Swarms of police are everywhere, street lights are out, its cold and rainy and menacing- welcome to Day Two of the Back Bay Blackout. I’m supposed to meet Shelby Larsson, aka Lady Gouda, for coffee in the South End- right on the tip of the chaos. I’m worried she will cancel. We’ve never met but after reading her blog for awhile I desperately want to sit down with this “Lady Gouda” who takes great pictures that honor life (not just food); who travels to all the places I either already love or am sure I would; and who is obviously smart, funny, and well informed in a honest, matter-of-fact (read: not annoying) way.
I need not worry- after a few efficient DMs we check in and switch up our plans to drinks at The Gallows. It turns out we both know the ideal remedy to the craziness outside: a great rye cocktail (me) or glass of wine (her), a bowl of poutine, and talk of food.
HnS: What’s the first thing you learned to cook?
LG: Mac n’ cheese (which I used to, and sometimes still do, call “cheese noodles”) and chicken nuggets. That’s what I’d make for my little sister and I when my parents went on “date night”- which was them in another room with a “Do Not Enter- Date in Progress” sign up.
HnS: Imagine you could go on the ultimate food pilgrimage, where would you go and what would you eat?
LG: I’m biased right now because we’re (my husband and I) planning a trip to France. I spent some time there in college and got to travel all around, especially to vineyards. It was an amazing experience to eat and drink things that were made on the ground your standing on. “I’m going to learn so much about these tastes,” I thought, and decided, “Don’t say no to anything, try everything.” The French dress salad perfectly, that’s part of what I’m looking forward to the most: a simple lunch of a perfectly made omelet and a perfectly dressed salad. It’s must be ingrained in them- I’ve never had a bad one and it’s great to be able to just expect that an omelet and a salad will be perfect. Simple food, but so well done.
I’m doing a freakish amount of research for this trip, reading a lot of Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz, and Clotilde Dusoulier. I don’t want to plan out every single meal, though. I’d just love to have enough knowledge so that when we’re strolling around, organically, and get hungry we’ll be able to choose between two or three places I know are good.
So, back to your question…I’m really looking forward to eating in Brittany and the Loire Valley. Cider, butter, seafood, crepes, and beer in Brittany…
HnS: That sounds like the best possible combination of foods.
LG: Right? The Loire Valley is most typically French (it’s were all the fairty tales were written) so there we’ll do traditional stuff and lots and lots of sparkling wine.
HnS: Hearing you talk about France it seems a little silly to ask you this, but which culture has the best food?
LG: France is up there, but I’d actually say if we’re talking ultimate than Italy. They use meat as flavoring, not the base of the meal, and emphasize fresh ingredients. I love how they do fish, cooked just a little bit to bring out the best flavor. It’s simple, hearty food that emphasizes using what you have. It’s almost the same philosophy I have when cooking: having limitations can be good because it forces you to take the same thing, over and over, make it different, and make the best of it.
HnS: Hearing you talk about French and Italian food makes me want to change my answer to that same question…
LG: (Laughs) What would your answer be?
HnS: Asian food in general, but Vietnam especially because it is Asian with a French influence and manages to be the best of both…
LG: Hmm, you’re right. Those cuisines have that balance thing going: hot, cold, sweet, sour, spicy…now you’ve got me wanting to change my answer.
HnS: Better move on to the next question- if you could only eat one dish for the rest of your days, what would it be?
LG: Oh, that’s hard! Let me think for a minute…maybe this is because we were just talking about Vietnam, but I feel like pho would take me really far. You can switch it up enough while still being satisfied every time. Either pho or grits and a fried egg. That’s what I make when I just want something comforting.
HnS: Grits and eggs? That makes me wonder, what kind of food did your mother make?
LG: Pretty simple food but also really hearty and at the same time very ‘80s. Her food is not very risque. It’s funny when I tell her I make something like Thai food at home or fish tacos, that’s really “whoa!” to her.
Still, her cooking is delicious and satisfying. I still like that kind of food, but modernized. The food I grew up with taught me that food is more than a meal, it’s my favorite way to spend time with people.
HnS: What do you dream of being able to make really well?
LG: Seafood. I’ve made it well on accident but can never replicate it perfectly. It’s just so special and beautiful I don’t want to screw it up.
HnS: Speaking of spending time with people…you have a dinner to thank everyone who has inspired you. Who’s at the table and what are you serving?
LG: Hmm, this is hard. I wouldn’t invite any famous people. I’d just want all my best friends from all walks of my life, childhood until now. It would be so great to bring together my friends who don’t know each other. I’d do a fun meal and start with a great cocktail, then serve light apps that everyone loves, simple food with simple wine…and we’d all linger and have this wonderful, slow meal.