This post marks the début of a new monthly feature – a discussion on wine with authors of some of my favorite cookbooks. I got the idea after a conversation with chef and author François de Mélogue about his new cookbook, Cuisine of the Sun. As our chat got to be more and more about wine, I realized that it would be fun to talk to other cookbook authors about wine, too.
Some cookbooks feature wine prominently, both in the recipes and in discussions of what to drink with them. Others don’t necessarily, even if wine gets used as an ingredient in many of the recipes. But wine is an important part of the food experience for many, if not most cooks. And in the few conversations I’ve had so far, there’s been a wide-ranging discussion.
I’m not a journalist by training, and have little experience with formal interviews. I tried to be respectful of people’s time and prepared a few basic questions to ask everyone. But the discussions quickly became longer ones. Really fun, and I’ll be writing condensed versions of our conversations. I hope you enjoy them.
A couple of years ago, I asked blogger friends which blogs I should read for examples of good food photography. Among the responses were some recommending a blog called Eat ‘till you Bleed. It’s written by chef, restaurateur, blogger, and now cookbook author François de Mélogue. I started reading the blog on and off, and the photos were amazing. Then, a couple of months ago, I got asked if I wanted to see a review copy of his new cookbook, Cuisine of the Sun, and I agreed. I wrote about the book in my last post, which also contains some of our conversation.
The road to writing the book was a long one. François grew up in Chicago, attended cooking school in New England, and then worked in restaurants in the U.S. and Paris. He opened Pili Pili in Chicago 2003, and it was named one of the top restaurants in the world by Food and Wine Magazine. He and his wife, Lisa, settled in Portland, Oregon, and François decided to step away as a full-time chef so they could have a more regular family life with their son, who is now five years old. In addition to blogging and food photography, François is a sales representative and, as he calls it, “de facto chef” for a company specializing in foods of the Pacific Northwest.
Who is the audience for your book? I notice there are things in there that people might not ordinarily make, like fish stock and foie gras sauce. I hope people will approach it with a willingness to play around. There’s a lot of dumbing down in cookbooks because people don’t know how to cook anymore. I’m hoping that people who use my book are a little adventurous, no matter how experienced they are. And fearless and sophisticated, too.
I have to say, the photos are stunning. I want to eat everything in there. I appreciate that, it took me a lot of practice to figure out how to photograph food so that you see pretty much just the food, yet still get a sense of where it comes from. I hate over-stylized food photos, because I think most food looks great as it is. Both ingredients and finished dishes.
I’ve been hearing that the locus of home cooking first moved from France to Italy in the 1990s, and now it’s more in the eastern Mediterranean. So why a French cookbook? Especially one that’s got classic dishes that might seem a little more complicated. French isn’t the primary fancier cooking of the world anymore, and I think people need a reminder of how good it is. It’s like reacquainting with an old lover, you meet after a long time and remember all the things you loved about each other.
I’m guessing by your name and the book that you’re partial to French wines? I’m definitely Eurocentric in my wine tastes, although I spent time working for a winery making Pinot in the Anderson Valley and enjoy U.S. wines. But my introduction to wine was absolutely French – champagne got smuggled into the hospital when my mother was giving birth to me, and I got a taste of it right away. I talk about it in the book. I’m sure the doctor wasn’t too happy about it, but he knew better than to argue with her.
And how about growing up? You and I are about the same age, and I remember my childhood in Connecticut as not very wine-friendly. There was a lot of Bolla on the shelves, and that was as far as foreign wines went, at least before the Blue Nun invasion. I remember the Bolla and some old Chianti bottles, too. But we were lucky in Chicago, we could get some good French wines, and my parents liked to entertain. My mother cooked French food, but not because she learned cooking in her French childhood – she used Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But she certainly had lots of excellent food in France, both made by her father’s cook and from great restaurants. My parents loved eating at great restaurants. We also had Italian neighbors who made meals for friends, including my family, and I got exposed to great Italian food and wine through them.
My grandfather owned a hotel and auberge in the Perigord, and at least once a year he would visit his favorite Bordeaux producers to buy wine to serve and drink. When we’d go over to visit, I got to try a lot of wine. And, of course, a lot of wonderful food, too. It’s great having those memories, and they get called up when I have certain foods and wines. It got me interested in southern French food, and also Mediterranean food in general.
It sounds like a great, natural food and wine education. Was there an early wine experience that stood out for you? My grandfather gave me a bottle of 1964 Château Margaux since I was born in 1964. I won’t ever forget it. I’m putting milestone wines away for my son now.
What wines do you like to have on hand to drink every day at home? You can imagine, we drink a lot of wine. Twice a year, a local wine store has a big sale. My wife and I go and buy single bottles of things that interest us. We take them home, try them all right away, they go back and get cases and cases of the things we liked. In general, we go for wines from Provence, and also Beaujolais Villages, which are a great value. We drink a lot of rosé, too.
I think rosés are underused outside of the summertime. My French producers drink them all year round. True, but there’s just something about them in the summer, plus they’re a great summer value as far as wine goes. I think my family’s consumption supports at least one small winery in Provence.
How about nicer wines? I make a big lunch on Saturday or Sunday at home. That’s when I bring out the Bordeaux, sometimes a Burgundy, Rhônes, or maybe an Italian or Spanish wine too. I don’t necessarily think you have to serve “nicer” wines with nicer food, but they help elevate an already great experience even more.
This was my first interview-type chat about wine that wasn’t with a winemaker, wine writer, or wine merchant, and it was really fun. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I had fun, too. I could go on for at least another hour about wine, but I think it’s time for us both to have a drink!
I asked François for permission to reprint one of the recipes in Cuisine of the Sun, Chicken in Half Mourning. The version below contains my clarifications after talking with him about the recipe. It’s a dish that became popular in Lyon in the 1920s, thanks to Eugénie Brazier, who is considered the mother of modern French cooking. François uses her recipe with a few modifications. It’s kind of a simple preparation, despite the luxury ingredients.
The name Chicken in Half Mourning comes from the slices of black truffle under the skin of the chicken breast. It makes the chicken look covered in black, like a woman in mourning. (You can see the effect more in the photo in the last post.) The bird gets poached in chicken stock, leeks, and carrots, and is served with a sauce made from foie gras. You can also serve the poaching liquid as a first course, it will be delicious.
This isn’t a recipe you’re going to decide to make on the spur of the moment. For one thing, the chicken with the truffle slices has to rest in the fridge overnight. And you need really good chicken stock, so if you don’t have it around you’ll have to make that, too. (Sorry about that, normally I’d say you could doctor up some boxed chicken stock. But you’ve got truffles and foie gras in this recipe, so I’m going to have to say no…)
A couple of things to note about the ingredients. You should find the best chicken you can. And François calls for using Grade B foie gras in the sauce. Grade B tastes as good as Grade A, but doesn’t look as nice. You may not be able to find it. But D’Artagnan sells trimmings from Grade A foie gras at a pretty good price (pretty good for foie gras, anyway), so you could use those as well. You only need 4 ounces, and it’s difficult to get that small a quantity from a mail-order source. But you can definitely freeze the rest, particularly if you want to make this recipe again, or make patés or terrines with it. Fresh black truffles aren’t necessarily easy to get, and you’ll need two of them, so plan to make the dish when you can get your hands on them.
Everyone should get some slices of breast meat with the truffles, and some pieces of dark meat. To serve, remove the breast halves from the bones, then slice crosswise. I’d bone and cut up the thighs, too, and then keep the drumsticks and wings for the people who really like them. As I mentioned before, you can serve the broth as a soup, with or without straining it. Keep a little to moisten the chicken on the serving platter.
For wine, I’d go with a red that has some earthiness because of the truffles. Cave la Vinsobraise 2011 Emeraude ($18) is 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah, made from old-vine grapes and aged lightly in oak. Wines from Vinsobres are earthier than others in the southern Rhône valley, and it would work really well here.
From Cuisine of the Sun, by François de Mélogue. Reprinted with the author’s permission.
Serves 4 to 6
Preparing the chicken
2 fresh black truffles
1 3-1/2-pound whole chicken
Use a small paring knife to remove the skin of the truffles. Put the peelings in the Madeira you’ll be using for the sauce and set aside (see the sauce instructions, below). Cut the truffles into 1/8-inch slices. Using your fingers, gently separate the skin on the breast from the meat. Gently tuck the truffle slices under the skin. The chicken will almost look black, like a woman in mourning. Put the chicken on a plate and let it sit overnight in the fridge, uncovered, to let the truffle flavor permeate the meat.
Poaching the chicken
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 leek, sliced thin and washed
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 sprig fresh tarragon
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 quarts chicken stock
Find a sauce pot large enough to hold the chicken and all the chicken stock. Melt the butter and add the sliced leeks and carrots. Sauté for 5 or 6 minutes, until soft, stirring often to prevent browning. Add the herbs and the bay leaf and cook a bit more. While the herbs are in the pot, sprinkle the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Add the chicken stock to the pot and bring to a boil on high heat. Lower the chicken in and bring back to a boil. Lower the heat and poach for 40 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the chicken rest in the liquid for an additional 30 minutes.
Let the chicken rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Keep the chicken moist with a little of the poaching liquid. You can also serve the liquid as a soup, strained or unstrained.
Foie Gras Sauce
¼ cup Madeira
½ cup heavy cream, warmed
Juice from half a lemon, or 1 tablespoon Verjus
4 ounces Grade B foie gras, at room temperature
Flaked sea salt
Cracked black pepper
Put the Madeira in a small non-metal bowl and heat it briefly in the microwave to warm it. Add the truffle peelings and leave them in the Madeira while you poach the chicken. When you’re ready to make the sauce, remove the peelings. Combine the Madeira and the lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Off the heat, start whisking in the foie gras in about 1 tablespoon amounts. Add some of the cream as you do this if needed to make it into a sauce. Then whisk in the remaining cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep the sauce warm, but don’t boil it. Put into a sauce bowl and serve with the chicken.