I am not a cook. When I do cook, I do it moderately well. I rarely attempt anything terribly complicated because I'd rather spend my time doing other things. But the things I do prepare are generally satisfying and based seldom on recipes but more often on old advice from my father, notes jotted in a spiral notebook while talking to my mother, or just experimenting.
Tonight, Joe and I watched Julie & Julia and maybe it's as much the turn of the calendar as it is the content of the movie, but I am feeling inspired. With a couple of clicks mid-way through the movie, I ordered Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the cookbook for "the servantless American cook" that made Julia Child a household name, made French cooking accessible to Americans, and made tonight's movie possible.
It isn't just the movie, though. It's this:
Inside that Dutch oven is perhaps the most delicious food I've ever had in my entire life. It was my first night in Paris and, exhausted after a full day at Disneyland Paris and walking the Champs Elysees after my train ride into the city, I checked into the Hotel Lutetia. All I wanted to do was order room service and stare from my balcony at my amazing view. (Do click as this was one of those moments Americans with travel aspirations dream of. I was not expecting it and unabashedly jumped up and down and clapped when the hotel night manager showed me the view as he introduced me to my room.)
But I digress (and with a view like that, it's easy to digress). After being informed that the room service was provided by the hotel's brasserie, I selected the poulet fermier de Challans rôti à l'ail et au thym, pomme purée du Lutetia. Or, chicken roasted with garlic and thyme with mashed potatoes. For the moment I will skip over that rond de chèvre, although just looking at it makes me want to buy a ticket to Paris, and get to the actual point. Among those who frequently dine out with me, I am known as something of a mashed potato connoisseur. So when I saw pomme purée du Lutetia on the menu, there was no question of what to order. Being a somewhat picky eater in a foreign country, I'll admit I was a bit nervous about what I would receive. But there was no need--what I received was a revelation: never did I dream that mashed potatoes could be so amazing. The small chicken, perhaps the size of a Cornish hen, rested in the oven on a bed of mashed potatoes with whole cloves of garlic and sprigs of rosemary. The chicken itself was astonishing on its own - tender and juicy beyond any I'd experienced. The jus (can poultry have a jus? "Drippings" seems too crude for something that tasted so divine) only enhanced the flavor of the potatoes. I would have licked the oven clean if it weren't for the fact that it was smaller than my face. They were THAT good.
Two nights later I dined in the Brasserie du Lutetia, "one of the Left Bank’s most famous culinary institutions" and had the same meal. You know all that stuff about the second pressing of the grape and all? Not the case here - it was every bit as wonderful the second time around. I think I could eat that meal every day for the rest of my days here on earth and be happy. Of course, that would likely reduce my days here on earth significantly. C'est la vie. Or should I say, la mort?
It is the memory of those meals that made the movie more enjoyable and prompted me to order the cookbook. I do not intend to cook every recipe in the book, ever, let alone in one year. But I do intend to try a few things. The book will be here on Tuesday and I have it on good authority that page 520 will be my first venture.One more thing...did you know Julia Child is credited with introducing to America the idea of adding garlic to mashed potatoes? I nominate her to be Patron Saint of Mashed Potatoes.