Cooking without a Net/Cooking with Alice

August 11, 2009 at 8:48 am

Rob Gardner

She’s not a cook, she’s just a good shopper.  I’ve both heard that critique of Alice Waters from a chef friend and I’ve seen that bromide in print.  It must be true then.  I’ve never personally tasted Ms. Waters food, but if I could, I’d friend her on Facebook.  I read all her books.  I check her menu almost weekly.   From my perspective, she seems like a hell of a cook too.  Really, if you read her recipes, they are not exactly basic.  Some may even call them downright French in technique.  Take the boiled dinner from the Art of Simple Food.  It goes on for three pages; includes chicken stock, grass-fed beef tongue (as if), cream, chicken livers, etc.  Tackle that one Julia.  Sure Chez Panisse is always grilling or spit-roasting something, but each week it seems like there’s some kind of ice cream bombe. This week she’s cooking something à la ciboulette. Believe me, she can complicate things. Then again, she can really leave you hanging.

My wife espied a recipe from Alice that seemed just too easy: sweet corn soup.  No stock, no crispy bit of bacon, no nothing; this recipe had corn, water and sweated onions.  My wife wanted to make it only because she did not believe it could be any good.  That Alice, she’s a hell of a shopper.

Our eight ears of Farmer Vicki sweet corn shucked (plus two extra ears of baby corn that got stuck too) , two Vicki onions sweated in butter, 2 quarts of Lake Michigan, salt, pepper, and an immersion blender I did not even know we had.  This Local Family slurped well last night.

Oh, sure, garnishes would have been fun.  A little herb something would have given it “presentation”.  If I was Rob Levitt, I might have garnished it with a few drops of basil oil (actually, he would have garnished it with a few drops of corned beef tongue but that does not appeal to me).  Alice even offers some variations, and my wife is usually a variations kind of gal (in her own words).  Still, we could not improve on the very simple, sweet taste of the corn.  Go without the net. Sometimes you make heirloom tomato gelée with wild rocket and farm egg (Thursday 8/13).  Sometimes, you just shop.