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Hometown: Santa Monica, Calif.
My career in food started as a child in my grandmother's kitchen, in the heart of the Loire Valley of France. The routine of our family was based around cooking for the sheer joy of "eating only the freshest product of the season." In our small country town, our food market was either in our garden, our neighbors' gardens and barns, or the local street market right outside our front door! Nothing ever touched refrigeration... fresh Atlantic seafood, vegetables and herbs hand picked only minutes before, and things like goat cheese made fresh to order from the goat's milk that morning. This is what we lived for!!!
My grandmother could cook anything with such skill and gentleness... these visions are what inspire me today. Every Friday I had great anticipation for our meals. Why? Because this was the fresh fish market day! We reserved this day for no meat, only the seafood of the season — fines claires oysters, bigorneau ocean snails, petites grises soft shell shrimp, moules marinieres, coquille st. jacques, the list goes on, and the world's most elegant fish in texture and flavor, Dover sole. She loved to cook this fish so perfectly and simply with a brown butter sauce. But can I mention my favorite? It is her Langoustine á l'Americaine, the only spicy dish in France at that time — it is truly to die for! (I begged her to resurrect her recipe after 25 years on one of my recent visits.)
I must also mention my uncle, who was a great food chef and pastry chef. He came from a family of wheat farmers and flour millers. I always remember the buttery brioche that he let rise all night into something so flavorful and light, with every ingredient naturally "organic." One cannot buy this quality anywhere because you'd have to start with freshly churned butter and newly milled flour. After my parents' divorce, I would hide out with him at Christmas time, helping him prepare Christmas dinners, and THAT was an EVENT! He would take a week to prepare, and lay out a feast typical of the days of the kings' feasts.
My desire to cook bloomed when I arrived in the U.S.A. in 1989. It was a way I could reconnect myself to my homeland. Everybody cooks in France, so I had no particular reason to do it there. But here in the States, I wanted to share my love of cooking and the beauty of using natural products. That feeling moved me deeply and I decided to enroll in New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont.
My memories of smelling good food as a kid growing up in France is the essence of what reminds me to not forget what is real, what is important. In today's fast world, we seem to be always searching for something, perhaps searching for ourselves. So I live my life by the idea that YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT! It doesn't get simpler than that.