Michael Roberts, a well-known Los Angeles chef, was an early pioneer of California cuisine at his landmark restaurant, Trumps, in the early 1980's.
I have a special fondness in my heart for Michael Roberts—and he probably has no idea that I do, let alone why.
On November 10, 1990, I attended a book signing in which Michael Roberts was autographing his most recent books, Secret Ingredients: the Magical Process of Combining Flavors, and Fresh from the Freezer.
An aspiring cookbook author at the time, I told Michael that I was writing my first book and hoped to find a publisher for it. Instead of nodding with glazed eyes or yawning, he instead offered kindness and encouragement—things every wannabe author needs in bulk quantities.
I bought both of his books. In them, Michael, who has a very calming, charming demeanor, penned the following notes to me:
In Secret Ingredients:
Cooking well is the best revenge,
but writing about it is even better!
- Good luck, Michael Roberts
In Fresh from the Freezer:
- Michael Roberts
Not only did these inscriptions make me laugh out loud, but they've helped inspire my career. While writing my first published book Cooking with Kids For Dummies, I often reflected on both sets of advice (when the muse was visiting and also when she was not). During the most frustrating times, they've even become my daily aspirations. So with just a random act of kindness and a few select words, Michael Roberts has helped keep my keyboard churning every day—and I bet he has no idea of his influence.
Words have impact because they bring us together. We connect by shared experiences. Cookbooks can be as powerful in their impact on peoples' lives and experiences as are great novels, biographies or nonfiction works. Cookbooks can even have a greater advantage than other genres because they already start off with a subject universal to the collective consciousness: food. We eat everyday, and when we do, we all experience taste, smell, sight, and textures of food, whether we cooked the food or not.
Michael Roberts' most recent tome, Parisian Home Cooking, activates that collective chord and amplifies it so you can almost feel the subtle vibrations in the pages. It has tenderness. He writes with warm, conversational intimacy, as if he's sitting across a small, kitchen table from you, sharing a glass of wine. The headnotes before the recipes are skillfully brief, so that his words seem to caress the recipe to follow. He speaks like a man spending time with a companion of many years, and this is not surprising. For this book really is Michael's intimate love affair with Paris, one he began in 1975, but in quite a different way.
In that year, Michael Roberts discarded his previous musical career for professional culinary training in Paris. He studied under master chefs and learned the classic techniques. He considered French cuisine that which could only be found in two and three star restaurants. And this perspective, developed at an early age, is precisely the box that Michael broke out of to write this book.
Unlike other French cookbooks, this book revels not in haute cuisine, but in the every day home cooking of Paris' residents, where freshness and straightforward techniques rule. Photos of the markets, the vendors, and most delightfully, the photos of Michael's friends in their match-box size kitchens capture the simplicity and honesty that clearly struck Michael when he recently returned to Paris. Breaking out of the professional chef box, Michael's heartfelt appreciation of the lifestyle of the average Parisian—where preparing an everyday meal is dynamically integrated with the grower, seller, cook, and diner—makes an impact on him, and on the reader.
This book really does make me feel like I've spent many long, wonderful days in the homes and kitchens of true Parisians, even though I have not. It took Michael Roberts 25 years to really see what his love for Paris was all about, and the Paris he now loves is not white-starched or stuffy, but soft, playful, and simple. For me, Parisian Home Cooking is the perfect romance novel for my summer vacation. And even without an autographed inscription, this book, its characters and its recipes could not be more personal. It is, in my humble opinion, Michael Roberts' finest writing to date. To echo his own inscription, what sweet revenge!
Parisian Home Cooking
Conversations, Recipes, and Tips from
the Cooks and Food Merchants of Paris
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created July 1999
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