If you’re wondering what my favorite movie or TV theme is, I’ll give you quick hint … it isn’t action/adventure or law-and-order or coming-of-age. No, sir. It happens to be romance. Yes, romance. You’d never have guessed that an old curmudgeon chef like me could have a sensitive side, but it’s true. It’s the passion which is displayed in my most beloved films that keeps me watching again and again.
A prime example is the way the star in one of my all-time faves can’t pass up the chance to add few more seasonings to the soup even though he’s trying to escape from a locked room. That’s what I call passion. The character is, of course, the rat star of Ratatouille. His romance is right up my alley … a romance with food.
Another romance classic is The Big Night, a hugely romantic passionate film in which a chef’s passion is much more for food than even his female romantic interest. Keeping the integrity of his cuisine superseded all other considerations.
A third really silly example was the movie Letters to Juliet—a young engaged couple travels to Verona, Italy. The man is a chef and his passion is more for food and wine than his boorish fiancée. Ah, romance.
Another favorite is more food-themed than romance-based, but it’s got great one-liners, such as when the heroes speed crazily down a river; the main character yells “There’s a leek in the boat!” An actual leek—the vegetable—not a hole in the boat.
Coincidently, the leek is one of my favorite vegetables. The common leek is a long, slender plant, white at the base and dark green at the stalk. It’s a member of the same family as the onion, shallot, scallion and garlic. Quite a loveable clan. The leek, a great favorite in France, has a very mild flavor compared to its onion and garlic siblings. It’s cherished as a base in soups and stews, where a nice gentle sweating extracts sweet, almost floral undertones and an unassuming complexity to the finished product. A perfect ingredient in these freezing temps we have experienced of late.
And when I’m cold, a nice bone-warming bowl or two of steaming, creamy, potato and leek soup makes me happy. The most important thing to know when executing a proper potato and leek soup is to let the leeks completely sweat out in butter at a very low temperature. Imagine it’s a romance as the leeks melt into the outstretched arms of the ever-so-loving butter. Ah, romance.
Chef Bill’s Potato & Leek Soup
• 3 Tbsp. butter
• 3 leeks, white to light green parts
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 pounds russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and rough chopped
• 7 cups chicken broth, unsalted
• 1 bouquet garni (about 8 thyme sprigs, 2 parsley and 2 bay leaves)
• 1 cup heavy cream
• Salt & pepper to taste
Cooked diced bacon as needed
Shredded cheddar as needed
1. Cut leeks in half vertically (long), then cut quarter-inch half-moons. Cover in plenty of tepid water. Let soak 10 minutes, lift out leeks, letting grit sink to the bottom of the liquid. Dry on a paper towel.
2. Sweat leeks in butter over medium heat about 10 minutes; do not brown. Add garlic; cook out. Add potatoes, stir, add stock. Season moderately.
3. Add bouquet garni, bring to a simmer. Simmer about 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked all the way.
4. Move mixture to a blender and blend in batches until velvety.
5. Return to pan, reheat, adding enough heavy cream to reach proper consistency. Adjust seasoning.
6. Garnish with bacon and cheese.
Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina’s Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at firstname.lastname@example.org, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!