Chef Thierry Rautureau‘s lunch demonstration at the International Food Blogger’s Conference did not disappoint: he was just as friendly and down-to earth as the one other time I’ve had a chance to meet him. That was at his first restaurant, Rover’s, soon after it opened. Later on Rover’s became a famous restaurant with regulars like Bill Gates, but when I first heard of it in 1988 it was brand new and reasonably priced. When my parents came to town for a visit I booked a table for the four of us.
To eat at a formal restaurant like Rover’s with its white linen tablecloths was a rare-to-never opportunity for starving student newlyweds like my husband and me. It was very small neighborhood restaurant. The chef fussed over us and made us feel comfortable and special. He came out and asked us how we liked each course and chatted. I can no longer remember just what we ate, but we’d never had food so meticulously arranged and presented. Everything was very fresh and good: Rover’s was one of the first farm to table restaurants. Each course was better than the last and the dessert was amazing. My dad enthused that it was the best meal he’d ever had in his life. A favorite memory!
At IFBC Rautureau made a simple base for tomato soup and talked about his background. He grew up on a dairy farm in France where his family would can and preserve large quantities of food for the winter. He said that they did not consider it fun but just something that had to be done (echoing my mom’s experience growing up on a farm, the hot kitchen during canning was something that she disliked). The upside was being able to pull out preserved white asparagus for a dinner in January, getting a meal that could not be obtained in any market. And making preserves still can create ingredients that you can’t get any other way.
He told us how for many years he would put up large quantities of fruit every year so that it could be used for desserts in his restaurants all winter long. He would make 150 pounds each of huckleberry, peach, cherry, etc. jam. He said the chefs used to wince when they saw him coming with a huge bucket of cherries knowing they would have to pit them all. He still makes a variety of vinegars in the basement of his home. He has a huge crock that he got at a garage sale, and uses wine leftover from dinner at home (great idea for leftover wine!).
He combines the wine with fruit like huckleberry, blueberry, or apple and leaves it in his basement for about six months in the crock with a piece of cheesecloth laid over the open top. The temperature has to be not too hot or cold for the proper bacteria to take hold, between 65-70 and 80, and he stirs the pot every month or two.
He was full of great ideas for food– pickled vegetables, toasted bread with roasted yellow plum and chanterelles, homemade creme fraiche– more ideas than I could write down or remember. I hope to experiment with a few and maybe share on the blog. The Chef in the Hat left me feeling happy and inspired, I hope you’re a little inspired too!