Yvan Lemoine came into my life as a gift from Michael and Ariane Batterberry of Food Arts magazine. Michael had brought Yvan to the Food Arts Magazine and Culinary Institute of America joint conference on Pastry Arts. It has been several years since, and Yvan had been an indelible mark on my life. Now, through his book, Food Fest 365! Yvan has left an amazing mark on all our lives. We only need be hungry, able to cook and share, and if that is so, Yvan will enrich our world with foods that are sweet, savory, spicy and everything in-between.
The end of winter brought Yvan back into our lives in a more active manner. Luckily this is something we cherish beyond most routine occurrences sent by life. Yvan also brings with him fond memories of Michael and Ariane and our times spent together. Life is beautiful. And for Yvan and I, two men who owe much of what we are to the Batterberry's, reminiscing about these two very generous people is something so easy to do and so normal. Even as we mourn the absence of dear Michael in his physical presence, we celebrate what Ariane is doing with Food Arts alone today, and feel we are still being guided and blessed by the powerful duo together, in ways hard to explain through mortal speak.
A past-planned date with two other dear friends also brought into my world through Ariane and Michael - seemed like a perfect dinner to showcase the genius of Yvan and also do something very Michael - connecting friends and sharing their talents in hopes that each would benefit from the friendship of the other. And so, as I nervously debated if it would be prudent to host Gael Greene and Steven Richter at dinner in our very new and still not very settled apartment in TriBeCa, something inside gave me all the confidence to just go ahead and invite them over. I was sure Gael and Steven would forgive us paper napkins instead of cloth napkins. They would not care that the china did not match the serving pieces, or that not one wine glass matched the other. These should be the least of my worries. At least that is what I thought. And now know for a fact. Gael dismissed my fears in a jiffy.
Yvan arrived late afternoon. We went shopping to Whole Foods (correctly called whole pay check) and got back a couple of hours later and at least 330 dollars poorer. We did come prepared with all that Yvan would need to share with Gael, Steven, Ana (dear friend and daughter of the great Mexican chef and diva, Iliana De la Vega), ?? And Charlie, a meal of great vegetarian treasures. Having asked Gael and Steven if a taco-dinner would be acceptable and having gotten their quick and hearty endorsement, Yvan was preparing for a taco dinner that would be a memorable experience of layered flavors and many discoveries.
It was past 5:40, and we were only now beginning to unpack the groceries. What warmed my heart and made me love Yvan even more than I already did was his patient manner. His lack of any fear that Gael would be arriving for dinner in less than three hours. Or that he was cooking in a kitchen that was new. Or that we had no menu planned. Or that we had only four hands (ours) and so much to do if the taco dinner was to be everything we would dream it to be. Seeing someone so young, be so sure and confident, reminded me of my first interactions with the Batterberry's and how Michael always seemed amazed by my lack of fear before we began something significant and how at the end he would compliment me for having shared something worthy of his nod of approval. I missed Michael dearly. I also felt he was watching and smiling and blessing. Something told me Michael was going to ensure Yvan would shine tonight, as he does every night, and so I slipped into my usual Bindaas (carefree, fearless) mode and allowed the evening to take its own form.
Yvan started chopping effortlessly. Found things around the kitchen that I never knew existed. This is a new apartment. One we are watching for a friend. Yvan's comfort in the kitchen, albeit a new one, was a telling sign of the deliciousness we would surely find in his food. Whilst fussy food has its own place and charm, there is something deeply satisfying about food that is culled from a place of warmth - a deep heart, a generous soul, and a confident human being. It is this food I crave most. This is food money cannot buy, restaurants usually cannot serve, and few people find the ability to enjoy. How I wish more people would cook in their homes, share with loved ones, and enjoy such food as it were meant to be - daily!
As Yvan left the chicken in a quick brine, he cooked and prepped all the salsas/condiments (which in fact made the chicken into a condiment through their sheer volume, diversity and deliciousness) that we would enjoy on the table. That Yvan is form Venezuela (another connection to Michael Batterberry) had him not even remotely worried about cooking Tacos for Gael Greene and also our friend Ana Torrealba a student at the Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park) and daughter of my dearest of dear friends Iliana de la Vega, the Queen of Mexcican cuisine the world is yet to discovery of in entirety (And faculty at the new and snazzy branch of the CIA in San Antonio, TX). She is perhaps one of the better kept secrets of the culinary world, but not for too long. Ana seemed quite happy and contented with Yvan's offerings. Did she find them authentic? That is another question. Hardly think anyone could ever keep up with authenticity. It changes by the minute and the context. This salsa above (with canned beans, yes, forgive us please!), onions, sweet peppers and corn was thrilling. It was the one salsa that took more than a few minutes of effort. The others took time in preparation for cooking (cleaning and chopping) not in cooking itself.
Gael, Charlie and I (I hardly ever drink, but do one in a few months or years) enjoyed Campari with Orange. I had two, if anyone is counting. Others had wine. Steven Richter and I also enjoyed the Hibiscus cooler that Yvan had concocted. Using decaf tea and fresh lemon juice and tons of love and affection. He gave the drink perhaps even more time than some of the salsas. It was a HIT! I could drinks pitchers of it without any fuss.
Roasted fresh corn, cilantro, habanero chiles and fresh grated cotija cheese made for an exceptionally tasty and sought after dinner salsas. How I wish I had made triple the amount. I for one would have eaten any and all quantities of this that would be available. The only thing that could make this even better and make me cry in happiness would have bene the sweet corn we get from Sheldon Farms in Salem, NY. (Hint for you Yvan, come visit the farm in late summer, and lets make tacos to die and cry for!)
This fruit salsa with pineapple, mango, papaya, cilantro, arugula, and grated Japanese pears seemed to evoke quite a response from everyone that tried it. All went for seconds and thirds. The lime and chile added a fresh kick to the sweetness of the fruits. Each fruit brought a new texture, taste, smell and flavor to the salad. How could one not celebrate each day with flavors this fresh and sublime?
How sad I am that my photos that night were some of the worst of my lifetime. Sorry Yvan! I did NO JUSTICE AT ALL to your magical food and flavors. Forgive me please. Above you can see some of the many salsas that made for the Taco Feast. Missing for sure is the uber-juicy chicken that Yvan had brined, baked and pulled. It was as moist and succulent as chicken can be. Smartly, Yvan had done what Charlie and I do, use legs and thighs. Again, a small sign for me to relax and not worry that a couple of hours of cooking and prepping would lead to magical pleasure for our guests.
As you can see, we had at least 4 salsas, the guacamole, some pico de gallo and the chicken to play with. Plenty of options for everyone. Everyone had at least two tortillas made into tacos. Some of us had 3 and 4. I could have eaten all night long were I alone. This was simple, honest and comforting food without ego, but with an infectious soul. One that grips you without warning, and takes you on a joyous ride to heaven that religion, politics, friendships and fussy things in life cannot bring you to. This was HIGH food with low quotient of torturous and wasteful fuss.
How I wish again that I had not been so greedy eating food rather than taking good photos. Here you can see in the tin, the pineapple-mango upside down cake getting ready to be served. Yvan made it after we had all eaten. We all waited as it baked, and were tortured happily by the amazing smells of the cake coming to perfection in the oven. He made a wonderful yogurt and pink-peppercorn ice cream to go with it. It was perhaps one of the best yogurt anything I have eaten in ever. Thanks Yvan! Recipe for the cake is in the book. As are recipes for many easy and comforting dishes. You can now also make the dish that is the celebration of your date of birth and that of your friends. Maybe someone somewhere will cook a dish daily from this great book and make every day a celebration as Yvan intends for it to be. You will never be disappointed by having Yvan in your life. Even if it means only by holding his book in your hands, and cooking, sharing and savoring his delicious food.
I could write on and one.. but sadly, life also has to continue. I have friends I must feed and give time to. Friends that hate my time spent on twitter and blogging. Just let it be known, Yvan is far from ordinary, and almost as immortal in magic as a mortal can ever be. He is a blessing we have in our lives, and now I share him with great pride with all of you. Hope you can make at least a few days into a celebration unlike any by bringing him (through his book and food) and his happy ways into your life and world.