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Sunday, June 20, 2004

French Laundry Garden

Many meals begin in the garden. And so did our meal at the French Laundry. After parking the car, we couldn't help but notice the lovely garden directly across the street; having more than a few minutes to spare, we welcomed the invitation by one of the chefs/gardeners to take a look.

As Graham went about his work, he graciously showed us around and we chatted about the restaurant, the bounty of the garden, and cooking in general. We saw pepper plants that while young, promised a harvest in the not too distant future. We tasted strawberries from a bed that was about to be pulled up and sniffed a variety of herbs ripe and ready to be picked. Like our meal to come, the garden was a snapshot in time.

If you think you are looking at a snake in the photo above, you are not. What Graham is holding is actually a type of cucumber. Variegated with dark and light stripes of green it really does look like a snake though. And the whimsy of a cucumber that looks like a snake was a precursor to our meal where whimsy was in high form. So too was the genuine graciousness and depth of knowledge we experienced with Graham in the garden, mirrored in the dining room.

As I noticed a bed of Jerusalem artichokes, I asked him what recipes he would suggest and here is his suggestion: Make a veloute. Peel and quarter the Jerusalem artichokes. Cook them in cream (though milk or light cream would probably be fine, he prefers heavy cream for its richness) add salt and white pepper, then puree, and push through a sieve. Simmer the sauce again with a vanilla bean, but only for ten minutes or so, then strain again. This would be delicious on white asparagus, on a fan of sliced roasted Jerusalem artichokes, on fish or scallops or thinned down with stock to make a luscious soup.