1961: “Gourmet’s Basic French Cookbook” by Louis Diat


Truffled Capon.

Vintage food photography continues to fascinate me, especially the quaint-yet-complex aesthetics of 1960s-era French cookery. Within an historical context, the early 1960s proved to be a pivotal era for both French and American cuisine: In France, the death if Fernand Point in 1955 marked the passing of a legend, but at the same time, Point’s legacy and influence would become even more widespread, thanks to his impressive stable of proteges (among them, Alain Chapel, Georges Perrier, the Troisgros Brothers, and Paul Bocuse). Meanwhile, in the United States, Americans were slowly becoming aware of French cuisine in the early 1960s. Helping to foster this awakening, Craig Claiborne began his stint as the “New York Times” Food Editor in 1957, while Julia Child made her television debut in 1963.

As for “Gourmet” magazine, the now-defunct publication was just 20 years old when “Gourmet’s Basic French Cookbook” made its [… read more …]

Vintage Cajun: “The Justin Wilson Cook Book” by Justin Wilson


Being in my 30s — and not being a native of Louisiana — my first exposure to Justin Wilson was from a Ruffles commercial in the mid-1980s. For better or worse, that was also the first time that I’d ever heard the Cajun dialect, a quirky easygoing patois that now has many associations for me, having lived and cooked in New Orleans since then. During the same few years that Wilson was landing these national ad campaigns, his Louisiana-based cooking series began to appear on California public television stations, and Wilson himself began doing cooking demos on several morning talk shows. At least that’s how I remember it, growing up in Northern California.

As a semi-serious collector of vinyl LPs, I would later discover Wilson’s comedy albums from the early 1960s, languishing in the dollar bins, alongside so many copies of “Staying Alive.” Although I never purchased any of [… read more …]

“Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Carême” by Ian Kelly

Cooking for Kings

The full title of Ian Kelly’s Antonin Carême biography is “Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme, the First Celebrity Chef.” Frankly, I’m a bit wary of the term “celebrity chef,” especially in the era of the Food Network and its streak of made-for-TV paper tigers. Placing the word “celebrity” in front of the word “chef” almost seems to diminish the latter; I don’t consider Thomas Keller or Ferran Adria to be “celebrity chefs,” even though they’re both reasonably famous. To me, they’re just chefs — albeit great chefs — plain and simple. I suppose that the word “celebrity” almost seems self-serving in some way, which is really the opposite of a true chef’s character. Although it’s certainly important to build one’s “brand” these days — even with television appearances — the world’s greatest chefs never entered the kitchen with television deals in mind. Professional cooking, with all [… read more …]

Book Review: “Au Revoir to All That” by Michael Steinberger


I suspect that in middle America — and perhaps anywhere else the Western world — most people would assume that the French have cemented their reputation as the world’s culinary avant garde. It’s certainly a fair assumption. Not only have the French enjoyed an enviable culinary tradition for the last two centuries, but Western pop culture has reinforced this idea again and again. The notion of sophisticated French cuisine has become an enduring cultural archetype both here and abroad, as seen recently in movies like 2007’s “Ratatouille,” or even going back 20 years prior, to the Danish film “Babette’s Feast.” Within the media, French cuisine has been portrayed as the Western standard for decades now, and pop culture has continued to reinforce this hierarchy. Even one of America’s earliest and greatest culinary icons, Julia Child, had deep roots in French cuisine.

But for those who have been following culinary [… read more …]

Eating Well: Slow Food Napa Valley’s Potluck Brunch @ Ehlers Estate Winery, St. Helena


The dining area outside Ehlers Estate.

Slow Food Napa Valley hosted a pig roast and potluck on Sunday, September 11th, in conjunction with Ehlers Estate in St. Helena. The following photos highlight the event, which provided a forum for SFNV members to discuss the future of SFNV, and how they can help to increase interest and awareness of the Slow Food movement. Naturally, the brunch was amazing. Please click on any photo for a full-screen view.

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Pig cracklins, up close.

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CIA instructor Patrick Clark carves the Mulefoot Hog, which was provided by Michael Fradelizio of the Silverado Brewing Company and Beer Belly Farms.

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Michael Fradelizio (left) and Patrick Clark (right) remove the pig from the Caja China roasting box. A hungry crowd gathers.

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A […

Book Review: “Cooking: The Quintessential Art” by Herve This and Pierre Gagnaire

“Cooking: The Quintessential Art” is an odd little book, but with noteworthy pedigree. Co-authors Herve This and Pierre Gagnaire have each earned their stripes in the culinary realm (the former, as a food chemist and one of the pioneers of molecular gastronomy; the latter, as a three-Michelin star chef and an innovator of fusion cuisine). As contemporaries, This and Gagniere have both forged unique careers by rethinking the basic elements of cuisine. In “The Quintessential Art,” the two authors delve into the very meaning of cooking, by analyzing the culinary arts through a surprisingly comprehensive philosophical lens. Replete with references ranging from Plato to Einstein, “The Quintessential Art” tackles the philosophy of cuisine in a chronological history, beginning with the Greeks and Romans, continuing into the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment, and eventually tackling modern territory with folks like the Surrealists and the Bauhaus Movement. It’s awfully [… read more …]

Book Review: “Riesling Renaissance” by Freddy Price

“Coffee’s for closers only.” Anyone who has seen 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” might recall this line from the film’s first act, when Alec Baldwin delivers one of my all-time favorite movie monologues. The scene marks Baldwin’s only appearance in the film — a scant seven minutes — but his abusive tirade establishes the movie’s tone, and it sets up the second act perfectly. In “Glengarry,” Baldwin plays the character of Blake, an über-alpha real estate salesman, and a role that was written specifically for Baldwin by playwright David Mamet (as great as it is, Baldwin’s “Glengarry” monologue was not part of Mamet’s original 1983 stage play). During his brilliant rant, Baldwin espouses the acronym “ABC” — short for “Always be closing” — a hard-boiled sales mantra that he imparts to an ensemble of A-listers, including Jack Lemon, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin (with Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey rounding [… read more …]

“Wines & Vines of California” by Frona Eunice Wait: Out of Print

The Bourn and Wise Cellar. Later to become Christian Brothers Winery (1950), and eventually, CIA Greystone (1995).

Originally published as a large pamphlet in 1889, “Wines & Vines of California” offers a decent trip back in time for the California wine geek (although I do stress the word “geek”). I will admit, I found certain parts of the text interesting, but it’s definitely not the type of book that’s geared toward cover-to-cover reading: For one thing, large sections of the text are dedicated to exhaustive lists of grape growers, scores upon scores of names that have very little meaning today, save for just a few. Other sections of “Wines & Vines” address Prohibition, a moot argument if there ever was one (my real criticism is that author Frona Eunice Wait spouts the same points as the other Wets of the day, rendering her “Temperance” chapter a [… read more …]

Book Review: “Life, on the Line” by Grant Achatz

Although “Life, on the Line” is packaged as chef Grant Achatz’s culinary memoir, the crux of the book may actually be the existential question it poses: If a three-Michelin star chef loses his ability to taste, is life even worth living any longer? For most of us, this question may seem a bit melodramatic. After all, taste is just one of our five senses, and there certainly must be more to life than food and cooking. But then again, who are we to judge? The passion, the genius, and the dedication of a three-Michelin-star chef is simply beyond the grasp of most people, even among professional chefs. And if food cooked at the highest level can be considered art, then a chef’s sudden loss of taste would prove every bit as debilitating as a musician losing a hand or a painter losing his eyesight. For Achatz, who was diagnosed [… read more …]

Book Review: “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain, Revisited


Although there are very few books that I’ve ever read more than once, I decided to re-read “Kitchen Confidential” this week, just to see how well the book has held up since I had first read it, almost 10 years ago. In this case, revisiting Anthony Bourdain’s 2000 best-seller seemed like a fitting exercise for me: I had just returned to the professional kitchen last month, after a three-year layoff selling wine at Nickel & Nickel. Naturally, with that much time away from the kitchen, I’ve come to view my current job at Étoile as a new beginning, and in many ways, cooking on the line these last four weeks has been almost like starting over, although the timing and the moves are quickly returning. Similarly, I had first read “Kitchen Confidential” back in 2002 when I really was starting over, at a time when I was first contemplating [… read more …]