The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
Most Recent Entries
- Epicurean Hotel, One Week From Opening, Tantalizes With Details [Goat Cheese On The Mini-Bar]
- A Word Or Two About Great Bar Food [And The Golden Snacky Award Goes To…]
- This Haiku Contest/Is All About The Fruitcake/Get To Writing, Stat! [Guess Who’s Judging?]
- Five Edible Christmas Gifts To Buy For Friends and Loved Ones [Black Friday Comes Just Once A Year]
- Giving Thanks For Alternatives To Thanksgiving [Turkey, Shmurkey.]
- Taking A Bite Of The Pillsbury Bake-Off [Fear And Baking In Las Vegas]
- Sea Urchin Crostini, Tiger Beef Salad And Faked Alaska [This Week’s Weekend Eats]
- A Way To Eat Kale For People Who Hate Kale [Chef John Besh Cooks From The Heart]
- The Sip: 3 Daughters Brewing Comes To Live [Pumpkin Tap, Carmel Cafe Cocktails, Great Sips]
- Remembering Marcella Hazan [The Most Important Ingredient]
- Elevage Pops-Up, Offers Taste Of Epicurean Hotel [Duck Duck Goose Burger Blows Minds]
- Where To Eat Outdoors Now That It’s Not 1,000 Degrees [East Hillsborough Edition]
- James Villas’ New Book ‘Southern Fried’ Should Be Battered, Eaten [Everything Crunchy Is Good]
- Prepping For A Pop-Up [Chad Johnson Turns SideBern’s Into Elevage For One Week]
- Putting The Wine [And Other Drinkables] Into The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
Taking A Bite Of The Pillsbury Bake-Off [Fear And Baking In Las Vegas]
Posted Nov 24, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Nov 24, 2013 at 11:13 PM
LAS VEGAS — Strange memories of too many nights in Sin City. Is it five days later? Six? Seems like a lifetime ago, the kind of stiff, perfect peak of a whipped cream experience that never comes again.
But here I am, freshly emerged from the belly of the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off whale, trying to recall what actually happened, sifting the surreal from proven fact.
Forty years ago, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson swan-dived into all that Las Vegas could offer. He left in a blur of hallucinations, car wrecks and hotel rooms with bills for the damage numbering in the thousands.
I went to Vegas earlier this month at the invitation of Pillsbury to help decide which home cook had made the most creative and delicious use of their extensive line of grocery products. I left in a blur of a giant walking boy made of dough, a rental car collision agreement that inexplicably remained intact and a hotel room that seemingly plotted against me.
As Hunter said, you buy the ticket, you take the ride.
To understand the American icon that is the Pillsbury Bake-Off, you need to understand what it isn’t. Specifically, this isn’t a quaint scratch cooking contest for fluffy grandmas in gingham aprons.
The #PBO, as the tweeters call it, is a marketing behemoth of epic size and dimension. For one glorious day, the Minneapolis-based company flies 100 home cooks (97 women and three men this year) and their family members to a single location, assembles 100 makeshift kitchens and countertops side by side in a ballroom, and lets the contestants create their best dessert, breakfast, appetizer or dinner using Pillsbury products.
Grand prize: $1 million.
This month’s bake-off was the 46th time Pillsbury has assembled such a spectacle. In recent years, it has been held every two years, alternating between giant hotels in Dallas and Orlando.
But this is the era of Instagram and Snapchat and selfies. Two years is an eternity. And unlike 1949, when the bake-off started at the prim and prestigious Waldorf Astoria, two years between million-dollar winners is two years too long. This is a country that Wikipedias the latest results of “Chopped” and “Hell’s Kitchen” with lightning speed. Food contests are everywhere now, nibbling at Pillsbury’s heels, so the company plans to hold the bake-off every year and take it on the road to more places. In 2014, the circus will move to Nashville.
This year, Pillsbury dipped a toe into Las Vegas, pushing all of its corporate chips to the center of the table at the Aria hotel. It was a gamble of sorts, mashing up the clean image of home baking with the hyperplastic prism of the flamingo in the desert.
The doughboy. At a casino. Without irony.
This I had to see.
Judging the Pillsbury Bake-Off means signing myriad forms that declare you will, in essence, keep your big yap shut.
This is a contest, after all. One with a great deal of money at stake. The criteria for judging, the format by which 100 dishes are judged, even the very look of the room on judging day are considered trade secrets by Pillsbury, its parent company General Mills and its Ohio-based affiliate, the J.M. Smucker Co.
What I can tell you is this: The judges take on the task with great seriousness.
Joining me this year were Lynn Blanchard, test kitchen director for Better Homes & Gardens; Alice Currah, cookbook author and blogger at Savory Sweet Life; food writer and cookbook author David Joachim; Lori Lange, cookbook author and blogger at Recipe Girl; Charlyne Mattox, food editor at Real Simple magazine; and John Szymanski, corporate chef for Kroger groceries.
My category assignment this year was “Simple Sweets & Starters” — desserts and appetizers. Thank goodness I had the steady hand of food marketing expert and journalist Phil Lempert and food writer and blogger Nicole Weston to guide me.
Our category had 34 finalists.
Think about that for a moment.
Even if you take only one bite of each recipe, it still requires a judge to take THIRTY-FOUR BITES OF FOOD NEVER INTENDED TO BE SIMULTANEOUSLY IN THE SAME BELLY.
I’m sorry, but I think that’s an amazing achievement.
Imagine the best meal you’ve ever had. The finest vittles. Cooked by the most accomplished chef on Earth. An absolute dream buffet of flavors. Ask yourself this: Would you eat 34 bites of it? Would you want that many? How would your soul respond? More importantly, how would your innards?
Now imagine if that meal was prepared by 34 nervous home cooks using brand new equipment under the most intense spotlight possible for the highest stakes for which they’ll ever compete.
In that context, 34 bites takes on new meaning.
For the better part of three hours, Nicole, Phil and I pushed our way through tarts, cookies, cakes, pizzas, tacos and so many things I cannot begin to remember. Then we sat for another four hours, whittling our way to a final champion, as well as winners in ancillary categories.
We did this in a windowless brown paper bag of a conference room with cathedral ceilings, a leather pit group and fake lighted trees on the walls. Every trip to the bathroom, which according to my OCD was 212 steps away in a back channel of the Aria, required an escort to ensure that no contact was made between any judges and contestants. During one trip back to the room, I hummed the theme to “Lawrence of Arabia.”
None of the entries comes into the judging room with anything more than a number and a description. So extreme is the demand that judge and cooks never come in contact that Pillsbury emailed each of us to stipulate that we avoid reading anything about the contest or about anyone in our area who qualified for the trip to Vegas.
During a radio interview prior to the bake-off, a host happened to mention that several finalists were from Florida, a fact of which I was previously unaware. On the air I did that thing 5-year-olds do where they clasp their ears and yell, “LA-LA-LA, I AM NOT LISTENING!”
After the contest, I would read that seven from Florida qualified, including Bethany Perry of Largo, Debbie Reid of Clearwater, JoAnne Tucker and Anna Zovk of Tampa and Marie Valdez of Brandon. The truth is, I didn’t want to meet them.
I lack the emotional fortitude necessary to look people in the eyes and tell them that their dish was delicious, but not quite enough to win a million dollars and change their life forever. I am a frightened little rabbit of a man in that regard.
Which is why I went in search of Thai food, dive bars and lounges with flaming fountains until 2 a.m. on the night before the contest. It was pure passive-aggressive avoidance of the Herculean task ahead.
In my own defense, let me first say that I am a lousy drinker. My house is full of dusty wine bottles, full-to-the-brim whiskey decanters and empty glasses. I enjoy beer, but only one glass at a time and frequently weeks or months apart unless professionally obligated.
Which reminds me that it’s time for a gratuitous Hunter S. Thompson quote:
“Take it from me, there’s nothing like a job well done. Except the quiet enveloping darkness at the bottom of a bottle of Jim Beam after a job done any way at all.”
I am no Hunter S. Thompson.
Which is to say that when I went with a group to the Double Down bar off the Vegas strip, I did so in order to walk in the path of Anthony Bourdain, who just so happened to be in town that same weekend. He declared on Eatocracy.com that the Double Down, which has the words “SHUT UP AND DRINK” painted in white letters on a graffiti-strewn black wall next to a pool table, is a dive bar of the highest magnitude.
He was right. It was magnificent. They served bacon martinis. They played The Ramones. And they took advantage of poor wanna-be rebel tourists like me by selling hunch punch in a souvenir porcelain toilet at $10 a pop. I can’t print the drink’s name in an upstanding publication such as this. Suffice to say it was referred to as “Hiney Water.” The pitying look on my wife’s face as she sat next to me said, “Intervention.”
We also spent a large portion of the pre-bake-off night at Lotus of Siam throwing culinary pleasures of the Far East down our gullet. This was another Bourdain recommendation, one with a tremendous menu in an off-the-strip strip mall that has a billiards hall, multiple Asian nail salons and a swingers club as neighbors.
Don’t let the scary place fool you. We were the last table to leave that night (I know this because the staff frantically vacuumed around our table as a hint), and when we went out to the parking lot, we found my rented Volvo SUV with the lights on. And the push-button engine still running. Unlocked.
Say what you will, but pool players, nail techs and those with liberal views of human intimacy have standards. And those standards exclude the theft of Swedish rental vehicles in the desert.
I forgot to mention that Bourdain walked past us at the Cosmopolitan Hotel on his way to a swanky nightclub. I shouted, “TONY!” in an overly loud way that said to him, “Walk faster, he might be packing.” Which he did, like a gastronomic mirage in the neon glare.
Back in my room that night, the hotel’s push-button controls, which manipulate all of the lights, TV and curtains, refused to do what I asked. The motorized curtains kept going back and forth. From the outside, it must have appeared to be some kind of Morse Code cry for help.
In a way, it was.
“Padma is coming in.”
Four words I’ve wanted to hear ever since I began watching “Top Chef.”
Each year, Pillsbury hires a celebrity guest host to throw a little Hollywood on the bonfire. In 2010, it was Food Network’s Sandra Lee, who hugged anything that got within arm’s reach before sending finalists to be crowned on “Oprah.” In 2008, it was Joy Behar of “The View,” who dropped menopause jokes in a room full of hot-flash sufferers. Last year, The Martha dropped by to ingest Pillsbury into her teetering television show.
This year, the winner would appear on the quick-rising “Queen Latifah Show.” But due to family issues, the Queen would not be joining us at the Aria. Instead, Padma Lakshmi of Bravo’s “Top Chef” would host the awards show and celebration dinner.
Earlier in the day, judges were told Padma was planning to visit our deliberations room for a tour. I was not psychologically prepared for such news. As an avid “Top Chef” fan, I am fully aware of Ms. Lakshmi’s silky, sultry persona and her extensive portfolio of partially clothed modeling.
As previously announced, Padma glided into our room as if carried by winged unicorns on billowy clouds. She floated from table to table, making calorie-free chit-chat with judges in front of the video crew. When she got to our table, she asked, “Are you all full from eating yet?”
I cleared my throat. “It’s a little like that first episode every season of ‘Top Chef’ where you have to eat food from 20 chefs,” I said.
“Exactly!” Padma said.
She spoke to me. She spoke with me. For one shining moment. Bourdain didn’t do that. Then again, I didn’t shout, “TONY!” at Padma.
The judges gathered around Padma for a group photo. I stood behind her right shoulder. She smelled like cinnamon. A stylist at the last moment rushed in a panic toward the former model.
“She has a hair out of place,” the stylist said.
The photographer snapped the pic.
I would show it to you but Padma would not permit electronic transmission of said photo.
But it happened. I promise.
She did, however, let this photo out of the barn on her Instagram account:
Oh, to be a gluten-full spokesboy.
Later that night, Padma announced the million-dollar winner at the celebration dinner: Glori Spriggs of nearby Henderson, Nev. A home cook who had never entered a contest before, her Loaded Potato Pinwheels took the top prize over a Caprese Pizza Bake casserole and an almond tart so ornate and delicate, it would have made Faberge blush.
The winner took the simplest idea and made it fun. The same ingredients as a loaded baked potato, complete with toppings of sour cream, chives and bacon bits, piped into a Pillsbury dough in bite-size form. I had visions of it showing up at parties, tailgates and my house when I got home.
When Spriggs’ name was announced, the tiny woman appeared stunned by the spectacle of it all. No tears. No screaming. Just a frozen astonishment. A blizzard of confetti erupted in the banquet hall. And like a magic trick, Padma vanished from the stage. Only the winner and an inflatable walking Doughboy stood on the huge stage.
After the confetti settled, Spriggs stood nearly motionless with her daughter, who loves to cook as much as her mother. The two became targets for cellphone snaparazzi who sent their image far and wide.
An hour later, Spriggs was asked what she would spend the money on. “My daughter has two jobs, so I’m going to make her quit one of them,” she said.
And then reality crashed the party. Someone’s life went from black and white to color in an instant. Because of puff pastry and mashed potatoes and marketing and Padma and a computer-drawn casino, the lungs in one family would breathe a little easier.
As the Gonzo Man wrote:
“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.”
I bought the ticket. I took the ride.
Sea Urchin Crostini, Tiger Beef Salad And Faked Alaska [This Week’s Weekend Eats]
Posted Nov 19, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 04:08 PM
Every now and again, a photo of food comes into your life and wrecks everything you think you know about what is tempting and salacious.
Like this Campfire Donut from @strangedonuts in St. Louis. It was photographed and enjoyed by my Twitter friend @ohalchemygirl.
I mean, I’m a friend of the s’more in all its forms. I have been known to enjoy a doughnut or five.
The two together? It brings tears of icing to my eyes, such is my joy.
For her efforts to assault me with baked goodness, she wins this topic-appropriate first prize:
Tit for tat, as it were.
But wait! There’s more!
In honor of her simple yet delicious photo of meatloaf, I am hereby bestowing an honorary mention to Mariah Milano, aka @DinnerMariah, for this bewitching little snapshot of protein.
That there meatloaf and mashed potatoes with homemade brown mushroom gravy is about as complicated as life needs to be. Good food doesn’t have to be a trigonometry test.
For her efforts, Mariah wins this book:
“Giada’s Feel Good Food,” by Giada De Laurentiis. Might I suggest the Beet and Marinated Goat Cheese Salad to go with that meatloaf?
Other contributions this week included:
* @otmdish - Marinated local guinea fowl roasted in (well-washed) Po River clay
* @BeerTampa - @Datz4Foodies Datchos w/ Pulled Pork. Oh my.
* @karenmcallister - Crab Cakes from @WFMCarrollwood. Easy dinner and delish!
To see all of this week’s mouth-watering delicacies, check out the Gallery of Noms. (Click on a photo to read its description.)
A Way To Eat Kale For People Who Hate Kale [Chef John Besh Cooks From The Heart]
Posted Oct 23, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Oct 23, 2013 at 03:39 PM
I am not a friend of kale.
I am not kale’s enemy, per se, but neither am I its ally.
I love greens, especially mustard greens. I love spinach. I am a fan of broccoli.
I have even learned in my later years to enjoy a plate of Brussels sprouts, something I never would have expected until I had them shaved and broiled at Todd English‘s BlueZoo restaurant in Lake Buena vista.
But kale? Kale is to me what Fredo was to Michael Corleone. Dead to me.
Something bitter in the leaf clearly does not react well with my palate.
Another thing it doesn’t react well with: Pontification by kale disciples.
I know it’s a super-food. I know it’s full of vitamins and stuff. I know this. I just don’t like it.
To them, I say: Shhhh-shhhhh-shhhhh. Just shush. Enough with the words, please. Your kale-y-er than thou stance is almost as bad as the kale.
I may have to reconsider my stance, however, now that I’ve seen chef John Besh‘s recipe for Fried Kale Salad.
What many might not know - including me - was that he spent his early years cooking through Germany and France. He covers those years in his new book “Cooking From The Heart; My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way,” (Andrews-McMeel, $40).
Unlike his previous books, which have focused on Bayou cooking, this offers a glimpse at the classic European dishes that shaped his training. It’s a warmly told and offers a fascinating tour of his cooking discoveries.
Many recipes in the book are beyond the skill of most home cooks, but his recipe for Fried Kale Salad is something everyone could tackle.
“This is hardly a traditional salad,” he writes. “What I’m doing is frying kale leaves in oil, which for me makes a more satisfying dish than raw kale leaves. Shavings of Parmesan lend a salty tang to every bite.
Okay, John. I’m putting my taste buds in your capable hands. Don’t let me down.
1 bunch Iacinto or Tuscan kale, stems and ribs removed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Heat 3 inches of oil in a medium heavy bottomed pot to 350 degrees on a candy thermometer. Fry the kale in batches until the edges of each leaf curl up, 1 to 2 minutes.
Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. In a large bowl, toss the fried kale with the lemon zest and juice, then top with shavings of Parmesan cheese.
Source: “Cooking From The Heart,” by John Besh.
The Sip: 3 Daughters Brewing Comes To Live [Pumpkin Tap, Carmel Cafe Cocktails, Great Sips]
Posted Oct 23, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Oct 23, 2013 at 04:41 PM
Mike Harting’s new life as a brewer started off with beer-battered fish.
The co-owner of Bella Brava New World Trattoria in St. Petersburg asked his restaurant chefTy Weaver if they could make beer in-house for the batter. Everything else is made fresh, Harting thought. Why not the beer?
Weaver, who home-brews as a hobby, came back with the fish. Which made Harting wonder if they could make more beer. Weaver said they could.
About a year ago, they started featuring a rotating variety of TOBE beers – as in “Whatever Ty wants it to be” – on the restaurant taps. Last month, the TOBE line was popular enough to account for 33 percent of the restaurant’s beer sales.
Which got Harting to thinking: Could we produce enough for a tasting room. Weaver said they could.
Harting pulled a group of investors together, raised almost $1.5 million and began renovating and retro-fitting a 18,000-square-foot building on South 22nd Street in St. Pete. Sometime before the end of the year, he expects to open 3 Daughters Brewing.
Weaver has nine beer recipes finished, including a dunkelweizen, a Russian imperial stout, a brown ale, an India pale ale, an Irish red an oatmeal stout, a summer wheat and a porter. The signature beer to start with: the Beach Blonde Ale, which comes in at a very drinkable 5 percent alcohol by volume.
Build-out is finishing on the tasting room at the front of the building, which will include a 30-barrel brewhouse and a 1-barrel pilot system and about 180 barrels of brewing space. Harting already has plans for three more expansions to add fermentation capacity.
“With the package we have now, we can support about 300 taps, depending on how popular the beers are,” he said.
Another nice feature: Harting is building a lab at the brewery for home-brewers to bring their own batches in for analysis.
With Green Bench Brewing Co. and Cycle Brewing now open and St. Petersburg Brewing Co., about to open its doors, 3 Daughters is joining a quickly maturing craft beer scene on the Gulf Coast.
“It’s going to be fun,” Harting said.
For more information, go to 3DBrewing.com.
The Pumpkin Tap Kit by KegWorks. “ This tap kit has everything you need to turn an ordinary pumpkin (or watermelon) into a pumpkin drink dispenser that will have your friends thinking you’re more clever than Martha Stewart.“
The tap kit is available at KegWorks.com for $31.25.
On the Denver Post’s First Drafts beer blog, beer writer Heather Vandenengel named Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing and Dunedin’s 7venth Sun Brewery as among her favorite in the southeast United States.
About 7venth Sun, Vandenengel said, “The brewery has a knack for droolworthy names, such as Graffiti Orange Creamsicle Wheat and Donut Porter - a chocolate porter with glazed donuts. But seek out sours like the Berliner Weisse, Midnight Moonlight and fruit-augmented Berliner releases like watermelon, key lime and kiwi-cherry coconut.”
New Carmel Cafe cocktails
Carmel Cafe’s lineup of specialty cocktails now includes an Apple Pie Martini that blends cinnamon apple tea with Stolichnaya vanilla vodka, agave, toasted apple slices and a sprig of mint. Another favorite: The Guava Ginger Splash, [pictured above]which mixes reposado tequila with fresh, chopped ginger, guava juice and a splash of lime.
* Bartender Ryan Pines’ Edison Oldie [pictured above] at Edison Food + Drink Lab. Imagine a traditional Old Fashioned with a smoked ice cube and a spicy marinated cherry.
* Dean Hurst’s Vesper at the Elevage pop-up. It was made with Sazerac Rye whiskey instead of vodka, Beefeater Gin, and Cocchi Americano aperitif wine. The clean flavor cut through the starchy, bold-flavored food on the menu. Can’t wait to see what he concocts at Edge Social Drinkery in the Epicurean Hotel.
* Founders Brewing Co.’s Breakfast Stout at The Stein & Vine in Brandon.
Remembering Marcella Hazan [The Most Important Ingredient]
Posted Oct 20, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Oct 20, 2013 at 07:22 PM
The realization caught me suddenly the other night, as I reached for the lid to a pot full of meat sauce on the stove.
Wedged between the metal handle and the hot lid was a wine cork. For six years, I’ve used it to grab the lid instead of using a pot holder.
I put the cork there one day after interviewing Marcella Hazan in the kitchen of her Longboat Key condo. The maven of Italian home cooking in America saved a step by pushing the corks through her lid handles. It was a shortcut for a woman who lived most of her life with a right hand deformed by botched surgeries.
It was a simple yet elegant solution. If you were going to uncork a bottle of wine with your meal, you might as well use it to solve a problem. Two birds. One stone.
As I held the lid, a wave of sadness hit me. It reminded me that Marcella was gone.
On Sept. 29, Victor Hazan, her beloved collaborator and husband of almost six decades, announced on Facebook that she’d passed away at age 89.
“Marcella, my incomparable companion, died this morning a few steps away from her bed,” he wrote. The heartbreak was palpable. “She was the truest and the best, and so was her food.”
In the days after her death, the accolades poured in. She did for Italian home cooking in America what Julia Child did for French cuisine, many wrote.
It was a comparison that wasn’t entirely accurate.
Marcella herself was disappointed by what she saw as Child’s elevation of the chef to the detriment of the home cook. Julia’s greatest impact came largely through a television career launched by her early cookbooks. Marcella’s influence was primarily delivered through her own series of books, which taught an America that ate SpaghettiOs from a can to realize the glory of flavors found in fresh Italian ingredients, and through cooking classes in New York City and in her native Emilia-Romagna.
It was a legacy she passed on to her son, Giuliano. He carries the mantle by writing his own books and teaching cooking classes.
Giuliano, who lives in Sarasota with wife, Lael, and their daughters, was in Verona preparing to teach a course when he found out about his mother’s passing.
“My first impulse was to catch the first flight back to go hug my father,” he wrote on Facebook. “But I know it’s not what my mother would have wanted me to do.”
“My whole career has been about passing on all that I have learned from her,” he wrote. “What better way to honor my mother that to teach this group of people who have traveled here eager to learn about genuine Italian food. I will be thinking of la mia mamma as I cook with them this week.”
My memories of Marcella come from a day I ate lunch with her and Victor in their home, and another when I took them to a Chinese restaurant in Tampa that they had yet to visit.
It was Chinese food that led Marcella in 1969 to sign up for a cooking class with Grace Chu. When the class was canceled, her classmates asked instead to learn Italian cooking with Marcella.
A year later, New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne came to a lunch at her and Victor’s apartment. Claiborne’s story of his meal of Roman-style artichokes, veal, ricotta-stuffed tortellini and a shaved raw fennel salad gave her instant fame.
By the time we met, Marcella was past her cookbook years. I was there to talk about her memoir “Armarcord.” When I arrived, she and Victor were finishing preparation for lunch.
He slipped on his heat-resistant kitchen gloves to pull white enamel plates from the oven. She stirred her homemade pappardelle noodles in boiling water and kept watch on her classic Bolognese ragu.
For the Hazans, there was a sacramental quality to the noontime ritual, known in Italy as il pranzo. In every place they lived together during the first 44 years of their marriage — Rome, Milan, New York, Venice — the Hazans insisted on residing close enough to Victor’s work that he could come home at lunchtime. The tradition continued on Longboat Key.
Watching them cook together in their tiny custom-built kitchen was a thing of beauty.
Victor monitored the pasta, removed some with tweezers for his wife to taste. She would nod her approval. Utensils were efficiently at arm’s reach on a counter back-splash. Everything had its place.
Neither of them knew how to cook when they married in 1956. Feeding him forced her to learn. She would depend on advice from family and friends to catch up by cooking recipes that were native to Cesenatico.
Seated at their table, there was wine and a simple salad dressed only in olive oil and sea salt. With fresh vegetables, she said, simplicity is key. Let their flavors do most of the work.
Giuliano told me once that his mother always used to say the most important ingredient in the kitchen is common sense.
“It’s not just like a lab experiment, where you follow it exactly and it all comes out exactly the same,” he said. “It’s always different, and you need to adjust to what’s happening in the pan.”
Common sense. Simplicity. Like a cork in a lid handle.