Your Friendly Neighborhood Food Fanatics

I collect recipes. I borrow them. I beg for them. I have even stolen them. (watch video)

Friends are mostly very tolerant of my habits in this regard. In fact when I heard about my friend Andrew’s Flourless, Butterless Orange-Almond Torte I marched right over there. I just knew it was a recipe bound for my collection. He was nice enough let me interview (and film) him while he made it too. So I have a nice video presentation for you this week. Aren’t friends the best? luv you, Andrew! This is also my entry in the TumYumTreats and My Diverse Kitchen Food in Colors event.

There’s only one small problem, this video sorta makes me seem like a food-obsessed food fanatic. Which just can’t be (entirely) true. I also like to travel, well at least to countries known for their cuisine…

But food fanatics, I know something about. I have a friend, she lives, talks, eats and breaths food.

She has a depth of knowledge on the subject that is staggering. I have been out to eat with her on countless occasions. She is an amazing dining companion. She does not speak French, Castilian or Mandarin, but has no trouble navigating a menu in any of these languages and plenty of others. Chefs ALWAYS seek her out. They bring a little bag for her to take home. Something on the sly…just for her.

She remembers the first time she had pancetta and repeats the story often. It makes me laugh every time.

Once, I made the mistake of telling her I needed to pop into Whole Foods to pick up 2 tomatoes and a cucumber on our way to see a movie. One and a half hours later we were in the check-out line with a basket filled with fingerling potatoes, kabocha squash, haricots blanc, tarragon, red onions, niacin-free pasta (the only kind she’ll eat), boysenberries, blackberries (she wanted to compare their textures), a whole salmon, and an entire assortment of heirloom tomatoes. We never made it to the movie, and I never got that cucumber (“there’s no excuse to buy something that is so easy to grow yourself” she said, “besides it will taste much better.”).

Still, I had never been to her house and I’d never eaten her cooking. But certainly, she must be an expert cook. I mean I have seen the box of VHS tapes in the trunk of her car labeled Food Network 1997 thru 1999.

Besides, like me, I knew she was a recipe collector. I mean we had once attended a memorial service for the father of a mutual friend. I actually overheard her complimenting that friend on the chocolate torte while asking for the recipe. She’s that dedicated.

So on this particular occasion, I was excited to finally go to her house and taste for myself the fruit of her extensive culinary knowledge.

The evening started simply enough. She had set out a bowl of really excellent Spanish Marcona Almonds. She was serving 2 cavas and was absolutely insisting that each guest taste both– simultaneously. But to be honest, carrying around two crystal flutes made it a bit hard to try the almonds. Especially since she hadn’t offered to take my jacket, and it was still draped over my arm.

Once I had freed myself of my bubbly burden (she was right, both were outstanding in their own ways, but I was able to choose one of them) I made way into the kitchen to help.

I admit I was a little worried by what I saw in there. I mean there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what she was doing.  Things had been started and obviously abandoned. She had pots going on all 8 burners of her Viking range. There were two different mandolins set out on the counters. I saw raw fish, quinoa, amaranth, and chanterelles. It looked like a still life painting. She had fresh herbs strewn about and I could smell a white truffle somewhere, but for the life of me, I could not locate it.

As I peeked into her vintage, but still empty, Le Creuset “cocotte” I asked what she was making. “Well,” she said. “I had great plans for Thomas Keller’s Agnolotti with sage cream, brown butter, and Prosciutto. But decided that Rick Bayless’s tomatillo-braised pork loin would be a better opportunity to use my new All-Clad Dutch oven. But then I remembered how much you liked Asian food and made a strong left turn. I was just now trying to decide between Martin Yan’s Tofu Green Curry and Chef Ming Tsai’s Gingered Beef With Leeks and Asparagus.”

I was a little bit shocked. The most gastronomically knowledgeable person I knew was having a complete and total kitchen melt down. I did not want to embarrass her by acknowledging the obvious, so I asked to use the restroom and slinked out of the kitchen.

Once I had closed the door behind me, I set my cava down on the four-foot high stack of cookbooks piled up next to the toilet and let out a huge sigh. I mean she and I had a lot in common. We talked about food the way some bores discussed NBA rankings. Did we have something in common with “people like that”?  Were we one-note-wonders? Did normal people feel sorry for us?

I made my way back to the living room, determined to “fit in”. But I could not get into any of the conversations people were having. Movies, Obama, Sex…it all sounded so boring to me.

All I could think about was my poor friend in the kitchen. I just knew she was in there butchering a duck and trying to decide if it was too late to run down the hill to the Silverlake Cheese Shop and get a nice wedge of Crottin de Chavignol (AOC).

So I went back in the kitchen picked up a knife and asked her if she’s eaten at the new Drago Centro downtown. Immediately she blossomed. I swear I could see her eyes re-focus on the task in front of her.

“Why, yes,” she said, handing me an apron. But in her opinion, if Celestino Drago expected people to haul their butts all the way downtown, he’d better figure out something about the parking situation. But it is nice, she agreed, to finally be able to get decent Sicilian pesto all trapanese in Los Angeles. “I mean it doesn’t take a genius to figure out there is a demand for it, right?”

“Right” I agreed and we got to chopping. She managed to pull together a really delicious Amaranth and Quinoa Salad, which she topped with a pan-seared sliver of Arctic Char.

I was cleaning and dicing the mushrooms. I suggested we do a simple pasta of chanterelles with buerre-noisette, sage, capers, and pancetta.

“Oh, pancetta,” she said. “Did I ever tell you the first time I ever had pancetta?”

“No”, I said laughing…

That night when I got home the persistent scent of white truffle still permeated my memory.

We started with the excellent quinoa and ended with Andrew’s Orange-Almond Torte. But when I went over each course in my mind I realized we never had the white truffle. So why was the scent still lingering? As I pondered this I stuck my hand into the pocket of my jacket and pulled out a small tissue-wrapped ball. When I opened it I saw one perfect little truffle. Somehow she’d slipped this little prize into my jacket with a note that said, “It ain’t what you eat, but the way how you chew it.” GREG


Greg Henry