No One Has Pans Like Mine

“No one has pans like mine!” bragged a man to his partner at the next table.

“Mama!” flashed through my brain. Although passed on awhile ago, my mother is always with me in my cooking. I always feel her love.

Virginia (my mother) did not have a lot of possessions; however, she gave me love, strength, and an unerring sense of curiosity. Telling me always, “I know you can do it,” was the mantra my mother gave me, even though I didn’t always think I could.

Her most prized possessions that she passed to me were her cast iron skillets. Their black, shiny patina reflects the beautiful patina of her soul that only a special person develops over a lifetime. So well seasoned, she scrambled eggs in those skillets, made pancakes, tortillas on a comal. Stable and durable – mama and her skillets.

When I shipped them home from Texas, I did not use them for a long time. They were sacred. I did not dare use them. Then, one 10 Chairs dinner, I was making cornbread and tried to find the proper pan. But, I could not find the right one. Then I saw those venerable skillets, all shiny, black, with those fine patinas. Dare I?

I carefully pulled all of them out, 10 to be exact. Salted, oiled, and cleaned them. That day, Virginia and I cooked together once again.

Sometimes I reach for a shiny stainless steel pan. But, the pull of those old cast iron pans, those beauties beckon me home. Standing with her at the stove as she makes tortillas with eggs and onions for me, she is ever close to me as I look around my own kitchen with her sturdy, durable pans ever at the ready.

Limits

The other day, I walked to ballet class at Ballet Arts, an historic building that has housed artists and teachers since 1837. Located behind Carnegie Hall, it began as Studio 61, home to Lucia Chase, Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine: so many creative talents who seemed to see a world without limits.

Many years ago I was a ballet dancer and still take class when my schedule permits. Going through the rigors of the combinations that begin with plies and end with grand allegro, has been a regimen since I was around 7.

That day, in class, I ran into a very talented singer, actress, comedian, and dancer that I had not seen in a while. She looked fabulous and started to describe her diet to me. No sugar, alcohol, coffee etcetera. My first reaction was to run home, go though my pantry and toss out all those items.

On second thought I could not imagine no wine, bread, coffee, or sugar and how limiting that would be.

But, it sparked something in my thinking: why not reverse the idea of “limits” and use that reversal as a stimulus to strive towards a creative and limitless world? I hesitate to say the next menu will not eliminate all of those items. But, the idea of seeing a new perspective on the culinary arts, inspired me to think and reach out for new ideas.

So as I sit writing the menu for the next 10 Chairs NYC, I am thinking without boundaries. Life can be about having options without kowtowing to the ideas of narrow thoughts and minds.

Join me in experiencing creativity without limits.
Chef Patricia Williams

Writing a Menu “The Easy Part”

Writing menus is an art form. Menuese is the term we use for the words chosen to describe the menu items. The first draft is an outline, broad and focused on the main ingredients.

As an example: cold sliced scallops as opposed to jumbo sea scallops seasoned with meyer lemon and Hawaiian pink salt. Next, I think about each dish and how it looks, tastes, and feels – yes feels. How will my guest interpret the different feelings between smooth peanut butter or crunchy peanut butter on their tongue as they bite into a new dish? Visits to farmer’s markets, meat counters, fish markets and regular supermarkets (which I love) swirl in my head. The ingredients I find there set the order, complexity and the building blocks of the dinner.

Cooking is a very personal and intuitive journey for me. I trust the fragrance, the texture, the very sight of the ingredients will direct what and how I combine and ultimately cook my meals. So, as I begin to slice, dice, marinate, and cook the dishes they take on a character – my character.

The winter citrus salad voyage begins on a freezing day in hell’s kitchen where I took my cart and begin walking from one market, to another. In the markets are tangelos, cara cara oranges, meyer lemons, pomelos and pomegranates. I can’t resist the intoxicating aromas. I carry them home and carefully, reverently lay them out on the table and breathe in great drafts of the combined fragrances. As if in a dream, I begin to visualize a beautiful, refreshing salad.

I have always loved grilled squid accompanied by salads with chickpeas and potatoes. However, beets were also plentiful in the markets, they commanded me to roast and combine them with chickpeas to sauce the plate and to become the chips for dipping in the sauce.
Roasted chicken soup, roasting vegetables and bones on bread stones in the oven. The stock was heady and inebriating, filling the room with a feeling of peace and comfort.

Dill, swiss chard, and tiny meatballs called to me as potent and powerful. Each guest was silent as they inhaled the aroma.
Beef a la Ficelle demanded its presence, a simple dish.

As the guests arrived at this dinner, the broth was simmering, waiting, hanging out for the tenderloin to swim in the broth and absorb the nectar of hours the bones had spent roasting and simmering on the stove. The dish needed very little, parsley root and leaves, some broth and topped with whole grains of sea salt.

Saffron gently showed me the way to dessert. A cake with pears!

Some butter. Yes, butter, flour, sugar and a fruit. The excitement grew. Then, a dollop of clabber cream – a finale fit for the most discerning diner.

Another dinner with new and old friends.

Now, onto the next.

I’m thinking porchetta, for that is a journey that takes days to produce and the time makes the difference. Join me on my porchetta trail.

Smoke Jazz Supper Club Review – HuffPo

“Smoke” — the Upper West Side place on Broadway at 106th — is surely the most genuine, congenial and best-run jazz club in the city. It’s an intimate jazz/supper club that seats about fifty people for dinner at tight tables with another eight or 10 seats at the bar. Everything is a little cramped but in the right way. Waitresses snake merrily through the crowd; the Manhattan-size bathroom lies behind a closet door tucked between the bandstand and another door that opens onto a precipitous staircase down to the basement kitchen, up which come food porters miraculously balancing several plates. The décor is elegant, not fancy. Low light, dark wood and — for Christmas — a huge, gorgeous three-layer wreath atop the bar. Dinner at Smoke is cuisine, first-class, not just food. Executive Chef Patricia Williams produces a one-star Michelin-quality menu. While you’re happy to eat a fine meal, everyone is there for the music and behave so even if a few guidebook-driven tourists show up from time to time.

See the full review on Huffington Post.

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