If the meek do inherit the earth- it will be through the kitchen.
Long, summer hours brought an abundant supply of tomatoes, herbs, and squash from the garden outback.
Kelly, my assistant, and I spent days blanching heirloom tomatoes to stew. I relished the last months of the summer where I would break from the office or kitchen to stroll behind the building, gathering papalo, okra, and sunflowers.
Isn’t there a proverb in which love’s labor is no labor at all?
Below our little coffee shop is the kitchen. And here, nothing is at once so meek and so unexpectedly mighty as the bouquet garni.
Our soup stocks are handmade. Vegetable, beef, chicken, duck, lamb- all different save the addition of the bouquet garni: the understated provencal tradition I refuse to do without.
In 1651, François Pierre de la Varenne published Le Cuisinier François.
It was a turning point for culinary history. The runway on which fresh, modern cuisine takes flight.
You see, before François came the Medieval Era. Before François, food was remarkably less-than.
Heavily spiced meats were in-trend, as well as thick and fatty sauces. They helped cover the flavor of the meat itself which, without refrigeration, had a tendency to turn rancid before hitting the plate.
François brought about a new era where far-eastern spices (save a few favorites, such as black pepper) were replaced by local herbs and a tradition of seeking out the natural flavors of foods.
François insisted attention be paid to meats throughout the butchering, storage, and cooking process. Vegetables were served fresh and in-season. Utmost care was taken to preserving the integrity of ingredients- rather than masking them.
The bouquet garni was the essence of this era. François was the first to pen the term and standardize the technique of using fresh bound garden herbs to add deep and delicate flavor to stocks, stews, and sauces.
With a nod to my English heritage, I’m going to note here the practice of using fresh herbs in this way was also becoming fashionable in England and other Western Europeans countries. François just got around to naming it before anyone else.
What started as an anthem of simple and clean flavor is now a rule-bound rite. Varying between region and culinary tradition, a lofty coterie profess the correct usage of the simple cotton-bound bundle.
Some wrap their bouquet garni in cheesecloth, to infuse the broth but keep it pure in color and texture.
Others refuse to deviate from the original power trio of parsley/bay leaf/thyme.
Still others claim that bouquet garni can only be used fresh.
The dogmatism is bougie…and boring. In the true spirit of America, we’ll put whatever looks fresh and tastes good into our bouquet!
We dry excess herbs in the summer to bootstrap our way through the colder months. And, to further break tradition, sage replaces parsley in our bouquet garni because…I don’t like parsley’s grassy flavor.
Oh, one more thing, François. Rosemary is a must for winter soups and stews.
It’s going in my bouquet garni every time.
Quelle follie! François!
Oh, saint of french cuisine, I swear I’m no iconoclast.
My formal education in economics did not include any culinary technique. Thomas Keller has been my Beatrice through this strange journey. I’ve followed cookbooks and youtube videos with earnest intentions. I studied and tried and failed and tried again. With that in mind François, I know you’ll forgive my clumsy transgression on four hundred years of French tradition. After all, I think you’d agree when the time comes for the meek garden-lover to shine…
“You do not need a silver spoon to enjoy good food.”