Chez Fonfon and the Golden Bouillabaisse

The eyes are the mirror of the soul and reflect everything that seems to be hidden; and like a mirror, they also reflect the person looking into them. – Paulo Coelho

No other dish in the world better captures the soul and spirit of a single region than bouillabaisse. The rich, often colorful history of Marseille floats sublimely with rascasse in its spicy golden hued broth. Some believe bouillabaisse got its start from the Greek mariners who founded Marseille as Massalia in 600 BC, while others claim its origins are strictly Italian because of a few shared ingredients. The absolute truth may be that no one can precisely pinpoint the exact single moment in time, whether on that fabled riverbed encampment of fishermen and their wives or not, that bouillabaisse was born. What really would be the point of trying to figure that out anyway? It won’t make it taste any better, and it certainly won’t change the fact that bouillabaisse is the mirror reflection of the cultural melting pot Marseille has become. And the deeper I look into it, the more I see my own story reflected in it.

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Barcelona Canalons, The Italian influence on Spanish cuisine

On July 29th, I am hosting a pop-up dinner promising an exciting evening of Spanish Tapas, Wines and old-world Conviviality. The genesis for the event came during a lunch with friends several weeks back; I was hungry for the tapas I used to make when I was Chef of the award winning Pili Pili in Chicago and wanted some people to share in the fun.  I actually forgot how much I loved canalons; there is something incredibly satisfying about eating them. Not sure if it is the textural aspect of soft pasta baked in a creamy sauce that harkens back to the emotions of my childhood or maybe the utter simplicity of it. Canalons are truly an everyman’s dish that crosses several cultural lines. Try making canalons this weekend!

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Lemon Panna Cotta with Hood Strawberries and Fairy Floss

For father’s day, I made a very simple summer time dessert utilizing two of my favorite flavors, lemon and strawberries. It was the combination of two basic pastry components, Pierre Herme’s delicious lemon curd and a basic panna cotta recipe enhanced with a touch of zested lemon. I wanted to share this quick recipe with everyone. Sometimes simplicity is hard to beat.

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Today, the musts and must nots of preparing bouillabaisse are so numerous and so contradictory that one should be prepared to break rules at will. — Richard Olney

The Musts and Must-Nots

Bouillabaisse is perhaps the most bastardized dish that was ever created and as a classicist, that truly bothers me. In its strictest form, bouillabaisse is an assertive flavored, richly textured saffron seafood stew made from a specific list of Mediterranean fish that is always served in two courses. The worst case gives us a barely flavored, thin broth speckled with too many vegetables that some old seafood has been laid to rest in.

Somewhere in between lies bouillabaisse’s true soul, and sadly that has been forgotten, or worse yet, lost.

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The Search for General Tso’s Halibut Cheeks

General Tso’s chicken did not preexist in Hunanese cuisine,but originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese — heavy, sour, hot and salty.

– Chef Peng Chang-kuei

Lisa and I just finished watching the fascinating documentary “In Search of General Tso’s Chicken”. I found it so interesting not so much for the study into the origins of one of America’s most iconic ‘Chinese’ dishes, but because it confirmed my long held belief of why American Chinese food is so damned sweet. Chinese immigrants realized we Americans have a cultural sweet tooth and add copious quantities of sugar to our food to make it loved. The issue and reasonings are far more in depth and complex, but will also shed a lot of light on the story of Chinese immigration in America. The persecution Chinese immigrants were subjected to relates a recurring storyline in America that has happened with many different ethnic group. In some ways, it could be the story of Muslims today.

The side effect of watching was I went on an all out Chinese food marathon shortly after. One dish I ‘created’ was a take on General Tso’s chicken. Perhaps Chef Peng Chang-kuei, the man credited with creating General Tso’s Chicken, would be rolling in his grave if he knew of my spin on his classic Hunanese dish.  I couldn’t help it, all the ingredients were just sitting around at my house waiting to be part of something epic.

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Roast Chicken, the perfect food for red and white wine

Classics can be phenomenal when done right. A simple roast chicken dish could be the best thing you ever eat. ~ Joe Bastianich, noted restaurateur and tv star

Recently I had the good fortune to preview two new releases from Four Graces Winery in Dundee, Oregon. I was asked to pair a dish with whichever of the two I prefered. I opened both the 2015 Chardonnay ‘Gran Moraine’ and the 2014 Pinot Noir ‘Lindsay’s Reserve’ and poured a glass, well maybe two. I took a long sip of each and reflected on taste. I wondered what would go well with each wine. Then I thought, could there be a single dish that actually works perfectly well for both? This could solve the age old dilemma we sometimes face when inviting opinionated friends over who only like red or white wine. Then it struck me like an errant lightning bolt, the answer is as easy as roast chicken….

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An Afternoon in Provence

Sharing good food and wine with someone you love is perfection. – Jean-Andre Charial

The inspiration for today’s lunch in Provence was simple; it was cold out and I longed for comfort food. Everyone has their own mental picture of what that might entail, but for me, it is anything Provencal. What I love so much about Southern French cooking is that it is very approachable, unpretentious and rustic yet at the same time diverse and alluring. A food deeply rooted in its regionality which was carved out by conquest, invasion, and geography. It’s an artist’s palette of beautiful colors and textures, invoking a sensuous and communal dining experience….

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Six Pizza Pies: week three of the Saturday Family Meal

It seemed like only yesterday that the ink was drying on my last post and I had to start the next one. This project may very well end up killing me. I am a slow writer with a busy schedule and a small child. Anyone who does not have a child will never fully understand what the word “busy” actually means. I laugh out loud when younger, single friends tell me how busy they are with all the bars they have to go to and tv shows they need to watch. Try weaving in the curve balls parenthood throws you from time to time.

Portland’s week long ice storm ended as abruptly as it started and spring emerged victorious. With the demise of winter, so ended the season of heavy eating punctuated by the artery clogging big guns of French cooking and all the holiday classics. It’s fortunate because my belt did not have a wider notch to go to. My next move would have been similar to Homer Simpsons when he bought a mumu and decided to embrace obesity. My palate was looking forward to spring and a rebirth of lightness punctuated with bright, colorful splashes of flavor.

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Shakshuka, a Tunisian Egg Dish

Shake Shake Shake, Shake Shake Shake, Shake Your Shuka – KC and the Sunshine Band

This week’s post, actually it should have been last week’s but i got busy, is going to be quick and dirty. I won’t make excuses. I promised a simple weekly post about what we were eating and here it is week two, and I already screwed up. We had planned a weekend away from Vancouver’s snowmageddon, visiting family in Poulsbo, Washington then a leisurely drive down the coast to Astoria, Oregon in search of the Goonies. Everything was so rushed to get on the road that I forgot my sole New Year’s resolution. I did not have a lot of time to think so I reached for a dish that was quick and packed a lot of spicy, comforting flavors. The kind of dish you would probably make hurriedly after finding out your friends, whom you had forgotten that you drunkenly invited over for brunch three weeks ago, were going to be only a few minutes late. Shakshuka is one of those dishes that crosses all cultural boundaries and in the process, has become as ubiquitous on menus worldwide as New England Clam Chowder is in the United States. Shakshuka is piperade on spicy steroids. The word itself translates to “mixture” and generally implies an egg dish with a tomato and chili sauce. It is as much a culinary chameleon as pistou is in Provencal cuisine. You can add whatever you have on hand and still call it shakshuka, baby. I have friends who told me of adding chorizo, goose, fried sweet potatoes or eggplant, but I like a simpler version.

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Saturday Family Lunch: 01 Grateful for Gratins

My only New Year’s resolution this year is to document what we eat “en famille” for the next 52 weekends and produce a short weekly post about it. Consider it part writing/photo assignment, part chronicle, and part a serious interest in recording my family’s diet. “En famille” suggests a nostalgic look into old France where families still gather together to share a weekly meal, usually held on Sunday afternoons. Occasionally extended families would get together in restaurants, but usually it is held at a family member’s home. These meals are leisurely affairs, often lasting several hours withCoq au Vin recipe

lots of great conversation, bonding and comforting home cooked food. It is a time to relax, reconnect and reset the clock for the week ahead. It is an important tradition we keep even living thousands of miles away in the Pacific Northwest.

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Anatomy of a Simple Green Salad

“D’Albignac, being an intelligent man, took full advantage of the adulation which was poured on him; Soon he had his own carriage to transport him more quickly between the places to which he was summoned, and a servant to carry, a fitted mahogany case, all the ingredients with which he had adorned his repertory: variously flavored vinegars, oils with or without fruity taste, soy, caviar, truffles and anchovies, ketchup, meat essences, and even the yolks of eggs, which are the distinctive ingredient of mayonnaise.” – Brillat-Savarin

Chaste perfection is the hardest sought quality a good cook can ever hope to achieve. It’s not how much you can add, but rather how much can safely be removed that makes a dish noteworthy and memorable. A great vinaigrette, therefore, is the perfect litmus test of a cook’s ability. It requires a passionate understanding of how flavors work together as a whole rather than the scientific memorization of  oil to vinegar ratios.

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Anova and the Petit Sale

Sous-vide (/sˈvd/; French for “under vacuum”) is a method of cooking in which food is sealed in airtight plastic bags then placed in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times (usually 1 to 6 hours, up to 48 or more in some select cases) at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 to 60 °C (131 to 140 °F) for meat and higher for vegetables. The intent is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture. –Wikipedia

True confession: I am a closet sous vider. I come from the last of the old guard that rejected sous vide in favor of more classical techniques. I was first exposed to sous viding when I did a stage for Joel Robuchon in Paris in 1996. He had a pork belly dish I vividly remember, the ultimate Petit salé aux lentilles, a melt in your mouth dish of cured pork belly served over creamy lentils. Petit salé is far too bourgeois for most diners of a three star Michelin restaurant and I am convinced the dish was not actually on the menu but there only for gastronomic regulars in the know. Each morning at Robuchon a plastic tub was filled with warm water and a strange device attached. The machine gently hummed while vacuum-packed bags of cured pork belly were lowered in. All throughout prep and service, the machine circulated water heated to a precise temperature around the packets.  It felt like Christmas whenever someone ordered it. Time stopped. Everyone’s attention was fixated on the opening of that one single package and I always wondered who was on the other side of the swinging kitchen doors eating it. Since then, every “modern” kitchen I have worked in had at least one such circulator.

Finally, companies like Anova are making this extraordinary technology affordable and within reach for home cooks to use.

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