Just Because It is Called French It Can Still be Local

March 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm

For full disclosure, I am not a chef or a trained food professional with a culinary degree. I was fortunate enough to go to the Peter Kump Cooking School (now called I.C.E., the Institute of Culinary Education) in New York City and complete their French Techniques course. Peter was James Beard’s protegee, and the founder of the James Beard House. Yes, I was lucky enough to attend dinners at the James Beard House “in the day”. I have always been a multi-tasker, so when I was going to business school full-time, I was also a dishwasher, or plongeur, as it was called at the school, and took the French Techniques classes for free. Peter Kump has since died, but I was able to take classes directly from him, and I felt that when he spoke, he was speaking the words of James Beard and of Simca Beck, a colleague of Julia Child’s, who Peter endlessly quoted. Classes at the Kump School left such an indelible impression that I was forever in love with French cooking, and since then have gone on bicycle trips through Burgundy and the Dordogne. You know, when push comes to shove, what impression did all these classes and trips teach me? What being a locavore is all about!!

Peter Kump talked endlessly about the importance of ingredients, not just of the importance of sharp knives. When I biked through Burgundy, after it rained, I saw snails on the road in front of me, and when I biked by forests, I saw men with their bags walking through the woods hunting for truffles. What all those classes and trips taught me is that French cuisine is all about local. To me, French Cuisines, especially Burgundian cuisine was all about using the local ingredients and melding food and wine, all sourced locally into a harmonious and delicious meal.

On Thursday, April 19th, Chicagourmets, will host author and French cooking technique icon, Anne Willan, at Les Nomades for a dinner celebrating the publishing of her latest cookbook, “The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes That Made the Modern Cookbook“. Chef Liccioni will be in the kitchen, and reservations can be made here. Anne was the longtime head of Ecole Cuisine La Varenne Burgundy, which was the sister school to Peter Kump’s in New York City, so everything comes full circle sometimes! As much as we live in age where everyone has a 5 second memory, Anne Willan was talking about the importance of ingredients long before the term locavore or local was the word of the day. So it is a true pleasure to have her visit Chicago and share her knowledge with the guests.

Chris Nugent, who was most recently at Les Nomades and left to start his own restaurant Goosefoot, in Lincoln Square, is referencing his French technique roots and applying them to all local ingredients in Chicago.  So French techniques comes full circle. The French cooked snails, and cooked truffles and used the ingredients that we now stereotypically associate with them because to them, they were local. So French cuisine is truly a celebration of all things local and food that tastes great!

For those who can afford it, I urge you to take advantage of the fact that Anne Willan is in town, a true teacher of all teachers. At the very least, if you are a diehard locavore, keep an open mind and remember that French food is really a celebration of all things local!!!!!!!!!!