A Recipe for Cooking - Interview with Cal Peternell

Cal Peternell grew up in New Jersey on a small farm and pursued a BFA in painting from the School of Visual Arts in New York. It wasn't until he was living in Italy with his wife, a fellow artist, that he was inspired to pursue a culinary career. After time at various acclaimed restaurants in San Francisco and Boston, he ended up at the world famous Chez Panisse in 1995 and has been chef there since 2000.

Peternell's first book, Twelve Recipes, a New York Times' best seller and IACP award winner, was an immediate classic. It provides the basic techniques and recipes needed for cooks of every level to gain ease and confidence in the kitchen. Twelve Recipes is a truly beautiful book that flows like a great novel with photographs that reflect the true comfort that the author's food delivers - it is a must have in anyone's collection. I am particularly taken with one of first photographs in the book - a shot of the chef's cookbook collection. 

Thankfully, Peternell is back with A Recipe for Cooking and in this title goes beyond the basics and delivers seasonal recipes to help plan every aspect of a meal. Options are shared for both complex variations and ways to simplify a dish with the hope that we will eventually find our own voice in the kitchen.

While Twelve Recipes helps us in building our skills, A Recipe for Cooking takes us further along on our culinary journey. This book is for those times when we want to provide meals that are beyond the necessary "get dinner on the table" stage. With this title, we learn how to create memorable meals and experiences.

Recipes include Belgian Endive Gratin with Pecorino and Prosciutto, Rolled Pork Loin Roast Stuffed with Olives and Herbs and an Orange and Cardamom Cream Tart - all sure to impress those that gather around our table. I've only made two recipes from this title so far: Fried Potato and Garlic Puffs (how could one not want to make that recipe) and Davio's Broccoli with Garlic and Lemon - both were fabulous. I hope to be cooking a great deal more from both of Cal's titles as I feel he has much to teach and his stories are entertaining and enjoyable.

The author has a number of events scheduled to promote A Recipe for Cooking - see if he will be in your area. Cal was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. After you read our interview, enter our contest for a chance at one of ten copies of this fabulous book!

Your first cookbook, Twelve Recipes, was based on a crash course in cooking for your son who was leaving for college. With this book are you assuming the book owner is a more experienced cook and knows the basics?

Twelve Recipes was written as a sort of primer for feeding yourself well, night after night. Not fancy food, just delicious basics that can be put together regardless of your skills, available time, or access to ingredients and equipment. A Recipe for Cooking is for cooks who are ready for more, with recipes that can, if you wish, be more elegant and complex, and instructions for how to do more in the kitchen, things like rolling your own pasta, making more refined sauces and elaborate desserts, even some curing of things like pancetta or salmon gravlax.

What is the aim of A Recipe for Cooking?

The title, A Recipe for Cooking, comes from the idea that the list of what goes into a dish includes more than foodstuffs, a realistic recipe also includes ingredients like how much time you have, who's eating, your budget, your ambition, and how many friends are going to help clean up! In order for it to be fun-and it has to be fun-it's important to keep the meal within the context of your life. This book is for cooks ready to really get into the kitchen, but not completely disappear into it.

You are a restaurant chef (at Chez Panisse) and a home cook for your family. What are the differences between those styles of cooking for you?

Weeknights at home my cooking is pretty Twelve Recipes. Weekends, when friends are coming over, it's A Recipe for Cooking, which is more like what we do at Chez Panisse.

How do you get the time to write cookbooks when you are the head chef at a very busy restaurant?

For the past several years I shared the Chez Panisse Restaurant chef position with my friend Jérôme Waag, each of us working half the year. It was an arrangement that gave us both time away from the kitchen to travel, find restoration and inspiration and, in my case, to get some writing and recipe development done. It was a wonderful arrangement, but is, sadly, no longer in place. I certainly intend to keep cooking, and to continue writing… maybe my books will have to become slimmer, maybe more concentrated, saltier,… like thin slices of bresaola. Ha!

You live in California and have a bounty of great fresh resources available to you. How much do you take into account the seasonal shortages in other parts of the country?

I am very much aware of the incredible bounty that we enjoy year-round here in the Bay Area - go to one of our local farmers markets or excellent produce groceries and, if you're paying attention, you can't miss it! I think I have been successful in offering alternative ingredients and methods to help get great results when lesser stuff is all you can find. The thing is to then urge your grocer, butcher, and fishmonger to get better. In the case of produce, you can also try growing some yourself, at least some herbs.

How much do you take into account all the dietary restrictions people seem to have these days - vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc?

I actually like the limitations provided by guests' dietary restrictions-it can give the menu a direction and bring a (mostly) welcome challenge. No gluten? Fine, we'll skip the pasta tonight. Vegetarian, or vegan even? Good, we will feast on salad and vegetables and maybe throw in some beans. Of course, most things are improved with just a little pancetta or some anchovies, but I can hold back if necessary.

What is your favorite dinner menu for friends in the fall?

Butternut squash panade is a great way to start a meal on a chilly night. It's layers of toasted bread, onions cooked with red wine, and slices of squash that is then baked with chicken stock-warming, special, and can/should be made ahead. Duck always seems right in the fall and winter. There's a recipe for cooking the breast and leg separately in A Recipe for Cooking, and it is very good, but you could just do one or the other if that seems too ambitious (though the legs can/should be cooked ahead and the breast doesn't take long to do last minute). Potatoes al Mattone: little potatoes that are boiled, smashed, and then fried are nice alongside the duck. Pass a big bowl of salad, maybe my Farro and Escarole Salad with Pomegranate, Pancetta, Cilantro, and Aged Goat Cheese, to eat with the duck and to keep the meal fresh and not too heavy. Mango Fool - mango puree layered with whipped coconut milk and finished with slices of mango and a squeeze of lime would be a surprising and refreshing finish.

1 Comment

  • Lindsdav  on  12/9/2016 at 7:44 PM

    Love how accommodating he is! A true creative

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