When I set out to duplicate twelve chefs’ recipes over the course of this year, I knew that there were some chefs whose recipes could be attempted year-round and others whose work would fare best in certain seasons (summer and fall, I’m looking at you). My birthday dinner at Restaurant Nora last year convinced me that Nora Pouillon, the patron saint of the DC organic dining movement, falls squarely into the second category.
And when I flipped through a copy of Cooking with Nora, her groundbreaking cookbook from 1996, I knew I owed it to Chef Pouillon’s recipes to wait until summer to try my hand at her dishes. Cooking with Nora is not your average recipe collection; rather than grouping dishes by unifying themes (‘desserts,’ for example, or ‘fish’), the chef has opted to provide her readers with recipes arranged into multi-course meals by the season. She’s practically giving you the blueprint for your very own organic dinner party, with everything from appetizer to entree and accompaniment through to the dessert spelled out.
She also presents her recipes in a narrative fashion, a style I first encountered in Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. I find this to be a very natural and useful way of having the author walk me through a dish from beginning to end, and it certainly helps me prepare my mise en place before I get too far ahead of myself. When you’re trying to execute two or three recipes simultaneously, that kind of preparation in advance can be a lifesaver.
For my fifth attempt at recreating a chef’s dishes, I decided to take three recipes from one of Pouillon’s summer menus. I started with a Jewell Yam Vichysoisse and then followed it up with Grilled Lemon-Marinated Chicken Breasts served alongside Japanese Eggplant and Roasted Red Peppers.
Walking the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, I was pleased – if not especially surprised – to see that all of the main ingredients to Chef Pouillon’s recipes were readily available (seasonality aside, Nora Pouillon is a member of FreshFarm Markets’ board). It looked like I was well on my way to a fresh, local and seasonal jackpot.
Cold soup, grilled grass-kickin’ chicken and fresh veggies after the jump. (more…)