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Jesse Yancy

Howard Mitcham

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I am working on a project about Howard Mitcham, a chef and writer from my home state of Mississippi. I would be most appreciative of any input any of you might have on "Mitch". Thank you so very much. Jesse Yancy

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Wow! He's an unsung hero of mine. I'm sorry to learn that he died. Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz is a great book.

I got bumped three times the same day in the 1980's, on a $39 People Express flight EWR to ROC flying home one Christmas eve, all because I got up the nerve to chat with this English traveler who managed six bumps that day. She taught me the ropes. A week before next Christmas, I have a free ticket about to expire, so I go to the airport and look at the departure boards. New Orleans? Never been there, let's go!

I went on a gumbo crawl, perhaps having twenty gumbos that weekend. One famous place was too full to ever seat me, but I bluffed my way to having them bring me three bowls to wolf down on a couch in the waiting area. And so forth. By far the most amazing gumbo I've ever had in my life was at Chez Helene (now closed) on North Robertson Street, north of the French Quarter and a bit dicier neighborhood.

Gumbo became my go-to dish for crowds. I've cooked gumbo for 20 to 80 people many times; the only other way to handle that scale is multiple pork butts, which is much easier with the right cooker (like http://www.komodokamado.com). Everyone should master gumbo, it's a quintessential American dish. It's the original fusion dish; I've tracked down precursors in African restaurants and they're also the best thing on the menu.

Once I was spending a month in Nice, France, thinking how could I cook there for guests when my primitive notion of a fancy meal was to cook French. I reasoned that the crucial ideal for Chez Panisse was creatively mapping Provence onto California, so I should creatively map New Orleans back onto Provence, and make a Niçoise gumbo. This idea had enough appeal that I got invited to various houses to cook for parties. At the last house, Alice Water's friend and Chez Panisse co-founder Martine Labro showed up as a surprise guest. I then spent the last evening of my trip watching her make pizzas in her home kitchen for a party in the garden drawn by her in Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, Calzone. This was a cooking dream come true.

And how did I really learn to cook gumbo? From Howard Mitcham's book Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz. He paints a vivid picture of how a party can come splendidly unhinged, having friends help make gumbo. He gives many recipes, but one puts away the book and understands how to make gumbo without a recipe. His book conveys a sense of how real people make gumbo, that no celebrity cookbook can convey.

One does want to put away all books, and make gumbo by methods one already understands. I took many French lessons from a great private teacher (http://www.lacuisinesanspeur.com) and his insightful blueprint for the precursor dish bouillabaisse applies here: Make a great stock, emulsify it with the supporting ingredients, and add each meat or fish to cook perfectly counting down to serving time. If you got that and you've tasted bouillabaisse, one could argue recipes till dawn but there is no recipe, just do that with the ingredients you have. For gumbo, a great stock would be a triple stock as made in the French courts before people simply boiled down demiglaces: Make chicken stock, make crab stock with that, make lobster stock with that. Crabs are cheap, it doesn't matter how much meat one recovers as long as the flavor ends up in the gumbo. Lobsters are best treated as Thomas Keller teaches, removed from their shell as soon as feasible and poached very gently separately in butter, to serve over the gumbo.

Howard Mitcham helps anyone to find their version of this thinking, in far fewer words. They say that barbecue isn't a cuisine, it's a religion. Howard Mitcham is a preacher for the religion of gumbo.

Please honor the man. I wish I could have met Howard Mitcham; he is a hero of mine.

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iirc, Bourdain pays homage to him in Kitchen Confidential.

Mitcham's Provincetown Seafood Cookbook has an honored spot ony kitchen bookshelf...and I reread it every year!

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iirc, Bourdain pays homage to him in Kitchen Confidential.

Bourdain also pays homage to him in http://www.nytimes.c...intcookbks.html

I have a deep and abiding fondness for Howard Mitcham's "Provincetown Seafood Cookbook" (1986). It takes me back to the early happy days before the glamorization of chefs, stacked food, artsy presentations and pomposity. [...]

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iirc, Bourdain pays homage to him in Kitchen Confidential.

Bourdain also pays homage to him in http://www.nytimes.c...intcookbks.html

I have a deep and abiding fondness for Howard Mitcham's "Provincetown Seafood Cookbook" (1986). It takes me back to the early happy days before the glamorization of chefs, stacked food, artsy presentations and pomposity. [...]

Thanks for this link to the NYT article. I own the following cookbooks mentioned:

Nach Waxman: “Auberge of the Flowering Hearth” by Roy Andries De Groot

Jane and Michael Stern: Mary and Vincent Price's "Treasury of Great Recipes”

Jason Epstein: Maida Heatter's dessert books

"Michael Field's Cooking School" (1965)

I also own many books by James Beard and Madeleine Kamman, although not the ones mentioned here. What wonderful memories of my introduction to cooking, and the glorious days when no one ever heard of low fat cooking.

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