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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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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The King of Salmon

Do not neglect this food. Be careful that you do not break the rules in taking care of this salmon. Do not take more than you need. – Yakima legend of overfishing

The Mighty Columbia River

No other river captures the heart and soul of the Pacific Northwest quite like the mighty Columbia River, known to native tribes as Wimahl, Nch’i-Wàna or Swah’netk’qhu. Its story encapsulates thousands of years of human history, interweaving tales of native Americans, discovery, exploration, hydroelectric energy, logging and unparalleled fishing within its waterways.  The Columbia River is the fourth longest in America, stretching an unprecedented 1,243 miles from its headwaters in the Canadian Rockies to the end where it flows turbulently into the Pacific Ocean, near Astoria, Oregon.

Though Lewis and Clark wrote extensively of it in their journals, the river did not get its name till May of 1792 when captain Robert Gray braved the infamous Columbia bar and sailed onto the river for nine days of fur trading. It was named in his honor after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. In 1850, the Columbia River was reputed to have 16 million salmon return each year to spawn in its tributaries. The fishing was so plentiful no one ever thought it could end, but after a century of overfishing, farming, logging and building numerous hydroelectric dams the runs have been reduced to a current population of 2 million salmon.

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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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Choucroute, A Family Christmas Tradition

Choucroute is only good after it has been reheated seven times – an old Alsatian saying

Every family has their own sacred Christmas traditions they look forward to and cherish every year. As children of immigrants, we celebrated in the French style with Christmas Eve being the big social event while Christmas Day was reserved for intimate family.

Growing up it was always the same ritual, my sister and I would go to sleep early on Christmas Eve so Santa could come and deliver presents. I remember many a Christmas trying so hard to stay awake and catch Santa, only to awaken much later by the ringing sound of a sleigh bell and my father shaking me telling me that Santa had just left. After midnight mass we would return home and have a huge feast called Réveillon that was always shared with a large group of friends. My sister Anne and I would open our presents as the party began and be ushered to sleep just before the dancing started. On Christmas Day, my mother always served a traditional choucroute garni….

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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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Good full red. Captivating aromas of ripe red cherry, mocha and violet complicated by an herbal nuance. Sweet, dense and juicy in the mouth, displaying bright flavors of dark cherry, flowers and spices. Finishes very smooth, savory and spicy, with outstanding energy and focus and plenty of early appeal. This complex, multilayered wine strikes me as the best I have ever tasted from Feudi del Pisciotto.

93 points Ian D’Agata, Vinous Media

Cerasuolo. If I had to use one word to fully describe Paolo Panerai’s excellent wine ‘Giambattista Valli’ that would be it. Cerasuolo means cherry like. This wine is so chock full with bright cherry, pomegranate and strawberry flavors I had to wonder if my wife didn’t swap the wine with fresh cherry juice to fool me….

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Pasta alle Vongole

Founded by Russ Raney in 1986, Evesham Wood is based on the idea that small is beautiful. To maintain a high level of quality, we rely on two basic principles: obtaining optimally ripe low-yield fruit from the best possible sites in the Willamette Valley, and using minimal intervention in the winemaking process. That approach is alive and well today, and is evident in every bottle we produce. – Winemaker/Owner Erin Nuccio

The Evesham Wood 2014 ‘Blanc de Puits Sec’ was a wine I had a preconceived notion about. When I looked at the label I fixated on it being a Gewurztraminer rather than the beautiful, dry Pinot Gris it is, or at least mostly is. In addition to the 85% Pinot Gris, there is about 15% Gewürztraminer and a smattering of Kerner, Rieslaner, Traminer and Pinot Blanc blended in. One deep smell of bright jasmine tea, roses and honeysuckle and I knew I was holding a winner….

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Dungeness Crab Sizzling Rice Soup

Sweet, delicious Dungeness crab is always a treat. – Tom Douglas

A lot of people asked what I did with my Dungeness crabs Patricia Edwards, from Linda Brand Crab, graciously gave me at the Portland Farmer’s Market last Saturday. I was in the mood for Asian flavors and decided upon doing a take on salt and pepper crab. It quickly escalated to a sizzling rice version done as a soup….

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Haricot, Bean or Stew?


 ‘Stew’, from Middle French haricot, a deverbal derivation of Old French harigoter ‎(to shred, slice up, slice into pieces), from Frankish *hariōn ‎(to ruin, lay waste, ravage, plunder, destroy), from Proto-Germanic *harjōną ‎(to plunder, lay waste, harry). 

In the sense ‘bean’, etymology uncertain. Influenced in form by the ‘stew’ word, if not originally identical to it; in that case possibly from Mexican Spanish ayacotli, ayacote, or possibly from Calicut. – Wikitionary


bowls of comforting Haricot, an old French lamb stew

I have been eagerly awaiting my 1950’s cassolle to arrive from Toulouse so I can bust out an old school French cassoulet before the cold snap permanently leaves us. Cassoulet is decidedly a cold weather dish, almost an antithesis to Spring’s light dishes punctuated by fresh morels and tender young artichokes. Over the past few days I have been pouring over several old books comparing cassoulets from different eras. Thirteen cookbooks later and I am left with almost as many questions of what constitutes an authentic cassoulet as the hapless person researching “real” bouillabaisse recipes in Marseille. …

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Alsatian Onion Tart

A good friend recently asked for my Alsatian onion tart recipe that I prepared on Christmas Day as a prelude to our annual Choucroute extravaganza. It seems almost counter-intuitive to serve a rich creamy dish before a rich fatty dish, but they really work well together. Try drinking an Alsatian Gewürztraminer with a slight bit of residual sugar to counterbalance the acidity found in choucroute and to marry with the rich pork sausages. …

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Crab and Egg Drop Udon

Portland Farmers Market April 25 2015 09

Dungeness Crab from Linda Brand

“The crab that walks too far, falls into the pot”

Haitian Proverb

Dungeness Crabs are to Thanksgiving menus in the Pacific Northwest what turkeys are to everyone else’s in America. They are the harbinger of late Fall, signalling that Thanksgiving is upon us. Crab bibs are dusted off and pounds of sweet cream butter melted in anticipation of feasts to come. National news reports of large, toxic algae blooms earlier in the year weighed heavy on the minds of locals much like a forecast of a snowless late December haunts the minds of small children facing a Santa-less Christmas. Thanksgiving is here and I started to craving sweet, briny Dungeness crab. I was troubled by recent news stories that there may not be a crab season at all. Rumors were spreading like wildfire that all crabs nationwide, even in Alaska, had been affected with abnormally high levels of a toxin called domoic acid. My heart sunk and I felt heavy and listless. Frozen crab can be found all year long but I prefer the flavor and texture of fresh Winter crabs….

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Artichokes Barigoule Ravioli, or Cooking with Children – part deux

Since getting backed on my kickstarter cookbook project I have been in full panic mode. I have so much work to do to finish the book in time to get it to Torrey Douglass, our phenomenal book designer, to get it to our publisher, to get it to those of you who graciously bought copies and backed my project. A rather shameless plug for my book is right here:bit.ly/KickstartSunshine. You are encouraged to still back my kickstarter campaign as we have set a stretch goal to cover a possible book tour. Many thanks….

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Cooking is Love


From the December 2013 issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine

pas·sion: a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something

sci·ence: systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

I have been involved in quite a few heated discussions surrounding food in my life. I have successfully argued and disproved the myth of Catherine di Medici; whether Italian truffles are better/worse than Perigord truffles and even who has better rib tips, Hecky’s in Evanston or Lem’s on 75th street in Chicago. I am very passionate and deeply opinionated about subjects I hold dear. Controversy is not something I shy from. Nor am I troubled by my penchant for digging my heels in and relentlessly fighting till I turn blue in the face, maybe even purple. I am decidedly stubborn. Strangely I have noticed this seems to be a recurring trait of people with French blood cursing through their veins. Recently I was involved in an internet flare up on a favorite food writing board. The conversation heatedly broke into two opposing camps, the romantics and the scientists, with each side passionately arguing their points.  Perhaps more accurately for my overly literal friends hellbent on reducing life to a series of experiments and cold numbers, one side argued scientifically. The debate centered around the question, is cooking an act of love or a scientific process.

Cooking is like love — it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.

– Harriet Van Horne

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