June 19, 2008

Will the real Saucier’s Apprentice please stand up?

Bob Spitz in The French Kitchen at Camont

Lots of people come and go here in the French Kitchen; some are best friends for a weekend, other remain in our thoughts for years with the occasional email, phone call and visit to keep the relationships glued together. So it was a real surprise last weekend while at a leisurely post-market lunch with friends to read in their current issue of Saveur Magazine a review for Bob Spitz’ book, “The Saucier’s Apprentice.”

“… Spitz nevertheless labors admirably to find characters who will bring deeper meaning to his odyssey like… ‘the kerchief-wearing cook in Agen, France, who lives on a river barge and prepares Gascon specialties for friends and students "like it's her last day on earth".

Guess Who?

It was a long four years ago in the blur at the end of a busy September of filming with Rick Stein for his BBC series French Odyssey that a New York Journalist showed up on my doorstep. After pleading with me by email and phone calls to teach him to make duck confit—the real way, and after changing plans and dates and partners, Bob Spitz arrived, the self-proclaimed Saucier’s Apprentice.

He wheedled, he begged, he came, he cooked, and then was on his way after a busy three days; this was his too fast Cooking School Odyssey to score as many culinary conquests as possible. I was exhausted but had done my best. Why does a vision of a T-shirt with a list of restaurants and cooking schools with little checked boxes come to mind. “Been there, done that.” Even Russ Parsons takes him to task for shortskirting passion, craftsmanship, motive?

Hmmm, I've thought a lot about why people come to my French Kitchen. Romance (of France I mean), the inventory of great food in Gascony, an escape from their reality. Sometimes learning to cook is the lowest on the list. It is often my task to distract someone from their homeside worries and let them drift into another time zone- 200 years ago. It’s taken me 20 years to get in this Gascon groove and while I don’t expect everyone to get it first time around, or in three days; I swoon at the speed with which we expect good things to come. (Remember, I live on a slow moving vessel- 5 miles an hour is the preferred speed limit.) Sometimes I sound like a kindergarten teacher-- this color is called bleu; this taste is pepper; do you know how to really use a whisk? Sometimes the most simple of skills have been overlooked.

Mr Spitz passed through these doors 4 years ago with notebook in hand and a broken heart. Gee, maybe I’m going to have to start administering mid-life crisis exams and charge extra before accepting clients and reporters who flunk Life 101. (Ouch! That hurts!) But don’t worry, friends can still come for free and breathe the restorative damp Garonne Valley air, fall asleep to nightingales, take the current dog for a towpath walk. And while I remember a barrage of non-stop questions, a rapidly filling note book, a too exuberant love of gossip (read the book!), he somehow managed to turn his three day duck confit fest into a 36-page chapter called “La Maison avec La Peniche.” Thanks Bob.

Ok, he gets lots of stuff wrong—can’t tell his chives from a caper, makes up people’s names- jeez…even when they are already in MY book (fact checking anyone???), and seems to have a knack for building up the, well… drama? of everyone else’s supposedly heartbroken lives. By the time I got over that he used my recipes without permission, never sent me a copy of the book OR a thank you note, let alone uses a picture I took of him in MY kitchen without crediting me or the kitchen (see above), he still manages to redeem himself in an awkward way and gets the essential thing right. If not the why of how I cook, he did get the how down like spades-- fast, focused and calm.

He writes that I am “...an American who cooks like a French Farmer” and says on international radio and American television that I was (blush) the best cook he worked with. Go figure! I thought you didn’t even like me, Bob! You never wrote, sent flowers, or an invitation to your wedding! I’d like to say publicly that I am flattered, but secretly I just hope that this will help my book agent sell my new book to your publisher! Come on Bobby… Mama’s barn needs a new roof!

So I write this to apologize for badmouthing Bob and dispel any erroneous quotes that I had dropped out or retired. Au contraire mes chères, I am living and working as hard as ever here in my beloved Gasconia in the French Kitchen at Camont. For an updated schedule of classes and programs jump to www.frenchkitchenadventures.com . FYI, I book my own programs and you can talk to me directly, just like Bob did. Camont is neither isolated or lonely, but a quick 15 minutes into Agen, 4 hours from Gai Par-ee and a magnet for many passers by, both French and foreign.

Life in Gasconia moves on, kids. Four years is a long time in the roll of these seasons as yet another garden is planted with beans and peppers, tomatoes and leeks. One dog replaces another; clients come and mostly go. Friends return often and if not in the neighborhood, stay in the heart. We 'cook as if it’s the last day on earth' here at Camont because-- well, it might be.

Last night Matt (the butcher’s apprentice) prepared a fine Roti de Porc with a Sauce au Moutarde of crème fraîche, pan juices and mustard, a simple and very proper thing to do with a good farm-raised loin roast. I pitched in with some over-the-shoulder supervision for a lemon verveine cream and raspberry tarte fresh from our garden. And as the candles flickered on the first warm and dry summer evening at the big round table, we toasted all those who have showed up over the years. (That’s a round table Bob, not long one, see below.)

And for those still seeking culinary gossip and tales, pensive silences and long wistful looks- even an american anomaly has to keep some secrets. It’ll take more than one bottle of Floc to pry my secret pirate life out of me… arr-be-darrr matey’s.

Kerchief Kate in Andalucía


"Diva" said...

Capt' Kate.. I'll buy the Floc, let me know your secrets!

But then that is another book!

Anonymous said...

Kate, I bought the book without realizing there would be a chapter about you. When I read it, I was so disappointed. He just doesn't get you or Camont at all. Besides, you are a much better writer than he. Well, lets hope you get both business and book sales out of it. Jeanette

David said...

I'm very (very) surprised his publisher didn't ask for permission to use a photo that he didn't take, and didn't credit you either. (Even if they do credit you, I'm pretty sure they need permission.)

You might want to drop them a note and let them know to credit the photo in the next edition, which I guess you won't be writing the forward to!