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Clement of the beautiful A La Cuisine! tagged me for The Cook Next Door! meme. (Lots of exclamation points around here!) Nicky of the relatively new - and heart-stoppingly stunning - delicious days created it.
So - food blog world neighbor - please let me introduce myself - I'm Louisa - the cook kind of next door.
What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I won't count baking or cooking from packages or mixes because I don't believe that's really doing it on your own. But I have happily made more than my share of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Nestle Toll House cookie dough. My first memory of really cooking on my own was making beef stock when I was nine years old. I don't remember where I got the recipe but I'm guessing it had to be off a PBS cooking show. I'm talking old school - before websites - I'm sure I must have had to furiously scribble down the recipe with a notebook and pencil. I remember assembling all the ingredients - including some big-ass beef bones - and setting it to simmer in my mom's giant stockpot at home. And I'm sure the recipe said to let it simmer about 8 hours - overnight. I woke up to a really great smelling house - but all I had was reduction - the stock had all simmered away and there was no liquid left. I was pretty shattered and didn't attempt stock again until I was an adult.
Who had the most influence on your cooking?
Intuitively, my mom - intellectually, Julia Child. My mom is one of the most gifted natural cooks I know. She's never used recipes - she's like one of those musical geniuses who can reproduce any work after just hearing it once. In her case, after just tasting it once, she can not only recreate a dish, but she can improvise and make it better. Julia Child because she helped me codify all that my mom taught me naturally.
Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
Yes, I do and I'll post it as soon as I find it. It's a picture of me as a baby - looking nonchalant as hell - with my mouth smeared all around in chocolate. Maybe I'm even clutching a melting chocolate bar. I have this look that I hope I'd have even now under the same circumstances - one that says "Yeah? So what?"
Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
Not any more. At Cordon Bleu we were shown new dishes in a demo - once - and then sent off into the kitchen to make it - no recipes, just an ingredient list. In fact, in a French restaurant kitchen you don't ask for a recipe, you ask for proportions. You're expected to know what to do with stuff once you see just the list of ingredients - or given a rapid-fire verbal run-down of a recipe. It is different at El Bulli where the techniques are so unique.
What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
I'd have to say most valued and used would be the mini Fiskars No. 5 Non-Stick Scissors my sister Annie gave me - even though I don't think they're gadgets, but more tools. Biggest letdown maybe some high-tech, supposedly military-grade, heat resistant gloves - they were sewn! The seams split during one service leaving my right thumb exposed. Gimme a torchon any day.
Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
I eat a lot of what some people think are funny combinations - and what I find strange is that people ask me all the time if that's good. Uh, yeah - otherwise I wouldn't be eating it. Really simple things like shrimp chips - or prawn crackers - with fried rice was probably one of the first. I like to use the chips as a scoop to eat the rice - still do. At family meals at the Crillon, my very French co-workers have always flipped out at what they think are my weird eating habits - like eating goat cheese in my spaghetti or brownies with yogurt poured over them. Ooh - weird, eh?! But I have to say that once someone tries it, they like it. One of my staple so-called funny food combos is hot white rice with really ripe French cheese. But is that any different than stinky tofu? I think not.
What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?
As an itinerant chef, I always travel with at least these three things: a bottle of Sriracha hot sauce, a jar of Skippy peanut butter, and a few bars of dark chocolate - I'm not that particular on the brand but at least 70% cacao. Dishes that I don't want to live without but often have to are pizza, old school Chinese-American chop suey joint peanut butter and chicken skin egg rolls, and cheeseburgers.
Your favorite ice-cream?
Commercially, Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Boutique - Pierre Herme's chocolate with cacao nibs. I like stuff in my ice cream
You will probably never eat?
A few years ago I would have said bugs - but I ate silkworms last year, beetle larvae a couple of weeks ago, probably live bug tacos sometime this summer. Did someone say still-beating cobra heart? Bring it on baby.
Your own signature dish?
None yet. I mean there's lots of things I make that my family and friends always ask of me - like with my sister Annie it's always my variation of Spaghetti alla Siracusana - a Sicilian pasta dish usually made with a very Spartan saucing of olive oil sauteed sardines, anchovies, garlic, tomato paste and topped with toasted breadcrumbs mixed with grated Pecorino Romano cheese. I love it but that's not what I consider a signature dish - not in the professional sense.
Any signs that this passion is going slightly over the edge and may need intervention? (added by A Perfect Pear)
Like leaving my family and friends for months - or years - on end to move around in different countries to learn about food? Yeah. But our addiction is evidently socially acceptable right now so I think I've escaped involuntary institutional commitment for the time being.
Any embarrassing eating habits? (added by A La Cuisine!)
When I'm not in a fancy restaurant, I stuff my mouth with food. I look like a hamster when I eat. Little known fact about me - I can fit at least eight macarons in my mouth - something I discovered after service at Ducasse.
And the one and only Clotilde - who
will post her replies as soon as she finishes updating has posted her replies as she's finished updating us on her adventures in New York City on Chocolate & Zucchini.
And introducing Will Thomson of Cooking Fire. He modestly describes himself as "a freelance food and travel writer living in Mexico City [who] starting this fall will be working in China to document rural food traditions, recipes, and the stories villagers have to tell about their food and life." With a scant seven posts to date, he is a culinary and cultural adventurer who tells compelling tales with humility and empathy. Go read his first report - and see his too-vivid pix - of eating live insect tacos and salsa now.
Thank you all so much for organising and participating in this global get-to-know-you.