Fun, Food, Pets and Travel

Kitchen Chat

Margaret McSweeney

In The Kitchen with Anne Willan

A visit with Anne Willan in her kitchen.

Anne Willan is an icon in the culinary world. As founder of Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris in 1975, she has trained some of today’s top chefs and people in the culinary industry. La Varenne was one of the first cooking schools in France to offer simultaneous instruction in French and English and accredited professional culinary degrees. Anne Willan received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).  She is an inductee into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame, and she serves on the advisory council of the Julia Child Foundation.

With over 30 books, Anne Willan is truly one of the world’s preeminent authorities on French cooking and she is one of the nicest and most gracious people you will ever meet.  I first met Anne at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in Chicago during 2014 at a book signing for her outstanding memoir Chef Jaime Laurita and I enjoyed an afternoon tea in Anne’s kitchen.

A delightful afternoon tea with Anne Willan and Chef Jaime Laurita
A delightful afternoon tea with Anne Willan and Chef Jaime Laurita

In November 2015, I had the distinct honor of visiting with Anne Willan in her garden and in her kitchen to officially record a kitchen chat.  She graciously shared recipes and cooking tips from her new cookbook Julia Child.

Chatting in Anne Willan's garden (photo credit: Louise Masin Sattler)
Chatting in Anne Willan’s garden (photo credit: Louise Masin Sattler)

How exciting to explore Anne Willan’s extraordinary kitchen with her.  The traditional copper pots hanging from the ceiling look like a modern art exhibit. I almost cried when I saw a small copper pan similar to the one that my dad had in our kitchen to make Hollandaise sauce.

Anne's copper cookware
Anne’s copper cookware

The arrangement of  utensils attached to a pegboard reminded me of Julia Child’s kitchen displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC.  Food is art, and Anne Willan is indeed a culinary artist and shares her artistry in her latest cookbook Secrets from the LaVarenne Kitchen: 50 Essential Recipes Every Cook Needs to Know.  How fascinating that Anne said a home chef needs three main items: a good whisk, a copper pot and an excellent set of knives.

A great way to store utensils
A great way to store utensils

Another special moment with  Anne Willan was seeing her original Jacques Pepin painting of three fish displayed on the wall next to her container of homemade red wine vinegar.  This year has truly been a milestone in my culinary journey to honor my late father and to understand his joy of cooking.  What an honor to have kitchen chats with both Chef Jacques Pepin and Anne Willan!

Beautiful artwork by Chef Jacques Pepin
Beautiful artwork by Chef Jacques Pepin

Then, Anne surprised me!  She shared the “mother” of her red wine vinegar with me and placed it in a ball jar which I carefully packed for my trip back to Chicago!  How fitting to take a photo of the red wine vinegar I am now making in my kitchen next to a copy of Jacques Pepin’s flower bouquet lithograph.  This is truly a hug from heaven!

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My jug of homemade red wine vinegar thanks to Anne Willan!

My special kitchen chat with Anne Willan concluded with a delicious cup of tea.  We sat at her kitchen table, along with my dear friends, Louise Masin Sattler and Jennifer Ettinger and shared stories from the heart.  Anne Willan is indeed a blessing in my life, and I will always cherish our kitchen chat and friendship.  Savor the day!

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A delicious afternoon tea with Anne Willan in her kitchen