Tonight The Savoy bookshop hosted chef Jeanie Roland who discussed her new book, Butter Love & Cream. Nationally known for beating Bobby Flay in season 5 of Beat Bobby Flay, locally she and her husband James own Ella’s, where French technique and Asian flavors make the menu unique. Ella’s Fine Food & Drink sits on the corner of Tower Street here in town and offers pastas, salads, dishes from land and sea as well as a great line up of starters. If you don’t already follow their Facebook page, you should do so as they often list menus and specials.
Chef Roland grew up in Waterbury, Connecticut. Her family had real dinners every night and her mother cooked from scratch. She talked about childhood memories of smells wafting from the kitchen and knowing with each one what they would be eating that night. With a summer job washing dishes at The General Stanton in Charlestown, she discovered that the inside of a kitchen was somewhere that she wanted to be. Although she had wanted to study culinary arts in college, her parents did not think that was a good idea as, at the time, there were not many women in the culinary field. After leaving college with a BS she was accepted at the Culinary Institute of America at 24 where, as someone with little formal training, she soaked up all the lessons she was taught.
From the start she knew what she wanted in a restaurant. She knew the way she wanted the food presented. Even when people told her she would fail, she did not want to compromise. Chef Jeanie emphasized that ethical sourcing of poultry and beef is important to her. I loved that she follows the philosophy of using the entire animal. I also loved that she was so down to earth and confident in her approach to cooking and talking. She shared so many lessons with the audience at The Savoy, including a few tips. Use your micro grater to grate garlic cloves. Do not EVER buy chopped garlic in a jar because really, do you know how long ago that garlic was chopped? Do you know where it was chopped? Do you know what is in the jar keeping it fresh? Use your crockpot to keep things warm. Simplify cooking for holidays and dinner parties so you can enjoy your guests. Make things ahead of time. Prep, prep, prep. She, and this is just one of the things that made me certain I really liked her, cooks roast chicken at least once a week. Buy a whole chicken and then get as many meals out of it as you can- use the entire bird. Make soup from the bones and you will enjoy the chicken for more than just one meal. I also just loved that she talked so much about not wasting food. She talked about knowing that people are hungry and that seeing people waste food bothers her. I loved this. She also talked about how sharing food, serving food to someone you love, just feels good.
During the question and answer segment a question was asked about her time on the two television shows and what it was like behind the scenes. She answered honestly and said in Beat Bobby Flay there was a lot of preparation ahead of time. And while she got some of the nerves out during the practice sessions at home, she was a bit frazzled on set as there was not much time to figure out what was in the pantry and what you were going to grab. It was also asked if she would consider going on Top Chef to which she replied that she was asked but declined, in part, due to the fact that she was offended that she saw someone on the show throw a piece of meat onto the floor. She really does take not wasting food seriously- and that is something I love.
Roland says she has learned a lot over the years and continues to do so. She told a great story about a foie gras milkshake separating during service and how she had to think on her feet to get it sorted out very quickly. One of the audience members asked about the differences between her two restaurants and if the tastes of the consumer differ here versus in Florida. Here in Westerly she says duck is her biggest seller while down at her first location in Florida, A Warm Goat (warm goats cheese with roasted garlic, Kalamata olive tapenade, caponata & roasted peppers,fresh parsley, grilled crostini) is a top choice. Her favorite recipes in the book are Mama’s Chicken, Kale & Lentil Salad and a special ice cream recipe that was shared with her by a regular at her Florida restaurant. She thinks the bolognese (using chicken) will be popular here in Westerly.
My big take aways were that food memories start at a young age. Be it a smell, a recipe that is passed down, holiday cooking- all of those things help shape how we feel about food today. All of those things make us who we are. I left this book discussion feeling optimistic about the culture of food. Roland did not set out to write a cookbook but knew, if she did, Butter Love & Cream would be somehow used in the title. Butter and Cream are cooked with in kitchens all the time and love, someone told her, was another ingredient that made the food taste different. You can pick up a copy of Butter Love & Cream at The Savoy or on Ella’s website.