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Julia Child's home in France is sold

 La Pitchoune

Last fall we reported that Julia Child's home in France, La Pitchoune, was for sale. Speculation abounded as to what would become of the house, which Child built on land owned by her best friend, Simone Beck, who co-authored Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Recently we learned that Makenna Johnston, an alumnus from Smith College (the same university that Child attended) purchased the home and has plans to turn it into a culinary retreat center. Johnston grew up in a family of Francophiles, and she herself is a big fan of Julia. "I watched reruns on PBS, and I used to imitate her voice," Johnston says.

When she saw the article announcing that the house was for sale, Johnston was intrigued but didn't think it was in the cards. However, after she and her family learned that Paris was under attack, she decided to seriously consider purchasing the home. "When [that] happened, I started thinking about how Julia Child was a total peacenik. She worked for the government, and the best word from back then is she was very democratic. She was very involved in improving communities through food," Johnston says.

She and her wife, Yvonne, conceived of a "project devoted to Child's legacy of joy, compassion, and sharing the love of food." Yvonne, who left her full-time military career in 2014, enrolled in culinary school. The pair gathered together a few investors and made an offer on La Pitchoune, which was accepted. After closing, they plan to make the house "a cooking retreat with excursions in yoga." It "will be a home base for a center on culinary exploration, peace, and community," Johnston shared with the Smith College community.

Chefs create culinary award that goes beyond the kitchen

 books by chefs

A group of the world's top chefs recently announced a new global culinary prize aimed at rewarding cooks who use their skills to make an impact beyond the kitchen. The award, created by the Spanish Basque Culinary Centre, is slated for cooks with "an initiative in the gastronomic area that will be strongly engaged with society."

Top chefs Joan Roca of famed restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck, and Peru's Gaston Acurio will be on the jury of the award. While these chefs hail from fine dining establishments, the award won't be limited to chefs from those types of eateries. "The key of the award is that it doesn't necessarily have to be haute cuisine," Roca told AFP.

Celebrity chefs have frequently used their fame and skills for charitable work, like Jamie Oliver who campaigned for healthy school dinners and Gaston Acurio, who has opened a culinary school for underprivileged children in Peru. But until now, there hasn't been an award aimed at such philanthropy. "Every year the prize will go to a chef who demonstrates how gastronomy can translate into a transformative force," said Joxe Mari Aizega, general manager of the Basque Culinary Centre. "It will help to highlight the work that is being done the world over -- projects linked to cultural themes, social responsibility, sustainability or economic development."

To be considered for the prize, chefs must be nominated online by a professional from the gastronomy world. The winner will receive 100,000 euros ($109,000 USD) that he or she will have to reinvest into a project "that demonstrates the wider role of gastronomy in society."

What to expect at Noma Australia

Boiled stone crab and seaweeds

René Redzepi is moving Noma to Australia for a few months. If you are lucky enough to have scored a reservation for this temporary location, don't expect to see any items like carrots, beets and cabbage that are ubiquitous on the Danish restaurant's menu, says the award-winning chef  

Redzepi says he and his staff will forage, just as they do for the Danish Noma, but for ingredients indigenous to Australia. Those ingredients will be flavoured with local spices. "That's where we found the most unique flavours and also the most fun," explains the chef. "I mean you don't want to travel to Australia to work with a carrot or a beet or a cabbage leaf, because we do that every day at home." What you can expect are unique uses for Australian favourites, like Redzepi's take on Vegemite.

The Australian popup location follows a well-received Tokyo version last year. Seating is limited, with room in the restaurant for only 56 diners plus a few extras outside, and all available bookings have already been taken. You can, however, sign up to be on the waiting list. If you can't get in, content yourself with cooking from one of Redzepi's cookbooks, available at a discount for EYB Members from publisher Phaidon.

Photo of Boiled stone crab and seaweeds from A Work in Progress by René Redzepi

How Alton Brown changed the cooking landscape

Alton Brown Good Eats cookbook

It's safe to say that Alton Brown has become a household name among those who have taken even a fleeting interest in cooking. This success was not a foregone conclusion when he embarked on Good Eats, the food show that turned the television cooking program on its head. The Daily Meal traces how Brown became one of the most influential voices in the culinary world.

When he first appeared on the Food Network in 1999, most cooking shows relied on a similar format of a cheery chef standing behind a table, preparing ingredients in front of an audience. Brown was the first to bring the show into the kitchen - way into the kitchen. A background in cinematography helped him utilize unique camera viewpoints, like the back of the oven, which made the show much more interesting.

In addition to breaking rules with the format, Brown was also among the first dive deeply into food science, whipping out charts and graphs to illustrate his points. All of this science attracted a new audience: self-proclaimed food geeks. Simply put, Alton Brown made it okay to be a nerd in the kitchen.

After an impressive 14 seasons, Good Eats departed the airwaves in 2011. Now Brown focuses on other projects like hosting Cutthroat Kitchen, writing cookbooks, tackling the despised unitaskers, and hosting his new one-man traveling show, Eat Your Science (which launches in Charleston in April).

Alain Ducasse discusses changing kitchen culture

Alain Ducasse cookbookAlain Ducasse is a legendary chef and restaurateur. He has amassed a total of 20 Michelin stars in his far-flung restaurant empire that spans seven countries, has written several cookbooks, and has even devised a menu for the international space station. Recently he discussed a series of topics with young chef Laoise Casey.

 

As you would expect, Ducasse doesn't spend much time in the kitchens of his many restaurants, something that has garnered criticism in the industry. But he dismisses the critics by saying that he had planned to get out of the kitchen long ago following a plane crash in which he was the only survivor. he had plans to get out of the kitchen by the time he was 28, following a plane crash in the French Alps, of which he was the sole survivor. "The pain and suffering I endured turned out to be a starting point in the way I envisaged my work as a chef," he says. After his recovery, he delegated the cooking to his chefs, which he says allowed his to see the possibility of running more than one high-end restaurant at a time.

 

When asked about his view of women in chef roles traditionally held by men, Ducasse responded with praise for his own female staff members: "Two of my head chefs are female. Laetitia Rouabah at Allard, perpetuates the legacy of Marthe Allard - a 'mother cook' who founded the restaurant in 1932 - and brings it up to date aptly. At the helm of Benoit, one of the last authentic Parisian bistros, we have Fabienne Eymard. Both maintain the traditions and bring their touches to those places." Ducasse has also established a program to encourage women to enter the profession. 

The article explores other subjects with the 59-year-old chef, including how he stays motivated and his plans for the future. When asked when he might stop, he smiles and says, "I guess I will keep doing this for as long as I can." 

Ina Garten's hands-on approach

Ina GartenYou may think of Ina Garten as a television personality, but the reality is that she is a cookbook author who uses TV to promote her books. The show, Barefoot Contessa, takes up small bits of her life, maybe six weeks a year total in two chunks. "My business is cookbooks, and TV is really good for supporting that," Ina told Eater last fall as part of an in-depth piece that chronicles her rise to fame.

Ina's trademark look hasn't changed much over the years, and her aesthetic has likewise remained relatively constant. The article sums it up this way: "It's about loving being at home, particularly if your home has a couple acres of garden, and yet it's accessible. It's never about perfection, as it is with Martha [Stewart], but it is about personal triumph." Not only has Ina's look remained steady, so has the hands-on way she approaches her brand. Unlike many other stars, she doesn't pawn off tasks like social media postings. "I think people get it," Ina said. "That it's not like some office over there that's, you know, in L.A., doing my Facebook account, but it's actually me doing it, writing it, photographing it."

When discussing her cookbooks, Ina notes that each of her nine books has sold more than the previous one, and she explains her theory about their success: "I mean, I couldn't have imagined this starting out," Ina told Eater, "but I think the reason people use cookbooks is it gives them the tools to do something, to put something on the table and have everybody say, 'You made that yourself?'" Her favorite cookbook is her second effort, Barefoot Contessa Parties!, which sold over 800,000 copies. The most recent books, 2014's Make it Ahead, had a print run of 1.4 million. When added together, the number of Ina's cookbooks in print exceeds 10 million.   

These people rocked the food world in 2015

Danny Meyer & Jose AndresThe people who topped this year's Yahoo! Food list of influential culinary personalities is eclectic and diverse. Chef and restaurateur José Andrés topped the list. He was chosen for his multi-faceted contributions to food, ranging from running a successful restaurant empire, Think Food Group, and advocating for reform in both food business and immigration policy. 

Who knew that a supermodel could excel in the food world? Yet Chrissy Teigen has proved to be no slouch when it comes to food. The Sports Illustrated model's "approachable and authentic commentary on food has earned her a cult following on her blog sodelushious.com and on Twitter, where the irreverent cook declares her love of fried snacks, burritos, cheese, and pie while looking impossibly alluring at all times."

Restaurateur Danny Meyer also made the list, mostly for his notable stance to eliminate tipping at all of the restaurants in his Union Square Hospitality Group, the empire which includes Union Square, Blue Smoke, Gramercy Tavern, and the billion dollar burger joint Shake Shack. See the entire list at Yahoo! Food.

Food is a window into our past, says Jacques Pepin

Jacques PepinSome of our strongest memories are tied to food, writes esteemed chef Jacques Pépin, who associates specific dishes and ingredients with his family members and the places he has lived. "Going back as far as my memory can take me, I see a kitchen in my vision of my mother, my aunts, my cousins, and I visualize a specific dish for each of them," he says. In an essay that is an excerpt from a longer piece he wrote for his 80th birthday celebration, Pépin looks back to his earliest years.  

Recalling his earliest food memories, Pépin travels back in time to the Second World War. "My mother took me to a farm for the summer school vacation when I was 6 years old with the knowledge that I would be lodged and fed there. I cried after she left and felt sad, but the fermière took me to the barn to milk the cow. That warm, foamy glass of milk is my first true memory of food and shaped the rest of my life, he recalls.

The story doesn't delve much into the professional realm, as Pépin chooses to share memories about family and about places, such as food markets in the various cities in which he's lived. When recalling very personal food memories, he says, "The greatest taste for me may be a perfect crunchy baguette slathered generously with the very best sweet butter, and the greatest dessert, besides dark, bitter chocolate, may be the succulent apricot or strawberry jams made with very ripe fruits and spread thickly on pieces of warm brioche. Read more at the NY Times »

Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams dies at 100

 Williams Sonoma cookbooks

Charles (Chuck) Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma, which introduced French cookware and high-end ingredients into American kitchens, died yesterday at the age of 100. Williams started Williams-Sonoma in 1956 when he purchased an old hardware store and filled it with the copper and other kitchen goods he'd seen while traveling through Europe. A trip to Paris in 1953 provided the inspiration for the store, as Williams became enthralled with both French cuisine and the tools necessary to produce the food, like Dutch ovens, pâté molds, gratins, and mandolins.

It's almost an understatement to say that Williams had a tremendous influence on American cooking. You can learn more about Williams and his impact on cooking at the Williams-Sonoma blog. There's a three-part series that chronicles his rise from humble beginnings to a veritable empire, including Pottery Barn and West Elm in addition to the namesake kitchenware stores.

Williams' success stemmed from his knack for merchandising, attention to detail, and superior customer service.  Good timing also contributed to his accompliments. " Julia Child was introducing French cooking while he was introducing French cookware," said his long-time friend Mary Risley. "That was how it all started." 

1978, Williams sold the majority of the company to Howard Lester, although he remained the face of the company and worked in a variety of capacities until fairly recently. Among his notable contributions were the family of cookbooks produced by Williams-Sonoma, which have sold over 100 million copies worldwide. The most recent book, Cooking at Home (Williams-Sonoma) was created in honor of Williams' 100th birthday.

Pros recall their worst food disasters

caramel disaster

Most of us have kitchen disaster tales about fallen cakes, grossly overcooked meats, or room-clearing smoke bombs. But we're in good company as even the pros have horror stories of food gone terribly wrong. NPR's The Salt talked to three culinary veterans - Ruth Reichl, Jacques Pépin, and Pati Jinich about their most embarrassing kitchen moments.

At least when we flub at home, we don't have an audience. Jacques Pépin wasn't that lucky; his biggest disaster occurred before a live television audience in the early '70s. Pépin "was supposed to make a soufflé. So he showed up, made the dish and put it in the oven. He had no way of checking on it. Pépin didn't notice, but the oven was set on the self-cleaning cycle and the temperature was a whopping 725 degrees.

"You've never seen a soufflé as black as this one, as burned," he said. "In fact, it was so black that the center was still liquid because it formed a crust. It didn't even cook in the center." Keep this in mind he next time you have a kitchen failure, and also remember Ruth Reichl's sage advice: "It's just a meal. There's always another one." 

Photo of diastrously burned caramel from the kitchen of Darcie Boschee

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