The Academie du Talent of Louviers highlights young, local talent who, during their one-year tenure at the Academie, meet professionals in their field, perform, and travel together. The goal of this unique program, created by Louviers’ mayor Francois-Xavier Priollaud, is to help set these talents on their professional path, through whatever means are available.
When the mayor asked if I would welcome the group for a cooking class as part of the program, I didn’t hesitate. Who wouldn’t relish the idea of instructing passionate young people who have been chosen because they sing, dance, play the piano, take photographs, tag, ice skate, do web radio and moto cross, slam, and write poetry better than anyone else?
They arrived, aprons in hand, right on the dot and what ensued was the kind of chaos that brings me alive: fifteen people in my kitchen making sense of a dozen recipes. I hadn’t ever met them and had no idea of their experience; what they lacked in knife skills was amply compensated for by their sheer joyful exuberance.
While Benoit, the poet, jumped right into making mayonnaise, Aptékin, the dancer, agreed to fry the chicken. Supervisor Judith, whom everyone referred to as their second mother, sliced cucumbers; Sixtine, a singer, and Marie, an ice skater, set to making the carrot cake. Lea, horse back rider, Zohir, slammer, and Antoine, web radio expert tackled the tamale pie, while Mathieu, pianist, and Lohanne, singer, made the biscuits.
Mayor Priollaud arrived and immediately got involved, laughing and teasing as he minced vegetables. At one point the kitchen seemed full of Mexican jumping beans – Aptékin couldn’t resist doing a few moves as he turned from frying pan to platter; Ecine posed every chance she got, her gorgeous smile lighting up the room; Jean-Baptiste, photographer, snapped, cooked, and snapped some more (he has generously allowed me to use his photos here), Benoit let loose with verse.
As if by magic, at 8 p.m. appetizers were carefully arranged on platters, beer, water, and wine was poured and everyone toasted everyone else. We proceeded to the dining room for the All American meal: Pimento Cheese and Deviled Eggs on Cucumber Rounds, Tamale Pie, Fried Chicken with Coleslaw, Potato Salad, Fresh Hot Biscuits, Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.
As I looked around the table and watched everyone laughing, talking, and eating with gusto – the tamale pie and the fried chicken were particular hits – I saw France, with all of its depth and energy. It was an unforgettable evening!
CARYL SMITH’S TAMALE PIE
PIE A LA MEXICAINE
8 ounces (250g) slab bacon, cut into 1 ½ x ¼ x ¼ inch pieces
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large can (28 ounces;840g)) plum tomatoes
1 can (6 ounces;180g)) pitted black olives, drained (halved crosswise if large)
1 ¼ cups (310ml)milk
3 tablespoons top-quality chili powder
2 cups fresh corn kernels, or 1 package (10 ounces;300g) good-quality frozen corn kernels
3 large eggs beaten
2 cups (400g) yellow cornmeal (polenta)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190C).
- Place the bacon in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fatty parts are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and their liquid, and the olives, bring to a boil, and cook until the mixture has reduced and thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the milk, chili powder, and corn, and return to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the eggs. Then gradually add in the cornmeal, whisking fast to avoid lumps.
- Pour the oil into a 9 x 12 inch (22.5 x 30cm) baking dish. Spoon the mixture into the dish and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven until the pie is cooked through and has cracked slightly on top, 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
8 to 10 servings