Madeleine Kamman, founder of Newton Centre, Massachusetts' Modern Gourmet cooking school and "Chez la Mere Madeleine" restaurant, is back in France. Last month she inaugurated her new cooking school in Annecy with a food editor's seminar for six American journalists and former students.
Born in Paris, Kamman came to the Savoyard Alpine children's village in October 1939 to escape the war-torn French capital. Later, when she married and moved to the States, she founded her highly successful professional school and restaurant which Paul Bocuse billed as the best in America. Fulfilling a lifelong dream, fiftyish Kamman has returned to Annecy.
With her Kamman has brought a thorough knowledge of American ingredients and cooking techniques. She has coupled it with her extraordinary enthusiasm for redefining the foods of her childhood.
Kamman's bete noire is the Escoffier style cooking with such show dishes as Beef Wellington and heavy bechamel sauces. "You won't learn these here! Escoffier style cooking has no sense in modern life," she insists.
In an effort to duplicate a natural cooking setting, Kamman has located her school in a second-story apartment. Mushroom-papered walls accented with copper pots set the tone of the "larger than French but smaller than American" demonstration kitchen. The kitchen has one standard and one convection oven, two sets of electric burners, one large and one small refrigerator with a tiny freezing compartment. In short, a French country kitchen where hard-working women can cook for large families or small restaurants. Adjacent to the kitchen is a dining room decorated with Kamman's collection of faience, earthenware pottery and tiles. As soon as she is settled meals will be served here occasionally for outsiders. Eventually Kamman hopes to operate a small restaurant.
For the seminar three square tables were set up. The partcipants and Kamman played musical chairs at each meal as we listened and tasted for five days.
The first evening began with foie gras and oysters. Right away we saw the importance of the visual in the edible -- the slightly yellow foie gras on toast served with local yellow grapes blended beautifully. Kammkan insisted, "Taste the brine on these Belon oysters. Tha's how they should taste!"
Often the study of cooking is one dimensional but not with Kammon. It was three days before we had our first, cooking demonstration. First we had to learn about Savoie. Four groups influenced the region's culinary history -- the Celts, the Savoyards, the Burgundians who came down from the North and the Italians who came over the mountains from the Southeast and whose love for pasta and corn meal permeates this corner of France.
We took three gastronomic tours of the nearby mountain areas including one visit to the Chartreuse factory. There were other trips -- to the local marketplace at 7:30 a.m. to find just the right wild mushrooms for a Fricassee de champignons; to a modern cheese factory; a local Alpine farm where cheese is made twice a day and to another mountain restaurant.
But the high point of the trip was the demonstration and tasting of food Kamman presented in her own kitchen. Taking ancient dishes, she added new techniques and her own creativity. The menu included an assiette tiede de posson de lac, fried lake fish with hazelnuts and stringbeans; petit lapin, marine au chautagne et garni de son godiveau, rabbit stew with Chartreuse and quenelles made of liver; polenta au four with fricassee de champignons, baked polenta with cheese and wild mushrooms. For dessert velours glace savoyard, an 18-yoke chocolate ice cream with Marc, a liqueur of grape stems, and tuiles aux amandes, thin almond cookies.
Kamman has a lot to teach those fortunate enough to spend time learning from her.
Of her endeavor she says, "I may not succeed in trying to resurrect the antique food of the provinces but it's worth the gamble. Cooking is my bag and I do it well. I'll be Joan of Arc, so what? Today's French cooking education is to be discarded."
The new school will have small one-week, two-week and six-month classes. The six-month course is open to anyone who wishes to become a chef or owner of a small quality restaurant, a caterer, or a cooking teacher. The tuition of $8,500 includes all instruction and foods. Anyone interested in more details should write; Modern Gourmet, P.O. Box 123, Newton Centre, Mass. 02159, (617)969-3577.
Here are recipes for several of the dishes Kamman prepared. ASSIETTE TIEDE DE POISSONS DE LAC Trout with Hazelnuts and Vegetables (6 servings) l/2 pound very small green beans Salt to taste l/2 pound carrots Cider vinegar Pepper from the mill 5 tablespoons, plus l/3 cups hazelnut oil 6 shallots 2 tablespoons heavy cream Light, non fruity olive oil l/3 to l/2 cup chopped chervil or parsley leaves, plus 2 bouquets for garnish l/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts* l2 fillets or escalopes of sweet water fish such as rainbow, brook or salmon trout Flour to coat the fillets or escalopes
String the beans by hand or by knife depending on their size. Blanch them until crisp tender in plenty of boiling water salted with l-l/2 teaspoons salt per quart, for about 6 minutes. Rinse the beans in icy cold water as soon as done to your taste and pat them dry in a towel.
Peel the carrots and cut in strips the size of the string beans. Cook as above, remove to icy water.
Place 2 tablespoons of the cider vinegar in a small bowl, add salt, peper from the mill and 4 tablespoons hazelnut oil. Mix well and let the beans and carrots steep in this dressing.
Peel and chop the shallots finely and enclose them in the former of a tea towel. Squeeze well to extract the pungent juices. Put the shallots in a small bowl and let them steep in l/4 cup of cider vinegar seasoned with salt and pepper from the mill.
To the shallot mixture, add the heavy cream, l/2 cup olive oil and l/3 cup hazelnut oil. Correct salt and vinegar balance. Add chopped chervil and hazelnuts to the dressing. Spoon one third of this dressing to cover the bottom of your serving platter evenly.
Salt and pepper the fish fillets or escalopes, flour them lightly and saute quickly in a mixture of 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil and 3 tablespoons olive oil. As soon as the fillets are cooked put them on the serving platter and spoon the remainder of the dressing over them.
To complete the presentation alternate small piles of carrots and green beans and place the two bouquets of chervil or parsley at each end of the platter.
Note: To toast hazelnuts merely place in a 350 degree oven until golden brown and peel off skin. POLENTA AU FOUR Baked Polenta with Cheese (8 servings)
Note: The Polenta in Savoie (France) is made like a pilaf as opposed to the Italian style which is prepared by slurrying the corn meal into cold liquid before adding it to the bulk of the boiling liquid. 3/4 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons 2 finely chopped onions l-l/2 cups coarse corn meal (obtainable at health food or Spanish-American groceries) 3 to 5 cups hot bouillon Salt and pepper to taste l cup heavy cream Grated Swiss cheese of your choice (very little)
Heat the 3/4 cup butter until it browns well in a frying pan. Add the onions; turn the heat down to cook them until translucent. Add the corn meal and toss in the hot butter until the meal feels hot to the top of your hand. Cover with some of the chosen liquid and bring to a boil.
Turn the heat down and let cook about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring at regular intervals to fluff up the meal; add more liquid if necessary, salt and pepper well.
Butter a l to 2 quart baking dish with 2 tablespoons butter. Add half the polenta in spoonfuls. Cover with half the heavy cream and salt and pepper top the cream with the remainder of the polenta, then the remainder of the cream and a thin layer of grated cheese. Bake in a 325 degree oven, about 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Serve with Fricassee de Champignons. FRICASSEE DE CHAMPIGNONS Wild Mushrooms (8 servings) 3 tablespoons butter l-l/2 pounds mushrooms of your choice cleaned Salt and pepper to taste 1 large clove garlic finely chopped 2 tablespoons parsley finely chopped
Heat butter in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and saute them in the hot butter until well coated. Salt and pepper them, then cover and let their water exhude. Discard that water if it must be (for the Sarcodons); if not, raise the heat and let the water evaporate. Add the garlic and parsley and serve with the polenta.
Note: Kamman prepared this dish with fresh wild mushrooms -- Hydnum Repandum (Sarcodon), Cantharellus Cibarius (Chanterelle), Craterellus Cornucopioides (Trumpets of death), and Craterellus Lutescens (Craterellae). It can be executed with any other mushrooms at your disposition such as Boleti and Morels or cultivated mushrooms golden or white. Golden mushrooms are tastier than the white ones. If you use wild mushrooms, saute Hydnum repandum, salt them, cover them as soon as the juices have come out and discard the juices which might be bitter. Do not season morels with garlic and parsley. Let their wonderful natural flavor come through.