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Friday, March 24, 2017

Teen-Chef Alumni Series: Meet Grace and make Tortellini di Ricotta e Spinachi!

Ready to Start Your own Taste Adventure?

Click here to learn more about Teens in Europe this summer!
Thanks for joining the continuing series on our Teen-Chef Alumni and discover Where Are They Now? 

I invite you to catch up on Nora, Elijah, Maya, Jonathan, and Cary

As well as learn more about Erick, co-leader and instructor of our very talented Summer Taste Team! 

Grace takes her joy of cooking with her wherever she goes! 

"At its root, cooking is a joyous act of love and service that is incredibly rewarding--especially when shared with others. It is also a bit of everything: a way to commemorate past traditions and a way to explore the world, a science and an art, ancient and modern, and commonplace yet extraordinary."

Grace Lutfy in DC

I am excited to share Grace's story with you!

Grace Lutfy was the first teen to arrive at RDU airport for Carolina on My Plate that summer. Her curiosity led her from Michigan to search out this experience, and as she went through the week, she gained comfort in a new kitchen, and all the kitchens we worked in. Whether at Fickle Creek Farm, Anathoth Community Gardens, the Carrboro Farmer's Market, Sunshine Lavender Farms or at C'est si Bon! 

But the kitchen was a place that Grace already loved, and where she had a strong family food and cooking connection that stretches over the Mediterranean.  And still does. 

This was her essay:

"I think the life benefits of knowing how to cook are… numerous. Knowing how to cook is a valuable skill that many people are taking for granted lately. It is a rarity now, with all of the new fast food chains springing up along with the overextension of people trying to do too many things at once. Food and the meal have lost their importance in modern-day society, so learning how to be a good cook would empower me and strengthen me because I could be set apart from the rest of society and be able to raise myself on my own, without depending on restaurants and other people to feed me.

Another benefit that learning how to cook has to offer is that if I was to learn how to cook well, I could teach others and those others could teach more people, and so on. It is a tool that allows people to be creative, have fun, enjoy themselves, and learn new things about the world around them. It can familiarize people with different cultures around the world and bring people together. It can change people’s lifestyles and encourage others to try new things and go outside of their comfort zone.
I love food and all of the variety it has to offer. Once these benefits are put to use, I’ll feel stronger and more independent. The life benefits of learning how to cook are too numerous to count, and I would love to learn how to cook to better the lives of myself and others around me."

And so where is Grace today? Here's where!

I graduated from the University of Michigan last year and received a BA in Public Policy with a focus in international security—or international relations and national security issues. Through my program, I was able to study multiple languages, various regions around the world, the challenges we face, and ways to solve them. I was even able to travel to Greece and take a course about the Anthropology of Food and the Mediterranean Diet. Now, I am in Washington, DC, looking for work in my field and keeping my passions for cooking and food alive. Luckily, it isn’t hard when there is so much to learn, new recipes and techniques to try, and amazing restaurants in the area for exploring new flavors!

I aspire to better understand the world’s history, people, cultures, and movements. My experiences and studies have allowed me to learn so much about these things and more easily connect with any person I meet. Aside from all of this, they have also led me to learn more about myself, my family, my culture, and my history as a Chaldean, Lebanese, and Syrian Detroiter. On an everyday basis, I would say meaningful interactions give me a sense of satisfaction—whether it is helping someone, meeting someone new, talking to an old friend, keeping up with family, cooking for and with others, or sharing a meal. No matter where the future takes me, I know I will have my love for cooking and food. I always have, and I always will.

Grace was recently in Sicily with her mom and sister, who lives there, and they took a pasta-making class at a local pasta shop.

Grace and her sister, Katrina, in Sicily,
cracking a few eggs in the name of pasta!

Grace contributing to the ricotta and spinach filling for the tortellini! 

Grace's sister, Katrina. 

Katrina and Grace's mom, Michelle, with Guiseppe and Andree. 

Katrina, Grace and Michelle, with their Italian instructors, Guiseppe and Andree, holding "certificates" after completing the class.

Grace says, "Class was very tasty and very fun!" 

Merci, Grace for spending time with us again. We can't wait to see where you are headed, but where you are is a delicious place. 

Now who will be next? Join us for the next post on our Teen-Chef Alumni. 

tortellini di ricotta e spinachi ~ tortellini with ricotta and spinach served with a cremini mushroom sauce

this tortellini is from the C’est si Bon! recipe vaults of 2003, when we made a lot of pasta dishes in the school. Long before the whole no carb low carb no gluten craze.

pasta is still very satisfying. but if you are on a no gluten diet, you might try making little bundles with collards or swiss chard. 

4 shallots, finely chopped
1 large handful fresh spinach, shredded
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ tsp. dried or 1 tsp. fresh oregano and thyme, chopped fine
1/2 pound whole or part-skim ricotta
1 t. pine nuts, chopped
3 tablespoon fresh grated parmesan cheese

sauté the shallots, garlic and spinach in the olive oil, add in the ricotta, the chopped pine nuts, and the parmesan.

store in the refrigerator until ready to roll. 
3-4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
4 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoon each olive oil and butter
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
½ bulb of fennel, coarsely chopped
3 cups fresh mushrooms, your choice, coarsely chopped
1-2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup each fresh parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, chopped
½ cup red wine or ¼ cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 –2 cups chicken or veg stock

in a heavy pot heat the oil over medium heat. add the onions, then the garlic, the fennel, and the herbs. sauté these, stirring and tossing, for 7-8 minutes, or until softened. remove to a bowl and reserve. add the butter to the pan, and saute the mushrooms. add the flour and stir till incorporated, then deglaze with the wine or vinegar, scaring up any browned bits of vegetables. add the reserved garlic mixture and the stock and bring to a boil. taste ad season with salt and pepper. simmer for 30 minutes. 

making pasta:
to make the pasta without the aid of a food processor, mound the flour on a smooth work surface.  make a well in the center of the flour and break the eggs into it.  (remove the shells, please!)  add a generous pinch of the salt and the olive oil.  with one hand gradually incorporate the flour from around the edge of the well into the eggs, stirring with your fingers to form a doughy batter.  use the other hand to support the edge of the flour well and prevent the eggs from flowing out.  continue incorporating the flour until the batter feels fairly stiff but still pliable.  if it still feels too soft, work in a bit more flour, until the needed consistency is reached. i truly believe its easier to make pasta this way because you can control the amount of flour and get a better consistency.

rolling pasta:
divide the dough into fist-size portions.  when you're ready to roll, flatten this portion slightly, and fully open the rollers.  flour the flattened dough and pass it between the rollers.  fold the rolled sheet into thirds and turn it 90 degrees before passing it through again.  repeat the folding, flouring, and rolling process four or five times, until the dough is smooth.  reduce the setting by one notch and pass the dough through again. continue taking the machine down a notch until the pasta sheet is thin enough to see your hand through when held up to the light.  now you're ready to get the tortellini in shape.

shaping tortellini:

use a 3" inch biscuit cutter or a well-floured rim of an upside down glass to stamp out circles from the sheet of dough.  in the center of the circles, place a teaspoon of the filling. using a small pastry brush or your fingers, moisten the edge with water. fold the circle of dough in half and press the edges to seal them and form a half moon shape.  you can stop here, or go on to make tortellini.  grasp each half moon, fold up the lower sealed edge to form a cuff, and pinch these curled ends together at the same time to make the familiar tortellini shape. set these aside on a lightly floured surface or sheet pan to dry a little before cooking, maybe half an hour.  usually this is no problem, as you roll more, the first ones dry as you become knee deep in tortellini, then as you begin to cook them, the last ones have a chance to dry.

cooking tortellini:
bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the stuffed pasta, and cook al dente, about five minutes.  drain and serve with your chosen sauce.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Care and Feeding of C'est si Bon! Lemons = One Lone Lemon

I peeked at the lemon tree, and thought I had picked them all, but then saw it. One little lemon left. What should we do with it? 

The care and feeding of C'est si Bon! Cooking School involves more than testing recipes, keeping the kitchen up and running, and unfrozen in the winter, and shopping for ingredients for classes. 

As with any small business there's the inside part; a web-site, and daily emails, and social media. I do think sometimes its hard to see all of the parts, if its shady or sunny, or a tree is down. It's always changing which is a good thing, and a challenge too. 

And then there's the outside part of the farm that is C'est si Bon! Each chapter enjoys its own story; of work, joy, and transformation. 

There's weeding and caring for our garden. It will soon be time to harvest the collards which are doing great. And with that harvest comes the weeding and readying the beds for summer. 

There's the daily feeding of 5 hens, who are down from 10 hens ~ no thanks to a possum ~ but now that possum has been dispatched. 

There is watering and soaking and harvesting shitake mushroom logs, and the occasional take down of a white oak or sweet gum tree that has passed on, and yet might make a good fertile ground for new mushroom logs. 

One of the winter joys is the care of a lemon, key lime, and a bay laurel tree that we roll in and out from the back deck into the tv room. Carefully. 

Our Lemon Tree.

Limoncello in the making.

Our lemon tree has a long history. I bought it on a whim one year for my husband, Rich's, birthday from a nearby garden shop in Carrboro, Southern States.

Rich wasted not a moment in taking the little tree under his wing to nurture and grow. This involved measuring the soil, its composition, temperature, content, and soon a water schedule was set up, as well as an occasional pollination schedule of the sweet flowers in February with a q-tip. 

When its sunny and warm as it was last week, the tree gets rolled outside. 

Over the years the tree has spread and been moved to new and bigger pots, and sometimes, in the winter, under ultra-violet growing lights of a spectrum and color. (Can you tell I am on the outside of the details?)  

As Chapel Hill is in a freeze right now, the trees are rolled in, and huddle together in the entertainment room! We're lucky to have the ability to bring our lemon trees inside. 

Like many of of the farm operations around here, this rolling rigmarole has transformed. It used to be a bit of a disaster as it required coordination with neighbors and friends, and strapping on of weight-lifting belts so there could be groaning and lifting of heavy pots. Pots that grew larger every year.  

All of his care has resulted in a bounty of lemons which are a real sensory pleasure to hold. The thin-skinned Meyer Lemons leave their sweet scent on your fingers.  

This year we had family over to pick! 

The Limoncello Begun. 

Cousins, Picking and Peeling Lemons.

We've used the lemons in every way; salty and sweet, and in a lamb dish we love, for when winter is still hanging on. 

There is one lemon left on the tree. What should we do with it? Send me your ideas! 

Sweet Lemon Curd from C’est si Bon! 

Wouldn't it be loverly to keep a supply of half-pint jars of this wonderful stuff on hand to bring out at the mere mention of company for brunch? It's great for miniature tarts, as a spread for just-baked muffins, between cookies or on the tip of your finger.

makes 2 half pints

6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3 meyer lemons, juiced (you should get a generous 1/2 cup. make sure to strain it, to ensure you get all the seeds)
zest from the juiced lemons
1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into chunks

in a small, heavy bottom pot over medium heat, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. add the lemon juice and zest and switch to stirring with a wooden spoon, so as not to aerate the curd.

stir continually for 10-15 minutes, adjusting the heat as you go to ensure that it does not boil.

your curd is done when it has thickened and coats the back of the spoon. when you determine that it's finished, drop in the butter and stir until melted.

pour the curd into two prepared half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. if you want to process them for shelf stability, process them in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (start the time when the water returns to a boil).

Salty Moroccan Preserved Lemons – from David Lebowitz

Preserving Lemons

Stuffing with Salt

Preserved Lemons

12 lemons

6-8 bay leaves
4 cayenne peppers

scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush and dry them off.

cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there’s a hard little piece of the stem attached. from the other end of the lemon, make a large cut by slicing lengthwise downward, stopping about 1-inch (3 cm) from the bottom, then making another downward slice, so you’ve incised the lemon with an x shape.

pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the incisions. don’t be skimpy with the salt: use about 1 tablespoon per lemon.

put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. add a few coriander seeds, a bay leaf, a dried chili, and a cinnamon stick if you want. (or a combination of any of them.)

press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. cover and let stand overnight.

the next day do the same, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. repeat for a 2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid. if your lemons aren’t too juicy, add more freshly-squeezed lemon juice until they are submerged, as I generally have to do.

after one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they’re ready to use. store the lemons in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for at least 6 months. rinse before using to remove excess salt.

to use: remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. split in half and scrape out the pulp. slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. you may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the tasty juice, which can be used for flavoring as well, then discard the innards.

roasted lamb shoulder with berebere and preserved lemon

for the lamb:
1 (2.2-pound) shoulder of lamb, fickle creek farm
¼ cup coconut oil
1/1/2 teaspoons berebere spice paste
freshly ground black pepper and crushed fennel seed
2 tangerines chopped
1 cup chicken stock and ½ cup preserved lemon

for the vegetables:1 1/2 pounds peeled potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 large onion, sliced thick
1 pound greens, such as cabbage, kale or collards

for the sauce:1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups good-quality hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped

for the lamb:
heat your oven to 350. and when hot, add the coconut oil to a medium cast iron pan and set in the oven to melt and get hot.
meanwhile on a cutting board rub your lamb shoulder with pepper and the crushed fennel seed. then massage in the berebere spices.
place it in the pan on top of the tangerines. roast in the oven for 30 minutes. pull out and deglaze with the chicken stock and lemon. tightly cover with aluminum foil and return to the oven.
turn the oven down to 325 degrees f and roast for 4 hours - it's done if you can pull the meat apart easily with 2 forks.

for the vegetables:remove the lamb from the oven and place it on a chopping board. cover it with foil, then a kitchen towel, and leave it to rest. add the potatoes, onions, and greens to the cast iron pan. return to the oven for 30 minutes. 
when done, remove the pan from the oven and put on the stovetop on medium heat. using a slotted spoon remove the vegetables to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.

for the sauce:
mix stock and flour. add stock mixture to the pan, stirring and scraping the bottom to incorporate any drippings. add the capers, turn heat down and simmer till thickened to desired consistency. taste for seasoning. serve.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Teen-Chef Alumni Series: Meet Cary and Make Scones!

Read how Taste has shaped and inspired former Teen-Chef, Cary!    

Join us this summer ....
For Mouth-Watering Recipes and Forever Friendships Apply Here 

Say Hi to Cary!
Cary was one of our sweet original kid-chefs at C'est si Bon! Her skills grew and she transformed into an intern, which is a teen who leads kid-chefs, in making Julia Child's Chocolate Mousse Beef Bourgignonne or Rich & Creamy Fettucine!
And then it seemed overnight, her passion grew and she stretched her kitchen spoon out to and dipped into the delights of Soupe de Poisson (Provencale Fish Soup) with peppery and garlicky Rouille. 

Grinding Mediterranean Pepper in Provence!
Since embarking on a C’est si Bon adventure over a decade ago, Cary has obtained her BA in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is currently pursuing an MFA in Theater Management and Producing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts in New York City. Cary has worked in theatrical management positions up and down the eastern seaboard, and is currently in the producing management office of New York Theatre Workshop and is a Living Legacy Fellow at The Actor’s Fund. After graduate school, Cary hopes to work in the not-for-profit sphere supporting the development and producing of new plays and expansion of arts education in public schools.

Cary, Now, Living the NYC Dream!

In 2005, We're Excited for Provence!

Cary says, "The tenor of my days vary wildly from Monday to Tuesday, but on this particular Tuesday, I had a meeting off Times Square to pitch and discuss a revival production of a 1967 dramedy, followed by a salad on the go from Westside Market and office work at Columbia University. At 9:00 pm I’ll clock out and head home to work on a budget for one of my classes and another budget for a showcase I’m producing in March, and if I have time I’ll start packing for my trip to Puerto Rico next week! 

I don’t have much time to cook these days between grad school, work, and attending upwards of three performances a week, but I love spending a Sunday evening at home with my fiancée and our cat rolling out a batch of fresh raspberry scones for the week ahead. Cooking gives me a quiet way to focus the frenetic energy from the city, school, and work into something delicious!"

Cary's Raspberry Scones 

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries (6 ounces)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, pulse together flour, cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add butter and pulse until pea-size pieces form. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg yolk. Pour buttermilk mixture through feed tube into processor, pulsing until dough just comes together.
  2. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle raspberries on top. Knead enough times to get the raspberries into the mixture. Gather dough and pull apart into 2-inch pieces. Place pieces on 2 parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets and sprinkle tops with sugar.
  3. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Serve warm with clotted cream or take on the go!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Teen-Chef Alumni Series: Meet Jonathan! and Make Aioli.

Ready to Start Your Own Taste Adventure?
Click here to learn more about Teens in Europe this summer!

Meet Jonathan and Follow His Journey to China! 

Where are they now? Our continuing series checks in with our once teen students, now friends, who joined our past Taste Adventures. Since then they've scattered and created incredible lives that radiate out from when we visited farms and fromageries, made rose scented chocolates with world famous Joel Durand, made crepes, morning brioche and goat yogurt, watched bees buzz over lavender fields, discovered the sharp taste of olive oil, and learned a Provencale secret of mashing garlic, with a fork! Now they are busy melding new ingredients into their own Taste the Adventure journey.

What joins us, still, is this over-riding passion for food, community, and sharing around the table. 

When Jonathan joined us he was a studious lad from Connecticut, driven academically. He was anxious to put smiles on everyone's face as they ate his papeton de aubergine, a pesto and roasted eggplant pate, at the long dining table at Ecole de Cuisine Provencale in Arles. Those tables have gotten wider, and longer, and stretched across oceans. In Jonathan Ginsberg's case, his journey took him across the Pacific Ocean and the aromas of ginger, garlic, and szechuan peppercorns.

On a recent trip to California to promote our 2017 Programs of Taste the Adventure, Erick and I sipped cappuccino's and espresso's and sat forward to hear Jonathan's tales at a cute little cafe near Walnut Creek.

He had a lot to share, including that spark of curiosity that had taken him to Provence. 

Jonathan Ginsberg

In recent years Jonathan co-founded BEEC, Beyond Educational Consulting which in big words provides comprehensive education consulting to students in America and abroad. They focus on high-level service to students, with a team of consultants who have rich experience successfully helping students plan and achieve their education and career goals. 

What inspired him to offer the services of BEEC was his own time studying in Shanghai, practicing Mandarin, a love of and an eagerness to give back to his mentor.

I asked Jonathan, what is it like to be that big a part of Chinese culture, that now he brings Chinese students to the US, and that their culture is now your culture, too.

"There's so much to say about Chinese cuisine, and exploring that and learning that is great. But I know what you're saying, going beyond food is an exploration of culture, and the study of language helps reveal or is a tool to understand the culture. And now having Chinese students come to America, we are exposing them to American culture."He took a sip of cappuccino.

"I still remain passionate about food and in fact, we had a tour of students from China and a cooking class was part of the tour! Cooking is as much about food as it is about people." 

Way back in 2007, Jonathan wrote this essay for his entry into our Provence program.  I think it speaks volumes about who he grew up to be. 

I Think The Life Benefits of Knowing How to Cook Are…

In a world with McDonald’s on every corner and a Starbucks to fill the gaps, subsistence cannot be a valid benefit of knowing how to cook. Instead, cooking, now an optional part of our lives, has been elevated by those who pursue it to the level of art. While I am searching for the chocolate with the perfect cacao percentage for my chocolate flourless cake, it is no different than a painter scavenging to find the exact shade of blue for his sky. While cooking, I feel in control. I am creating, I am tasting, and unfortunately, all too often rushing to cover my burning espresso glazed brownies with tin foil. I enjoy cooking, I especially enjoy cooking with others and using my culinary skills to put a smile on someone’s face. I think, by studying and improving my skills abroad in such a beautiful town, no less, as Arles, that my interest and passion for cooking will be catapulted to new heights. To even imagine being in the same town that housed Van Gogh is somewhat surreal. This may have sounded roundabout, but these truly are the benefits of cooking in my eyes. Cooking gives me an outlet for invention, and acts as a gathering point for friends and family. When I put together a meal for whomever, even strangers, to see the enjoyment on their face, that is the true life benefit of knowing how to cook.

Merci, Jonathan, it was great catching up! 

At the beekeeper's table with Madeleine Vedel!

Jonathan shopping in the Arles Market.

Squid and Potatoes with Aioli Chinois

We made huge bowls of aioli in provence, stirring with the mortar and pestle until the thick gold mayonnaise almost spilled over the edge. this dish is a rich and nourishing favorite of the fishermen of the camargue.  hearty, strongly flavored with garlic, we've added some szechuan peppercorns to give it a little je nes c'est quoi, Chinois style! 

1 onion sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil for sweating the onion
1 kg squid (2.2 lbs) cut in large bite-size pieces
one glass of white wine
3 bay leaves
one cup water
1 kg potatoes (2.2 lbs) peeled and cut in large bite size pieces
4 garlic cloves
saffron in strands or powder

saffron aioli, makes one recipe:

3 egg yolks (very fresh, and preferably at room temperature)
1 teaspoon of Chinese mustard
few threads of saffron
a couple squirts of fresh lemon juice
a pinch of salt
a large pinch of finely ground szechuan peppercorns
1 cup or so of olive oil (preferably a fruity and not highly acidic oil)
the puree of 2 large garlic cloves *

in a frying pan sweat the sliced onion (simmer in the oil till translucent), add the squid and brown lightly, add the white wine, bay leaves and salt.  add a cup of water and cook for 20 minutes. 

prepare the garlic: on a small plate, squeeze the lemon juice, sprinkle the pinch of fine salt, take a sharp pronged fork and place the prongs flat on the plate, take a peeled garlic clove (the larger the easier to handle) and scrape it back and forth on the tips of the prongs. you will produce a fine puree that will be lightly cured by the acid of the lemon juice, ideal for cold sauces and salad dressings.

make your aïoli:
in a bowl start stir with a whisk or a fork the first egg yolk, the lemon juice, the salt, mustard, and szechuan peppercorns; pour in the olive oil in a steady and thin stream, carefully whisking it into the yolk mixture, stop when you reach a good relatively solid texture (about a cup of olive oil). pour your pureed garlic into the aioli, whip up stiff. 

then, go back to your simmering squid and add the potatoes and cook for 15 more minutes. when the potatoes are cooked (a knife goes in easily) drain all and mix in the aïoli with a pinch of saffron.

alternatively, you could add the potatoes at the same time as the squid and cook for a shorter period of time.

serve hot, warm or cold.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dine with Me: Patrick O'Connell, Where is My Veal Tongue?

I apologize for this long post, a cardinal sin in blog-posting land, but I hope you will feel inclined to read about our experience at the Inn at Little Washington. It was a dream of ours for a very long time. How did it turn out? 

We were returning south to North Carolina from promoting Taste the Adventure, our Teen Trips to France and Barcelona up in Washington, DC and Maryland and Pennsylvania. Join us this summer! 

Taste the Adventure, Teens in Provence 2007

On the road and at schools and camp fairs we talk to potential students about how life is so much fuller and better around the table;  both the prep table and the dining room table. We mention how the rich old world charm of Southwest French cuisine complements the flamboyant and sizzling paella world of Barcelona. But as the rolling hills passed by the loud voice of exclamations drifted away. In the passenger seat, I stretched out my co-pilot legs and relaxed as the road meandered south from Pennsylvania on route 81 through rolling hills of northern Virginia. The wind blew, and all along route 81 were wind advisories.

Perhaps the wind blew in all the trouble?

It was a Monday night, the day before Valentine's Day, and we felt incredibly lucky to be going to the Inn at Little Washington. At all! How had we gotten in?

On the way north a few days prior, Rich and I talked about how the Inn at Little Washington had been on our list, and so I clicked on the website and the dining button took me to Open Table. My brain reviewed all the thoughts it used to think about the Inn; was it insanity or bravery to open an Inn of this caliber out in the middle of nowhere. It seemed sheer luxury and lunacy and fun!

But I had lost track of any current news on the Inn or on Patrick O’Connell’s break-up with Reinhardt Lynch or any trouble with the Washington Post and the Michelin star thing or the ratings thing or anything. I well, just thought, this will be fun! Perhaps they knew I hadn’t thought about the Inn at all in a number of years, in the same way that google knows of my interest in shitakes and miso and ads show up on my phone. 

On Open Table I was a bit surprised to see any availability at all. So if my google theory holds up, then had the Inn pegged us as a “not serious” level of diner when we walked in?

It turned out to be a very odd night at the Inn, one I am still mulling over a week later. And still confirmed as we received our menus, signed by Patrick O'Connell. Still no sign of why I received wagyu beef. Instead of veal tongue. 

I had, and still have the utmost respect for the show the Inn puts on, the magnitude of culinary skill, and the menu. As a graduate of the CIA in the early 80’s my education was steeped in veal bones and demi-glace and caramel walnut torte’s and Advanced Pastry Classes and Charcuterie with a capital C. 

With my husband, Rich, I own C’est si Bon! a Cooking School for the last twenty years. I've seen the back of the house, the front of the house, the side of the house, the chicken house, the bee house, and the garden, and what can go wrong is a heckuva lot. And I fully appreciate the dance done every single day in the food business. And I know how it has changed. At least for me. 

C'est si Bon! Cooking School seen from the garden

In Little Washington, we pulled up to the door, and thought it was unusually small. And a bit quiet for the Inn at Little Washington even on the day before Valentine’s day.  Ah, wrong door.

But once we turned around on the main street, and did arrive, the front door bellman led us out of and away from our car, and opened the right door to the Inn. We stepped into a magical, heavenly, beautiful, and quirky room, filled to the brim with the aroma of roses and lilies and gorgeous velvety petals. Truly seductive. 

Gorgeous and seductive entry to the Inn 

We were seated and I had full view of a historical chef’s portrait. I asked but never learned who he was. To begin we enjoyed the cocktail of the evening, a Manhattan made with blood orange and cucumber. Blood orange is one of our favorites OF ALL TIME. 

We were so excited and so the waiter said he’d be happy to include the recipe with our menus, which would be signed by Partrick O’Connell and mailed to us. 

So we settled in to some serious coddling. We had brought a bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin 2006 and met the Sommelier, spoke with her and asked her opinion of whether it should be decanted, and she thought no. 

We placed our orders. One of each menu please. 

Here and Now Menu 

Classic Menu 

We chose a bottle of Sauvenniere from their Wine List.

Our waiter continued to be superb, in that jovial “I am here but have vowed to not bother you, unless you have a witty remark, and then of course I will laugh.” His reactions always seemed perfect. I forget his name, which is too too bad.

The young bread basket dude also was excellent and it seemed he enjoyed pressing as many miniature perfect and poppily seeded baguettes and salty edged crispy thin-sliced hearty caraway scented nuttiness into our greedy fingers as we were to receive them. He told us he had been in the kitchen but now had been on the dining room floor for 5 days. We asked him about the bread starter, how old it was, etc, and he said they don't keep a starter, but they do replenish it every day. Wait, what?  I don't think he had a clue as to what a levain, a bread starter, is. I have tried to find out since returning home if the Inn does indeed keep a starter, but have not found out.

The amuse bouche were outstanding.

Amuse Bouche, Gougere and Potage

And maybe my favorite dish of the night was the 2nd amuse bouche we were served. A braised cube of pork belly swaddled by a kimchi pancake, and sitting in a puddle of chili lime dipping sauce. 

Pork Belly Amuse Bouche

I was totally happy to be led in the taste experience to come and not analyze, poke, or examine. I didn’t want to work at enjoying. I prefer to let the kitchen surprise, delight, and my job, to bliss out, I take very seriously!  

My menu listed veal tongue, which I love and partly chose the Here and Now menu because I love veal tongue, now and then, and also here and now.

So when the lovely young female server, gracefully positioned the wagyu beef in front of me and told me in the utmost detail how it had lived and frolicked and bathed and now ceased to wagyu but rested before me, I was still in. I was so IN, I didn’t realize I was OUT. The dish of lamb with the much heralded Caesar salad ice cream was positioned in front of my husband, and it looked, as Chef Patrick O’Connell might hope, astonishing. Totally. We looked up briefly at each other and smiled. Wow- this must be another  amuse bouche course – ascending in size as well as in number of servings, and our bouche were unbuttoned and excited! (Bouche is French for mouth in case you were getting the WRONG idea.)

As I ate I considered why;  why were we receiving this bounty of bouche’s? 

Was it because we were celebrating Valentine’s Day a day early, and the kitchen was relieved and excited too, happy to play and tease and surprise? Or simply, was this because I had mentioned on the phone, in a breathy rush of adrenaline because I was indeed talking to someone who was standing in the Inn at Little Washington at this very moment and surely there were other phone calls coming in, and I had precious little time to convey who and why we were coming to the Inn, at last. So I had said quickly that we were celebrating life, and love, and 40 years of being and tasting together. So they had been listening! It was as our hosts at Fairlea Farm Bed and Breakfast had prepped us, when they gave us their tips on how to have a very pleasant evening. They hinted that the Inn may do special things for us without ever being asked!
We mentioned being able to see the kitchen and our waiter said that yes of course and would we like to meet Patrick, well, of course, we would be delighted.

Our quaint bed and breakfast right down the street from the Inn. 

With so many stars in my eyes, and maybe some poppy seeds too, I wouldn’t have been good at keeping track of which course we were served and when, and also quite honestly at $218 per dinner, I didn’t ever worry they needed my help to figure this out. But it turns out that I was wrong.

After these dishes were enjoyed and consumed, and whisked away, we received our next courses. For Madame, sweetbreads. And for Monsieur, lobster. Now I looked up, her lipstick was smudged and how did I only just notice? The room quieted and I heard whispers from the old chef’s portrait looking over us from the next room. Was that lint on the carpet? I had not been paying attention.   

The ancient chef portrait

The sweetbreads were supposed to have been my third course, and now my heart began fluttering. It must be me who was wrong. 

Confusion overwhelmed me as I realized we had received our second course first. And had never received our first course at all.


My mouth began to quiver, and my eyes saw off in the distance, the dismay that would soon would arrive, and that I would have to admit. My brain was in the process of telling my eyes to look away. 

To their credit the Maitre’d hurried over before I could look away. I explained what I thought had happened, that we had received our second courses first, and no first courses first. Or ever. He seemed genuinely shocked. He said we would be served our first courses in due course.  

We ate our second courses, and then we were served our first courses.  Not perfect. But I thought all was returning to perfect. 

And that our next course would be perfect, too. I was served lamb and Rich was served. Sweetbreads. We were told he had asked for them. No. No we didn’t. I just had sweetbreads.

The same Maitre-d explained that we could enjoy an extra dish of sweetbreads on them, but alas we didn’t really want to. So, they whisked my lamb away explaining that they wanted us to eat together. We waited for Rich’s duck, and my lamb to return. While waiting they came again to the table, flustered a bit and apologized again, but made no mention of adjusting anything. They exclaimed that we would be served an extra course. That turned out to be cheese. It’s not really that difficult bring the cheese cart around, not that we had wanted them to do anything difficult. 

But the really sad thing is that once the conversation started about what to replace and how to fix, I was taken out of the dream, had a hard time going back in. 

Cheese did not make it ok, though I cannot emphasize how much I love cheese. 
The Cheese Cart and Big Cheese

The Epoisse was sublime and Blue Cheese were excellent. I felt sad that the cheese can't cut it when it is such a big deal, and a very expensive deal, to dine at the Inn at Little Washington. 

Like cheese, we did enjoy dessert, but our heart’s really weren’t in it anymore. We got taken back to see the kitchen, and the beautiful fireplace, and we passed by the wine cellar. Alas, Patrick was not available. But he would sign our menus and they would be sent to us along with the recipe for the Blood Orange and Cucumber Manhattan’s. 

In the kitchen at the Inn at Little Washington

The big fireplace at the Inn at Little Washington

The wine cellar at the Inn at Little Washington

We received our signed menus in the mail yesterday, and you would not know anything had gone wrong. There is no mention of Wagyu Beef. Just the illusive Veal Tongue that I never got to taste. Tongue in cheek, perhaps? They even included the beautiful cocktail recipe, hand-written, which I love that personal touch. The only quirk is an odd curlicue in the word, lovage. At least I think that’s the word. Lovage.

Perhaps it is I who owe the Inn an apology; an apology because I had put the plan to dine there on the back burner; probably for a good 10 years went by since I had thought (I admit this again if it will help) about Chef Patrick O’Connell. But in the time that I did think about him, it was with an almost daughter-like reverence for what he was doing. I know, a little ridiculous, but he was at one time, a mentor, in spirit. I haven't quite figured out what it all means. 

Unfortunately I left feeling like I had waited a long time for a not so great experience. I felt sad at the loss of not only the dream of dining there, but also the reality of it, and I wondered what had happened.

Patrick, what happened?  
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