Where is my place in the food universe? I have struggled with this question for quite some time. The search for our treasure in life often begins and ends in the same exact space. Though a journey from adolescence to manhood is usually necessary to fully comprehend what we search for. The exploration allows us to naively abandon our roots, experiment and possibly forget what we were looking for in the first place. In the end, we find it hiding in plain sight. What we had in the beginning was probably all we ever needed and craved for only we usually are too stupid to understand life.
Soulful food is the treasure.
I grew up a son of French parents still strongly attached to the old world via a spoon and fork. Living in a new foreign land did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the joys and demands of the table. The act of sourcing pure ingredients and fresh baguettes was monumental. My mother rode to the four corners of the universe with me strapped to her bicycle. The scenes from my childhood could have passed for an identical gastronomical life in any French household at the same point in history.
For 30 years I explored, worked and played hard in the chef world taking a circuitous route through many kitchens in the United States, Alaska, Prince Edward Island and France. I dedicated my life to the joyous pursuit of Bacchanal excess exhibited through great food, wine and occasionally things not so good for me. I’ll save that story for when the movie of my life comes out. I felt compelled to push the boundaries of my knowledge and experience, always seeking to learn more and work myself harder. Kitchen lives are never easy on the body. Since I ‘retired’, I rediscovered the love of simplicity, family, living with the seasons and eating food in the spirit of my French forbearers.
I remember as a young head strong chef, making ratatouille one afternoon with my mother. I very finely diced my vegetables, cooked everything separately, mixing only at the very last moment as to protect the integrity of each individual flavor. It was beautiful, colorful and tasty but in retrospect it lacked authenticity and soul. There was no emotional flashback to a lost childhood in rural France like Anton Ego in the movie ‘Ratatouille’. My mother laughed as she whipped out a perfect rustic ratatouille as she had all her life. With each bite another layer of flavors unfurled. Her ambrosial version, savored with my eyes closed, conveyed the rich tapestry of the Provencal table. Southern French food is a simple, unpretentious country cooking based on perfectly sun-ripened vegetables and fruits, fragrant herbs, abundant fresh seafood and pasture raised meats. The cuisine is the culmination of exploration, invasion and the frugality of poor, rural life.
It may be cliché to claim one learned to cook hanging off their Maman’s apron strings, but I really did. She was a free spirited natural who cooked like a great jazz musician riffs. Edible poetry in constant motion. She had a fearless style that was never daunted by lengthy recipes or even the need to follow them religiously. Her voice in the kitchen was dictated by remembered flavors of growing up in Marseille and la belle France. Immigrants hold onto these visceral connections like a ship wrecked person to their life raft. Her food was imbued with a generous helping of love and passion, and it is that French style that I learned. It is a farmer’s market style of cooking.
So why Pistou? Pistou is a simple flavorful soup made of many different vegetables and beans that change according to season. There is no one recipe to be strictly adhered to. It is a celebration of whatever season you are in. I renamed my blog Pistou as a metaphor for what I hope to teach home cooks. To cook freely and fearlessly with the seasons. Portland has an amazing foodscape peopled with some of the best food artisans, farms, ranches, foragers and fishermen I have ever seen. Week by week I will share what I find in the context of where I have been in life. Soulful food is the treasure.