“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined
that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger,
I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…
and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”
~ M.F.K. Fisher
I met Sarah at a pigroast a few years ago. My friend Richard Hylton hosts an annual feast that many of our friends participate in. One year my husband Lloyd actually shot and gutted the boar, and each year my friend Angelo Garro prepares the beast. This year was the same. But it was in a different location ~ with a lake and swimming and lots of walking in between, and I remember Sandro and Jenny’s salad, and bottles of amazing wine being passed around…but mostly I recall running around making sure my kids weren’t in danger… The property was huge and even with my free-range parenting philosophy, I have anxiety around endless space with deep water and lurking rattlesnakes. So I drank some wine and lost myself in talking to people. It’s exciting to see new faces at larger gatherings like these, and in particular to meet someone at the perfect moment when it makes sense in your life. This was that moment. Sarah and I talked, exchanged information, and she just stuck in my mind. I kept thinking about mushrooms and foraging, which was happening alls round me with friends, but it was getting and reading her book that made me reach out to her. I invited her to salon dinner #20 which was actually inspired by The Wild Table cookbook that she co-authored with Connie Green. It was in January 2013 and I made a mushroom trifolati and a mushroom pasta with chicken livers. Even though I hadn’t told her what I was making, or that the dinner was inspired by The Wild Table, she made a quince clafoutis with whipped cream infused with candy cap mushrooms. For the second dinner that Sarah came to in January of 2014, dinner #38, she made another remarkable dessert ~ an elderberry fool with elderberry shrub. And in between these dinners Sarah has taught me lots ~ from her thinking about the relationship of food and wine as a chef, the way to balance umami with acid and salt, how cook books come to be, and most interestingly the historical role of Napa (and the Mondavi’s in particular) in food education. Here are some excerpts from our talk ~
Above: Dinner #20, inspired by The Wild Table. With Guests, right ~ Lloyd Bernberg, Chad Arnold, Kelsie Kerr, Raj Parr, Eleanor Bertino, Keven Clancy, Jasmine Hirsch, Gilian Handelman, me, Cameron Sellers, Joshua Greene, Susanne Kauer, Anthony Sueuga, and Sarah Scott.
Above, left: “dead soldiers” from dinner #20, and the menu
Chef Sarah Scott, Interview #26
French Hotel Cafe, Berkeley ~ April 23rd 2014
On BACKGROUND/ her “terroir” ~ “I’m from the south ~ Atlanta. And I was born in Montgomery, Alabama during the year of Rosa Parks… I’m reading The Warmth of Other Suns” about the Black Migration out of the south from 1917 to 1970, and she tells the story through the people who made the journeys.. and it was all about where the rail lines went, so there were many people who came to Oakland at that time..My dad was a presbyterian minister and the couple in his church bailed out Rosa Parks ~ the Durrs. My father went to Martin Luther King (who was twenty something at that time) and asked what he could do to help. Rosa Parks was part of the education and the movement of non-violence and she was willing to take the flack and take this on. It’s so fascinating. Once you start pulling the threads you see where they are all connected, but that’s where I came from. My dad grew up in the deep south in Georgia ~ Jim Crow and the mind set of the time and being able to come out of this and reject it. It cost him, but I got my mom’s journals and remember her saying ~ “Buck (my father) could really preach and pray”.. and I remembered him in the pulpit. it was amazing. When I was four we moved to Atlanta. Food and terroir? To me terroir is taste; it’s flavors and taste and ingredients that come from that place and geography. So i was totally influenced and impacted by that southern flavor..”
On FRANCE ~ “I remember when I first went to France. In the smaller towns you would get food that had so much flavor ~ these long cooked hearty flavors that felt very familiar to me. It was the more provincial cuisine ~ food that comes right from living on the land. I went to france when I was 40 and I was working as the executive chef at Robert Mondavi Winery and they sent me to Bourdeux to cook for their booth at VIN EXPO.. and Peggy Smith was there, and others from Chez Panisse and Acme bread. And Mondavi wanted me to recreate California food for their clients in France. so we would get up at 5am and go to a market and get the produce and I was able to do the california thing. The ingredients were so pure and delicious and I grew up with that.
In Georgia there were African American truck farmers and they would park in the middle of the neighborhood and you could smell the freshness of the produce ~ the okra, corn and tomatoes and all the fresh vegetables. My mom was a simple cook ~ she was a preacher’s wife…but one of the cooks at the church BobbieLee Jackson, taught me to cook. I would go to the kitchen during church service and she would also come to our home and make squash casserole, fried chicken, baked ham, black-eyed peas. I was with her all the time.”
On CHEZ PANISSE ~ “I’m a Francophile too and I love Italian food and I’ve definitely been influenced by that place over there (she points to Chez Panisse, across the street). I love Chez Panisse… no one’s muddy-ing up the flavors. For me, I like to make closest to perfection what that dish is supposed to be. I grew up with authentic food and maybe that’s another thing too. It’s so traditional. Now there’s so many other ingredients and I like the tradition. At chez panisse I think ~ “That’s the best lamb chop I’ve ever had because they started with the best raw product.. and they cook it with care and attention. They don’t play with the food.”
On Napa in the late 70s, early 80’s ~ “Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards came in the late 70s, Miramonte in St Helena, Domaine Chandon and there was Malfatti.. a spinach and chard dumpling with a sauce. The wine industry was taking off. I look back now and it was total serendipity. We lived behind this couple and she was a winemaker and my husband worked for them, and one day asked, would you like to deliver some wine to MFK Fisher.. and I said YES, I would!!! She had lived in St. Helena, but was living in Glen Ellen. I had the wine and I had The Art of Eating with me and I asked do you mind signing and she said NO come on in, and I talked to her and she asked what do you want to do and I had just started cooking.. and I remember one thing.. she said ”don’t ever write a cook book. it’s a living hell” but mostly she just wrote about sensual things and eating.. but she asked what can I do for you, how can I help you? She was generous like that. And I thought I would do anything for you; and she asked do you mind weeding and at that time I was so young and awed by her, and it didn’t occur to me to ask for anything because I was just unformed. What always blew me away was she always remembered me and she always wanted to know what I was doing and was curious. It was one of the most amazing times of my life, meeting her.. It was enough being with her.”
On her JOURNEY through the food and wine world ~ “I started with baking.. and in 1980 I worked at Cuisine Renaissance. It was a cookware store, restaurant, and had gourmet food, wine, and was a cooking school. I started there.. and there were all these chefs ~ Marcella Hazan, Diana Kennedy (Ken Hom, Hugh Carpenter). My education for cooking began working in the restaurant there and being the sous chef for the cooking school. This is where I found my calling. I had never been in that environment and it had everything under one roof. A year and a half and a good chunk of it folded, but that got me going. I had a catering company from 1984-1992 cooking for all the winemakers and vineyards, doing big events, weddings and coming into the city to do “napa mingling with SF” ~ Herb Caen and Maria Manetti Farrow ~ and then I started working for the Mondavi’s. In 1993 I was executive chef at Mondavi and stayed there for 14 years. For promotions, sometimes I would go to Thailand and create California cuisine in these locations. I went to the Ritz Paris and taught 2 cooking classes there with two meals and Magrit would narrate the class and translate. I would make crab cakes, or squab or lamb, and mango flan, and recreate the classic baked goat cheese; and get fresh produce and make lighter sauces like a salsa verde. I would bring that California lightness and freshness but would have to work with the ingredients there. I also went to Sylt Island and many places in Germany, Milan, Japan all to promote the wines and do it with the food and the sensibility of what we were trying to do in Napa. They were ambassadors and it was so fun to be able to do that with them and to wrangle a kitchen in a foreign country. It was so amazing for people to meet the Mondavis.
On the GREAT CHEF’S COOKING SCHOOL ~ “In the 1970s the Great Chef’s Cooking School started with three star chefs like Paul Bocuse, the Troisgrois Brothers, Lenotre, Robouchon, and then, later Alice, Boulud and Charlie Trotter. A chef would come for a week long school. There would be 24 people, a class and then a meal day after day. The dining room would be transformed by a floral team and once there was a safari with elephants; or once they built a stream down the middle of the table (Axel Fabre). This is where I met Catherine Brandel. She was the chef for the Geat Chef’s Cooking School and later Gary Jenanyan. Everyone just wanted to be there. It was this thing of the 80s and the early 90s when chefs were available and had this time and could do this intimate experience. This was another layer of how Mr Mondavi and Margrit had a vision of wine and food and created an experience that was a magical time. At that time chefs were establishing who they were and they were available. They weren’t franchised and on TV. This was personal, face-to-face cooking. It was special, and it was 30 years ago. Margrit has written about it ~ a sketchbook that she did with Janet Fletcher, cookbook author and cheese aficionado.”
On WORK, now ~ “I’ve only ever cooked for wineries; it’s always been about the wine, from day one. There is a parameter or constraint when your client is a winery and your job is to cook delicious food and the wine has to always be a factor. It’s one of the parameters you’re always working with; Tim Hanni ~ his work and understanding of Umami and the relationship of umami and food and how it interacts with wine was a breakthrough and empowered me; and freed me from the old rules that weren’t working. It made me a better chef, made the food taste better because when you are working with the five tastes, you’re giving it all the dimensions you can. It’s taken thirty years to come to that place! I have the best clients. I now get to do the smaller high end wine and food dinners, and consult for wine and food programs. I work with the wines and create recipes and I get to cook the food that I love to cook for the wineries I love.. it’s a mutual love relationship with the people I work with.”
On favorite COUNTRIES ~ “France, Thailand and Cambodia too.. i go there and i feel like i’m at home. it resonates and i don’t know why. i must have been a buddhist monk in another life. also India.
On Cookbooks on her shelf ~ “The Time Life Series, Richard Olney, Thomas Kellers books, Chez Panisse books, Mourad Lahlou’s New Moroccan, The Gift of Southern Cooking and Suzanne Goin’s books.”
On most inspirational Books and Films ~ “I worked for 6 years at Ansley Mall Book Store (makes me think of Poor Richards in Colorado Springs).. I was reading Carlos Castaneda, Carl Jung, Krishnamurti, Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut.. but the three that were most important, that saved my life.. were Alan Watts Wisdom of Insecurity, The Diaries of Anais Nin and MFK Fisher’s Art of Eating. Films ~ all of Truffaut. Ken Russell’s Women in Love, and The Magic Christian with Peter Sellers…”
DRINK: Buvette (in NYC)
SWEAR: shit on a cracker
On her Proustian madeleine ~ “Pound cake, is that kind of like “oh my god,” fried chicken and biscuits. For the biscuits I use this White Lily self-rising flour. It’s almost like cult status now. Butter, buttermilk and the lightest touch. I see BobbieLee’s hands now.. and that moment when they come out and the bottom is crispy and you stick butter in the middle…and I think “BobbieLee look at this ~ finally 50 years later i got the biscuits!”
Above: Dinner #38 menu, Sarah with David Lynch and Kristen Talley, and the wine “menu.”
Above: Dinner #38, with guests: Jordan Mackay, Anthony Sueuga, Josie Peltz, Steve Matthiasson, Lloyd Bernberg, Jill Matthiasson,
Matthew Rorick, Suzanne Lettrick, Sarah Scott, David Lynch, Kristen Talley, Matt Gerloff, Chad Arnold,
Paul Draper, Drake McCarthy, Maureen Draper, Susanne Kauer, Kim Addonizio, and Ted Talley.
“Dining partners, regardless of gender, social standing, or the years they’ve lived, should be chosen
for their ability to eat – and drink!
– with the right mixture of abandon and restraint. They should enjoy food,
and look upon its preparation and its degustation as one of the human arts.”
~ M.F.K. Fisher, Serve It Forth