Sunday, May 20, 2007

Little Fish, Big Fish, continued

As JC correctly googled, a few days ago Melissa and I met Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini. Her first book has just been published and she is traveling around the U.S., doing book signings, dinners, TV shows… and stealing young and impressionable bloggers’ hearts.

Clotilde was the inspiration and cornerstone of SND. Without her, this marvelous outlet for all of my nonsensical ramblings and musings would not exist. I read her blog cover to cover, loved it, felt jealous and inspired all at the same time. Melissa and I took the plunge and started our own food blog. You are now reading the metamorphosed version of that plunge.

Clotilde’s book signing and dinner were held at Chez Henri. The printed menus on every table informed us that we would be served dishes from her new book. The chef and owner, Paul O’Connell, came out to say a few words about the dinner, followed by Clotilde herself. Warning: adoration overspill – she is perfect. She really is. It’s ridiculous. She has perfect skin, a perfect pixie nose, perfectly French imperfect bangs, giant, wide-set eyes that look even bigger in real life, and, and! she speaks perfect English. I am almost certain that her English is better than mine, and I have been in this country about ten times as long as she has (she lived in CA for two years).

But her blog and mine are about food, right? Not blogger worship, right?
So, the food. The following menu was prepared by the Chez Henri kitchen staff, following a consultation with Clotilde and with minor chefy touches from Paul O’Connell:

Hors D’oeuvres:
Sea Scallops and Mango with Parmesan Wafer
Mushroom and Cantal Cheese Tartine

First Course:
Strawberry and Avocado Ceviche
Pistou Soup

Second Course:
Green Bean Salad with Pecans and Dry Cured Ham

Main Course:
Lamb Tagine with Pears
Flemish Beef Carbonade
(both served with anchovy mashed potatoes, zucchini and olives, and herbed couscous)

Chocolate and Zucchini Cake, of course.

It wasn’t restaurant food. It was home food. It was food I could see myself cooking on any given evening (and I have done, using recipes from her blog). There was no butter overflow and not a ring mold in sight. The soup was light and herby, the ceviche was more sweet than citrusy, topped with a perfunctory plantain chip by Chef Paul. The green beans were just barely cooked, with toasted pecans and a flake of rich, buttery, dry-cured ham. The lamb and beef, both in stew format, were falling apart tender, the thick and meaty gravy pooling around the couscous and potatoes. And of course, the chocolate and zucchini cake. It was very chocolaty, with no discernable zucchini, save for the caramelized zucchini round perched on top, which was great, as all things caramel tend to be.

When Clotilde came around our table to sign her book and chat a bit, I discovered that she also smells perfect. I was too busy staring to recall exactly what we talked about but I know that SND came up (ahem, was brought up, pointedly, by me), as did her impressions of having her food prepared by a professional chef. Overall, she was rushed and had little time to talk (all my delusional dreams of having her hook me up with her literary agent went up in chocolate-scented smoke). She didn’t get to all the tables before the evening’s end, which left quite a few patrons in a snit. I was hoping to get a completely ridiculous celebrity stalker picture with her but her publicist somehow, subtly and ably prevented that from happening.

After dinner, as most of the partially disgruntled people filed out of the room, the Chef came out and sat down to chat for a good long while. Apparently, both he and the rest of the kitchen staff were none too pleased to be preparing such simple, home style food all night. I think they missed their ring molds. Chef Paul talked about what he thought of Clotilde's book, how he interpreted her recipes, and how he plans on using the leftovers from the dinner for a special the next night, all cheffied up. It turns out that he also hosted the book party for Julie Powell's Julie & Julia a couple of years back, which sent another wave of blogger obsession rattling through me. I would have loved to keep talking to him, and he seemed in no rush to stop chatting... If only it wasn’t for that publicist, I would have gotten some juicy Boston restaurant gossip from him. She busted in just as we were getting to Barbara Lynch. Bugger.

About the book – I love it. I want to make everything in it, which is rare for me. I am not generally a fan of cookbooks – I lack the required patience and forethought. Clotilde’s book is different. There are half a dozen substitutions listed for everything, most dishes are ridiculously simple but still interesting and inventive. I can just tell tht I will be using this book till its food-splattered death.

P.S. Check out the interview with Clotilde in the Globe. I was wondering what all that flashing was about...


Kalyn said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I do think it would be great fun meeting her.

Jonathan said...

I envy got to meet Clotilde, ate at Chez Henri and then talked to Paul O'Connell. That was easily one of my favorite meals with you there. We have to go back there next time I'm in Boston. Once all the exams are done, I'll be paying you a visit. Plus, there are some restaurants here in the Woo I think you might my apt. complex has a nice pool (albeit small)...and I have a 4th floor balcony for which I'm going to get some decent patio furniture. You get the sense I'm trying to lure you out here? I miss you.

JC said...

That's really cool! Kind of funny that I imagined her talking all Frenchy-like when I saw her photo. I want to try chocolate and zucchini cake.

Anna said...

Hi Kalyn, it was great fun! She isa very neat person - she just breathes contentment and good will. It's very odd. I may be projecting, but it was very nice chatting with her.

Jonathan - Dude. You don't need to woo me to the Woo. Ha. See what I did there? Ha. One day soon, we will both me free. I don't know when that will be, but I am sure it will happen sometime in the next year.

JC - She hardly has an accent. It's insane. I can send you the recipe for the C&Z cake from her book. Would you like me to?

JC said...

That would be awesome! I'm a bit worried about the icing though, I've never made my own. But I'm willing to press forward into the breach.

aimee said...

So, I've always (always!) wondered, why do we call it courgette and you, zucchini?

I expect it's because we're better than you. Yep.

Anna said...

JC - I will send you the recipe when I get home... whenever that will be today. You'll have to keep me apprised of your progress!

Aimee (Dixie Chicks lover) - Why do your people call eggplants aubergines? I expect it's because you want to sound smart. So there.

aimee said...

ha ha (i hate you) I can't think of a response (I'm drunk).

I made eggplant (A+) lasagne yesterday, it's shit. Can you give me a recipe that doesn't suck?

Anna said...

I will look into it. I have never made it myself. Will keep you posted.

JC said...

According to a cookbook that I have, the British call peanuts "groundnuts". Kind of makes sense I guess, if a bit literal.