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Slice the onion in half through the root, pin a bay leaf to it with two whole cloves. Place this onion pique in a pot, add half-and-half, heat gently.

I was in a private cooking class taught by two chefs—Dorette Snover, the school's owner, and Renee Ramage-Burger, both rigorously trained at respected national cooking schools. They were teaching three of us techniques chefs use for making perfect mother sauces—béchamel, velouté and hollandaise—the bases for myriad variations.

But the lesson was about more than sauces. Dorette knew intuitively that being together in the kitchen, sharing cooking secrets and eating what we made was about love and giving and nurturing as much as about food. I watched as she put her hand on the shoulder of a classmate, speaking to her softly, saying "Don't worry" and "We'll work on that." She was patient and good-natured with our tentative, awkward approach to transforming the ingredients—butter, flour, eggs, Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses, nutmeg, basil and more—into masterful sauces.

My mother made chicken and dumplings the way her grandmother had shown her long ago in North Carolina, and I've never had any as soul-satisfying as hers were. The last time she made them, we were in my kitchen, which looked out on the nighttime garden. While a whole chicken simmered in a pot of water that would become the base for the dumplings, my mother passed on what she knew to my daughter. She demonstrated old techniques for making dumplings—from flour, stock from the boiling chicken, lard—rolling them out almost as thin as a paper towel, and cutting strips from the rolled, flattened dough, which she then dropped into the stock. The older woman, face creased from smoking cigarettes and drinking red wine, and the young high school girl with a blond ponytail stood facing the counter, their backs toward me. I yearned for my mother's chicken and dumplings, and that night they were mouthful and heartwarming and rich.

At C'est Si Bon!, Dorette's cooking school kitchen, the walls are painted daffodil yellow and the woodwork white; expanses of windows open the kitchen to light. In it are a 10-burner gas stove, three worktables, pots and pans and bowls stacked on tables along the sides. I'm holding a small plate. On it are baked asparagus stalks over which we've drizzled the ginger-orange hollandaise sauce we've just finished. It's the best asparagus dish I've ever had, the taste of the hollandaise capturing the moment.

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