Last week was extraordinary
It began ten years ago, when Evelyn Isaia and her daughter, Camilla, came to a week-long cooking class I was teaching in Paris. By weeks’ end we were friends and over the years we’ve kept in close touch; I taught a class at her home in Miami, and when she and her husband Daniel moved to New York, we would meet there whenever I was in town.
Three years ago we touched base over coffee and marveled at how life was unfolding, and how each of us felt on the brink of change. Describing our dreams for the future, we found them nearly identical: we wanted each to broaden our scope, use our skills to help women and others for the greater good.
Fast forward to last week. If one can fast forward to the past.
Evelyn is now part-owner, with Chef Hong Thaimee (Ngaim restaurant, New York) of Ratatouille and Company, an elegant catering concern with a social purpose, focusing on immigrant women. I am in the process of creating a program to help immigrant and refugee women in Europe. Evelyn now lives in Connecticut where she is socially involved with everything that concerns women, immigrants, and business. She invited me to to teach a French cooking and culture class for building one community, The Center for Immigrant Opportunity, as well as prepare a fund raising meal for the Women’s Business Development Council of Connecticut, for which she is a board member. It was our first “social” collaboration.
It is times like this when I pinch myself to think how lucky I am to have such a “job”. Who else, I think, leaves Paris to fly to New York then, within eight hours of landing is sorting through gorgeous vegetables at a local farmers’ market, in this case, the one in New Canaan, Connecticut. As at any farmers’ market, I always feel like I’ve found the Crown Jewels in the bunches of freshly harvest microgreens, the shiny, firm zucchini, the most, fresh goat cheese, the huge bunches of basil.
The day of the class dawned with me doing mise-en-place, measuring, organizing, making sure that when my students walked in the kitchen, I was ready. They did, and I was, and as I took them through several tastings I could see that not only were they hard workers, but they were hungry – for knowledge, information, anything that I could give them. We worked solid for three hours, preparing appetizers for a cocktail party destined for the Board of Directors and other local influencers.
I’m not sure when I’ve run so fast, laughed so hard, nor watched people help each other in the kitchen so much as we all worked towards our 7 p.m. goal. Teaching is always wonderful, but teaching individuals with huge dreams and watching them vibrate with excitement and passion is like adding Piment d’Espelette to a dish: everything starts to sing. The cocktail party was a masterful success, thanks to a fabulous group.
As for the fund-raiser, well I learned something I already know. It takes a village, which in Connecticut included two talented Culinary Institute of America (CIA Hyde Park) students, Indira Holder and Gabriella Calabrese. With smiles and focus they lined fifty small molds with blanched zucchini strips, plucked cup after cup of cilantro leaves, whisked cream, sliced berries, melted chocolate with butter, and once one job was finished, they were looking for the next thing to do. After two intense days of work in the kitchen, we served the following menu:
New Potatoes with Aioli
Savory Parsley and Ham Cake
Radishes with Butter, Bread, Fleur de Sel
Goat Cheese, Zucchini and Pistachio Verrine
Lime and Ginger Steamed Chicken with Cilantro Oil
Tender Moist Chocolate Cake with Chantilly and Strawberries
Let’s just say that with the help of Indira and Gabi, the dinner was a beautiful success, and WBDC will continue its good work of women entrepreneurs helping women.
There were many notable moments for me. At the end of the class students came to wrap me in big hugs and say “I love you!” And at the dinner, diners tiptoeing into the kitchen to express their delight, gratitude, and to sneak an extra bite. Sharing and giving through food – there isn’t anything better!
I love sharing my love of food with others at our cooking classes. See when I’ll be near you in the States or when you might be near me in Normandy
I raise a glass to “social purpose” and here are a couple of the Connecticut recipes, for your enjoyment.
- 1 ¼ cups (170 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (250 ml) water
- 7 tablespoons (105 g) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into chunks
- 4 large eggs
- ¾ cup (2 ounces; 60 g) grated Gruyère or Comté
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift the flour onto a piece of waxed or parchment paper. Add the thyme to the flour and mix it in with your fingers.
3. Combine the water and butter in a medium-size pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let the mixture boil for 30 seconds. Then remove it from the heat and add the flour and salt all at once. Beat the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. It will go together easily, creating a sort of thick paste. Continue beating until the mixture comes away from the side of the pan and forms a homogenous ball of dough, 20 to 30 seconds. The dough should not be sticky-it will be slippery from the melted butter-but it should hold together well and not stick to the pan or the wooden spoon. If it does, return it to the heat and continue beating until it dries out.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and let the dough cool slightly. Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. When they are incorporated, beat in the cheese.
5. Fill a pastry bag with a ½ inch (1.3 cm) round tip, then fill the bag with the dough. Place walnut-size portions of the dough on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) between them. Bake in the center of the oven until the gougères are puffed, golden, and crisp, 35 to 40 minutes.
6. Remove from the heat, remove from the parchment paper and let cool on a wire cooling rack.
35 to 40 gougères
- 1 tablespoon (15g) unsalted butter
- 1/2 small , white onion, diced
- 4 pounds (2kg) peas in the pod, shucked (to give about 4 3/4 cups peas)
- 3 cups (750ml) herb broth (see recipe)
- 6 tablespoons (90ml) crème fraîche
- Sea salt to taste
- 1 small bunch fresh basil – for garnish
Melt the butter in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, add the onion, stir, cover and cook until it is translucent through and tender, about 11 minutes. Check the onion to be sure it isn’t browning or sticking to the pan.
Add the peas and the broth, stir and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat so the broth is simmering merrily, cover, and cook until the peas are completely tender through, about 10 minutes. Check the peas - the cooking time will vary depending on their size.
Purée the mixture with a wand blender, or transfer it to a food processor to purée, and return it to the saucepan. Whisk in the crême frâiche and cook just until the soup is hot through, but do not bring it to a boil. Season it to taste with salt.
Just before serving, scissor cut the basil (so it is in very fine strips). Divide the soup among the bowls and top each with just a few strips of basil. Serve immediately.
4 to 6 servings