Friday, June 28, 2013

A Family of Cooks

This is my grandmother, Florence Leeper, and her sister Leota, known as "Aunt Otie".  Nannie was a cook par excellence and made a living as what in the grandiose parlance of our day is called a "private chef" but then was simply called a domestic cook. Her food was unforgettable and I learned my love of cooking from her. Nobody could make a pie like hers. 

Her daughters Alice (my mother) and my Aunt Lucy ran the restaurant end of my father's nightclub during the 1940s. I learned to cook from some highly skilled women. Nannie favored the southern-style cooking of her Indiana heritage. My mother was more classically trained, with a strong French influence.  My aunt favored seafood and not only made the best clam chowder I have ever had, she dug those clams herself. She also taught me to fish and crab. My own cooking is a blend of what I learned from them and an Italian and Mexican influence from having grown up and spent most of my life in California. 

All our gatherings were centered on food. Some of my best memories are from those times.  Unforgettable feasts, like the time our family friends Clara and Louie Sala came over and cooked the most delectable chicken cacciatore with polenta that I have ever eaten. -- one of those taste memories that you keep forever. We all stood around the pot tasting the sauce, saying "It needs something. Let me taste that again..." and laughing. It was  . It's a wonder there was any left for dinner after we got through "tasting" it!

All my kids cook, too. One, Madelyn, is a professional, but the rest are very competent in the kitchen on their own, sons as well as daughters. There is a rich heritage in that, and a lot of love goes into it. it makes me happy to see them carrying on that tradition. No prepared foods for us. We're all scratch cooks using fresh ingredients. Bon Appetite! 

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