Author Archive | Rachel Portnoy

Chez Nous

A Gift that Keep on Giving

chezNous

It really is hard to articulate how incredibly intensely we worked in the kitchen at Le Gavroche in London. At the time, 1998, my now-husband, Franck Tessier, having been promoted to sous-chef upon his arrival from the States, with me in tow to work as pastry chef.

There were about 16 of us in the kitchen—I never picked up my head long enough to get an exact count—and people did come and go at an alarming rate, but there was only one among us who seemingly had everything down. Franck ran, sang, chatted and cooked all at the same time in that kitchen.

It was the kind of place where to not hear anything about your work was a good thing. No comment meant that you were doing things properly, actually doing a good job, though that was impossible to imagine.

Though there was little or no praise from owner Chef Michel at Le Gavroche, when Franck’s birthday came around the chef offered a generous gift for all of his hard work: dinner for two at any Michelin-starred restaurant in London. We chose Nobu, owned by the Japanese Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Chef Michel’s favorite restaurant.… Read the rest

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Discovering Einkorn: A Grain That Goes Against the Grain

discoveringEinkorn

By Rachel Portnoy Recipe by Franck Tessier
Chefs and owners of Chez Nous Bistro, Lee

What is einkorn? Why should I eat it? How can I get it? How do I cook with it? These are questions that we are answering over and over again.

Imagine a time when concepts such as slow food, seasonal cooking and farm-to-table didn’t exist. That’s just the way all food was. Can you remember a time before food was sold pre-packaged in dubious plastics, sealed off and cut off from any connection—physical or spiritual—to the nourishing earth that provided it?

I guess it’s this yearning for something real—something nourishing not just physically, but spiritually—that is at the heart of our curiosity about the ancient grain einkorn.

And it is, of course, much more than that: Wheat has been at the heart of Western culinary culture for millennia. The cultivation of wheat was arguably one major factor in early humans shifting from nomadic existence to a domesticated civilization. (Whether the grain was first beloved for brewing alcohol or for baking bread is where the argument lies.) We love products made with wheat; we’ve been raised with them and they are delicious.

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li Rogosa holding a sheaf of einkorn.… Read the rest

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itMayBe

It May Be Old, but Young at Heart

Back to the Future for Heritage Wheat

itMayBe

Photos by Greg Nesbit Photography

Last winter I decided to spend some time looking into what’s going on with wheat. I’ve been a professional baker for over 17 years, and I was quickly tiring of more and more guests coming into our restaurant claiming wheat allergies, gluten intolerance or—even more stressful for food service—full-blown celiac disease.

I spoke with one consultant about creating a separate baking space for working with wheat, in order not to contaminate our kitchen for any highly sensitive guests, but then I thought that this seemed rather extreme. If we’ve gotten to this point, what’s really going on here? Maybe we shouldn’t be using wheat at all?

We discussed the question with our nutritionist, and she recommended the book Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD, which quickly answered a lot of my niggling questions. It seems that just as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were introduced covertly into our food system a few decades ago, extreme hybridization over the last 50 or so years has altered the structure of wheat from its natural state (unbeknownst to us cooks, bakers and eaters).

In order to grow and harvest wheat more cheaply and efficiently, the grains were hybridized to grow much lower to the ground; to have sturdier stalks with heavier, easier-toseparate grain heads; to be more disease-resistant; to have higher gluten content (for fluffier loaves, of course!); and in this way to become completely dependent upon synthetic fertilizers and heavy irrigation.… Read the rest

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