A restaurateur makes her case for simplicity, good ingredients, and not overwhelming eaters with fat and salt
I like to say that my success as a professional cook is about putting out home-style food in a restaurant setting. I come from a long line of great home cooks, starting in my memory with my grandmother Dorothy Thorndike Harmon, who came from a long line of extremely self-sufficient Maine Yankees for whom gardening and preserving and raising at least your own chickens was just what you did. Well into his eighties, my grandfather maintained both an ornamental and a vegetable garden, even though he had long outgrown an economic need to raise his own vegetables. He did it out of habit and genuine pleasure in the sense of purpose gardening gave him—and, I hope, genuine pleasure in the seasonal produce he enjoyed on his table.
My favorite memories of eating at my grandparents' table, other than amazing lobster feasts, are of dipping tender, new, bitter romaine leaves from the garden in Heinz distilled white vinegar and then sugar, and the spring asparagus that poked up out of the ground late in May, which we ate simply steamed for breakfast with a pat of melting butter and cracked black pepper. While olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese were not things one found in my grandmother's pantry, I would call her very aware of the pleasures of good food on the table. The pantry was filled, up until my grandmother's death, with crab apple jelly from the wild trees on their property and various home-canned pickles and relishes whose recipes had been passed down through the generations, helping to extend the garden bounty well into the winter. A habit that came out of need but was continued out of pleasure.