This past Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending yet another wonderful food-focused event at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF). “Sweet, Sour, Savory – Fabulous Flavors” was a discussion with the one and only Chef Eric Ripert (of Le Bernardin in New York City) and Christina Tosi (of Momofuku Milkbar in New York City) moderated by Bon Appetit’s executive editor (and co-author of Chef Ripert’s book On the Line) Christine Muhlke. Flavor was the focus and as it does for so many of us, the conversation lead largely back to the taste beginnings of Chef Ripert’s and Chef Tosi’s childhood.
Christine Muhlke got the evening going by asking about the chefs’ earliest taste memories, as she posed it: “What’s your madeleine?” Both the chef’s remember mother/grandmother prepared sweets. Chef Tosi recalled raw oatmeal cookie dough, corn bake and other baked goods filled with butter. Chef Ripert mused about his grandmother’s elusive apple tart. It was about a 12” tart that he said he would gobble down a few times a week. Even when he was little he could smell the stages of the apple tart’s doneness; when it was starting to bake in the oven, when it was time to take it out and most importantly the moment when it had cooled enough to eat.
When asked about favorite treats both thought to favorite candies first. For Chef Tosi it was Whatchamacallits and Reese’s Cups. She told us what a picky eater she was and how much she finds that fact to contribute to her food experiences as an adult. When she was 18 or so she remembers having a BLT and tasting a raw tomato for the first time and how impacting it was. She ate a lot of junk food when she was young like candy, ice cream and sour cream and onion potato chips. Chef Ripert’s upbringing up in France and Andorra meant he didn’t eat junk food because as he says it just didn’t exist. What he loved was sneaking squares from a bar of dark chocolate on the weekends and taking cookies that had been hidden in the kitchen. On the way home from school, the snack time for French schoolchildren, he would enjoy meringues from the pâtisserie. There were also licorice candies they called Batman candy because they were black and white.
Father's day is Sunday. I had started thinking about a Mother's Day post back in May but opted to save my idea for this week. Breakfast is something near and dear to my heart. As a family we revel in celebrating those simple, but sentimental, holidays at a late morning table full of food. Also, there are few foods that I truly tie to my father in memory- but big breakfast has always been as much, if not more so, his domain than my mother's. So here is a little bit about our morning meal tradition, with or without holiday occasion.
"Big Breakfast” is a term that has always been bandied about in my family. Less so now that we aren’t all under one roof, but it still comes up on occasion since none of us are too far apart. Big breakfast means a hot, filling meal made fresh, usually on the weekend or a holiday, when everyone eats together. No cold cereal, no yogurt, no singular toast or banana. The big breakfast goes all out. Almost certain to be eggs; if they’re not the main event they’re served as the savory side. There will be something sweet; usually carb forward stacks of waffles or pancakes, sometimes French toast or just buttered toast. And of course there will always be bacon. If all 6 (mom, dad, sister, brother, and my niece) of us are together there will be a big plate of bacon, maybe some stray sausage links or some slices of ham. Once in a while there will be potatoes, but since big breakfast tends to happen spur of the moment there isn’t always time for them.
Up until a few years ago breakfasts like these were always prepared by my mom or my dad. And typically one or the other, but not both. When it came to fried eggs and omelets my mom held down the fort and the battered up mornings were my dad’s turf. I’m not really sure why things seems to always fall this way, but it is how it is. Nowadays I’m happy to take over whatever, whenever necessary. My obsession with poached eggs has also infiltrated the big breakfast realm. Months ago when I was still working on my poaching craft my parents would grumble at the whisper of the word “poached” because the egg whites would get all over their sauce pans. Now that I’m at least partially masterful of the craft, I can poach with ease and the opposition has desisted. I’m also always game to make the pancakes or French toast, but for some reason I will always leave the waffles to my dad. I think someone gave us our first waffle iron a long while ago. Sometime in the early 90s. It had a white plastic exterior with a light that was orange when the waffles were cooking. That broke at some point and it was replaced with a sleek Cuisinart model with a metal and black design. I think I was with my dad when we got it- at Christmastime at Macy's during our annual Christmas Eve shopping outing to buy all his presents for my mom. He always gets one or two things for "the family" that tend to be things he just wants in the house. Like the new waffle iron, from which we all benefit.