Art, recipes, cooking and the story of a restaurant are all intertwined in the multiple volumes from the Chez Panisse Cookery Library. In Vegetables, and Fruit Patricia Curtan's subtly tinted colour linocuts are reason enough to buy copies of the books. They capture all the fragile and understated beauty of vegetables and the momentary perfection of fruit, which pass quickly, unless we are alert, curious and appreciative. Before we get to the recipes there is much to inspire and make us pause, to re-think our entire approach to cooking, the way we look at food and raw materials. For instance, following the simple advice to begin cooking only after having explored the market to search out the freshest and best ingredients possible goes a long way in getting a perfect meal on the table. Although it sounds next to impossible in our city bound lives, these volumes urge you to spend a little time with farmers, suppliers and growers, to develop relationships that take you into their world, and help you learn to recognize and select the perfect raw materials in prime condition. The Chez Panisse way reminds you of the miracle of growing your own garden herbs and vegetables, no matter how small your plot. The emotional appeal of anything that you have grown is very powerful – from having planted and managed gardens of several acres of vegetables and herbs, we now have some square feet of herbs, but the excitement remains undiminished in the fresh, flavour packed leaves that go directly from a stem into your pan.
For the Indian home cook, a large number of recipes pose a serious challenge. Many ingredients are exotic and simply unavailable and, some of the techniques are lengthy and time consuming. But there are an equal number of quick and simple sautés, and classics such as Crab Cakes and Risottos, made unique with an original combinations of flavours. Pasta by the season, for instance, moves through the fresh, vivid tastes of spring, to the deeper, heavier flavours of winter, a movement in itself that urges us to look beyond what we have grown accustomed to – a superabundance of out of season produce that simply does not inspire the senses. Lindsey Shere, longtime pastry chef at Chez Panisse is the author of a volume on desserts, including the famous Real Chocolate Cake, and delightful, refreshing fruit based soufflés, tarts and mousses – Prune and Armagnac Soufflé, Fig Tart and Passion Fruit Mousse, for instance to capture your attention.
There are wonderful, enriching notes, drawn from years of experience, and Paul Bertolli's advice on making menus is invaluable to the understanding of how to balance your choices. Over forty years after Alice Waters started Chez Panisse, the message is essentially the same – the creation of really good food requires passion, a connectedness with the source of your raw materials and an investment of your time.
Cooking the Chez Panisse Way appeared in Food Lovers Magazine, Vol.6, Issue 5
Image Credits: K.P.Ponnapa