It was a working vacation. Me, assigned to interview cookbook author Patricia Wells at her Provençal farmhouse. My wife, a personal chef, dedicated to expanding her menu repertoire. So, we ate our way across France. Steak frites on the Champs-Élysées. Salade Niçoise along the Riviera. In bistros and brasseries, cafés and Michelin-starred meccas, we said no to nothing, seeking new food experiences. Foie gras and escargot? Mais Oui! Knowing the language helped. At least while ordering lunch. Yet it was at a Bouchon in Lyon— those warmly welcoming, Beaujolais-flowing, family-run taverns — where I was reminded how food truly is the universal language. Seated elbow to elbow at long communal tables, bouchon customers share prodigal plates of charcuterie, fresh frisée salads with chunks of salty lardons, heaping bowls of blanquette de veau, and bottomless glasses of Cotes-du-Rhone. Seated next to us were three other couples: Newlyweds Stefano and Gia from Italy, who spoke passing English. Recently-retired Mateo and Sara from Spain, who could speak a little French. Plus Jack and Nigel from the UK, who knew some Spanish. We ate and drank together. We talked — or tried to — about where we came from and what we liked to eat there. If one of us couldn’t be understood, another would translate in their tongue, filling in the gaps. All while filling our bellies with saucisson, goat cheeses and surprisingly cheap Maconnais. The Italians talked of Tuscan food and “cucina povera” (poor cooking), using simple ingredients. The couple from Barcelona boasted of their Mercado de La Boqueria, one of Europe’s largest markets with foods of all nationalities. The Brits defended their cuisines, aptly noting London’s unmatched variety of diverse cultures. We were told Americans have the very best beef, even though I was savoring every bite of an entrecôte au poivre. (And every time I taste French Peppercorn Finishing Sauce from LeSauce, I’m right back there all over again.) All around the world, we celebrate holidays with food, comfort ourselves and each other with food, and happily socialize — all with food. It transcends borders, nationality, ethnicity and age. Preparing and sharing meals enables us to come together as a global community, where even complete strangers can connect and feel close. Especially when the one language they all have in common is good food. [ ... ]Read More
Last night's dinner was simply delicious, maybe one of my favorite ever. As I thought about it more, I tried to figure out if there was one thing that made the meal so good. There were three nuances to consider; the Food, the Wine and the People we shared it with.Read More
Was it the Food?A Berkshire Pork Chop simply seasoned with Dijon mustard, fresh cracked pepper, fresh thyme and rosemary. Sautéed mushrooms in a risotto with garlic and fresh thyme. Green beans flashed steamed with shallots, garlic and chicken stock. The Sauce? A three-hour reduction of veal stock, ½ bottle of a good Bordeaux, shallots, garlic, Dijon mustard, tomato paste, fresh rosemary and thyme.
Was it the Wine?A 1989 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac, a first growth Bordeaux, that had been decanted three hours earlier.
Was it Spending Time with Friends?Lisa and Steve are dear friends who we love spending time with. Great people, good conversation and we never know which direction the conversation will go. After considering the pieces, my answer is all three. The Food, The Wine & The Friends. The food was fantastic and our three-hour wait for the gourmet sauce that brought the whole plate together delivered on the anticipation. The wine was awesome as well, rich, smooth, mineral complex. Well worth the wait. You see, I have been holding that bottle since my friend, Mike, gave it to me in 2005 as a gift. That bottle had seen five moves and six homes since he gave it to me when we moved from Ohio. The friends and conversation were also at the center of the meal’s enjoyment. Friends we met three years ago and found out quickly that we had much in common. Alone, the food would have been very good mainly due to the deliciousness of the gourmet sauce, in my opinion. The wine alone would have been crazy good as well and the conversation by itself would likely have been rich. That meal was great because of all three and will never be replicated again. I feel blessed to have enjoyed such an experience. Preparing the food and sharing it with others is something that I love to do. Here’s to doing it again and finding the next greatest meal ever. [ ... ]
One of the things that I enjoy is great food. But what makes a great food experience is the context in which the food is consumed. For me, that context should include interesting people and conversation. Despite living in a small town suburb I have learned that if you look hard enough, you can find not only interesting people to share great food experiences, but discover cultural insights. About 2 years ago, I began to meet a series of working class couples through my kids' private school that shared a love of good food and travel. What we found in our group is that we had a really neat and diverse set of food cultures represented across just 6 couples: Italian, Sicilian, Czech, German and French. In the case of one of the couples, he was a naval commander stationed in Sicily for 5 years and married a wonderful woman from the Czech Republic. In another, the husband grew up in Germany and his mother still lives there - thus, he has a steady supply of great German recipes flowing from her on a monthly basis. Yet in another, was a teacher at our kids' school who grew up in Rome as his father was a missionary. Each couple has an amazing story of how they were drawn to Europe, lived a modest upbringing, and food was the currency in which love was shown and experiences were shared. As I got to know them through social functions, I began to realize we were kindred spirits. Though we all live in a small south Texas town where Mexican food rules the local menus, we all craved more food diversity and thus an old school idea emerged: the supper club. Our idea with the supper club was to get together once per month and a different host home. With six couples, that meant each couple only had to host twice in a year - which meant not a lot of burden. The host couple would cook a meal from their cultural background and share a bit of insight about the food and/or great stories of eating it was part of their growing up. It didn't matter that some couples had cooking skills and others did not, as each prepared food within the limits of their skills and imagination. Likewise, as attendees to these get-togethers, the point wasn't to judge the food and make the host couple feel nervous - but rather to enjoy the new flavors, new stories, and wonderful cultural insights. With each monthly gathering, new stories were shared and friendships built. From regional wines, grappa and liquors, to local desserts and cultural customs, we found that we had created an oasis of culinary diversity amongst an otherwise uninspiring restaurants. Each gathering had become an unscripted adventure and mere acquaintances had become dear friends and conversations invariably allowed us to relive childhood or adult travels through the lens of the foods we enjoyed in those moments. With each passing month, couples who said "we can't cook" began to research recipes and venture into the unknown of spending more time in their kitchen. With each small food victory came inspiration to try new recipes. We've all seen it at one time or another and as the missed culinary adventurer Anthony Bourdain often remarked: food is a common language that brings people together. I've been fortunate to be around the team at LeSauce and have seen the passion they have for inspiring others to plot their own journey to discover great food experiences (regardless of cooking skills). Their little glass bottles of finishing sauce goodness is their way of kick-starting the process. Remember this: where ever you live is the perfect place to begin a great food experience. [ ... ]Read More