Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts

01 February 2007

Chef James Haller: Cooking From the Heart

Welcome to February!

I like this month because it means we are closer to spring and up here on the Wisconsin tundra, we usually get a few warmer days. February is the month that my husband and I mark the anniversary of our first date and our engagement, which came just before Valentine's Day — by sheer coincidence, not planning.

So I thought I would concentrate on matters of the heart this month. What is cooking, if not a matter of the heart?

I asked Chef James Haller (see Jan. 5 post) to write a guest post to kick off the month. He kindly did so, in his usual graceful style. I have added a link to his site at the left, someting I should have done weeks ago. He is, as you can see, in a class by himself.


Cooking from the Heart
By James Haller

I've always thought that cooking for someone is one of the most loving
things you can do. The nourishment of the food, and the nourishment of
someone knowing they are "being cared for" make it truly a gesture of love.

A few years ago a friend was celebrating a birthday and wanted to have his family for dinner including seven children: the eldest aged six, the youngest age two.

For the birthday cake I made a chocolate Genoise cut into three layers and filled with a lavender mousse. I made a plain white, powdered sugar frosting for the cake. When dinner was over we cleared the table and I filled seven little pastry bags with different colored icing, handed them to the kids and said, "Okay, why don't you all decorate Uncle Jack's cake?" I showed them how to hold and squeeze the bags and with-in minutes the artful decoration was underway. The youngest, the two year old, had to stand on top of the table over the cake to have room. The event lasted for almost a half hour, a very long time to keep kids interested, and when they finished, the cake was truly lovely though I must admit it was a little abstract, a sort of multi-colored, very sweet Jackson Pollack.

But the enjoyment and the effort and the involvement of the kids to make Uncle Jack's cake beautiful was a gesture of love they still talk about.

Cooking has always been a passion for me, even before I ever thought I would become a chef. Part of that passion was a desire to see people enjoy what I had cooked for them. To hear the oohs and ahhs as they smelled the aromas of a wonderful chowder made from wild mushrooms and prosciutto, or a chicken breast stuffed with pears and duck breast in an orange and fig dressing, is the reason cooking continues to make me happy almost forty years since I first walked up to a stove professionally.

My whole approach to cooking has always been instinct, almost what you might think of as design. The dinner is designed with tastes rather than presentation, and although presentation is commendable, I feel the dinner is going into your stomach and not the Louvre. Never repeat an herb during a dinner, use cream only once, either in a soup or an entrée or maybe an
appetizer, don't repeat foodstuffs. Designing each taste so that it compliments the last and sets you up for the next is a constant effort to create a new taste. In the sixteen years I owned Blue Strawbery I never repeated a menu.

So it doesn't matter if you only make hamburgers, creamed chipped beef on
toast or a chateaubriand, this Valentines day set the table, light a couple
of candles, open a bottle of wine that you like, and as you're dishing out
the food lean over and whisper to that wonderful person, "I love cooking for
you."