In the Hands of a Chef

BOOK: In the Hands of a Chef
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

In the
of a
        KEN RIVARD




Title Page


Starters and Small Bites

Stocks and Soups


Four Vegetable Starters,

Pizza, Tarts, and Crostatas

Mostly Pasta,



Beef Veal, Pork, Lamb, and Game

A Mile in a Chef’s Shoes




About the Author



About the Publisher


he shortest route I know
to human happiness is cooking. The immediacy of mincing garlic, stripping kale, or searing fresh sea scallops takes me away from my ordinary cares and, however briefly, narrows my responsibility to just the radish or the sprig of rosemary in front of me. The vivid red appeal of a fresh tomato sauce is a kind of satisfaction in itself. As a chef with a restaurant to run, I’m aware that the bottom line is my customers’ satisfaction with the food that appears on their tables. But as a cook, especially a cook at home, these other pleasures are as important as the consumption of the meal. They’re a kind of built-in bonus that comes with “handmade” food.

Cookbooks these days seem less and less inclined to celebrate this essential truth. One type of book offers an antidote to our overscheduled lives, promising to compress kitchen time to the minimum. Another tempts (or overwhelms) us with elaborate restaurant-style preparations and presentations. This book argues for a third category—artisanal home food. Good food made from scratch. This category finds its inspiration in regional cooking, mostly European, in the type of dishes that used to be prepared for family dinners. Although some of the recipes in this book are both fast and simple. I’m announcing my intention up front: to seduce you into spending more time, not less, in your kitchen.

The distinctive feature of artisanal cooking is its being handmade, of taking fresh raw ingredients
through a series of steps to a finished state. With everything from sea urchin roe sushi to Mexican duck fajitas available in grocery stores today, artisanal cooking is clearly no longer a necessity, but some of us choose to do it anyway. Some aspects of experience are worth keeping in your own hands, and few are as hands-on or as immediately satisfying as cooking. This book is an invitation to place yourself in my hands and, I hope, experience why I’m so passionate about my particular patch of territory.

None of the recipes in these pages belongs to the juggle-four-oranges-in-the-air-while-fanning-the-squabs-with-your-foot school of cooking. When you need technique, I explain what to do. When you need to know how something should look or taste, I tell you. Many of the recipes do require some time, if not necessarily your constant attention. But when I ask you to invest time in a dish, there is always a reward in the depth of flavor.

Each of these recipes is something we do at my house, even if from time to time a more elaborate variation of the dish is served at Rialto. Although this is not a restaurant cookbook, it does contain a chapter of signature preparations, “A Mile in a Chef’s Shoes”—including, most notably, Soupe de Poisson and Roasted Marinated Long Island Duck with Green Olive and Balsamic Vinegar Sauce. These are far and away my most frequently requested recipes. You
make them in your own kitchen, with less effort than you might think. You are, presumably, already a passionate eater; my goal is to turn you into a passionate cook.

The Kitchen in My Head

ike every cook, I’m the
product of a constellation of culinary influences—my mom, cooking classes, numberless cookbooks, memorable meals, travel, work experience, and the chefs who employed me. Even after I became a chef, with the freedom to explore my own instincts, it took a few years before everything I’d learned shook itself into some kind of coherence: what I call “the kitchen in my head. “ The practical result is that I have great confidence in my food. I love what I cook, whether at work or at home.

Most of my cooking life has revolved around a fascination for high-quality ingredients and figuring out the best ways of handling them. Although as a child I accompanied my mother on infrequent trips for baked goods or chicken at Italian shops on Federal Hill in Providence, these were exhilarating exceptions that proved the rule—most food came prepackaged, from the supermarket. It wasn’t until I was a teenager, living in England during one of my father’s sabbaticals, with opportunities for travel to France and Italy, that I came to see an alternative to the supermarket model. In addition to the Oxford market with its stalls of vendors, there were the butcher shops with enameled trays of freshly killed rabbits, gleaming livers, and the occasional calf’s head. It soon became something of an obsession with me to visit markets wherever we traveled. When we returned to Providence, my mother and I began shopping regularly on Federal Hill. To this day, museums drain me after an hour or two, but I can wander through farmers’ markets all day and return home with my finds, energized for cooking.

Part of the allure of ingredients (and, by extension, markets) for me is simple sensual pleasure. Stacks of leeks, white, bulbous, and gleaming, bundled red and white radishes, and the circus-tent stripes of delicata squash all grab my eye as I pass by. Purple-top turnips beg to be lifted, hefted, and judged heavy or light for their size; a flat of local strawberries or tomatoes stirs the same thing in me that used to be reached only by a new box of crayons, a visceral urge to touch and smell before using.

Noting variations in the color and heft in turnips, rutabagas, and celery root is practical as well as aesthetic. Visual and tactile differences between the same vegetables offer clues to water, starch, and sugar content, which affect how you cook them. Summer garlic is sweet and forgiving; if you turn your back on winter garlic, it burns. A turnip that feels light for its size will taste bitter and may have a spongy texture. In my cooking classes, I’ve found that home cooks who are already familiar with technique are often surprised to see how much their food improves when they apply a little more attention and discernment to choosing their ingredients, regardless of whether the ingredient is a Hubbard squash or a chicken leg.

As a restaurateur, I know the vendors and in many cases the actual producers of the particular raw ingredients I buy. When you know the people growing or harvesting your ingredients, you treat the ingredients with greater respect. I’ve squished through the Wellfleet tidal flats where my friends Patrick and Barbara Woodbury devote themselves to raising perfect clams: they can tell the health and quality of a clam with a simple tap. In thirteen years of business with them, I have never had so much as a clam with a cracked shell. How could I not treat their clams with respect (and ensure that my cooks do the same)? With the resurgence of farmers’ markets across the country, it is now possible for home cooks to form the same type of relationship with vendors that until recently had been the exclusive domain of people in the food business.

With the Federal Hill neighborhood and its Italian markets only a short drive from my house, and the immigrant Portuguese neighborhood also close by, it was probably fated I’d learn cooking technique by studying Europe’s regional cuisines. Regional cooking is really no more than the collective knowledge of the people who live where particular ingredients are most accessible. This usually means home cooks, because that’s “where the rubber meets the road” in terms of culinary experience—the family dinner table. What works sticks around, and becomes part of the local cooking tradition. Technique enters the picture for me not as something isolated, valued in itself, but as a series of steps that arise in a particular place with local ingredients. My first exposure to technique came through the regional food of Italy, later followed by that of France and Spain, and eventually the farther reaches of the Mediterranean. First comes the
—the ingredients—then comes the
—the way of making the most of ingredients. Technique is all about distilling knowledge of what works into steps that I can reproduce at home or teach in classes or do at Rialto. The process of searing seafood, for example, is much more understandable when it’s embedded in the story of how people in Normandy like to treat their scallops. Seen this way, technique and ingredients are partners, dependent on each other, in a dance that transforms raw ingredients into a finished dish.

BOOK: In the Hands of a Chef
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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