Anne Willan: One Souffle at a Time

Anne Willan

It’s tempting for any serious foodie to compare himself or herself with Anne Willan as they read her memoir, One Soufflé at a Time (St Martin’s Press 2014) written with Amy Friedman.

What is on your list for “Things I’ve Smuggled in My Suitcase”?

Have you got your mother or grandmother’s old cookbook of handwritten recipes, including one or two for Ginger Biscuits (p. 19)? No worries if you don’t. What’s important in this wonderful read is the pathway Anne Willan took – how she followed her passion – and that is a lesson everyone should appreciate.

One Souffle at a Time by Anne WillanThroughout the book are memorable foodie moments – beginning with Craig Claiborne‘s visit to the newly opened Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne cooking school in Paris. His visit is cut short since he and Pierre Franey would be eating their now infamous $4,000 meal at Chez Denis: By the time Craig left it was scarcely lunchtime, yet I felt as if a whole day had passed. Exhausted, Marolleau and I sat down and at his gigot d’agneau de sept heures and nibble on financiers. I’d deliberately chosen the slowly braised lamb to be reheatable. Thank goodness no French meal is complete without a glass or two of wine. (pp. 7-8) The recipe is included – so you, too, can pretend that a great food writer is coming over – and then eat the meal planned for him yourself.

Anne then returns to her childhood and memories of a great Stilton cheese her mother would buy for Christmas to eat with those Ginger Biscuits. She writes about her boarding school, then a ladies college, and finally Oxford where she goes to study Mathematics. All along she is passionate about eating, cooking, and learning. “At that first Sunday lunch Marielle roasted and served a fresh chicken with tiny potatoes immersed in butter and simmered in a saucepan. They were so good I can still taste them. ” (p. 73) She attends the Cordon Bleu, but was disappointed by the program aimed at American students. Luckily, it is that disappointment and her desire to learn real French cooking – while being kept from working in French restaurants by her gender – that propelled her into her own career.

Sprinkled throughout One Soufflé at a Time are the recipes she writes about – from Hazelnut and Strawberry Galette (p. 102) and Backyard Paella (p. 139) from her first cookbook. Few of the recipes seem dated – and many are coming back into fashion. But don’t buy this memoir for the recipes, good as they are, buy it for the lively writing, the passionate life story, and the descriptions of eating well.

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