, so it needs to not get worn out, it needs to not be a burden for chefs that work for a long time. I think all of these things are considered when knives are made, there’s a long history for this. Japanese knives are very particular. Fish is fish, vegetables are vegetables, meat is meat, and we divide them as such, but I think a knife that can be used for all of these is amazing.

What is special about Kyoto cuisine compared to other parts of this country?

I’d say how we compose the meal. There are a lot of difficult things about it but the best thing is how you can enjoy it as you like. Next is how the plates match. There are a number of Japanese meals where you look at the plates as you eat, and there are lots of regions that can make great plates. There’s also the matter of gathering good ingredients. Of course each region of Japan has its own wonderful ingredients, but among those, you have Kyoto chefs who will search all over the place to find the best ingredients of the season and who will think of their customers’ faces as they make them. That mentality is unbroken, it’s passed down from generation to generation, there’s always been this fantastic culture. That’s why there are so many things that I think are amazing.

In Kyoto, it’s really easy to distinguish between the 4 seasons. So when autumn comes you can use autumn ingredients and incorporate their beauty into the food. Kyoto chefs understand this sensibility.

How close is the relationship between you and your suppliers?

That’s a great question. You can do that really easily in Kyoto. I’ve been working… since I was young, so I’ve been working with suppliers since the beginning. There are fishmongers and vegetable suppliers that I’ve known for over 30 years. People also introduce me to people they know, like butchers. I’ve used a lot of connections, and I try to use Kyoto wholesalers as much as possible, and I want to use them more. I have my restaurant in Kyoto right now. We say “local produce for local consumption”, and it was the same in Italy. There are ingredients specific to regions and I try to incorporate them in my cooking as much as possible. Now I get requests from the Ministry of Agriculture and other chefs help out too. I want to help revitalise the area, so I get introduced to a lot of different people, and I can get hold of good ingredients. That really makes this job easier.

What was your vision for your restaurant?

I wanted a small restaurant where I could be close to customers sitting at the counter, so they’re closer to the chef too. That way everyone can enjoy themselves as they eat, that makes the meal even more delicious. That way people’s circle of friends could grow too. I want to make a restaurant like that and introduce everyone to it. And if I get any foreign customers, I want to help give them a place where they can make wonderful memories of Kyoto. I really wish from the bottom of my heart that I can help them make memories.

 Thank you, Taka and Akane,  for creating wonderful food and memories!

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

Meet In Your Kitchen | Masako Imura’s White Curry in the Heart of Tokyo

Kakura Curry Tokyo

It’s quite a surreal scene that Chef Masako Imura chose for her acclaimed Kakura restaurant: classical music playing in the street from invisible loudspeakers, no cars, but people riding bicycles or walking slowly listening to the gentle harmonies filling the city’s warm air. We’re in Tokyo, right in its vibrant heart, however, the peaceful scenery, the narrow house where the restaurant sits snugly speaks a different language. The green facade covered in ivy and sparkling little lights, pots of flowers, herbs, and leafy plants arranged in front of the restaurant’s window, create a vivid contrast to the city’s monotonous grey. Aromatic mint, basil, rosemary, and curry leaves grow right at the chef’s doorstep ready to be brought into the kitchen and turned into complex spiced dishes.

The outside couldn’t suit the inside any better, it’s a green oasis created for a restaurant that celebrates Japanese curry based on the old knowledge of Chinese medicine. Masako Imura’s creations are rich, colorful, and delicious. Her Kakura Curry, Black Curry, her seasonal vegetable, or fish curries are a pure pleasure to eat and caress and activate different parts and functions of the body. The nutritionist follows a holistic philosophy, in which mind and body, people and nature complete each other in harmony. The ingredients that she uses are organic, regionally and seasonally sourced, the chef knows how to treat each vegetable with respect and creativity. It’s about healthful food that gives you energy rather than taking it away from you.

Fans from all over world, many artists and musicians, love her beautiful cuisine, all those fascinating flavors that Masako brings to the table at her cozy restaurant that she opened in 2005. The food warms up your soul. When you get a chance to meet her in her kitchen for a few hours to chop and chat, and peek into her pots and pans, you get a glimpse of this universe that makes her creations so unique and special. Spices are her most important tool, the heart of every composition. She works with perfectly balanced curry mixtures, individually put together for each dish, like in the fish curry that she shares with us. The warming fragrance of mustard seeds and curry leaves sizzling in hot oil are the start, the tempting invitation, before the other parts follow to add more depth: Nam Pla (fish sauce), shrimp paste, ginger, and colorful spices, which she attentively arranges in little bowls next to the cooker. Lotus root, sticky Japanese potato, golden pumpkin and carrot, and various mushrooms lend freshness and flavors to a creamy sauce full of heat.

The love for the kitchen lies in the family, Masako Imura’s mother taught her daughter how to cook and use food for more wellbeing. Masako was the youngest, but physically the weakest, her mother paid a lot of attention to her girl’s diet. Nourishing, natural, and rich, using Chinese medicinal cuisine, it helped her to become the strong and inspiring woman that she is today, loved for her curry creations at the Kakura restaurant.

In the next months, I’ll share many new 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!

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

Autumn White Curry with Salmon

By Masako Imura

Serves 3-4

3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
8 curry leaves
100g / 3.5 ounces onion, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
60g / 2 ounces radish, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
60g / 2 ounces carrot, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
100g / 3.5 ounces shimeji mushrooms, shredded
3-4 fresh cayenne peppers, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon grated garlic
40g / 1.5 ounces shrimp paste
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1 tablespoon almond flour
5 g sweet radish root
500ml / 2 cups water
800ml / 3 1/3 cups milk
30g / 1 ounce lotus root, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
60g / 2 ounces yam, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
90g / 3 ounces pumpkin, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
10g / 1/3 ounce white cloud ear mushroom, soaked in water
300g / 10 ounces salmon filet, cut into bite size pieces

Boiled white rice, for serving

A handful fresh coriander leaves, for serving

In a large pot, heat the oil, mustard seeds, and curry leaves over medium-high heat for about 15 seconds or until the seeds start popping. Add the onion, radish, carrot, and shimeji mushrooms, turn the heat down to medium and sauté, stirring once in a while, until soft.

Stir in the cayenne peppers, ginger, garlic, shrimp paste, salt, and fish sauce and cook for 1-2 minutes; then add the garam masala, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic powder, coconut powder, almond powder, and sweet radish root, stir and cook for 1 minute.

Pour in the water and milk, bring to a boil, and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes over medium heat. Add the lotus root, yam, and pumpkin and cook for about 5 minutes or until soft. Gently stir in the white cloud ear mushroom and salmon and cook for 5 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through; season with salt to taste.

Divide the rice and curry between bowls, sprinkle with fresh coriander, and serve immediately.

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

What is your most cherished childhood memory in the kitchen? 

I couldn’t eat carrots, so every day my mum would mash them up so they were easier for me to eat. Every single day without fail. Now I love them.

How old were you when you decided to become a chef?

It was actually quite late, I was 25. Actually, I used to be a cooking instructor, but I was 25 when I wanted to work in a real restaurant as a chef.

What makes Japanese cuisine so special? 

It has to be the culture of using dashi. Western cuisine uses stock but in Japan we use kelp and bonito and have the custom of using dashi instead. Staple Japanese food will almost always harness dashi, giving them a subtle undertone of flavour. I would say that’s what makes Japanese cuisine special.

What kind of dashi do you use in your restaurant?

I use dashi made from kelp and dried shiitake mushrooms.

Which role does curry play in Japanese cooking?

I would say it’s similar to Japanese miso soup, each family will have their own curry. Mum’s curry will always taste like mum’s curry. We’ve always had miso soup, but lots of Japanese people say their favourite curry is their mum’s curry. But each Japanese family will have their own Japanese curry. Normally.

Do you have a close relationship with the suppliers of your restaurant?

There are suppliers I’m close to and those I’m not so close to, but I buy products from them because I trust them, because they’re people I know.

Are organic and local products important to you?  

Very, very important!

Is there a rising interest in Japan for organic food?

It’s incredibly popular.

Do you think that the people – over the last few years – became more critical with their food?

I’ve found that lately more and more people are concerned about their health, and so I’ve been getting a lot more customers who express interest in organic and chemical free food, as well as cuisine that incorporates Chinese medicine.

What fascinates you about Chinese medicine? 

The more I learn about Chinese medicine the more it makes sense, so I study more and more. Of course, each person is different so I have to learn what that means. There are things that will work for someone but not for others, so I diagnose each individual and carefully select the Chinese medicine that works best for them. I love it that, what each person has to eat, is always going to be different.

Where did you learn about Chinese medicine?    

I studied at the Japanese branch of the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

What made you so interested in Chinese medicine?

I’d have to say it was when I was young, my mum used natural things. She actually used natural Chinese medicine more than conventional medicine. Well, we went to the doctors when we were sick, but if we had to take medicine, had to put something in our bodies, we took Chinese medicine. Yeah, that was it. Ever since I was really small, we went to a Western hospital for treatments, but if we had to take anything she always used these really old, traditional Chinese medicines because she thought they were safer. That’s how I was brought up. Then I learned a little about macrobiotics and all sorts of other things. But it wasn’t because I thought “people have to eat these”, it was because each person’s biological makeup is different. And so, I started to make food using Chinese medicine for individuals to match their individual makeup. I slowly realized that I didn’t just have an interest in this, that this was real cooking. There are foods that can be good for certain people but not good for others. There are all kinds of medicinal diets that are good, but finding the right ones for each person can be a challenge.

What’s the clients’ feedback? Do the people come because they want healthy food? Or do they just come because they find it’s delicious?

I think they come because it’s delicious and healthy. Because they want to be healthy in a delicious way.

What’s your association with the cherry blossom season?

It’s the season students start the new school year so it’s seen as the season of new beginnings. It makes me feel really optimistic. This area here called Nakameguro is famous for a lot of cherry blossoms, it’s also called a town of cherry blossoms.

Can you use the blossoms for your cooking?

Yes, I use them a lot. I put them into the rice, ice cream, and pudding. The ingredients I use will vary depending on the season, but they’re all good for you.

Thank you very much, Masako Imura!

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

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