Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Fifty years ago, Karen Stoeckley found a dusty recipe-filled ledger in her grandparents' Pennysylvania attic and knew right then that it should become a book. A lifetime later she made it happen, telling the story of her immigrant grandfather's long culinary career through his notes, mementos, menus, photos and more. With recipes old and new, this is a loving tribute to a passionate, dedicated man...but also to French cuisine then and now. The book came out just a few weeks ago.
Those of you who love cookbooks will enjoy it for the usual reasons--mouthwatering recipes, gorgeous photos--but A Culinary Legacy has two added ingredients: the author's direct family connection to the historic recipes and the expertise to understand them in context and then bring them up to date. Plus, it has lots and lots of Provence!
Karen's publisher, Acclaim Press, is generously giving me three copies to give away. Read on...and then leave a comment to enter the contest.
In 1897, Karen's grandfather, Axel Blumensaadt, moved from his homeland of Odense, Denmark to Paris. He was 16 and he wanted to learn how to cook. He carried all his belongings with him in a sea chest that he built himself. The trunk survived two trips across the Atlantic, went around France numerous times, made it to California and back. Today it sits at the foot of Karen's bed in Louisiana, Missouri.
It's not clear to Karen whether Axel actually worked for the famous chef Auguste Escoffier (1846 - 1935) or not...but he definitely considered himself a disciple and protégé in many ways. At the time Axel arrived in Paris, Escoffier was at the summit of his reputation in London and was just about to leave the Savoy to open the Ritz in Paris with Cesar Ritz.
Axel completed his culinary studies in Paris, then went down to Hyeres, France, west of St. Tropez, where he served his first internship at the Grand Hotel du Parc. (One of the terrific historic documents reproduced in the book is a letter of recommendation written for Axel by hotel director Felix Suzanne.) Axel's career then took him back to Paris, to Monte Carlo and America, back to Denmark and finally to Oak Harbor, Ohio, where his wife Josephine's family had a large dry goods store. Finally Axel gave up professional kitchens, having been ''consumed into the family business of retail,'' but Karen learned that he dismissed the family cook at one point and took over that responsibility himself.
Josephine and Axel had two sons, one of whom was Karen's father. And like her grandfather before her, Karen was always crazy about the kitchen, working as a cooking teacher (at Bloomingdales and Macy's, among others), a culinary consultant (to Le Creuset cookware) and elsewhere in the industry. For many years, she has owned and operated the Eagle's Nest in Louisiana, Missouri, which once comprised a bistro, a fine dining restaurant, a bakery, a winery and 11 B&B rooms in an historic building a block from the Mississippi River. Today the winery, B&B and bakery are still in operation.
Finally after thinking about her grandfathers recipe book for all those years, Karen decided the time had come. And that the place to actually write the book was Provence. (She and her husband, artist John Stoeckley, have traveled to the South of France annually for many years and Karen has done brief stints in the kitchens of many Provencal chefs.) So, in 2012, off she went to Les Arcs sur Argens in the Var, where she rented an old stone house and got to work translating the recipes, testing the recipes and updating the dishes, writing the headnotes, adding other recipes and stitching it all together into this beautiful book.
Her co-author is local chef Max Callegari, the second generation chef/owner of Le Logis du Guetteur. "Without Max's assistance, the book would not have become a reality," she says. "His classic training allowed him to be able to read Axel's very old French writing and between the two of us our skills as chefs permitted the development of the recipes for today's cook."
The book's forward was written by Michel A. Escoffier, who runs the Escoffier Foundation and Museum of Culinary Arts in Villeneuve-Loubet, where Auguste Escoffier was born, not far from Nice. Michel helped Karen with research and of course gave the book his blessing.
The 168-page hardcover has 100 recipes and photos of food and Provence scenes. If you'd like to go ahead and buy it, you can get it on Amazon here or direct from the publisher here. But if you'd like to enter to win a copy, just leave a comment by clicking "comments" at the end of this story. To enter, tell us about something you inherited from your own grandparents' and why it's so meaningful to you. Or simply tell us why you'd love to have this book in your library or give it as a gift. Please make sure to leave us your email so we can reach you if you win; signing in with your Google account isn't enough. Winners will be chosen in a few weeks. Bonne Chance!