Vision is a thing outside ourselves. Sometimes we walk right through, only catching a vague scent. Other times we stop, breathe it in, and change right then and there.
Two years ago I sat in a beautiful sun filled cafe (Voltage) and waited to meet Corky White. We'd never really talked but I thought she would have something to tell me. I'd requested an interview for my little fledgling food blog and she'd generously agreed. I was already beginning to doubt whether the world really needed another blog, but more honestly what I was really scared of was whether it needed my voice, or worse, that I didn't have anything worth saying. But then I met Corky, we shared toast, and through a simple conversation my world opened up. We talked about how far food, and our culture, had come. Corky told me about chance (leaving a bunch of recipes out later got her a book deal) and determination (being told to leave food writing behind if she ever wanted to be taken seriously as an academic).
Have you ever felt that what you were doing that very second matters? Her voice had helped me find my own. Little tendrils of chance unfurled that day, every one of them leading me somewhere I could have never anticipated.
Most recently one of those places was a lovely home in Lexington on a snowy winter night. A tribe of us had been gathered by Corky to celebrate the 40th (!!) Anniversary Edition of her book Cooking for Crowds and create/bear witness to "a cooking extravaganza and historic culinary event!" A "troupe of intrepid chefs" would "choose a recipe from the book and make it their own, (to) update or frame in new contexts." It sounds like a children's book and should be: Enduring Leafy Vision Meets Gnarly Inspiration Carrot (working title).
Our Chief, Corky, climbed up a step stool and reiterated the night's mission: "It's all about the then and now." Her book had been out of print for 35 years when she revisited it just over a year ago and rediscovered a vocabulary that distils just how far we've come: "It mentions 'soy bean curds because we didn't know how to use the word 'tofu.' It was when quiche was exotic! We couldn't say 'coriander'- you had to say 'Chinese parsley," she explained. "The best tool we had back then was a rubber spatula."
Next the chefs stepped forward to share their reimagined dishes. In order of appearance:
Rembs Layman of Tupelo made a braised rabbit or hunter stew "winterized" with red wine, brandy, and more tomato. "Was the rabbit foraged from the streets of East Cambridge?" Corky asked. Sadly (or not) the answer was "No."
Jared Forman of Strip-Ts made crab covered nachos ("because I said when I become a chef I'm going to put that on nachos") and cauliflower soup because Corky had "talked a little smack on it in the book" and "said it wasn't versatile so I got a little mad and made it into soup."
Susan Regis (of Biba and Upstairs on the Square...) made hummus because "it's a staple and has been around" but updated it with fresh chic peas and mint as well as freshly made pita with buckwheat flour. She also made a heirloom chicory salad with "a modern version of Green Goddess" because "What would Corky do now?" (WWCDN)
Mike Fitzhenry of Mike and Patty's (and Hungry Mother and State Park) made a "Vietnamese pâté de campagne" with chicken, chicken liver, pork, ginger, five spice and white wine with a "topping of anything you'd find in a banh mi just chopped up in relish form." The new take on Corky's original pâté receipe was inspired by the time Mike was introduced to Corky, "when she took interest in a hot dog special I served years ago that was done in a banh mi style, which included a pâté." #meta #throwback #mindblown
Irene Li and her sister Mei of MeiMei Street Kitchen made Chinese noodles with meat sauce adding the spin of "big, thick, hand pulled chewy noodles" and their own ground pork because they "do whole pigs every week" just for fun. Oh, and "Korean chili paste because we thought it would be nice spicy." Irene offered anyone who wanted to pull noodles/ "slap themselves in the face" to go ahead and "just let me know because I'm here for you."
Lucy Valena of Voltage Coffee and Art "wanted to work on the linzer torte" because she "comes from a beverage space and wanted to make something that tastes like a cocktail." So naturally it was a hazelnut, grapefruit, rosemary linzer torte with a spritz of bitters. "So yeah, it should be like 'bam bam bam bam.'"
Jean Woodward "kept her dessert out on the terrace." A home cook, her "desserts often appear on Corky's table or as pies baked for Community Servings." She made both Corky's traditional Brandy Alexander pie and tartelettes, a good thing because those little babies were richer than North West.
Brian Sway of Captain Marden's seafood and Cod Squad made a pomegranate-almond Charlotte. "It was like every recipe in the 70s had amaretto. I ditched that for pomegranate and a zing of Serrano chili."
Colin Davis, a "kitchen mercenary" all over Boston and currently Bergamot "is in a fish sauce mode right now" and made nosi garang, an Indonesian rice dish. "I don't know anything about Indonesia but I do know what I like to put in my rice," he said.
Alex Crabb of Asta made borscht and attempted to make smoked snail borscht but the snails "didn't really take to the smoke very well." So after adding a few smoked snails he "aggressively smoked some beets because they take smoke...there were a lot of smoked aspects."
Gus Rancatore of Toscanini's made khulfi. Ice cream.
Debra Samuels, our generous host, made the Portuguese casserole stew "because coming to Cambridge forty years ago the Cambridge Portuguese cuisine was my first brush with ethnic food...as a nice Jewish girl from Long Island bagels were ethnic to me."
And Merry Corky White of Chief Corky White of the Cooking Outside the Book Party (and Cooking for Crowds 40th Anniversary Edition and Coffee Life in Japan and Boston University...) channeled her past self channeling her future self and made Yotam Ottolenghi's eggplant chermoula.
And with that the tribe, having come across forty years of cooking to brave the wilds of Lexington and land fully (hungrily) in the present, ate well into the night.