Profile, The Second

This is week two of the Euphoria chef series.  Starting on September 21st, and running through the weekend, Greenville SC will be holding the Euphoria food, wine and music festival.  Chefs from all around the country will attend to cook and teach.

I’ve been lucky enough to interview a few of those attending.  Last week, Chef Scott Crawford of Crawford and Son, in Raleigh was generous enough to do an email interview.Chef Dominique Crenn, is chef/owner of Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn in San Francisco.  She holds two Michelin stars, and the title of world’s best female chef.  Chef Crenn was a finalist on Food Network’s Next Iron Chef.  She’s also mother to two little girls, and an extremely chic French woman.  I’m a huge admirer.Chef Crenn kindly consented to the interview, but rather than doing it via email, she wanted a telephone conversation.  On one hand, I was thrilled.  But on the other, I was petrified.  I felt like a middle-school science student interrogating Sir Steven Hawking.

I needn’t have worried.  She was gracious and patient.  What follows is a transcript of the call (When you read her answers, imagine them in a charming French accent).France does many, many, many food things better than the US.  What does the US do better?  I don’t know if it’s better than France, what I like about the United States is liberty and freedom, of thinking and creativity.  There is less bureaucracy than in France.

What is the one French food or food experience you miss the most?  My mother’s cooking. What was one of your favorite?  Many, many, many dishes.  She used to make this beautiful whole salmon or any type of fish that used to come from the fish monger.  And roast it with many beautiful vegetables and herbs with some olive oil in the oven.  Just delicious, and I miss that.  And I miss her famous tarte tatin, which is an upside-down apple tart that she used to make—that I miss, a lot.  It’s comfort food, you know?  It’s made with so much love.

What is your guilty pleasure?  Chocolate.What is your favorite?  Maybe a chocolate with a praline (The French pronunciation of praline is prah-lee-nay).

What do you make when you get home from the Atelier and it’s late, and you’re hungry?  Grilled cheese sandwich.

Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn Open-Faced Sandwich

One of Chef’s grilled cheese creations.

What kind of cheese?  Comté cheese, or some type of aged goat cheese.

You have twin daughters, how old are they?  Three years old.

What do they eat for lunch?  Do they like grilled cheese too?  It’s very interesting.  They’re very picky, but they love everything vegetable.  They love pasta and pizza, but we make everything from scratch.  They love cauliflower!  They like to go shop and pick up their own vegetable and go home and cook it, so this is pretty cool.I read what you said about American kids, that they’re our most treasured possession, but we feed them the worst food.  It’s very important to introduce to your kids a very healthy diet.  Fresh food; stay away from the prefab food.  You know in the long run, before the age of four, this is where they get their taste and understanding what food is about, without even knowing, and this is very true.

This ain’t no Ginsu knife, boys and girls…

What five tools can you not live without?  I don’t know if it’s a tool, but I cannot live without salt.  Definitely, a good, sharp knife.

What type of knife do you use?  Japanese.

Please join me next week for more of my conversation with Chef Crenn.

One bad ass woman.

Thanks for your time.

 

Salting away the salt

Hey there friend!

You say it’s eleventy thousand degrees in the shade?  You say that if you go outside there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll burst into flame?  You say you’re stuck in the house with children that are so bored they’ve taken to reading up on taxidermy and are starting to look at you funny?

Or maybe everything’s peachy and you’d like a kitchen adventure?

Well Bunkie, have I got something for each of you.

This week we’re going to make salt.

When I go to the mall, I always visit Williams Sonoma.  They’ve got cooking tools on the left and tableware on the right.  Displayed in the center, around the cash/wrap is food..

But the best stuff is around the corner, near the gadget wall.

This is where the mark-downs are.

And you never know what’ll be back there.  One time I got a normally very expensive package of Carnaroli risotto rice for less than $4.00.

One afternoon I made a beeline for the mark downs and spied something that was as unfamiliar as it was intriguing.

It was a tiny glass jar full of deep, shiny, chestnut-brown crystals labeled Stumptown Coffee Flake Salt made by the Jacobsen Salt Company.

The original price, for 1.5 ounces, was $11.99.

Ridiculous, right?  But…it was half price.  And half price certainly makes everything much more attractive.  I’m pretty sure that’s how come Jefferson was so eager to make that Louisiana Purchase.

So I took it home.

It was good on steaks, but I discovered that when it’s rubbed on the very humble baked potato it basically turns it into crack.  Ever since I’ve been eating them at least three times a month.

Coffee Roasted Baked Potato

coffee spud

2 large Russet potatoes

2 teaspoons coffee salt (grind it a little finer in mortar and pestle)

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon bacon grease

Preheat oven to 350.  Make a shallow rimmed tray out of foil.  Wash spuds and poke with a fork 4 or 5 times.

Spread a thin coat of fat all over both potatoes, then rub with coffee salt and pepper, making sure the entire surface has a nice crust on it.

Place in foil tray and bake for 45 minutes, then flip over and bake 45 more.  Remove from oven and dress to taste.

Serves 2.

After quite a few spuds, I needed more of this stuff.  I picked up another jar, but discovered it was half price because it was being discontinued, and there would be no more.

So, I decided to make some salt.  The first time out, I made coffee salt.  But the next time I made a batch of Earl Gray salt for The Kid’s birthday.  My thinking is that almost any liquid could be used.  I made both coffee and tea triple strong to intensify the salt’s flavor.

Coffee Salt

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Set up a jar.  Tie cotton string around a pencil or thin dowel that is long enough to reach the bottom of a tall jar. 

4 cups water

2 cups kosher salt

7 ½ tablespoons instant coffee

Put water and salt in non-reactive pan.  Add coffee and heat until it lightly simmers.  Take off heat, let cool for 10 or 15 minutes and pour into jar.

Rest pencil horizontally on the rim of the jar.  The string will float for possibly a couple days, but when it gets fully saturated, it will sink.

Put jar in a quiet corner of the kitchen and forget about it for a week or so.  The crystals will grow on the string.  When the string looks fat with brown crystals and the water has evaporated about ¼ of way down, remove string from water and brush crystals into a glass baking dish.  Strain the brine and add to dish.  Bake at 200 degrees for 15 minutes, then rake the salt with a fork to break up.  Bake and rake in 15 minute increments until dry.  Break up salt one last time, store in a glass jar, to use as desired.

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You know, I’m thinking this would be amazing lightly sprinkled on chocolate.   And roast beef sandwiches or sautéed mushrooms, or barbecue sauce or…

Thanks for your time.