In Love with A Platter of Figs

We just got our copy of David Tanis’ new book A Platter of Figs, and I’m in love. I try not to fall for all the new pretties, but this one has hit home. Tanis is the chef at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse for 6 months of the year and he has written a gorgeous, completely unpretentious book.

How can you not love someone who writes, “What makes a boy from Ohio, born in the wrong century, raised on Tater Tots and Birds Eye, end up wanting to eat like a Greek peasant for breakfast, a French peasant for lunch, and a Moroccan peasant for dinner?

Aw shucks Tanis, you had me at “peasant”.

In Platter of Figs, Tanis takes a moment to describe his past, but he’s not trying to impress you with credentials, nor do you sniff false humility. I loved reading about how Alice Waters pretended not to hear him when he, hanging around as a young man, asked for a job over and over until one day the Panisse baker left to get married.

This book, organized by seasonal menus rather than food category, just oozes love of good food and good company. It is Tanis’ philosophy that really gets me, such as his love for beautiful rather than pretty food; the natural over the gussied-up.

Tanis writes, “Simplicity is key. People who cook fussy food for their friends seem to have the least fun. I say leave that fussy food to those with a staff and a paid dishwasher… A meal needn’t be fancy, nor should it take all day to make. But, that said, most of the menus in this book are not those 30-minute-specials-with-only-3-ingredients whose intent seems to be to keep youout of the kitchen. What’s wrong with spending a little time in the kitchen?

Granted that we all live busy lives, but I revel in my time in the kitchen. It is a chance to step outside the intensity of the work world and let the creative mind roam free. With it comes that timeless pleasure of sharing a meal with a loved one, or a group of friends. Of course work and stresses intrude and often supersede, but nonetheless, the food experience provides a target worth pursuing and a delightful canvas on which to paint.

While I love that chefs today get a chance to emerge from behind the curtain to applause, I’ll admit that I’m a bit sick of the “celebrity chef”. I do not watch food television, both because of limited time and because I don’t find many of the “personalities” appealing, each with his or her own shtick targeting a particular viewer type (the bubbly, the geeky, the down-home country, the kitchen terror, etc). However I should not generalize, for my distaste does not apply to all (probably quite the contrary). As an example of something I really enjoy, I’ll mention the Eric Ripert’s toaster video pieces (link). The man is a culinary genius but he is utterly real and charming in these little spots.

I digress (how unusual, Giff). Christ, now he’s talking to himself. The POINT is that I found Tanis’ cookbook both delightful and inspiring. As for my own touch to this little post, I may not have a platter of figs to share, but I can leave you with a plate of plums. Consider it an homage to fading summer, in a melody of black, alderman and prune. And yes, I devoured them all in one sitting!

Plate of Plums

Vibing the Oliver

I’m a huge fan of Jamie Oliver’s cooking style. He cooks wonderful but totally unpretentious meals. In the immortal words of Dennis Denuto, it’s the vibe of the thing. Some cookbooks are so complicated that it is hard to free-form with a recipe or simplify to speed the process, but not Jamie’s. I recently picked his “family cookbook” and now have a slew of recipes to take apart. While I have my eye on a Pumpkin Laksa soup, I think in this heat my prime target is the Thai Watermelon Salad, which is a combination of watermelon, cilantro, arugula (i.e. rocket), mint, radish, sunflower seeds (or peanuts), and feta, with a dressing that is a classic mix of ginger, chilis, soy sauce, sesame oil, limes, and olive oil. I think that’s definitely on the menu for next Saturday lunch.

Since Audrey is clamoring for watermelon at breakfast, lunch and dinner, we definitely have some around!