More late night lite reading in the June 1956 Gourmet. I enjoyed an article about spring vegetables by the Inventor of Vichyssoise. These old magazines are so intriguing! And in many ways completely relevant to the current food revolution going on right now.
Louis Diat is cluing in the reader to the esteem in which les gourmets francais hold vegetables. He goes on to describe the zeal of French shoppers; chefs and housewives who so carefully picked through the fresh peas for the smallest and most perfect. He talks of working on a family farm and learning from experience about fine produce. He ponders the fact that many chefs are great gardeners and why the garden experience is important background information for choosing quality vegetables at market. Then finally he gives credit where credit is due, “don’t overlook the fact that none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the farmers who grow the vegetables that keep alive the prestige of fine French cooking.”
He tells the story of the state of the state’s vegetables when he arrived. In 1910 Louis Diat came to open the kitchens of the Ritz Carlton in NYC. He talks about giant American vegetables and turning carrots down to a more petite and respectable size out of desperation. He was amazed that there were no leeks or shallots. Mon dieu!
He thinks there must be someone who would grow the kind of vegetable suitable for the Ritz a table. At last a fellow hotel chef Louis Deligny of the Hotel Astor, yearned for country air and happened to be as good a gardener as he was a chef. Chef Diat was his only customer at first, as he bought everything Deligny grew. Ah, the private kitchen garden!
I wish I could take a time machine and watch the goings on in a big hotel kitchen in 1910 or 1940. But, I worked in a big hotel kitchen in the 1980’s and I am sure it was pretty similar to the Euroldfashioned kitchens of yore. We were always turning carrots, mushrooms and potatoes, worshiping at the ground of all baby vegetables and filling cucumber boats with crab meat for 2000 guests. There was lots of aspic, the making of apple swans and cheddar cheese gold fish…I personally made several kiwi baskets adorned with blueberry roses, (a la Villeroy and Boch) for Foreign and American Presidents. It was called the West Coast White House back then, can you guess the big hotel kitchen? Yes, yes, the Century Plaza. Though, I digress.
The point here is what? If you love to cook you should have a garden. If you are a chef you need a kitchen garden. If you are a kid, you learn to love food when you have a garden. If you love to garden you can be a farmer. Dig in!
Vichyssoise – original recipe from Chef Diat
Diat was born in Vichy, France, and his mother – like most French housewives – served her children plenty of hot potato soup. Years later as he sought to invent some new and startling cold soup for the Ritz-Carlton menu, he remembered that fine soup of his mother’s. He also recalled that patty-cake rhyme, “some like it hot, come like it cold.” Out of that combination of thoughts came Vichyssoise, named for his birth place.
CREME VICHYSSOISE GLACEE
4 leeks, white part
1 medium onion
2 ounces sweet butter
5 medium potatoes
1 quart water or chicken broth
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups milk
2 cups medium cream
1 cup heavy cream
Finely slice the white part of the leeks and the onion, and brown very slightly in the sweet butter, then add the potatoes, also sliced finely. Add water or broth and salt. Boil from 35 to 40 minutes. Crush and rub through a fine strainer. Return to fire and add 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of medium cream. Season to taste and bring to a boil. Cool and then rub through a very fine strainer. When soup is cold, add the heavy cream. Chill thoroughly before serving. Finely chopped chives may be added when serving.
I also worked in the (Euroldfashioned) kitchen at Scandia on Sunset…Vichyssoise was one of the items in my station. It was used as a base soup as well. I would grate cucumber and add a touch of mint…
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