Lessons from Legendary Chefs
So many of my heroes are women, who inspire me in their determination to cook to please themselves, not just others. I created the recipes here as tributes. One honors MFK Fisher, who wrote in a 1949 essay that she’d be thrilled to be invited to dinner at someone’s house, even if the meal were merely canned tomato soup. For her, I’ve made a creamy tomato soup doctored with jerk spices. I feel a kinship with chef Gabrielle Hamilton, since we were in catering together early in our careers. I play on her sardine-topped Triscuits (the simplicity still flabbergasts me) by adding pickled chiles and a tangy aioli. And I show my respect for Julia Child’s wonderfully accessible take on French cuisine with my pear tartlets—a dessert I’m proud to say I served her in 1992 at her 80th birthday party.
My first exposure to authentic Mexican food was through Zarela Martinez, owner of Manhattan’s Zarela and author of four cookbooks. Her passion inspired me to try all sorts of new flavors. These stuffed flatbreads prepared with masa (dough made from corn) are my tribute to her. You can use rotisserie chicken in place of the pork, or omit meat entirely.
I had the honor of cooking for Julia Child’s 80th birthday party at the home of a former F&W editor in chief. At the end of the evening, Child graciously asked, “Who made that looovely dessert?” I managed to croak out, “I did.” These tartlets are a variation on that recipe.
I learned to cook Indian food from Julie Sahni, the former chef and teacher who wrote the seminal Classic Indian Cooking in 1980. Her outstanding cookbooks lay out the basics in ways that make so much sense to me. My deeply flavored keema (minced) curry is based on those simple principles.
Before she opened her iconic New York restaurant, Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton and I worked together in catering. Her signature dish, sardines on Triscuits (a cheap snack she ate in college), is both legendary and notorious. She taught me that it’s OK—admirable, even—to cook the food you grew up eating.
MFK Fisher, the great food writer, used to lament that she never got dinner invitations because people were too intimidated to cook for her. I feel the same way! Fisher wrote that she’d have been happy even with a can of tomato soup. I created this jerk-seasoned soup with shrimp in her honor.