Review by Kristina Sepetys
Kitchen Gypsy: Recipes and Stories
from a Lifelong Romance with Food
by Joanne Weir
(Oxmoor House, 2015)
When Joanne Weir was a child growing up in Massachusetts, her father called her his “wandering gypsy” because he knew how much she liked to explore. Perhaps even in those early years he saw the wanderlust and passionate interest in food that would eventually take her from East Coast to West, to Italy, France, and Morocco, with many stops in between. The author of 17 cookbooks, and the host and producer of her own PBS television cooking series, in her latest effort recounts “all the tales of my gypsy-like journey through life’s kitchens.”
The kitchens include those of her culinarily skilled mother and in her grandparents’ farmhouses, the creative and innovative crucible of Chez Panisse, romantic cooking schools in Europe, and finally back to her own Mexican restaurant kitchen in Northern California. To tell her story, Weir weaves together descriptions of the people, places, and food that have inspired her cooking career, creating a delightful scrapbook and recipe collection. Her annotated culinary journey may feel familiar to many readers, especially locals who’ll recognize institutions like Chez Panisse, Monterey Market, and other East Bay spots.
Her anecdotes and stories all involve food, and Weir has included 100 of those recipes in her book. She begins with childhood favorites from the 1950s like Mom’s Tomato Sandwich, a 140-year-old recipe for Lettie’s Lightning Cake with Wild Strawberry Jam from her great-grandmother, and dishes of her early college years like Arroz Con Pollo and Provincetown Seafood Stew. She then moved on to Chez Panisse, where she learned to make Pizzetta with Parsley Salad and Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and later perfected dishes like Beef Roulade with Mushrooms and Garlic during her Master Chef training in France.
Weir is currently owner and chef of Copita, a Mexican restaurant and tequileria in Sausalito, known for dishes like Fried Pork Belly Tacos with Pipián Sauce, Spiced Papas Bravas with Avocado Crema (Mexican fried potatoes), Elote with Chipotle Crema (grilled corn in the husk and topped with a mixture of chiles, cotija cheese, onion, and spiced soured cream), and Oaxacan Chocolate Milk Shakes.
Given how much of her career has been spent teaching and producing cookbooks, perhaps it’s not surprising that all of the recipes in Weir’s book are easy to follow and reliable to re-create in home kitchens, even though many originate in restaurants. But more than just recipes, as Alice Waters remarks in her forward to the book, “Joanne’s infectious enthusiasm for food, farming, and teaching draws readers effortlessly into a new and beautiful relationship to food.”