I’ve come to believe that home food is best, but it’s not often an opinion that you will hear expressed by a world-class chef, in this case David Tanis, chef of Chez Panisse.
Tanis is living a foodie dream – working six months of the year at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and living and cooking and writing in Paris the remainder of the year. That’s France, friends, not Texas. Tanis’ first cookbook, “A Platter of Figs” was a selection of the Gourmet Cookbook Club and focused on entertaining at home. In his newest cookbook, “Heart of the Artichoke and Other Culinary Journeys,” Tanis writes about cooking for small gatherings at home. The menus are for small groups of 2 or 3 people, medium-size groups of 3 to 6, and seasonal feasts for large crowds.
One of the most charming aspects of “Heart of the Artichoke” is the first section, “Kitchen Rituals,” short essays about food in his everyday life – chopped jalapenos in pancakes, a foodie travel kit with chilies and a tube of harissa, easy apricot jam, a quintessentially French sandwich – baguette, butter, ham. His essay on eating oatmeal will make every mother of a quirky eater smile.
Chef Tanis talked about his new book and his culinary life over lunch this week at Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch Public House. Chef Linton Hopkins prepared the meal with recipes from the book – a crab-stuffed deviled egg to start, followed by a terrine of pork and duck liver, vegetables a la Grecque, a flat-roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary, cabbage with potatoes, Sea Island red peas cooked with bacon,. And for dessert, molasses pecan squares.
David Tanis is a low-key guy with gray, wavy hair and cream-colored glasses who looks very much like the artist he says he intended to be. He didn’t learn to cook at home. Growing up in Ohio, he was only allowed to set the table each night. He learned to cook in college and taught himself to bake. Eventually, he found his way to Berkeley and Chez Panisse. After working as a dishwasher and baker, he rose through the ranks to chef. At first, he and fellow Chez Panisse chef Jean-Pierre Moulle split the work week. When Tanis decided to take a Paris apartment, Alice Waters offered to let he and Moulle split the year, a genius moment in job-sharing. (Moulle spends his half-year in France, aussi).
Unlike many in the restaurant trade, Tanis cooks at home every night after work, eating pasta at midnight. “Eating at home cements the culture,” he said. He laments that children who know only restaurants are missing out, both in the preparation of food and conversation at the family dinner table.
The recipes in “Heart of the Artichoke” cover the culinary globe, but the American and European influences are prevalent. “I’m a cultural chameleon,” Tanis said, “Everywhere I travel to becomes something else in my culinary bag of tricks.” When traveling, Tanis doesn’t visit many restaurants, instead, he books accommodations with a small kitchen and seeks out local markets.
Tanis claims no direct Southern connection to his cooking. “Any Southern influence comes from Southerners I’ve known or Southerners I’ve imagined,” he said. With ingredients like pecans and pork and field peas in his book, I think he’s a Southerner at heart.
I especially like his use of grapefruit in the winter menu. Go into any local market this time of year and you will find the fruit, mellow yellow on the outside, ruby red on the inside. The taste is tart and refreshing, a counterpoint to heavy and creamy winter meals. Tanis employs grapefruit juice in his winter feast titled “Auspicious and Delicious” – a menu that includes black-eyed peas and ham, those crab-stuffed deviled eggs, bread and butter pickles, a relish plate and corn sticks.
Hair of the Dog, Salty Dog, and Other Grapefruit Drinks
There you are in the middle of winter, in a cold, harsh season, and a little sunshine is only too welcome. Citrus is the true gift of winter and there’s something wonderful about freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, mixed with Champagne for a Grapefruit Mimosa, or mixed with vodka for a Salty Dog.
Count on 1 grapefruit per serving; 1 large grapefruit will yield about a cup of juice. There is a world of difference between fresh juice and flash-pasteurized store-bought juice. This is a drink that’s all about the freshness, and no, you can’t squeeze the fruit the day before. And if your New Year’s resolution is a month without alcohol, enjoy a delicious glass of fresh grapefruit juice. You’ll feel virtuous and satisfied.
The proportions for a Grapefruit Mimosa are 1/3 grapefruit juice to 2/3 Champagne. Pour the juice into a Champagne glass, then slowly add the Champagne.
To make a Salty Dog, pour 5 ounces grapefruit juice and 1and 1/2 ounces vodka, both well chilled, into a glass with a salted rim. Without the salt, the drink is called a Greyhound. To make a Pamplemousse, add the same amount of Pernod to the juice instead of vodka and don’t salt the rim.
(Excerpted from HEART OF THE ARTICHOKE by DAVID TANIS (Artisan Books)Copyright 2010.)
I will add that while you’re serving grapefruit mimosas to your grown-up friends, pour grapefruit juice with lemon-lime soda for the children, they will love it.
To accompany: In what I consider a forehead-slapping, bloody brilliant idea, Chef Tanis suggests baking corn stick batter in a Madeleine pan. I just happened to have Madeleine tins and made these beautiful little cakes. And I have to call them cakes because they have sugar in them – true Southerners do not put sugar in their cornbread. They will sugar everything else, including the greens beans (a practice I find unpalatable), but never cornbread.
Just a note on the china in the pictures: this is my wedding china, Orleans Blue by Lenox, and crystal, Classic Laurel, also by Lenox. My 20th wedding anniversary is this month, so I’ve had this china for two decades. It’s true what I was told – I really don’t use it very often. But it makes my heart happy to pull out the bone china and the gold-rimmed crystal for company and special occasions, such as an Auspicious and Delicious holiday feast for family.
Text and images copyright 2010, Lucy Mercer, with the exception of the recipe, excerpted with permission from Artisan Books. The jacket cover and author photo by Joe Vaughan were also provided by Artisan Books.