Monday, August 03, 2009

Emily Luchetti, Pastry Inspirations and a Birthday at the Beach

This last week in Providence has been rather entertaining, somewhat productive and for Susie incredibly wonderful.

First of all it was her birthday yesterday, Sunday. We had been invited, along with Dick and Dorothy, to spend the afternoon lounging on the beach near Point Judith. Barbara and her daughter Andrea -- Andrea is not only one of my colleagues at work but also a neighbor as well – well they have a house just on the edge of the bay overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, or more accurately, Rhode Island Sound. We were all together for the rooftop BBQ a week or so back and Barbara asked us all down for Susie's birthday dinner.

To kick the weekend festivities off Susie -- and here's a large chunk of the wonderful part -- Susie finally got to meet her all-time inspiration in the tasty world of serious pastry: Emily Luchetti.

Emily is the pastry chef at Farallon in San Francisco but when we came across her the first time she was working as the pastry chef for Jeremiah Tower 's Stars restaurant, also in San Francisco. That was our first trip west together in 1988 and we returned on a second trip to California in 1992 we were so impressed with the desserts at Stars that Susie actually got Emily's very first book, signed no less.

As she tackled one recipe after another, Susie quickly discovered that she shared a deep connection with Emily -- they both hold to the same theory about food: fresh ingredients well-prepared is really what great food is all about. Over the years that shared affinity has only broadened and deepened as Susie found new treasures in Emily's subsequent books on desserts. Whenever she was stumped for ideas or felt jammed up she would turn to Emily to show her a way out.

OK enough backstory.

Last Wednesday Joe Hafner at Gracie's just happened to mention to Susie that her "inspiration" was going to be at a book signing at a friend's shop in South Dartmouth, MA, on Friday -- would she be interested in going?

So on Friday -- a short day at JWU for me anyway -- we drove the 40 minutes or so in the direction of Cape Cod, turning due south just before New Bedford (of whaling fame). After skirting along the back-country roads of Massachusetts we soon found ourselves hopping from one marsh to another before landing ourselves in South Dartmouth, a tiny resort community perched not far from the ocean. We parked right in front of the shop, Flora, our objective, and walked inside. I soon found myself the only male in the room surrounded by a dozen or so women, most of who were immersed in copies of Emily's latest book.

Susie walked up to Emily and introduced herself. It was as if she had met a long-lost friend, and in a manner of speaking she had. They were indeed kindred spirits talking about pastry as if there was little else.

Time slipped away from us and eventually Susie and I found our way back to the car, the highway and Providence. It’s that word again, “providence.” How appropriate – and not a bad way to start off the weekend.

Saturday was a gorgeous but quiet day on Westminster Street. Susie put in time at work and I put in time working on Pere Lachaise; not the cemetery but my photos, which I hope will serve as some sort of inspiration to locking down a guidebook for Paris cemeteries. Someday.

Sunday was leisurely with odd weather patterns here in Rhode Island -- what else is new, eh? Overcast skies joined by rising humidity did nothing to dampen our determination to head to the ocean for a walk along the beach, a scrumptious dinner of fish, chilled sparkling wine and good conversation.

And so we did. Susie and I arrived at Barbara's about half past two, and Andrea was already there -- in fact she had taken the train down early in the weekend.

Anyway, we unloaded our gear -- having brought desserts naturally -- and headed out for a walk along Scarborough Beach.

After a leisurely stroll in the sand we returned and spent the afternoon chatting about one thing or another until about 4pm when Dick and Dorothy arrived. At a little after 5 we had exhausted the sparkling wines, opened a rosé and sat down to a delicious meal of oven-baked salmon with a tasty mustard coating, roasted potatoes with rosemary, mustard and garlic and asparagus tips with roasted red peppers.

As incredible as this all sounds it was finished off with a brace of desserts: a rustic nectarine, plum, blueberry tart and a hazelnut semi-freddo with chocolate sauce and candied hazelnuts.

You really should have been there.

Around 8pm we packed up our things. The food was all gone and so were the wines. So with full stomachs and heavy eyelids we said adieu to our lovely hostess, loaded the car with Andrea and her stuff -- she was heading back into the city with us since she only lives four blocks from us -- and waved our way out into traffic and back north to the urban jungle.

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