Learn From the Old, Cook With the New

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Regina Charboneau


To try Regina's recipe for chocolate mousse torte with orange-scented crème anglaise, click here.

I am beginning to question that saying I have heard my entire life, "You are as young as you feel." I feel young, but there are constant reminders that I am not. The other day when someone said she had been married 40 years, I immediately replied that we were approaching out 39th anniversary. I realized I had added a quick 10 years to my life and marriage. I am quite happy to say it has been only 29 years and I apologize to my husband if I indicated in any way that it feels more like 39.

The real incident that made me realize my "middle age" was two weeks ago when I returned to one of my favorite places, P. Allen Smith's Moss Farm in Arkansas, for a bountiful summer event—Tale of Two Farms, a tribute to tomatoes and heritage poultry and great wines from Presqu'ile Winery. When I walked into the prep kitchen to meet the other visiting chefs, for a moment I felt I had walked into my son's dorm room at college. Especially when the salutation toward me was not "chef," which I have become accustomed to over the past 30 years, but "ma'am," which was in reference and reverence to my age over theirs.

I come from a place where all ages spend time together at events and at the dinner table. A dinner party in Natchez often has three generations. It has always been that way and I find it a lovely thing. In fact, that weekend we brought two of my mother's friends with us for the event and a weekend getaway. They are equally my friends, and I have to admit, I have always said "yes, ma'am" to both of them. It is the proper thing to do. We have always been taught that anyone 15 years older than you receives that respect.

I welcome any generation of chef to cook with me in my kitchen, because I share equally the joy of teaching and the reward of being taught.

So, I must compliment my young chefs for their good manners, even if it was a reminder of that dreaded benchmark, "middle age." Oddly enough, I went from one weekend working at Moss Farms with the ever-so-talented Josh Smith and this absolutely charming and committed sous chef, Jonathan from Local Roots, a farm-to-table restaurant in Roanoke, Virginia, both a generation younger than I am, to last weekend here in Natchez, where I was so very fortunate to work with the ever-so-popular Gunter Preusse from Broussard's in New Orleans, a generation older than I am. We were celebrating our 10th annual Natchez Food and Wine Festival. I quickly came to the conclusion that the older I become, the younger everyone seems on both sides of me. Within two weekends, I was caught between two generations of chefs, and it turned out to be a joyful experience.

Here I am, a chef from the '80s working with chefs from the new millennium and from the '60s, all 20 years apart in age and a 20-year food timeline between each of us. If those 40 years could not tell the story of trends, I am not sure what would. It just proved to me once again that you never stop learning about food.

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Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of Regina's Table at Twin Oaks. More

Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of two cookbooks: A Collection of Seasonal Menus & Recipes from Regina's Kitchen and Regina's Table at Twin Oaks.

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