Read How to Cook Like a Man Online
Authors: Daniel Duane
Lulu's ProvenÃ§al Kitchen
provided just the right outlet: I didn't much care if I completed the book, but I did care that it gave me a way to please my wife, and I liked how quickly it let me assemble nice meals. I liked also the new window it gave me into Alice. Meeting with her every couple of weeks, I'd become fascinated by what an unusual person she'd turned out to be: always breathless, always agitated, eternally confessing to an awful hangover from some fabulous party the night before. She must have been in her midsixties by that point, and yet every time I saw Alice she mentioned dancing until all hours and drinking too much fabulous wine, as if Willy Bishop and Jeremiah Tower hadn't been aberrations after all; as if she remained the buoyant, playful hedonist of the
Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook
Alice met Lulu, I learned now, in precisely that periodâafter meeting Olney for the first time, during his 1974 publicity tour for
Simple French Food
. He still lived in the ProvenÃ§al village of SolliÃ¨s-Toucas, and he didn't come to California often, so Alice invited him to dinner, while Jeremiah Tower was still her head chef. A few months later, she was graced by a visit from Lulu and her husband, Lucien Peyraud, Olney's neighbors back in France and the proprietors of Domaine Tempier, whose wines Chez Panisse already sold. The Peyrauds lunched at Chez Panisse with Gerald Asher, their American importer, and Alice was so taken
with them that, the following summer, she rented a country home near them in Provence.
During one of her first meals there, at Olney's home, Olney served Alice the Salad Tasted Around the World: “full of Provencal greens that were new to me,” as she put it, “rocket, anise, hyssop.” Given that rocket goes also by the name arugula, making this moment analogous to Michael Jordan's first encounter with a basketball, it's worth a pause for an uplifting detour into this luncheon's impact on the future of the American saladâjumbo bags of arugula and “spring mix” sold at Costco across the land. (Although, to be fair, Nora Ephron insists that some measure of the credit goes to her own best chef-friend from the period: “You can't really discuss the history of lettuce in the past forty years without mentioning Craig [Claiborne],” she writes. “He played a seminal role.” Around the time Ephron moved to New York, apparently “two historic events had occurred: the birth-control pill was invented and the first Julia Child cookbook was published. As a result, everyone was having sex, and when the sex was over you cooked something. One of my girlfriends moved in with a man she was in love with. Her mother was distraught and warned her that he would never marry her, because she had already slept with him. âWhatever you do,' my friend's mother said, âdon't cook for him.' But it was too late. She cooked for him. He married her anyway. This was right around the time that arugula was discovered, which was followed by endive, which was followed by radicchio, which was followed by frisÃ©e, which was followed by the three
'sâmesclun, mÃ¢che, and microgreensâand that, in a nutshell, is the history of the past forty years from the point of view of lettuce.”)
But right there, in the story of Lulu, I found the wellspring for the post-Jeremiah, post-Bacchanalian image that Alice had created for the more mature Chez Panisse, the Chez Panisse of
local, seasonal, and sustainable, such as I'd found in
. Alice once remarked that she'd originally chosen the name Chez Panisse after a character in Marcel Pagnol's Fanny Trilogy, “to evoke the sunny good feelings of another world that contained so much that was incomplete or missing in our own.” Alice meant by this, she says, “the simple wholesome good food of Provence” and the web of genial human relations found in a more traditional society. Five years after that choice of names, upon joining Olney for lunch at the Peyrauds', Alice writes that she “felt as if I had walked into a Marcel Pagnol film come to lifeâ¦ . Warm-hearted enthusiasm for life, their love for the pleasures of the table, their deep connection to the beautiful earth of the South of Franceâthese were things I had seen at the movies. But this was for real. I felt immediately as if I had come home to a second family.”
The Fanny Trilogy, it bears mentioning, entirely set on the urban Marseille waterfront, contains neither the wholesome good food of Provence nor any connection whatever to the beautiful earth. And Lucien Peyraud, far from being some ProvenÃ§al peasant, had actually been born in a city of well over a hundred thousand residents called Saint-Etienne (sister city, Des Moines, Iowa), a center of coal mining and, later, bicycle manufacture, to a family that worked in the city's oldest industry, dealing in silks and ribbons. He had a twin who went into industrial engineering, and Lucien himself studied agriculture and then viticulture. Lulu Tempier, for her part, came from a Marseille mercantile family (granted, same town as the Fanny Trilogy); her father owned a leather-importing business that had been in the family since before the French Revolution. She was an art student. After she married Lucien, he worked on a big commercial fig farm and then took a job in
Lulu's father's leather business. Only after the French capitulated to the Nazis did Lulu's father give the couple Domaine Tempier, a family country property at which all the grapevines had long since been torn out for peach trees. The Nazis came through looking for homes to requisition, but when they knocked at Domaine Tempier and found the pregnant Lulu surrounded by three small children, with no electricity or running water, they went elsewhere. After the war, Lulu and Lucien worked hard turning their Domaine into a successful winery, and Lucien agitated for Bandol's declaration as an
Appellation d'origine contrÃ´lÃ©e
. Lulu, in Olney's book
Lulu's ProvenÃ§al Table
, remarks that “I hope the reader won't imagine that I never do anything but cook,” and so Olney tells us that she became an impassioned sailor, and the Domaine's primary promoter, traveling France and even America to visit restaurants (Chez Panisse included, no doubt) and to place her wines. She received guests, so that her life was, in part, a performance; she was a cofounder of L'Ordre des Dames du Vin et de la Table, an association of French female vineyard owners.
Alice, in other words, had transformed Lulu and Lucien into the living embodiments of an already idealized France Alice had seen on the silver screen, and yet I found a certain relief in learning this. Faulting her for it, however, would be like faulting Mark Twain for embellishing certain details about the denizens of Hannibal, Missouri. At her core, Alice was a myth-maker, a culture-creator, a dreamer of beautiful dreams. Also, the Peyrauds did become dear lifelong friends to her, as well as muses, Neal Cassady to Alice's Jack Kerouacâthe authentic ones, living out the authentic life toward which the self-conscious artist can only aspire. Extra-virgin olive oil, for example, from olives grown right on their property; herbs and fennel from the garden behind Lulu's
old country home, or growing wild on the hillsides; green almonds and figs “from [Lulu's son] Jean-Marie and Catherine's house,” as Alice put it many years later, in her introduction to
Lulu's ProvenÃ§al Table
, a book she had personally urged Olney to write. “If the guests are very lucky, FranÃ§ois will have been diving for sea urchins. Lulu searches for what is alive, knowing that that is always what tastes best.”
I set out for the markets with new intent: for Lulu's Bourride, I took Hannah and Audrey bothâaged four and two, by thenâto a fish place. I taught them both to look at the gills and the eyes, judging freshness. Untroubled by recipe-ticking stupidity, I even enjoyed the markets more, focusing on Hannah and Audrey instead of some tick-list of required ingredients. After Lulu's Baked Bream with Fennel, Audrey actually drank the juices from the baking dish, spooning them up like fish soup, standing on a chair in her pink nightgown, fresh out of a bath. Liz reminded me, in this period, of what she'd told me several times in the early days of our courtshipâhow she wanted a simple life, disliked fuss or complexity in anything, least of all food. She talked again about recoiling from the ornate, feared entrapment by the formal, wanted the freedom to care about whatever she authentically cared about. She'd felt too often pressured, as a little girl, to care about formality in food when it meant nothing to her. And she wanted to know that my cooking of Lulu's food conformed to those yearnings. (“La cuisine de bonne femme,” writes John Thorne, in his introduction to
Lulu's ProvenÃ§al Table
, “the cuisine, that is, resulting from the interaction of a gifted home cook with the techniques, ingredients, and classic dishes of the local terroir. The unique combination of ravishing sensuality and moral integrity that is the core of good French cooking.”)
Spring turned to summer, Hannah turned five, and then, one morning, Nico and Tino banged on my front door earlier than usual. I pulled on pants and answered and they said gently that they really needed the entire thousand dollars I owed them all at once, as in
right that second
. (They preferred to be paid in chunks, on very particular days; local gangbangers have a slang term for Mexican day laborers: they call them ATMs.) Parked in front of my house, as it turned out, was a sinister-looking van driven by a people-smuggler who had just brought, yes, a
brother across the border; if the boys couldn't produce a thousand dollars, they couldn't have Carlos.
So that's how my crew grew to three, shortly before the completion of that beautiful new bedroom, with its nice walk-in closet. So Carlos was there when I showed Liz around. She admired the gleaming hardwood floors. She congratulated herself on an excellent color scheme for the paints. She positively exulted over the walk-in closet, and I thanked her for having lived all those years without any closet at all. (Our only bedroom closet had been on my side of the bed, so it had only made sense, in my view, for that closet to be my closet.) Then Liz poked her head into that putative office nook.
Thinking aloud, Liz said maybe that cute little room ought to become a TV nook, and maybe she ought to stay put in the basement office that I'd created for myself.
“What about me?”
Maybe I should, well, you know, go back to the original plan and just stick a desk somewhere else in the basement.
I loved Liz's appreciation for the work I'd done, but I didn't much like this vision of my future writing space, so I found a solution during the following weekend, when Liz took Audrey
and Hannah up to Napa. I was working alone on the one little adjustment we'd agreed to make upstairs, in our main living quarters: our single bathroom was ridiculously large, given the size of our home, so I knocked down one of the bathroom walls, to shrink it and thereby claim a little space for our puny dining room. But once I'd done the initial demo, and stood there in a pile of dusty debris, I realized that if we completely eliminated that bathroom, relocating the tub and sink to the putative TV nook, we could create not only a truly generous dining room, but a really proper master bedroom suite. And, once we got started really digging into the upstairs, it would be crazy not to rip out still more walls and ceilings and transform the unfinished attic space into a truly excellent little writing garret for myself. So I did, just like that; by the time Liz and the girls returned from Grandma's place in Napa, I'd turned that finishing-touch “move one last wall” project into a more-or-less complete gutting of our entire upstairs flat. And here was the funny thing: this amounted to the “whole shebang,” the grand remodeling dream she'd always wanted, and I was on track for delivering it at a fraction of the price, in a fraction of the time, as we lived in the house.
When I did, after months of our children inhabiting what a friend called a “toddler death zone,” we jointly discovered something about Liz herself, and that old relationship between suffering and desire. We'd discovered that she'd been right. (Or, as she put it, “that I'm not a spoiled little bitch after all, despite whatever you thought.”) Because she really did stop hating our house, when it was all over. In fact, she loved the place, right on down to the attic office, which she claimed for herself. (I've since regained it; long story.)
I finished the remodel weeks before my fortieth birthday. We
threw a big party with Lulu's menu for a Grand Aioli, and it was only a month later that Alice invited me to her home for the final editing session on that Edible Schoolyard book. As it turned out, she lived not a mile and a half from where I'd grown up, only blocks from my junior high school. One of the more striking things about Alice, to my mind, had always been how little she appeared to be motivated by money: influence, perhaps, and connection to influential people. But she had never opened another restaurant, never branded a line of kitchenware, never designed frozen dinners or anything else. And she wasn't even a majority owner of Chez Panisse, and therefore couldn't be making a mint from it; plus, she put all of her speaking fees right back into the Chez Panisse Foundation, funding more of her pet projects. Her house confirmed the implied values: the same Berkeley bungalow she'd inhabited for more than thirty years. After all that time, the great Alice Waters hadn't even moved higher into the Berkeley Hills, toward the more fabulous views. In fact, her place had no views at all, and very little natural light. Like all Berkeley Arts and Crafts bungalows, Alice's home had copious exposed wood, all very dark and soft-toned, muted and reassuring, and her kitchen had recently been redone with a nice touch: a counter-height fireplace for cooking, modeled on Lulu's own.
Before we settled down to work, Alice asked if I was hungry: “Shall we have a little lunch?”
“I'd love a little lunch.”
Off she went, to see what she could offer. “Unfortunately, I have nothing but eggs,” she said. “Do you like eggs?”