"It's an all too facile observation to say that Amanda Hesser writes beautifully and from the heart. I think I love her writing more for what she doesn't say than for what she does. She has a rare gift, a sense of tact and restraint, that simultaneously pulls us into the story and sets boundaries beyond which we dare not tread. Thus, Monsieur Milbert, her crotchety old gardener, is a real person, a three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood portrait, not a colorful postcard-size caricature.

I am fully persuaded that...if there's anyone writing about food in America today who might someday inherit M.F.K. Fisher's status, it's Amanda Hesser."
-- Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and The Flavors of Puglia

"With her warm, engaging style, Amanda Hesser guides us through the seasons of a French garden, cultivating our own enthusiasm and respect for the farmer's labors, the cook's complicity."
-- Patricia Wells, author of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris

"THE COOK AND THE GARDENER offers a bright, charming approach which uplifts the French tradition of the potager above its usual realm. Ms. Hesser definitely sees the best in situations as she explores the crops, the seasons, the recipes and the gardener who ties them all together."
-- Susan Herrmann Loomis, author of The French Farmhouse Cookbook

A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside

Fine cooking in America is gradually undergoing a transformation, as more and more cooks begin to realize the importance of using fresh, seasonal ingredients to create four-star dishes, a tenet European cooks have understood for centuries. Now, in her eagerly anticipated debut book, Amanda Hesser, a New York Times Dining In/Dining Out reporter, who is quickly emerging as a lively new culinary voice, celebrates the link between fine, fresh ingredients and good food in a remarkably powerful way. THE COOK AND THE GARDENER: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside (W.W. Norton; March 22, 1999) is the captivating chronicle of a year Hesser spent as a cook in a French chateau, and its interwoven message is one that American cooks -- and gardeners -- will welcome and embrace. What's more, THE COOK AND THE GARDENER is a moving testament to the earth's bounty and the human capacity for respect, understanding, and friendship.

While working in the kitchen of the renowned Chateau du Fey in Burgundy, Hesser met the gardener, Monsieur Milbert. Possessive of his garden and mistrustful of the young American chef, this curmudgeonly old man becomes the central character in a story Hesser tells with charming humor and insight. As the garden begins to awaken from the long Burgundian winter, the cook and the gardener begin the slow process of gaining each other's respect, always at the mercy of the age-old philosophical differences between those who grow the ingredients and those who make the food. "Gardeners are visionaries," says Hesser, "always looking ahead to the next season, while cooks live for the day." Like the garden itself, the pair's relationship slowly takes root and blossoms into friendship. Hesser's poignant essays about Monsieur Milbert comprise a literary story well worth reading on its own, even if there weren't more than 200 recipes accompanying it.

But it is with the recipes that Hesser brilliantly illustrates her argument for the best and freshest ingredients possible. Organized by season (how else?), these dishes -- some traditionally French, some more internationally modern -- have a subtle elegance that belies their simplicity. Just-picked produce, still warm from the garden's sunshine and rich with le gout de terroir -- the flavor of the earth -- stars in such fresh and interesting dishes as Cold Asparagus Soup with Mint; Carrot and Bay Leaf Salad; Creamy Chive Flower Vinaigrette; Grilled Lamb Chops with Warm Tomato-Mint Vinaigrette; Red Snapper with Fennel Seed, Tomatoes and Vermouth; and Braised Artichokes with Lemon, Tarragon and Parsley. Jams, relishes, and liqueurs (Rhubarb-Ginger Preserves, Green Tomato Chutney, Madame Milbert's Cassis) are put up for the coming winter, terrific breads (Potato-Bay Leaf Boule, Flatbread with Vine Grapes and Rosemary, Roasted Tomato Rolls) appear with every meal, and there are desserts galore. Among them, Lavender Sorbet, Berry Gratin, Sauteed Figs with Honey Cream, Walnut Biscotti, and Chocolate Bay Leaf Tart with Apples are standouts.

Along with the essays and recipes, practical kitchen advice -- everything from making spring stock and strawberry jam to crafting autumn centerpieces -- is sprinkled throughout like just-picked herbs. Two-color ink washes by artist Kate Gridley evoke the chateau, the gardens, and Monsieur Milbert with the same simple clarity Hesser brings to her writing and food. The effect is dazzling and satisfying, like a well-prepared meal. For the cook and the gardener alike, this book is a feast.

Amanda Hesser is a New York Times Dining In/Dining Out reporter who received a Graduate Diplome from Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne. She has studied French culinary history and has apprenticed at bakeries and restaurants throughout the United States and Europe. Hesser lives in New York City.

A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside
Amanda Hesser
Illustrations by Kate Gridley
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
March 22, 1999
ISBN: 0-393-04668-0

Creamy Leeks and Tarragon on Toast

The leeks of last season still sit in the ground, thick, and sweetened from age and frost, not from the sun's rays. The starch in leeks converts to sugar as it gets old. As the days get warmer in the spring, the leeks begin to harden, bracing themselves for their final bolt toward the sky, when they will produce a pretty topiary ball of flowers, which ultimately turns to seed. It looks like a great overgrown puffball, reaching a final height of five feet or more.

Here I used the sweet old leeks in a way that salvages what flavor they have left. (If the core of the leek has hardened, the leeks are too old to use.) The leeks are bound with cream and soft goat's milk cheese, then scented with the anise-flavor of tarragon and mounded on toast rubbed with garlic. Perfect for an appetizer or light lunch paired with a salad or soup.


2 medium leeks, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and washed
2 tablespoons butter
Coarse or kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup soft goat's milk cheese (usually sold as logs in
vacuum-packed plastic), with rind (if there is one)
removed, and broken into small pea-size pieces
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 6 sprigs)
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves (about 4-5 branches)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices crusty bread, toasted in the oven
1 clove garlic

1. Slice the leeks crosswise to make 1/4-inch half-moons. Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the leek and cook over low heat so it softens but does not color. Once the leek is meltingly soft (8 to 10 minutes), turn up the heat to high to cook off excess liquid, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and pour in the cream. Reduce to thicken, about 1 minute. Add the goat's milk cheese and stir until it is melted and the mixture is well bound. Add the parsley and tarragon and season to taste with pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside but keep warm.
2. Rub the slices of bread with the garlic clove. Mound the leeks on the toast and serve.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Warm Tomato-Mint Vinaigrette


Special Equipment: Grill

Warm Tomato-Mint Vinaigrette:
1-1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Coarse or kosher salt
4-1/2 tablespoons best-quality olive oil
1 large very ripe tomato, peeled, seeded,
and chopped fine
3 sprigs mint, leaves stripped and left whole

12 lamb chops (about 1 - 1-1/4 inches thick)
Coarse or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the grill. The cooking rack should be about 5 or 6 inches from the charcoal or wood.
2. While it heats, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl combine the vinegar, mustard, and salt and whisk until the mustard is broken up and the salt has dissolved. Then slowly add the olive oil, first a few drops at a time, then in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify the dressing. Combine the dressing and tomato in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. You want it to warm just enough to bring out all the flavor in the tomato. Keep warm while you grill the lamb chops.
3. Place the chops on the heated grill and let color, 4 to 5 minutes. Using tongs turn the chops and color the other side, another 4 to 5 minutes. If you like your lamb medium to well done, grill them 1 to 2 minutes more on each side.
4. Remove the chops to a serving plate and season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk the warm vinaigrette to re-emulsify it, then add the mint leaves. Spoon the vinaigrette over the chops and serve immediately. If, for some reason, you wish to hold this, make sure you don't add the mint until serving, or it will turn black. Another interesting way to serve this is to make a bed of spicy greens, such as arugula and mustard, on the serving plate, then lay the lamb chops on top of them. The juices from the lamb and the vinaigrette will dress and lightly wilt the greens as the dish is carried to the table.

Note: If you don't have a grill, the lamb chops may also be broiled. Heat the broiler. Place the lamb chops on a rack 3 to 4 inches from the heating element and broil 3 to 5 minutes on each side.

Carrot and Bay Leaf Salad

This is a year-round salad. The ribbons of carrot curl and tangle together, wrapping around the fragrance of the garlic and bay. Note that this salad needs at least 8 hours to marinate.


6-8 medium carrots (about 3/4 - 1 pound), trimmed and peeled
Sea salt
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic
Coarse or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
About 1/3 cup good-quality olive oil

1. Fill a medium saucepan with water, season with salt, and bring the water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare the carrots: Pinching the wide end of a carrot between your fingers or holding it down with a fork, use a vegetable peeler to peel along the length of the carrot from the wide end to the narrow end -- you'll get more out of the carrot by peeling in this direction. Peel one strip, then turn the carrot over so it has a flat side to rest on and peel from the other side. You will end up with long wide strips, which should be thin enough to wrap around your thumb without snapping. Continue peeling until you can no longer make nice wide strips. Save the stub of carrot for stock. Peel all of the carrots in this manner.
2. When the water comes to a full boil, pile the carrot strips into the water in handfuls and stir so that they all fit in the water. Bring the water back to a boil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the carrot strips have relaxed slightly but are still crisp (they should just break when pinched); their color should intensify.
3. Have a bowl of cold water ready. Drain the carrots and plunge them into the cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again, then lay the strips loosely on a dish towel so they dry thoroughly. If they are at all wet when it's time to pour the oil over them, they will repel the oil.
4. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the carrots, bay leaves, and garlic. Taste a carrot. If you put enough sea salt in the boiling water, you will not need to season them any further, but if not, season with both salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the olive oil over them and toss gently to mix.
5. Press the carrots down so they are compacted together and well dressed with oil. Press a piece of plastic wrap down onto them. Refrigerate and let marinate for at least 8 hours. Before serving, let the salad sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes so the olive oil loosens up. Then toss to mix once more and taste for seasoning. Transfer to a serving bowl and use a fork to lift and fluff the ribbons of carrot. Discard the garlic. The bay leaves, however, should be made visible -- for "eye appeal." If you are lucky enough to have a bay tree, why not arrange the salad on top of a bed of bay leaves on a simple flat white plate?

Crisp Rhubarb Preserve

Rhubarb multiplies easily and can grow to mammoth proportions. The root of the plant is log-shaped, and from this log, several plants can shoot up each year.

Then, just when you're not looking, the rhubarb will bolt to seed, lifting its thick trunk high above the plant and releasing a shag of seed pods, which resemble miniature cross sections of an apple. Eventually, the ribs, which are used for cooking, wane and become pithy, marking the end to rhubarb's season.

This recipe was adapted from one created by Anne Willan and used at the Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne. It can be made without the berry leaves.


1 pound rhubarb stalks, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup sugar, or more if needed
4-5 boysenberry leaves
4-5 strawberry leaves
4-5 raspberry leaves
1 bag Ceylon tea
1 pint strawberries, washed, hulled,and halved (see note)
Vanilla ice cream (optional)

1. Place the rhubarb in a large heatproof bowl. Bring 1 cup of water, the wine, and the sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then turn off the heat. Add the berry leaves and tea and let infuse for 15 minutes. Bring back to a boil and strain over the rhubarb. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to contain the heat and to create a hermetic atmosphere in which the rhubarb can absorb the flavors of the infusion. Let cool, then refrigerate for at least 8 hours, to crisp the rhubarb and allow it to imbibe the flavors further.
2. Before serving taste the syrup, adding more sugar if desired, and the strawberries. Ladle into tall parfait glasses or small flat bowls. If serving with ice cream, place one scoop in each glass and ladle the rhubarb over it.

Note: Strawberries may not yet be in season; in this case, either omit them, or if you have fruit preserved in alcohol (e.g., raspberries eau-de-vie) from the previous year, substitute these.

These recipes may be reproduced with the following credit: Recipe(s) from THE COOK AND THE GARDENER by Amanda Hesser (W.W. Norton; March 22, 1999)