It will be a summer of firsts for aspiring chef Lauren Charman: her first ride in an airplane; her first trip out of the country; and her first experience exploring the terroir, the special characteristics, of the food of Provence.
Charman grew up in Dundas and never dreamt of cooking as a career. A high school dropout, she found jobs in kitchens that opened her eyes to both the pleasures and the stressful conditions of the restaurant industry.
“In retrospect,” she muses, “I always was actively engaged in the kitchen as a child. I loved going to the Asian markets with my mother and choosing different types of food. But it was when I began working at Nellie James, Gourmet to Go that I started to think about cooking as a career. Ken (LeFebour) is such a talented chef to watch and learn from, but I also loved connecting with the farmers. Ken is dedicated to working with local ingredients and there was always such excitement around finding the best local meats and produce.
“I guess you could describe my education as unconventional. I did my apprenticeship first, at Nellie James and later, at the Tree House Kitchen with Chef Nancy Henley who is very supportive, teaches classes and is really into recipe development. And then, I had to get my high school diploma so that I could go to chef’s school.”
(She is now studying at George Brown College and working at the Detour Cafe in Dundas, where, she asserts, “everything is made from scratch.”)
I first encountered Lauren not through her recipes, but when I stumbled upon her blog. Called “Food under Control” <http://foodundercontrol.com/>, the fresh, vivid writing and evocative images caught my eye. I did some research and was surprised to discover that she was working at Nellie James. Despite the fact that she is amazingly talented with a camera, she seems to have no ambitions right now as a professional photographer.
“I wanted to share what was going on in the kitchen,” she says, “and the chefs didn’t mind as long as it didn’t interfere with the work. It’s kind of nice that people notice, because I’m still trying to find my own aesthetic.”
The most challenging part of being a would-be chef, Charman says, is trying to settle on a single direction. She is currently at that place in her life where she wants to do everything. (“I’m very interested in making pastry, I like doing things that require you to be meticulous.”) Her enthusiasm is exhilarating and infectious, but still, you notice that she has her feet planted firmly on the ground. She sees a whole world of food in front of her but realizes that sooner or later “you must find your own signature, your own vision.”
The most exciting part of her education so far has been discovering the bliss of connecting with local and seasonal food purveyors.
“But,” she says, “this is a double-edged sword. Once you are introduced to the freshness and tastiness of what’s local it becomes hard to shop for meals at the supermarket. There is really a whole change in perspective.”
Her up-coming trip to France is unfolding like a young chef’s dream. She and her partner had planned a two week walking and eating vacation in the south of France. When she mentioned the trip to one of the chefs at George Brown, she was presented with an invitation to work at a small bistro style restaurant (the Cafe Restaurant Lulu Hazard) that was just opening in the tiny village of Grignan.
Grignan looks a stage set of like everyone’s idea of the perfect Provençal town, with its medieval fortifications and castle, winding cobblestone streets and shady squares. Charman says that the proprietor of the restaurant told her “We will work hard, but with smiles on our faces.”
“That statement,” she says, “sums up the hospitality industry so beautifully.”
You can follow Lauren’s progress by checking out her blog. And I can’t wait to hear about her experiences in France when she returns.
And here’s a recipe for a Provençal specialty that you can also buy ready-made (but this is tastier).
adapted from Paula Wolfert’s “The Cooking of Southwestern France”
2 oz flat anchovy fillets, packed in oil, drained
18 pitted, oil cured black olives
2/3 cup plus 3 tbsp fruity, extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, slivered
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1) Place anchovies in a small bowl with cold water to cover. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain.
2) Soak olive in 3 tbsp of olive with slivered garlic for 20 minutes. Drain.
3) Combine anchovies, olives, garlic and mustard in a blender and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the egg yolk and blend thoroughly until smooth. With the machine running, add the remaining olive oil in a slow steady stream. Season with the lemon juice and cayenne to taste.
4) Spoon into a 1 cup crock. Serve at once or refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days.
This is usually served as an appetizer and spread on crusty, toasted bread. But I have also found it delicious spread on a juicy, tender rare beef steak.