In honor of Woman’s month, Cook’n With Class’, Chef Antonin Simon shares a poetic remembrance of the woman who inspired his cooking and passion for food and travel.
It’s a matter of fact. If you ask any Chef or cook, about the origin of their passion, the answer will always include a woman. A mother, grandmother or aunt, wife, or mother-in-law – a memory of a hospitable and loving woman.
Yet, in France, like in many places unfortunately, whenever we talk about excellence in food, women’s names are often erased or forgotten from the books.
However, Eugénie Brazier, «Les Mères Brigousse », « La Mère Léa », « la mère » Maury mother, are so many names that marked major gastronomic turning points in French cuisine. It was even Eugénie Brazier who trained the famous Paul Bocuse, whom we all know. And Chef Bocuse can be thankful for his apprenticeship with this woman! Eugénie Brazier received “three stars” in the Michelin guide in 1933… One half-century before a woman was once again decorated with the same title.
Celebrity aside, many cooks can tell a similar tale. I’m reminded of a friend who while preparing dinner for us to enjoy together, began telling me about a master recipe… from his mother-in-law. She was the unsung hero of a fantastic meal.
Personally, the reason I associate my love of food with one woman, Marie-Jeanne MY grandmother. Motorcycle rider, worldly botanist, epicurean cook, she was free and charismatic and the most incredible host.
It was not only the evidence of an empty plate, wiped clean by crusty baguettes or her expert preparation of classics such as the crêpe Suzette that demonstrated her magic. She thought of every detail. Every gesture was born of the desire to please anyone sitting around her table. Pleasure and love were the very source poured into her guest’s hearts and taste buds. Each of them was left with extraordinary memories.
She was an enthusiastic cook. She would think long and hard about how to bring a glow of happiness to people’s faces. What delicacy will sit on the throne tomorrow? With these thoughts in mind, she would head off to the abundant farmer’s market on foot filled with excitement. Enjoying the spoils of France on market day is something everyone should do at least once in their life. This market was something special. It was where inspiration blossomed with its wide range of colors, smells, shapes, & flavours, ever-fascinating to visiting gourmets.
Back in her kitchen, like a virtuoso conductor, with extreme care and patience, Marie-Jeanne worked like a wizard launching the « the baton » of smokes over pots, dishes and ovens… Goosebumps guaranteed.
Hour after hour, tasting, smelling, correcting, and doing it again we patiently await this culmination of this symphony.
This time allowed plenty of time to prepare the stage for the rising star (the meal) to shine. The table was no less important than the food itself. L’Art de Table. Napkins, glasses, forks and knife, flowers… A frame for the masterpiece to come. This was to further enhance the pleasure of all senses.
To say that Marie-Jeanne inspired the cook I would one day become is an understatement. Beyond knowledge, technique, or tools. Beyond ingredients, seasoning, or plating; the act of cooking is a proof of love. And this is why, for me, women will always be the source.