I’m driving home from the local Chinese restaurant with my station wagon filled with the lovely mixed fragrances of moo goo gai pan, imperial shrimp, Mongolian lamb, and other specialties. While stalled in traffic my thoughts go to the past and I switch on my little recorder. I think of the hours and days spent chopping and preparing Chinese feasts with recipes I’d learned from all the cooking lessons with Hugh Carpenter as well as teachers in Hong Kong and Taipei. I think of the entire wall of cook books in my kitchen, some well worn and stained with everything from Chinese hoisin sauce to rare Cassis bottled at Chateau Mouton Rothschild exclusively for the use of family and going away gifts for special house guests when leaving Mouton.
Oh this traffic seems interminable! Memories of Italian cooking lessons with famous Guiliano Bugialli come back. Bugialli was so strict. Then memories of my dear friend, the late Guiseppe Bellini in his great home in Florence overlooking the Arno River where I stayed on several occasions with him and wife Pat. Beppe loved to cook. Even wrote some cookbooks I have. In Italian. No I don’t speak Italian. Beppe had a complete kitchen staff but when he entered his kitchen even his chef was reduced to chopping assistant. One of Beppe’s greatest dishes was a pasta dish served en croute made in a gigantic bowl that could serve at least 30 at dinner. Oh the fragrance when he broke into that pasta pie! Whenever the Bellinis arrived in Santa Barbara for their annual visit to houseguest with Mary and Gordon Douglas, Pat immediately took a book and spread out on a chaise poolside. And Beppe called me to come pick him up to go marketing and that night I would have the fun and honor of assisting him in whipping up a great feast in my small condo kitchen. It was from Beppe long ago, before Alice Waters was born, I first learned to buy only the freshest straight from the fields.
Now there appears to be an accident ahead. Just what I don’t need! I’ve got to get home well before guests arrive for Chinese dinner in my Chinese bed dining room. More time to remember! Moroccan cooking. Did I study that in Morocco? No it was with my American friend Robert Carrier who settled in England and had a restaurant, small inn and gave cooking lessons in his 16th century Hintlesham Hall near Ipswich. Robert Carrier’s cook books on the marvelous Moroccan cuisine are some of the very best in English language.
Julia! Ah yes Julia. We were friends long before she and Paul moved into the building across the street from me in our condo compound. Did I learn to cook with Julia? No. No but her first cookbook did become my cooking Bible. However we did shop together. There was one occasion when she wanted to go to the giant Chinese market in Arcadia I’d go for Chinese supplies — No that’s another blog. But speaking of shopping with Julia, I got a frantic call from a friend Nancy Cudahy one day who had just been shopping at Von’s. Von’s is a chain of California supermarkets. “Beverley you must tell me what to do. Julia Child was in Von’s shopping. So I pushed my cart right behind her and everything she put into her cart I put into my cart. Now I’m home with over $200 worth of groceries and I don’t know what to do with any of them!”
I frequently dined with Julia and Paul, even in their charming home in Cambridge, MA. There we dined in the big cozy kitchen that is now housed in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. Needless to say dining Chez Child was a great treat. And I’ll do an entire blog on that one day.
However, Julia and Paul often dined with me in Santa Barbara. “Aren’t you scared to cook for Julia Child?” I was frequently asked. No of course not. She appreciated people making the effort. Although she never once left after a meal in my home without commenting, “Dear you didn’t cook the vegetables enough!” I like crunchy Julia liked squishy. Other than that we agreed on everything.
Well traffic is moving a bit now and my thoughts, aside from thinking how bright the yellow Ferrari ahead of me is, are wandering to the hours spent learning to carve flowers out of turnips and carrots and strange vegetables I’ve never seen since with one of the experts in the kitchens of the Imperial Hotel in Bangkok. Oh yes and the series of lessons in making Indian samosas with Sri Lankan Indra Jayasekera in her little apartment in Hong Kong. I’ve never made a samosa since! The Indian restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara does such a good job with them.
Well finally pushing the gadget that opens the gates to get into our compound. Have to get upstairs fast to get everything into woks and toss all the tell-tale red takeout cartons down the trash slide before the guests arrive.
Gee I hope they remembered not to cook the snow peas, to give them to me raw in a separate container. I always make a ceremony of tossing them into the restaurant’s moo goo gai pan when there are guests in my kitchen. They are so impressed with my culinary skills as I frantically whip those snow peas around in the hot wok!
Kathleen Fetner, Technical Advisor and Friend