Franey came from a small town in Burgundy, exposed to the domestic and cultural culinary influences that would have been normal in a french country town in the pre-war years, and went on to work first at the Restaurant Thenint on the Place de la Republique in Paris, and subsequently to train at the Restaurant Drouant. Several years later, and with a Boys-Own-Story quality to it all, he found himself cooking at the French Pavilion at The New York World's Fair in 1939, and stayed on in the States as a war refugee, after France had fallen to the Germans. The forties and fifties saw him cooking at Le Pavillon, in New York, and subsequently at La Côte Basque, and then at some point in the sixties he was invited to contribute a daily food column to the newly re-vamped New York Times. Hence, his position arguably as the first foodblogger....
I think at some point he did a stint as one of the early TV chefs, but for the most part - in addition to the inevitably ephemeral columns - his output was limited to a small raft of books: something on Classic French Cooking, written in collaboration with Craig Claiborne, a couple of books produced in conjunction with Bryan Miller, who was the then restaurant critic for the New York Times, and some TV spin-offs like 'Cooking with Friends' and 'Cooking in France'. But, to my mind, his most valuable contribution were the two 'Sixty Minute' books, '60-Minute Gourmet' and, not surprisingly 'More 60-Minute Gourmet' - both of which are distillations of what he felt had been the best from his daily columns. The recipes are excellent, and the overall approach is efficient and no-nonsense: unexpected gems like a purée of Broccoli or of Green Beans - which appear inexplicably to have sunk without trace subsequently - or his myriad recipes for various shellfish, or quick and easy methods for dealing with classic and possibly otherwise daunting dishes. The second volume introduced a section on desserts - somewhat grudgingly, I suspect; he reads to me as definitely from the 'good cheese and some more red wine' school of diners. Otherwise, although all is good, the really stellar stuff comes when he writes about fish and crustaceans.
More than just his recipes, though, I find I resonate with his general approach. Having owned the book already for many years, it was only recently that I got round to reading the introduction to '60-Minute Gourmet', and found myself repeatedly tapping the page with a forefinger of solid agreement at what he was saying:
- Buy for your kitchen the best equipment you can afford; two knives will suffice to start with, rather than the whole set available - but make sure they are two good knives!
- Be organised in the way you cook: to quote Franey himself: "Always keep in mind that clutter is is distracting, a hindrance, and an enemy of time"
- Clear up as you go along...
- Always have a can of tomatoes in the cupboard, and a tube of tomato paste....
- Leftovers are a wonderful thing, and should be treated as the makings of future meals..
- Plan menus so that you aren't in the kitchen for great tranches of social time...
In fact, there's much in Franey's approach which reminds me of the great Doctor Pomiane himself, not least Franey's choreographed description of the steps involved in making a fish chowder, which has distinct similarities with Pomiane's famous riff in 'Cooking in Ten Minutes' that begins 'When you get home, before you even take off your coat, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil: whatever you're cooking, you'll need it at some point!"
In his introduction to 'Cuisine Rapide', one of the two books he wrote with Bryan Miller, Pierre Franey extols a style of home cooking which is 'efficient, accessible, and refined'. I think Pomiane would have approved of that, as he would have approved of Franey's clear belief - not explicitly articulated, but obvious from his writing - that good food is there not to be centre-stage but to provide the background to good conversations, good friends and the things that make life worth living.
Which is, of course, as it should be.
Pasta Oscura, with an agrodolce Ragu
Salmon & Lemon Fishcakes; steamed Pak Choy
Apple and Blackberry Pies.
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