Life Devoured Chef Joanne Weir Brings Her Best Stories & Recipes Together in an Exuberant New Memoir

By True, Margo | Sunset, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Life Devoured Chef Joanne Weir Brings Her Best Stories & Recipes Together in an Exuberant New Memoir


True, Margo, Sunset


WHEN SHE WAS 9 YEARS OLD, Joanne Weir mixed 1/2 cups of baking soda into her oatmeal cookie dough instead of 1 1/2 teaspoons--and watched aghast as the cookies merged into one oozing mass and overflowed the pan.

It hardly discouraged her from cooking. Weir went on to write 17 cookbooks, film 9 PBS television series, teach cooking classes all over the world, and open her own restaurant, Copita, in Sausalito, California. "When I stop to think about it, I can't believe this is where life has taken me," she writes, with self-deprecating good humor. That joyful, food-filled life is the subject of Kitchen Gypsy: Recipes and Stories from a Lifelong Romance with Food (Oxmoor House), out this month.

A team of us at Sunset helped Weir produce her book, and it has been a delight to see her decades of adventures in the kitchen appear on the page. She describes her experiences with such gusto that you can practically taste them, starting with the tangy sweetness of her first tomato sandwich. (Weir was born into a family of farmers in New England, with a mother who made everything from scratch.)

We've brought you some of those tales, and the recipes that go with them, in these pages: The strawberry tart from a lunch at Chateau Mouton Rothschild, in Bordeaux, when Weir was in her early 20s. Pizza from a life-changing visit to Chez Panisse. An anise-scented carrot soup--her first original recipe--created for her cooking teacher, the famously rigorous Madeleine Kamman.

Page by page, Weir reveals the twists of fate that made her the chef she is today. Invited by a friend, in the 1990s she starts to teach cooking classes in Australia, then around the world, using local ingredients to make dishes that are, she says, "distinctly my own" (see the halibut skewers, page 76). Back in California decades later, she snags a great restaurant partner, Larry Mindel, based in part on her prowess with tequila; you'll find her spiked chocolate milk shake recipe, straight from the Copita kitchen, on page 77.

Throughout the book, peak moments are part of the ride--her screams of delight over being hired at Chez Panisse, moonlit dinners in Morocco, a broken water main at her cooking class in Piedmont, Italy, that lasts for several hot, sticky days. During a class visit to a butcher shop in Tuscany, one of her students disappears into the walk-in refrigerator with an employee. "We were just there for some chicken and somehow found ourselves in the middle of a Tuscan love affair," she writes. By the end of Weir's lively book, you won't want to leave her table.

SWEET SUMMER

Strawberry Tart

SERVES 8

After finding a fly in her bottle of Mouton Cadet Rouge, Weir, then 24, had the gumption to mail the insect to the wine's maker, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, one of the top wineries in the world. In response to her complaint, she received an invitation to lunch at the chateau. She booked a flight immediately. This recipe is her re-creation of the day's finale--a tart "topped with a silky smooth kirsch pastry cream and crowned with perfectly glazed, ripe red strawberries."

SHORTCRUST PASTRY

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

PASTRY CREAM

2 cups whole milk
Large pinch of kosher salt
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp. kirsch
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room
  temperature
2 cups medium-size strawberries, hulled
1 cup strawberry jam, strained 1 2

1. Make pastry: In a bowl, whisk together
flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest. Scatter
butter over flour mixture and, using
your fingers, work it into flour until
mixture is the consistency of coarse
cornmeal. In a bowl, stir together 1 tbsp.
water and the vanilla. Drizzle vanilla
mixture over flour-butter mixture and
stir with a fork until evenly moistened.
Gather dough into a ball, wrap in plastic
wrap, and let rest 30 minutes. … 

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