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Lunch with Mary Frances

Meryle Evans - September 10th, 2013

We asked a few food professionals to imagine what they would cook if she came to lunch or dinner. Several also mentioned actual meals they had shared with the author. As Darrell Corti explained, however, the famed gastronome "did not like fancy cooking. In fact, she was not a cookbook writer, but a writer who wrote about food. When I last had lunch with her at her home in Sonoma, we had radishes with butter, a made dish, exactly what I have forgotten, and a fruit dessert."

Jacques Pépin
Chef, dean of special programs at The International Culinary Center in New York City and author of almost two dozen cookbooks.
"Certainly I enjoyed her The Art of Eating, but I have always been more impressed by her translation of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's The Physiology of Taste. I think the glossary of her book is often more interesting than the book itself. If she came to lunch in this season, I would serve her tomatoes from my garden in a salad, an omelet or brouillade of eggs, cheese, and fruit."

Bill Yosses
White House pastry chef
"Like most chefs, I have not had much time to read. I have read only a few books from The Art of Eating, but the one I do remember was the strange and macabre tale about her family cook with her inspired dishes, much maligned by her grandmother, who thought food was ‘a sinful pleasure.' In the end the cook murders her own mother and kills herself with her well-sharpened French knife. But she was a great cook. What would I make for M.F.K. Fisher? Well, I know she loved Provence (who doesn't?) so I'd make lavender honey nougat de Montelimar, Calissons d'Aix, and lemon verbena Cavaillon melon dacquoise."

Norman Van Aken
Chef of Norman's Restaurant in The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Lakes, Orlando and Tuyo Restaurant in Miami; and author of No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken, due out in December.
"I was given a compendium of Fisher's works by my first cookbook editor as a gift, and it still sits next to my writing desk. Her abilities to be poetic and carnally enchanting are unmatched in American writing. My favorite is The Gastronomical Me. I would serve her chilled conch salad, my pork Havana ‘neuva,' and ice creams made with Florida's tropical fruits alongside a simple shortcake."

Jeremiah Tower
Chef/restaurateur and author of the recently published e-book about the great chef Auguste Escoffier, A Dash of Genius.
Tower described the lunch he prepared and brought to Fisher:
"When I knew her, at the ‘Last House' in the vineyard, she would not go out to a restaurant, not come to my house in San Francisco, and she didn't want to cook, so I took lunch to her. Lucius Beebe's ‘a cold bottle and a hot bird' was my usual guideline. My version of anchoïade toasts (Austin de Croze), cold spit-roasted chicken, Montpellier mayonnaise, room temperature roasted vegetables, and ice cream with blackberry coulis. A simple Chablis.

“Every time I read almost any of her books, I feel like hopping on a plane to the South of France: cooking, inviting friends over, chilling down a simple white, roasting a bird. I loved How to Cook A Wolf, but probably Serve it Forth, if not just for the quotation showing her very wry sense of humor from this quite sensual woman. ‘…I prefer not to have among my guests two people or more, of any sex, who are in the first wild tremors of love. It is better to invite them after their passion has settled, has solidified into a quieter reciprocity of emotions. (It is also a waste of good food, to serve it to new lovers.)'"

Darrell Corti
Silver Spoon award winner (September 2013) and owner, Corti Brothers grocery in Sacramento, California.
"I was not inspired by M.F.K. Fisher's books, just overwhelmed by them. I read The Art of Eating compendium when I was in the sixth grade in 1956. I read it twice, in fact. I was very taken with her knowledge of the world of food and its history. If she came to dine, I would probably serve her as a first course our ravioli that Corti Brothers has made since 1947. Then probably a roast of something—lamb, I think—with potatoes and vegetables in season, and something very fruity for dessert. As I said, she really didn't like complicated food or wine."

Rozanne Gold
Chef, and author of Radically Simple, among a dozen other cookbooks.
"My favorite book was As They Were. Why? Because it was the first that I read and I swooned.

“I was quite inspired by her work, and the exquisite simplicity of it all informed my cooking for decades, and later my writing. I would invite her for dinner and serve my simplest, favorite recipes. Bollinger RD to start and an old Burgundy from our cellar. The very best and fattest smoked salmon (from Russ & Daughters); cabbage and noodles (from my beloved Hungarian mother); my An Opinionated Way to Roast a Chicken with chive butter sauce, with roasted asparagus, fried capers, and fresh bay leaves; wild arugula, whole lemon vinaigrette, runny Gorgonzola dulce; and Venetian wine cake with buttermilk ice cream."

Midge Knerr
Chef/innkeeper, The Lodge at the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado
"M.F.K. Fisher was an inspiration to Julia Child, James Beard, and Craig Claiborne—culinary legends who were all visionaries to me. Her books were important, as they made us think about food with appreciation, humor, and hunger—especially after the Depression and war. If I were to take one of her books to a desert island, what would be more appropriate than Consider The Oyster, a compendium of oyster prose, tempting the taste buds and sense of adventure as the tide laps the shore. Preparing a meal for Mrs. Fisher would definitely bring out the Francophile in me. Lunch under some lovely trees, country pâté with crusty bread and perhaps a Lyonnais omelet with a salad of mâche, a glass of French Chardonnay, and tarte Tatin for dessert. Classics for an ironic lady of gastronomy, who would probably have a giggle at me being so mundane."