After I spoke with Buvette’s Jody Williams for last week’s chef interview, her first cookbook landed on my desk. It’s a whimsical anthology of the recipes she uses at Buvette (which were somewhat difficult to distill, since she often doesn’t use recipes at all) broken into times of day and written so that they encourage a cook to make modifications and do whatever seems natural rather than adhere to a recipe. I asked Williams to tell me a bit more about the project; she divulged her motivation for writing the book, her process for turning her dishes into recipes, and her favorite dishes.
What made you decide to take this on?
Writing a book was always in my mind as a benchmark — I’m someone who collects books, learns from books, is inspired by books, physically loves books. I love the paper, the binding, the layout. So I thought, if there’s ever an opportunity to do that, I’ll give it a try. I like doing new things and taking a chance, and this was a whole new skillset for me. Sitting down and writing is not standing and cooking.
Talk to me about the challenges.
It was not easy for me. You go from doing a physical job to sitting down and meditating and writing. Luckily, I worked with wonderful people who took care of me. They just got it. It was so easy to work with everybody. It was all there. Everyone helped pull it all together and give confidence to the ideas and recipes. I’m like, “Are you sure?” I don’t have the confidence. And they were like, “Oh, yeah, you have to include that.” Julia Turshen [co-writer] really helped pull it together — I don’t use recipes that often. It’s a lot of work. I was impressed. Even the photo shoots: I would make one thing. I’d bring it out and say, “Here’s the brioche.” It was so educating and so enlightening how things came together. It was a great experience.
Now, the book comes out tomorrow [today, actually: April 22]. Will people like it? Will they not? I loved it. Am I really good at it? I don’t know
How did you decide to organize it?
I wanted to capture all the recipes in their natural state — morning, afternoon, aperitif, evening — I like thinking about food in that way. Breaking meals up into breakfast, lunch, and dinner precludes being able to stand and eat something right there. Breaking down to parts of the day opened the door to a seated dinner for two, a brunch buffet, and many other situations. The book really captures how to utilize the recipe.
Any favorite recipes?
One is the green tomato bloody marys — it’s like gazpacho and vodka getting together. It’s so sexy and delicious. The other is the oatmeal brulee. You toast the oats like nuts before you boil them, and they’re just beautiful. Then you brulee over the top. The older I get, the more healthy things I try to throw on the dish, so I add sunflower seeds and hemp. You brulee with the back of a spoon. I never used a fancy torch. This is how I learned to cook. We just leave the spoon in the burner until it gets really hot.
How did you manage to turn your dishes into recipes if you don’t use recipes in the kitchen?
Practice — practice and testing. I’d hand it to someone else. It’s a process. I often like to do things a little differently the next day. Like if there’s bacon fat in front of me, I’ll put that into a dish. I hope people pick that up. If you read these Italian recipes in Italian or French recipes in French, there’s this concept of “just enough” in cooking, which lets you decide when you’ve added enough. Americans like things measured out and foolproof. I took this nonchalant way of cooking and tried to make that apparent — just keep playing around with it until it bounces back.
See a recipe below.
Apple and Cheese Fricos
by Jody Williams
Makes 4 fricos
Extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups coarsely grated Montasio cheese (or other aged cow’s-milk cheese)
1 Gala apple, stemmed, cored, and thinly sliced
4 fresh sage leaves
Set a heavy medium skillet over medium heat and pour in enough olive oil to thinly coat the entire surface of the pan. Sprinkle a quarter of the cheese evenly over the surface of the pan and scatter over a quarter of the apple slices and a sage leaf. Cook until the cheese has completely melted, is bubbling, and is golden brown on its underside. Using a spatula, carefully fold half the cheese over to form a half-moon shape (like an omelette) and transfer the frico to a square of parchment paper.
Continue to make fricos with the remaining cheese and apples, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. Serve warm.