Why Pistou and Pastis?
To paraphrase the introduction of disgraced former Nice mayor Jacques Medecin’s intro to his wonderful cookbook ‘Cuisine Nicoise’: If I were asked why I write this blog, I would reply: Because it seems to me that I belong to the last generation which has had traditional recipes handed down to it. Because I love Provence and it’s countryside. Because genuine Provencal food cannot be found anywhere except in Provencal homes and a handful of restaurants in the south of France. Because I love cooking for friends and family and watching them discover with great delight the subtlety of my Mediterranean traditions. Because in Provence, and in my family, both men and women do the cooking, passing along their skills from father to daughter from mother to son. But mostly because I want to preserve, add, and possibly share to the history of Provence and its glorious culinary traditions.
The search in life.
I have long struggled to find my place in the universe. The search for our personal treasure often begins and ends in the same exact space, though a journey from adolescence to manhood is usually necessary to fully comprehend what we searched for. The exploration allows us to naively abandon our roots, experiment and possibly forget what we were looking for in the first place, only to find it in the end, right where we started, hiding in plain sight. What we started with, probably was all we ever needed, but we usually are too stupid to understand life in its beautiful simplicity.
Soulful food is the treasure.
I grew up the proud son of two French parents still strongly attached to the old world via a spoon and fork. Living in a foreign land did little to dampen the enthusiasm of joyous memories of the table. My mother would ride to the four corners of the universe, with me strapped to her bicycle basket, to source pure ingredients and fresh baguettes. The scenes from my childhood could have passed for an identical gastronomical life in any French household at the same point in history.
For 30 years I explored, worked and played hard in the chef world taking a circuitous route through many kitchens in the United States, Alaska, Prince Edward Island, and France. I dedicated my life to the joyous pursuit of Bacchanal excess exhibited through great food, wine and occasionally things not so good for me. I’ll save that story for when the movie of my life comes out. I felt compelled to push the boundaries of my knowledge and experience, always seeking to learn more and work myself harder.
Kitchen lives are never easy.
Kitchen lives are never easy on the body. Since I ‘retired’, I rediscovered the love of simplicity, family, living with the seasons and eating food in the spirit of my French forbearers. I remember as a young headstrong chef, making ratatouille one afternoon with my mother. I very finely diced my vegetables, cooked everything separately, mixing only at the very last moment as to protect the integrity of each individual flavor. It was beautiful, colorful and tasty but in retrospect, it lacked authenticity and soul. There was no emotional flashback to a lost childhood in rural France like Anton Ego in the movie ‘Ratatouille’. My mother laughed as she whipped out a perfect rustic ratatouille as she had all her life. With each bite, another layer of flavors unfurled. Her ambrosial version, savored with my eyes closed, conveyed the rich tapestry of the Provencal table.
Southern French food is a simple, unpretentious country cooking.
Southern French food is a simple, unpretentious country cooking based on perfectly sun-ripened vegetables and fruits, fragrant herbs, abundant fresh seafood and pasture raised meats. The cuisine is the culmination of exploration, invasion and the frugality of poor, rural life. It may be cliché to claim one learned to cook hanging off their Maman’s apron strings, but I really did. She was a free-spirited natural who cooked like a great jazz musician riffs. Edible poetry in constant motion. She had a fearless style that was never daunted by lengthy recipes or even the need to follow them religiously. Her voice in the kitchen was dictated by remembered flavors of growing up in Marseille and la belle France. Immigrants hold onto these visceral connections like a shipwrecked person to their life raft. Her food was imbued with a generous helping of love and passion, and it is that French style that I learned. It is a farmer’s market style of cooking.
So why Pistou?
Pistou is a simple flavorful soup made with many different vegetables and beans that change according to the season. There is no one recipe to be strictly adhered to. It is a celebration of whatever season you are in. I renamed my blog Pistou as a metaphor for what I hope to teach home cooks. To cook freely and fearlessly with the seasons. Portland has an amazing foodscape peopled with some of the best food artisans, farms, ranches, foragers and fishermen I have ever seen. Week by week I will share what I find in the context of where I have been in life. Soulful food is the treasure.