Friday, January 14, 2011
It’s been a long time since I worked at Chez Panisse. Even after all this time, cooking there is still as clear as day. I learned so much along the way and not just about cooking. It was that, of course, but also about working as a team, working with really talented people and philosophy. I've always said it’s “the Harvard of restaurants” and to work with other cooks and chefs with the same passion is something very special. This also made it a very difficult place to leave.
During the time I worked at the restaurant, I’d made the rounds cooking upstairs in the café, cooking for a summer downstairs, doing first courses, sweating on the line, working the grill and even a stint in pastry. After 4 plus years, I was ready to leave but didn’t want to go. I knew if I didn’t leave then, I might never leave. There were chefs that had been there for 10 even 15 years. I didn't want to be what I called a "lifer!" I decided to talk to Alice about it and see if she had any suggestions.
The year was 1990. I met her at her house and we talked over a glass of wine. I remember it like it was yesterday.
“I want to leave the restaurant but I don’t want to leave Chez Panisse.” I said to her not realizing at that time what I was really saying,-- that I might move on physically but my heart and soul would never ever leave Chez Panisse and the family I’d made there.
“I have an idea! I’m so busy now and don’t have the time it takes to taste the food every day at Café Fanny,” she said. Café Fanny is her smaller stand-up café named after her daughter, that Alice owns with her sister, Laura, and brother-in-law, Jim.
“You have a great palate, would you be interested in going to the Café every day and tasting for me?” Alice said.
Wow, what a job I thought! Get paid for doing what I love to do most, tasting great food.
The next week and for the following year, I “tasted” food at Café Fanny talking and consulting with the cooks. One of the perks besides tasting great food food was all of the fantastic recipes I got along the way. Here’s one of my particular favorites for millet muffins. They aren’t overly sweet but have a distinctive crunch from the millet. Serve them warm for breakfast slathered with fresh local lightly salted butter.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
12 tablespoons millet
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat an oven to 375oF (190oC).
Beat the egg and brown sugar well with an electric mixer.
Add the melted butter and 1/2 of the buttermilk.
Stir in the millet. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together and add to the other ingredients.
Add the other 1/2 of the buttermilk. Do not mix the muffins together too much or the texture will not be good! Place in greased muffin tins.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Makes 12 muffins.