August 7, 2012
Special to Washington Life
Top Chef Master Marcus Samuelsson at the Howard Theatre, Washington, DC – photo credit Jordan Wright
A child is seated on the grass in the Land of the Midnight Sun, his attention drawn downward by a clump of flowers. They are everywhere stretching across the rolling hillside as far as the eye can see, but he is focused on collecting specific elements for a simple bouquet clutched in his tiny left hand. A striped knit cap is pulled down tightly over his head. He is five. He appears curious and self-assured, methodical and intense, traits he evidences in no small measure to this day. The scene is from a black and white photograph out of Marcus Samuelsson’s latest book, “Yes, Chef”, an autobiographical journey that opens with his earliest memories of his adoption from his native Ethiopia. 3,700 miles as the crow flies, to Sweden.
Marcus Samuelsson’s ascendancy to Top Chef Master is no fluke. Hard work, numerous television appearances and a slew of cookbooks have shown a bright light on his skills and restaurants. His unique path to a life in professional kitchens began when he was cut from his small town of Göteborg’s soccer club because of his slight frame. “I sometimes think of myself more as a failed soccer player than an accomplished chef,” he admits.
For a while he knocked around a few local restaurants until landing in Switzerland where he trained under the old European hierarchical system where Larousse Gastronomique and Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire were the bibles of French cooking. There he was put to the test in a brutally exhaustive regime fraught with demeaning work, withering insults from head chefs and inhumane hours. The system offered internships to Michelin-starred restaurants where the treatment of young chefs was equally as intense. Samuelsson not only survived, unlike many of his peers, but thrived, learning the intricacies and pitfalls of the business from the inside out and perfecting a disciplined mind that would rival that of an Eastern mystic.
Over the years and throughout his travels Samuelsson kept a diary of his food experiences carefully recording the regional dishes he learned to prepare and daydreaming about how he would do them differently when the time came to open his own restaurant – a time that would come when he could at last merge international flavors with traditional cuisine. That day came in 2011 with the opening of Red Rooster in New York’s Harlem where he has put down roots in the city he has come to call his own.
Last month I sat down with him in the newly restored Howard Theatre in Washington, DC where he has created the venue’s current menu and where he was preparing to discuss and sign his latest book along with an onstage cooking demo. He kindly brewed me a cup of Choco Nut Blend from his new line of Ambessa specialty teas he has created this year for Harney and Sons.
Jordan Wright – You say in your book that a jazz musician looks for a new kind of perfect as going “deep in the shed”. Does that apply to you?
Marcus Samuelsson – Yes! Well, sometimes. For me perfection can be different things. When I started cooking French food we were serving only about two percent of the population. Now I find perfection in berbere [an Ethiopian spice mix] and the countryside of Ethiopia where I’ve found the smells and flavors that I didn’t know how to value earlier in my life. Perfection can mean different things at different times in your life.
JW – You mention in your book wanting to hang out with Keith Haring and Madonna. Who would you like to hang out with now that you haven’t yet met?
MS – It’s been planned for me to cook for Nelson Mandela and that would be really nice. It just hasn’t worked out yet.
JW – Who are the chefs that you most admire today?
MS – My grandmother, who was not a professional but got me going, Charlie Trotter who embraced me early in my career, and I love what Alice Waters has contributed to American cooking. Also I look up to Daniel Boulud and the so many of the unknown chefs who are not yet recognized for their craft.
JW – Are you working with any new ingredients?
MS – Well, not new. I love discovering the ancient Ethiopian foods and presenting them to a non-Ethiopian crowd. It’s fun to treat things a little bit differently like using the chili-like berbere with chocolate or on popcorn.
JW – Who’s been the greatest influence in your life?
MS – My mom and my dad who always gave me guidance. My grandmother giving love and cooking, my parents for my schooling, and my Ethiopian mother who gave me the ultimate sacrifice by making sure we [Samuelsson’s sister was adopted into the same family] would survive.
JW – Your book has a powerful message to future chefs that they should be tough, detailed and methodical. Do you think artistry ever trumps hard work?
MS – Cooking is a great craft because it’s a balance between craftsmanship, traditions, storytelling, artistry, finance and marketing. It’s all of those things.
JW – Do you believe that people have an innate talent for cooking?
MS – I’m a firm believer that you have to work on your talent constantly. I’m always traveling and asking myself questions. Talent will get you in the room, but it’s not going to help if you don’t have a good work ethic and curiosity. It’s evolution, evolution, evolution!
JW – Was the White House State Dinner for the Prime Minister of India hosted by the Obamas one of the highlights of your career?
MS – Absolutely! It was a huge honor to be a part of the team on such a big day where so much of the cooking came down to care as well as research.
JW – Let’s talk about your experience on Top Chef Masters.
MS – I learned so much from being with Susan Feniger and Jonathan Waxman, friends that I so much admire, American chefs that came from California and were part of a cuisine revolution that we didn’t have in Europe. What’s great about the show was sitting around before the filming and listening to how they started in a truck back in the 70’s with no money. It was very inspirational. I remember moments that were not caught on tape like when my back went out and Susur Lee was giving me a massage because I could not move. There was such a camaraderie there that you cannot describe.
JW – Do you want to talk about the menu you’ve created for tonight?
MS – It’s really a fun menu. I will celebrate Sweden with its gravlax, go into Harlem with the fried chicken, and then there’s a hash that features Ethiopian flavors, finishing with the chocolate pancake with roasted cherries and blueberries. It’s comfort food and all the things that speak home to me. I’m really excited to be here in the historic Howard Theatre and to witness the resurgence of the neighborhood.
This interview was conducted, condensed and edited by Jordan Wright.
March 10, 2012
Special to Indian Country Today Magazine
The Thirteenth Step by Robert Hayward - photo credit Mark Chambers
By the time author Robert Hayward (Winnebago) decided to write about his journey to redemption in The Thirteenth Step – One Man’s Odyssey of Recovery, he had been through hell and back. His resume read like a psych report – drug dealer, addict and full-blown alcoholic. After 26 years of self-destruction his physical health had suffered, his mind had deteriorated, and his relationships with his parents, wife and three kids were on a fast track to nowhere.
What makes this revelatory book so compelling is Hayward’s honesty and heartfelt sincerity coupled with his admission of failure and his decision to turn to tribal wisdom to heal. It is an intriguing insight into the Native American Church’s peyote cleansing rituals yet a cautionary tale to all substance abusers. Though the Church’s practice of using peyote as a sacred sacrament in its ceremonies is perfectly legal for tribal members [under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994], it is still controversial and fraught with negative connotations since the 1960’s when it was used experimentally by the counter culture.
To this day there are very few members permitted to conduct this sacred religious ritual and they are referred to as ‘Roadmen’. During the lengthy, ritualistic event, Hayward experienced powerful revelations. Eventually with the trust and guidance of the church’s leaders he was granted permission to reveal the ceremony to the outside world and give his profoundly personal account.
Interview with Robert Hayward
Jordan Wright – You seem to have emerged from a nightmare of alcoholism and drug addiction like a phoenix rising from the ashes. What have been the rewards?
Robert Hayward – I started out using at age 14, so for 26 years I was in a daze. Yet immediately after walking out of that tipi my life has been clear. From then on I have been alive.
I knew I was reaching rock bottom. I remember fishing with my sons and I was in a fog. I was looking at them and had an out of body experience like, ‘I’m not participating. I’m just a drunken mess.’ But now I have clarity, plus I developed a compassion for people that have the same problem. I wanted to reach out and help and that’s why I went back to school to study to become a counselor. It really reinforced my need to prevent other people from falling into the same trap.
JW – Why didn’t you succumb to any of the dangers associated with drug and alcohol use?
RH – I was never arrested because I was selling to the cops and I knew when busts were going down. But there was always danger. And the fact that I’m alive is amazing since I’ve been to over 200 funerals over the years and most were related to alcohol or drugs. Most of the people I grew up with are either dead or in jail or still on drugs or alcohol.
JW – It seems almost like a cult of tragedy.
RH – Yes, in a way we loved the drama. We lived for it. It was like – who could be the most distraught.
JW – Do you think there is another way to reach young people or addicts without the use of peyote in a healing ceremony? And as you go forward as a counselor how you think your ways will be most effective?
RH – My primary focus will be the treatment of Native Americans. But on the other hand I still counsel as a volunteer at A Better Tomorrow, a treatment center here, and of course I don’t use peyote there. Basically alcohol addiction is universally a spiritual problem and it only has a spiritual solution. If you look at the twelve-step program, the third step is the key. And I tell people if you can’t take the first two steps of the program, don’t waste your time with the rest of the steps. You have to turn your will and your life over to God as you understand him – you have to have a higher power. And that really is the key and how you go about that is a personal thing.
No matter what race people are, they have indigenous roots and people respond well to simple things like a campfire at night. I’ll take a group of young people and we’ll talk in a circle and it’s a type of spirituality. It has a calming effect. I’ll put the cedar in the fire and bless them with the feathers and we talk using the same rules as the tipi. They open up and talk, as opposed to sitting in a treatment room where they tell you, “You have 45 minutes to spill your guts.” Even a group of strangers will bond. I think the key is to create a bond. We also pass around water to get the four elements going. Once you have shared a night together in a ceremony, you become a relative to everyone there – no longer separated by blood, but bonded by the spirit.
The trend is to turn towards a chemical short-term solution to get the addict through the early stages of abstinence so that they have a better chance at avoiding relapse. The problem is that there’s a 96% or 97% failure rate in the recovery field and which creates a revolving door in some of these treatment centers that charge up to $30,000 per month, so they’re not super anxious to fix it because people keep coming back and the insurance companies keep paying for it. If they can get three cycles out of each person they’re not real motivated for success.
JW – Can you talk about your interest in starting national programs to help addicts?
RH – I’ll work with John Halpern, MD [Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Director of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Center] for who is looking for grants for programs for Native Americans.
The model would be to have an area on a reservation with four tipis and separate the sexes. We’d take the hardcore repeaters for the first night and run them through the ceremony – though it’s critical they go through chemical detox first. Then we would have a ceremony for everyone with members of the Native American Church in order to make a complete circle. What you do in a month in a treatment center, you can do in one night in a tipi. This will speed up their recovery and open up their heart. They would live without cell phones or TVs and we’d have drumming and songs and eating outside. Ideally we would have horses too. What I really want to see from this program is real success. I want to see people not identifying themselves as an addict, which I see as incredibly negative affirmation.
What we have in the Native American Church is a support system for Indian people because it becomes a lifestyle. The social aspects are incredible after we go through the ceremonial night – the bonding is incredible. And then the next morning we become as relatives. It has a lasting bond that becomes our identities. The spiritual aspect is important as well. They have to get a sustainable program going whatever group or church they’re in. I want to start a system that is positive for people – to talk about things that are better. There is a huge demand for that.
JW – Can you talk about the importance of spiritual education from our elders?
RH – That was one of the things that really struck me in that ceremony because the way it works is that ‘The Roadman’ runs it and also speaks throughout the night and different people will talk as the medicine leads you. He will give elder wisdom during the night. There is a huge value to it.
When I counsel kids I ask them what is your real tribal name and clan and then I send them to their elders to talk to them. A lot of these guys think the idea of being Indian is hanging a feather on the rearview mirror of their truck. They don’t even know anything about their family or their tribe, so they lost that identity which then becomes games and alcohol and drugs. Once they sit down and talk to their elders, who are dying to talk to these kids, they come back all excited with stories. It totally changes the way they look at themselves.
The elders would teach us and raise us the way we are supposed to be raised. It’s a huge problem that what we do in all of society is put our elders in housing and separate them – let them rot and grow old. But what you can learn from the elders is stuff you can’t get from books or anywhere else. Unfortunately what you see now is that kids have no respect for elders anymore. And it’s sad. You miss the generational connection without that.
TiPi in Daylight - photo credit Robert Hayward.
In tribal groups I talk about the concept of ‘seven generations’. Seven generations ago my ancestors were praying that I would be alive today and that’s the only reason that I am alive. Our duty is to pray for the next seven generations so that there is still clean air and still clean water and still a place to hide in the trees.
We need to keep that continuous cycle so that we don’t just pray for today or tomorrow and live our life that way. The reason that Indian people are having this problem right now is because we are living in the seventh generation since the conquest. So many Indian people were chased off or diseased that they didn’t have the opportunity to pray for this generation, so the circle was broken at that point. We miss those prayers and a lot of the reason we have these problems now is that our ancestors were unable to pray for us.
So there’s this revival about the seventh generation and it’s in all kinds of prophesies that amongst this current generation young kids will rise up and they will they will have dreams and visions and start to bring back the old ways and start reviving the traditions and I’m seeing that, kids that are learning the songs and how to drum at nine years old and you can see the power coming out of them. The best thing that I see happening is the young kids at the pow wows are starting to dress up again and dance and that’s where you see the connection with their elders who are trying to pass this on to the kids. The kids look up to them and that’s where I see the hope.
JW – What has the response been to your talks?
RH – They are really well received, especially when I start off with the video on my website [www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVP-Z6WcYlo] and the crowd will grow, they really get into the story. Nowadays there is a technological separation because of texting, etc. It’s become a novelty to talk to each other. But for me I feed on the energy of the group. I let them know that it’s time we stood up and became accountable. We owe it to our ancestors to get this right. We have to stop this cycle of drinking. Indian people did not drink. There was no such thing as fermented drink. We lack the enzymes to process alcohol or sugar. It ruins our lives – the abuse and everything. People need to hear that there is hope. We need to start giving them something.
I am realizing that the true niche for this book is all Native Americans, because we haven’t had a book written by one of us with our perspective and way of life fully explained in a long time, if ever. It is fast becoming a book that we as Indians can call our own.
We have the opportunity as spiritual caretakers of this land to hear the words of our ancestors because they [the words] are floating in the wind. Their blood is in these rivers and we are part of this earth. Our ancestors are waiting for us to call on them to heal and we have that opportunity. I hear that drumbeat sitting inside the tipi and I get this incredible feeling. We have to reconnect with that ground because it’s ours – it’s all sacred ground. We all have to put more respect back into the earth.
November 26, 2011
Special to Indian Country Today Media Network
Crow War Pony painting by Kennard Real Bird, Crow
Out of the earth
I sing for them,
A Horse nation
I sing for them,
out of the earth
I sing for them,
I sing for them.
Sung by Lone Man of the Teton Lakota – From the book “A Song for the Horse Nation”, edited by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglaa Lakota) and George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin).
As much poem and prayer as personal tribute, this song shows the respect and reverence American Indians have accorded the horse. For the past three centuries this noble beast has been indispensable to their existence during times of war and peace, altering the landscape of daily life for its caretakers.
The bond between the horse and Native peoples is the focus of the National Museum of the American Indian’s recently opened exhibition, “A Song for the Horse Nation” in Washington, DC. Originally shown on a smaller scale in New York City in 2009, the show has grown to include a sixteen-foot tall Lakota tipi adorned with horse and warrior hand-painted pictographs and fifty additional objects, along with life-size horse and dog statues displaying a Tsisistas/So’taeo’o (Cheyenne) travois ca. 1880, a type of sled made of wood, pigment and hide, commonly used for transporting goods and people.
Rifles belonging to Geronimo (Chiricahua Apache), Chief Joseph (Nez Perce) and Chief Rain-in-the-Face (Hunkpapa Lakota) are also highlights of this spectacular exhibition.
Winter Count on cloth by Long Soldier (Hunkpapa Lakota), ca. 1902. Fort Yates, North Dakota. Muslin cloth. With the advent of the domesticated horse came an unparalleled defense for the Plains warriors, who could ride great distances as well as provide an expeditious escape from the firepower of advancing troops. It served as a vehicle for transport of possessions and people and allowed tribes to roam more freely during hunting season affording them more leisure time to pursue art, spirituality and philosophy. Primitive pictographs of horses painted on muslin reflect daily life, showing the versatility of the horse for hunting and battle as well as horse raids and courtship.
Horses were bred not only for daily use – the hunting of bison was made considerably easier while mounted on horseback – but also for trade, proving to be an excellent commodity in exchange for food, eagle feathers and tobacco. We learn from the exhibit that in the 1800’s a single horse could be traded for 10 guns, 5 tipi poles or several pack animals.
Though the exhibition features objects predominantly from the 18th and 19th Centuries, two of the oldest objects on display are a Spanish Conquistador helmet from the late 1500’s-early 1600’s, on loan from the Autry National Center, and a Seneca comb from around 1600 made of antler with a carved figure of a horse from the George Gustav Heye collection.
Drawing from the museum’s extensive collection of horse trappings as well as artifacts, artwork and personal accounts, are a Menominee wood saddle carved in the shape of a horse ca. 1875; a Northern Cheyenne quilled horse mask; No Two Horns (Hankapapa Lakota) dance stick; a Lakota hide coat embroidered with horse motifs; and historic photographs from the museum’s archives. Along with elaborately beaded regalia and tribal objects, are also stunning works from contemporary artists.
Glass horse mask, 2008, by Marcus Amerman (Choctaw, b. 1959), New Mexico. Multicolored glass.
Glass horse mask, 2008, by Marcus Amerman (Choctaw, b. 1959), New Mexico. Multicolored glass.
Marcus Amerman’s (Choctaw) multicolored glass horse mask is a particularly dramatic piece that echoes the celebratory beaded masks still used in rodeos and mounted parades. The sculpture shares space with “Crow War Pony”, a spectacular photograph by Brady Willette of a war pony, painted in tribal symbols, by artist, rodeo bronco buster and horse whisperer, Kennard Real Bird (Crow) whose family’s ranch lies alongside The Little Big Horn River in Montana, and who is known for his annual reenactment of the Battle of Little Big Horn that draws visitors from around the world. The painted pony is named “Cool Whip”. Trained by Real Bird, the palomino was eventually sold to a family in Minnesota where he has garnered his own notoriety.
It is fitting that Emil Her Many Horses is the curator of this equine exhibit. A member of the Oglala Lakota nation of South Dakota, Her Many Horses is a specialist in Central Plains cultures. His paternal great-grandmother was called Many Horses Woman, meaning she owned many horses, a symbol of wealth and generosity.
“All horses used by Native Americans throughout North America and Canada originally descended from 25 Andalusian horses brought over by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 to Hispaniola [now the Dominican Republic] in the West Indies, eventually making their way through Mexico and Florida and into North America where Plains peoples adopted the horse,” he explains.
“A display map shows California horses going up North, and then the French and Dutch to the East Coast later. With the Pueblo Revolt horses came into Native hands, and then it would be the Navaho, the Arapaho, the Pueblos and the Commanche who have horses. Then they are traded up North, but the Commanche are known to also trade them up to the Shoshone.
I think what we tried to show was really the impact of horses and hunting, because with horses you were able to secure more game such as buffalo and if you could secure more game you had more resources. Since if you didn’t have horses you were hunting buffalo on foot. So the thing that happens is that tipis become bigger because you have more time to make a tipi.
In warfare, other communities who may have been an ally in the past, if they had this resource and you wanted it, it would cause conflict with people that were once allies. But horses also helped in preventing the onslaught of the cavalry and settlers. It kept them at bay.
Possibly Chief Eagle of the Salish (at right), with an unidentified woman on horseback, ca. 1905, St. Ignatius, Montana, on the Flathead Reservation.
Horses also would have an impact on how you traveled. It was either the woman or the dog that would have to carry the material while the men were guarding as they moved camp, because at any time they could be attacked by an enemy scouting party. So it was either the dog or the woman that would carry the material. But when the horses came it made for a swifter getaway. You could be out of there much quicker than to try to wrangle a dog.”
When asked what he hoped visitors would take away from this exhibition, he offers, “It really is the close association with horses that we still have today. For some the horse is very vibrant, still a part of their communities. For some of us it will always be a part of us through our stories, our culture, and our artwork even though we no longer own any horses. But they’re still rich in our culture, our memory and our knowledge.
“A Song for the Horse Nation” runs through January 7, 2013 at the National Museum for the American Indian in Washington, DC. For more information visit www.AmericanIndian.si.edu/exhibitions/horsenation.
Special to Washington Examiner
Up Close With Jordan Wright of Whisk and Quill
Eric Ripert - photo credit Angie Mosier
Based on his popular eponymous PBS TV program “Avec Eric”, the book follows culinary superstar and top toque, Eric Ripert, as he explores the culture and tradition of select regions of Italy, the Cayman Islands, New York and California. In his quest to celebrate the bounty of the regions to he loves so well, “AVEC ERIC: A Culinary Journey with Eric Ripert, Featuring Over 100 Simple Recipes “(Wiley), mirrors the show’s sense of adventure and Ripert’s deep appreciation for local and seasonal ingredients.
Part travelogue, part cookbook compendium, it contains over 100 new recipes drawn from Ripert’s most recent journeys. It is filled with snapshots from the fields and waters he traversed, and the hunters and watermen he met and cooked with. Handwritten notes and hand-drawn illustrations give the book a uniquely personal feel reflecting his convivial spirit and the inspiration behind his approach to each dish.
His outpost in Washington, DC is West End Bistro by Eric Ripert.
Jordan Wright – I loved your latest book. Reading it I felt as though I had been on a wonderful trip.
Eric Ripert – It is like going on vacation but staying home. It’s a good reflection of what we have done in the last season.
JW – Your Zen approach to food, approaching it by its origin and terroir and visiting its source, heralds the next generation of chefs. How have your recent journeys informed what you do in the kitchen today?
ER – If you consider cooking an art, inspiration has to come from somewhere, from your surroundings as a chef. I am inspired by the products, the seasons and the people I interact with. It’s kind of a strange process but I digest the information and then, when I create, it comes out in a dish. It always works for me and it’s the same for a lot of chefs. I teach my cooks how to be aware and how to be inspired by where they are.
JW – Your previous book, “On The Line”, was an energetic minute-by-minute account of the running of Le Bernardin and its kitchens…a detailed primer for any high-end restaurant, owner or server. With your newest book, you take the reader with you on your culinary journey to share in your travels. What would you like to say about your latest book?
ER – Well, I loved it! I wanted to do a documentary on the life of our restaurant but in book form instead of filming with a camera. I wanted to pay homage to my team at Le Bernardin. The idea was to be inspirational to young people in our industry and to demonstrate what goes on behind-the-scenes.
JW – I understand you began your career at La Tour d’Argent in Paris. Was that under owner Claude Terrail? I knew his nephew, Patrick, in New York when he ran L’Etoile and in Beverly Hills when he owned Ma Maison.
ER – Yes, and Patrick is back in Paris now managing La Tour D’Argent.
JW – What unique products did you discover while writing this book that you now use?
ER – We discovered a lot of products during our experience – especially conch and black fin tuna in the Cayman Islands. [Ripert’s restaurant, Blue, is located on Grand Cayman Island in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel].
JW – Your remarks as a guest judge on “Bravo’s Top Chef” have been informative and useful to the contestants. What sage advice do you have for up and coming chefs? And would you hire any of the cooks from the show?
ER – Sure, if they are looking for a job and we have some openings! My advice is if you are coming into our industry you need to make sure you have the passion for cooking, and not for becoming famous. You have to work hard, be humble and be open-minded.
JW – I saw you in May at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC with your cohort, Anthony Bourdain, who wrote the forward to this book. It was a fabulous evening – totally sold out. The audience couldn’t get enough of the live Q and A. I learned that night that you have been waiting to get drunk with The Rolling Stones! Has that happened yet?
ER – Not yet. One can only hope.
JW – What international cuisine would you next like to experience in your travels?
ER – I love Japanese cuisine and would love to spend more time in Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.
JW – In what direction do you think in-home cooking is going?
ER – I think it has been lost a little bit in the past decade, but is coming back strongly because of the recession. People are more inclined to cook at home now because of the influence of cooking shows and celebrity chefs. Today we see more and more people looking for sustainable ingredients, good quality ingredients, and being more concerned about their source.
JW – What can we expect in Season 2 of Avec Eric?
ER – You’ll see more inspiration, more cooking and more fun. We shot in the Caribbean, in Virginia and Upstate New York and Italy too. In Virginia we went to Urbanna to see the soft-shell crabs and visited Wallace Edwards and Sons in Surry for the hams. Later we shot an episode with Patrick O’Connell at The Inn at Little Washington.
JW – What would you prepare to seduce a beautiful woman?
ER – First of all I would try to find out if she has allergies! Then I would prepare something savory, flavorful, light and refined, of course.
JW – What historical person would you most like to dine with? And why?
ER – The Dalai Lama.
JW – Didn’t you just cook for him on his recent visit to New York?
ER – Yes, but I didn’t eat with him!
JW – What did you serve?
ER – I gave him wild salmon served in a light broth infused with a lot of herbs and spices and with summer vegetables. And he ate it all!
JW – You had a bit of a mishap during one of your visits in Italy. What are your new and improved plans the next time you run into a wild boar?
ER – To have a gun with me! Though, no, no, no, maybe not, I’m not a hunter. But I’d like to be close to a big tree that I could climb up in.
This interview was conducted, edited and condensed by Jordan Wright.
Recipe for Spice-Crusted Duck Breast by Eric Ripert for “Avec Eric”
SPICE-CRUSTED DUCK BREAST WITH ORANGE-HONEY GLAZE AND CUMIN-SCENTED CARROTS
Spice-Crusted Duck Breast with Orange-Honey Glaze and Cumin-Scented Carrots
My visit to a bee sanctuary in Sonoma, California inspired me to start cooking more with honey. It is a versatile ingredient that adds a nice, fl oral sweetness.
1 ½ pounds baby carrots, peeled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup water, approx.
1 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
SPICED DUCK BREAST
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground star anise
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless duck breast halves, trimmed
fine sea salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
½ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Place the carrots in a large skillet with the butter, honey, and about cup of water. Heat over medium-high heat and season the carrots with cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are lightly caramelized and tender, about 20 minutes. Finish the carrots with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Stir together the coriander, cumin, star anise, white pepper and cayenne pepper in a small bowl to blend. Season the duck breasts on both sides with salt, then coat the skin side of the duck breasts with the spice mixture, forming a crust.
Divide the canola oil between 2 sauté pans and heat over medium heat. When the pans are hot, gently place 2 duck breasts, skin sides down, in each pan. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until the skin is golden brown and crispy, 12 to 15 minutes. Turn the duck breasts over and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer the duck breasts to a cutting board to rest. Return the pans to the stove.
Divide the shallots between the pans and cook over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the orange juice, lemon juice and honey, dividing equally. Simmer to reduce by half, about 8 minutes. Finish the pan sauce by whisking in the butter and seasoning to taste with salt. Combine the sauce into one pan.
Thinly slice the duck breasts crosswise and place the duck slices on 4 plates. Spoon some of the sauce over the duck and serve with the roasted carrots.
Special to Washington Examiner
Book cover (Joan Nathan)
It was what I call a pajama day. A damp, grey, stay-at-home kind of day. Leaves the color of wet tobacco clung to car windows like parking decals and the fruits of the hackberry and hawthorn trees stained the sidewalks with their juice. The chill of autumn came early, bringing with it a light drizzle after a long night of steady rain. But this was not a day for burrowing beneath the duvet. A visit to the Washington, DC home of Joan Nathan, the great lady of Jewish cookery, was on the calendar and nary a dark cloud would put the squeeze on a much-anticipated luncheon date with the acclaimed author. I was looking forward to discussing her soon to be released eleventh book, “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous – My Search for Jewish Cooking in France” (Knopf).
The kitchen at the Washington DC home of Joan Nathan - photo by Jordan Wright
I entered her well-appointed kitchen, chock-a-block with family mementoes, children’s drawings, books and artifacts, and immediately was smitten with the aroma of her anise-scented oatmeal bread wafting across the room. I ask you, no, I dare you to tell me that there is anything more welcoming than the scent of freshly baked bread.
At a long wooden table before my gourmand-weary eyes rested a bowl of Nathan’s homemade chicken soup with two golden orbs afloat. Redolent of carrots, ginger and nutmeg and bathing in a clear broth with chunks of light and dark chicken meat, the matzo balls glistened irresistibly in the wide white bowl. Curiously each one seemed formed by a different hand, the result I assumed of two separate test kitchen efforts.
Chicken soup with two types of matzo balls - photo by Jordan Wright
One wore the sylvan appearance of a white truffle, all nubbly and crevassed, while the other was smooth and evenly formed – the color of an Asian pear. The matzo balls were the handiwork of the renowned regionalist food writer and they were simple and glorious at the same time. To accompany the soup, a large round loaf of oatmeal bread studded with dates and walnuts was pulled from the oven. “Thump it for doneness.” Nathan cautioned her assistant, and the hollow sound reached into the adjoining dining room. The hot crusty loaf was served with Nathan’s favorite Plugra butter and a green salad with slices of red beets from her local farmers market.
Joan Nathan has been the sole voice of Jewish cooking in America since 1975 when her first book, The Flavor of Jerusalem, was published while she was living and working in Israel for Mayor Teddy Kollek. After she moved to New York City she was one of the founders of the ethnically diverse Ninth Avenue International Food Festival when she worked first under Mayor John Lindsay and later Mayor Abe Beame. Here in Washington her decades-long commitment to local food kitchens like Martha’s Table and DC Kitchen, where she is known for her fundraising “Sunday Night Suppers”, a collaborative dining series with Alice Waters, Tom Colicchio and José Andrés, has endeared her to those in the slow food community.
Many know Nathan from her nationally syndicated PBS show, Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan and as a regular contributor to The New York Times Food Arts Magazine. A two-time James Beard award winner, she is scholar, memoirist and cook in this latest venture.
“France is the link from Israel to America, as far as Jewish food, because Ancient Israel is where all of our foods started before going to Europe and then coming to America. Jewish cooking in France is closer to the original cuisine,” she explained.
Anise-scented oatmeal bread with dates and walnuts - photo by Jordan Wright
She prepares the reader by providing centuries-old historical context for the creation, preservation and tradition of Jewish cookery in France. To understand how certain foods and methods of preparation evolved throughout France, Nathan shows it is necessary to know how the Jewish culture both influenced and was influenced by French cuisine. Not only did they trade in beans, sugar, barley, garlic and other precious foodstuffs, but they brought exotic spices, the art of making fois gras, carp served with sauce verte, and even introduced hot chocolate to the French culinary experience.
Thankfully the book offers far more than the catchy three-dish alliterative title suggests to the reader. Among the more than 200 recipes that have their origin in Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Germany and the Mediterranean, you’ll find such gems as Paul Bocuse’s Black Truffle Soup Elysée, tweaked by Nathan’s kosher re-interpretation; Baba au Rhum from the tiny 16-seat restaurant, Les Arômes outside of Marseilles; and a recipe for a hearty Alsatian Choucroute from a doctor in Strasbourg.
Nathan’s approach to the recipes is very forgiving, allowing the cook to substitute ingredients. “It depends on what’s in the fridge,” she offers. “I think the important thing about cooking is that it should be quick but not processed.” In her mission to find and preserve recipes throughout France, she fills the book with firsthand stories from farmers, shopkeepers, home cooks, professional cooks and Holocaust survivors. This is the sort of treasured cookbook writing that will inspire cooks to experience Jewish food and its culture. The book itself took nearly 4 ½ years of travel, research and recipe testing to deliver to her distinguished culinary and literary editor, Judith Jones, who was also editor to the late Julia Childs.
Lunch at Joan Nathan's among the bookplates - photo by Jordan Wright
As Nathan hand signed 400 bookplates for an upcoming book tour, we ate and spoke of food, family, religion and politics and the cities in which we have lived, traveled, worked and cooked. And as the day went on we nibbled on a large wedge of Comté accompanied by apples, plums and organic maple honey caramels from Sugar Revolution.
Here is her tasty recipe for Moroccan chicken from this marvelous new book.
Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons - photo credit Katie Stoops from the cookbook
Moroccan Chicken with
Olives and Preserved Lemons
When Celine Bénitah cooks this dish, she blanches the olives for a minute to get rid of the bitterness, a step that I never bother with. If you keep the pits in, just warn your guests in order to avoid any broken teeth! Céline also uses the marvelous Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout, which includes, among thirty other spices, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, cloves, and paprika. You can find it at Middle Eastern markets or through the Internet, or you can use equal amounts of the above spices or others that
you like. To make my life easier, I assemble the spice rub the day before and marinate the chicken overnight. The next day, before my guests arrive, I fry the chicken and simmer it.
4 large cloves garlic, mashed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 to 2 tablespoons ras el hanout
1 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
One 3½- to- 4- pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup black Moroccan dry-cured olives, pitted
Diced rind of 2 preserved lemons
Mix the mashed garlic with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, the turmeric, the ras el hanout, half the cilantro, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Rub the surface of the chicken pieces with this spice mixture, put them in a dish, and marinate in the refrigerator, covered, overnight. The next day, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan. Sauté the spice- rubbed chicken until golden brown on each side. Stir the cornstarch into 1 cup water, and pour over the chicken. Bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. Add the olives, and continue cooking for another 20 minutes. Sprinkle on the preserved lemon, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Garnish with the remaining cilantro. Serve with rice or couscous.
Yield: 4-6 Servings.
Preserved Lemons (Citrons Confits)
Preserved lemons are an indispensable item in my pantry cupboard. I use them all the time and believe they are best made at home. Although I have tasted lemons preserved in water or an equal mix of lemon juice and water, I much prefer them preserved in pure lemon juice. Many people scrape out and discard the pulp when using the lemons, but I often include the preserved pulp. I blend a preserved lemon in with my hummus, sprinkle the rind on grilled fish, and stuff my chicken with a whole lemon, and
I dice preserved lemons and mix them into salads, rice dishes, and vegetables. In addition to regular lemons, you can also use Meyer lemons or, as Irene Weil does, even kumquats.
8 lemons (about 1½ pounds)
About ½ cup kosher salt
,1 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more if necessary 2 tablespoons olive oil
Cut off the very ends of each lemon. Cut each one lengthwise into quarters, cutting to but not through the opposite end. Sprinkle
2 tablespoons of salt into the cut sides of each lemon. Put the lemons in a large jar (it’s fine if you have to squeeze them
in, because they will shrink), and cover completely with lemon juice. Let sit for a day. The next day, if they are not covered with lemon juice, pour a thin film of olive oil over the lemons. This will help keep them sealed while they preserve. Put the jar in the refrigerator and allow to cure for 2 to 3 weeks. Before using, scrape off the pulp if desired.
Yield: 8 Preserved Lemons