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A Chat With Carole Greenwood

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I'd like to say welcome to Chef Carole Greenwood, who will be chatting with us starting this Wednesday.

We all know Carole as the chef of Buck's Fishing and Camping, and also from Comet Ping Pong, but how did she get to where she is now?

Carole was born in Manhattan, and lived in suburban New York until she was ten, when she moved to the Washington, DC area. Attending high school at W. T. Woodson, she then went to the University of Richmond where she got her B.A. in Political Science. She bumped around graduate school and law school, working on various statewide and national politcal campaigns, before becoming disenchanted with the whole thing, realizing that art and music were the aesthetics that allowed her to sleep at night.

She had attended Blue Lake and Interlochen music camps in Michigan, and to this day plays the piano and double bass (!). At the University of Richmond, she studied sculpture with Demetrios Mavroudis, subsequently continuing her studies at Corcoran. She was a member of Margaret Boozer's seminar at Red Dirt Studios in Mount Rainier.

And somehow she found the time to become a student of cooking: Carole went to Paris, where she studied at Le Cordon Bleu, Lenotre, and La Varenne - she even won the first Ann Crutcher Fellowship from Les Dames d'Escoffier here in Washington, DC.

After culinary school, she met up with Jonathan Waxman, a fellow La Varenne alumni, in London, who hired her at JAMS. She also worked at the JAMS in New York City for a couple of years, becoming Sous Chef. Carole subsequently became Sous Chef at Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe in Sante Fe, then worked with Norman Van Aken at Mira in Key West, then Wolfgang Puck at Postrio in San Francisco. Who knew?!

Finally ending up back in Washington, DC, she became Chef de Cuisine at Tabard Inn, then at the Pullman Highland Hotel where she got a rave review from Phyllis Richman early on. Carole eventually opened her own restaurant - Greenwood - on K Street, where she was doing fine-dining vegetarian and seafood, before moving it to Cleveland Park, then to Upper NW where she has been for the past eight years.

Four years ago, she teamed up with James Alefantis, changed the restaurant to Buck's Fishing and Camping, then opened Comet Ping Pong, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chef, thank you in advance for being here with us - it's an honor to have you as a guest in our house, and I'm really looking forward to reading your thoughts on cooking, sourcing, and maybe even playing the double bass.

Everyone please feel free to begin asking questions for Carole, and she'll be here at some point on Wednesday.

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1) In my too few visits to Buck's and Comet I've always enjoyed myself immensly without recourse to substitutions or special requests (and swiped a recipe, more or less, the pistachio-sun dried-tomato "pesto" you served with lamb once while I was there. If only I had a hardwood grill.). But you do have something of a reputation as a culinary authoritarian; "my way or the highway." Overblown, or true? And you told the City Paper:"I don't cook to make people happy. I cook because I'm an artist. And food is my medium. I have no need to nurture the world. 'You're in the service industry.' I didn't get into it to serve people. I got into it because it was the least objectionable commercial enterprise I could think of." Is that statement still operative? How do you balance the creative drive that fuels your cooking with the fact that people go to dinner more to have a good time (especially at a neighborhood place) than to help someone else realize their artistic vision -- and that there's a real value in breaking bread with friends, whether the chef's vision is realized or not. I'm pretty much always willing to put myself in the chef's hands, but is there necessarily a problem with the occasional diner who'd prefer broccoli to the stewed greens, or likes her steak medium well? Seems curious to be too didactic, especially in a restaurant like Buck's, which seems designed to facilitate fancy and maybe nurture the occasional neighbor or two, rather than reinforce the rules.

2) Cooking a whole fish on the grill: how do you keep it from sticking? Olive oil alone never quite seems to do the trick for me.

Thanks.

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Hello Chef Greenwood, thank you for joining us this week. I have a couple of questions.

How does your commitment to local ingredients and seasonality affect the quality of your food? Does it make it hard to be consistent?

Are you ever tempted to pack it in and move to a studio somewhere?

Do you tend to be loyal to certain suppliers, or are you willing to forge new relationships in order to improve what comes out of your kitchen?

We are big fans of Comet Ping-Pong, and bring our kids as often as we can. Comet's pizza is now the standard for them, and the green salad is the only lettuce that my 5-year-old son will eat. Thanks for fostering a family-friendly environment that doesn't dumb anything down.

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Ditto what Heather said vis a vis the family friendly issue.

Thanks for coming, I am looking forward to your answer about the service industry vs working with your muse. I worked for a living doing what I loved, and my passion suffered when I had to start running the calculator.

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In case anyone is wondering, Carole was having "technical difficulties" today (translation: She uses an Apple), and she was buried at work last night and this afternoon. She lost a lengthy first post today by hitting a wrong button (there is nothing more galling than when this happens). She sends her apologies to everyone, and will be here tomorrow and beyond. :mellow:

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And here's your first question!

What's the story behind these pictures?

Thank you, Don, for coaxing me into this forum. Certainly i will learn more from your savvy readers as a participant than i could ever glean as an observer.

As to the photographs, they are from the first canning of Comet sauce, the tomato sauce i made for the pizzas at Comet Ping Pong. Attached are some newer images from this year's batch.

So the story begins with Mark Toigo, a trusted friend and co-conspirator, who tried and tried to talk me into buying all of his tomatoes at the end of the season to make the pizza sauce.

"No no, no" I protested, I'm gonna make the sauce myself every week!"

"But", he countered, "the tomatoes are different from can to can, delivery to delivery. buy all of my tomatoes, make sauce, and have it done for the year. you will have complete control over it, and it will save you the chore of worrying about it."

So I thought about his idea, and all of a sudden it made sense - I could have the same consistent sauce for an entire year, made from tomatoes that I had seen, worked with, tasted- and of a quality and consistency I could manage.

So I drove to Punxatawney, Pennsylvania (yes, the same place where the groundhog sees his shadow) and labored (in a hairnet no less) with my friend and colleague - chef David Hagedorn, now a columnist for the Washington Post,

to achieve something that would satisfy my idea for the pizza sauce - a pure flavour of tomato. It was strange to can something on such a large scale - cases and cases rolling out of these seemingly antiquated machines. But the end product was indeed the perfect foil for Paul Stephan's creamy mozzarella and my salty, crispy crust.

Mark was right all along - I was wrong.

The sauce is amazing.

It distinguishes Comet's pies.

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1) In my too few visits to Buck's and Comet I've always enjoyed myself immensly without recourse to substitutions or special requests (and swiped a recipe, more or less, the pistachio-sun dried-tomato "pesto" you served with lamb once while I was there. If only I had a hardwood grill.). But you do have something of a reputation as a culinary authoritarian; "my way or the highway." Overblown, or true? And you told the City Paper:"I don't cook to make people happy. I cook because I'm an artist. And food is my medium. I have no need to nurture the world. 'You're in the service industry.' I didn't get into it to serve people. I got into it because it was the least objectionable commercial enterprise I could think of." Is that statement still operative? How do you balance the creative drive that fuels your cooking with the fact that people go to dinner more to have a good time (especially at a neighborhood place) than to help someone else realize their artistic vision -- and that there's a real value in breaking bread with friends, whether the chef's vision is realized or not. I'm pretty much always willing to put myself in the chef's hands, but is there necessarily a problem with the occasional diner who'd prefer broccoli to the stewed greens, or likes her steak medium well? Seems curious to be too didactic, especially in a restaurant like Buck's, which seems designed to facilitate fancy and maybe nurture the occasional neighbor or two, rather than reinforce the rules.

2) Cooking a whole fish on the grill: how do you keep it from sticking? Olive oil alone never quite seems to do the trick for me.

Thanks.

Hi Waitman,

As to your question about cooking a whole fish on the grill, experience has taught many a frustrated cook that the skin won't stick if the grill is hot. Don't use extra virgin olive oil- it is like olive juice- too watery. Use a straight basic olive oil (i use pomace) and get the grill as hot as possible. Finally, don't try to move it until it releases on it's own- it often sticks if you try to turn it too soon. Be patient.

The first part of your question does not have a simple response.

But your words are kind and your question is thoughtful. And indeed, if you are willing to put yourself in the hands of the chef, you will dine well at whatever table you sit at. I see myself as nothing if not as an artist. It is the only process i know. In the kitchen, i assemble my materials and set about to apply my ideas and aesthetics to food. The result, as you so graciously said, is enjoyment.

Cooking did not come to me by accident. I made a conscious and deliberate choice to make something tangible for others, with the potential for intense pleasure. I will share with you some excerpts from the book i am working on.

In your house there is a table.

This table is a place where you sit with friends or family or alone.

It is a place where meals are taken - made of dishes your mother

prepared for you, or plates inspired by the most beautiful artichoke

you ever saw, or the most luscious tomatoes discovered on a stand at

the farmer's market. Perhaps one morning, you prepared a breakfast

found on the pages of a novel, and sat at this place with a loved one-

a child, a sister, a long-lost friend, a new lover. Maybe a beautiful

treasured cookbook supplied the recipes for a memorable meal shared

with your favorite people on a long summer night. And on other days

you have sat here alone, savoring the fruits of your own cooking

labor, reveling in the solitude and beauty of the sun hitting the

table in the way that makes you feel just right.

This table may be grand, polished to a luster where faces reflect

flatteringly from the surface. Or, it may be simple, like an old

wooden board perched atop bookcases. Whether laid with the finest

china or mismatched hand-me-down plates, this table remains your

perch, your stage, your culinary bird's nest to the world. Here you

have felt loved, sated, completed.

And in my restaurant, Buck's Fishing and Camping, there is also a

table. I built it as a tangible place to celebrate my own community, a

diver's posse of customers, friends and colleagues. It is around my

table that I labor to include anyone who will eat the food I create.

My table is a meticulously engraved and embossed poplar invitation to

the world around me.

My table is very atypical of my beloved city, Washington, D.C. Often,

the uninitiated Washingtonian doesn't want to bask in the tables

communal glow. They think they would prefer the "privacy" of a

separate table. And so, it's magic cannot become theirs.

Sometimes I use my power to create new communities. At my table I have

fed and sat with the monks sent by The Dalai Llama to create the

healing mandala at The Sackler Gallery after September 11th. During

that day, my son and I went to the gallery to watch them meticulously

place grains of sand in complex patterns, working with the knowledge

that the elaborate sculpture would eventually be swept up and thrown

into The Potomac River. Unswayed, we went to work at our own design,

piling pomegranates and purple rice into elaborate patterns. We made

wishfully named dishes of cloud mushrooms in ginger broth, smoked

scallops with scallions and pineapple ices to feed these inspired

philosopher-monks who chanted over my table.

Other evenings I have convened my rag-tag collective of fellow

artists, poets and musicians to talk and plot and celebrate our own

openings, triumphant performances and special events.

On two occasions we re-enacted the dinner from the film, "Big Night,"

complete with a Tympano, the large, layered pasta-filled casserole in

the shape of it's name-sake drum, wheeled in on a long wooden

Medieval-looking platter.

For several years we have held a Scorpio Spaghetti Dinner, making tiny

meatballs for the kids, teenagers now- drinking the first Chianti,

tasting the newly pressed olive oil, feeling our bellies warm and full

in the sapphire glow of a November night in Washington.

And so, with food and art and people and place, my table has exceeded

intent. It is exactly what I want it to be.

What happens here is always memorable and sometimes magical.

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You obviously have a strong relationship with Mark Toigo. Do you shop at the Dupont farmers' market (or others) like I have seen Ris Lacoste and occasionally other chefs do? Do you use the market as a place to meet farmers, and then have them deliver to you? Are there other local farmers, who perhaps do not sell at farmers' markets, with whom you have working relationships? How do you meet them? How much product do you end up sourcing from typical restaurant suppliers? Aside from the obvious, are there products you use where what you can get from local sources is just not as good as an import from California or overseas?

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Wonderful answers, and pictures. Thank you.

Would you talk a little about how you met and started working with James Alefantis?

Do you plan to open any more restaurants?

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Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin or Brahms? (A piano question for those who don't know).

Mark,

Chopin- sonatas and preludes

also Gershwin, everything written for piano but most notably <Rhapsody in Blue>

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Hello Chef Greenwood, thank you for joining us this week. I have a couple of questions.

How does your commitment to local ingredients and seasonality affect the quality of your food? Does it make it hard to be consistent?

Are you ever tempted to pack it in and move to a studio somewhere?

Do you tend to be loyal to certain suppliers, or are you willing to forge new relationships in order to improve what comes out of your kitchen?

We are big fans of Comet Ping-Pong, and bring our kids as often as we can. Comet's pizza is now the standard for them, and the green salad is the only lettuce that my 5-year-old son will eat. Thanks for fostering a family-friendly environment that doesn't dumb anything down.

Hello Heather,

As any artist will tell you, it is necessary to create a structure or parameters for work. different things become interesting at different times. I like rules- and the ones I choose to make are really for me alone. At Buck's and Comet I feel that the food should be of the season. when it was harvested and how far it has travelled affects the quality of the food immensely, I believe, for to eat a raspberry in February one has absolutely no idea of what the taste of a raspberry picked locally in August or September is like. If you come to either restaurant on the same day every year, you will find the menu and the flavours to be remarkably consistent. buying from the same farmers for the past twelve years has brought a great deal of predictability to the taste of the plates. The food is far more interesting to me from say April through November- when all our produce is local. but right now, in this warm death of a winter, there are reliable things like squashes and potatoes and fennel and watercress that we use to please coldweather palates. the oysters are best this time of year, when the water is "cold"-

and you won't find scallops as sweet as they are in January.

I have a studio and would love to make art, write and cook all the time-

Oh yeah, that IS what I do now.

Pperhaps this passage from the introduction to my book, written by my friend and colleague David Scribner (an amazing painter and photographer in his own right) may elucidate my approach:

When I first came to work for Carole as a young chef, I was amazed and unsettled by the seeming disorder and chaos of her kitchen. Her kitchen was unfamiliar territory - unlike anything that I had ever seen. It was only later as I started to slowly unravel her methodology, that I came to think of her kitchen as an artists studio - squished up tubes of paint and old beaten down brushes strewn about in an organization only meaningful to the painter. To organize it - as I unsuccessfully tried - would be to sterilize it - render it lifeless, clean and soulless. Her studio is alive, and she organizes her palate around her in a way to facilitate the plating act as an artistic gesture. The tools get put in place for service through a painstaking preparation process that requires your full attention.

Working with Carole is always challenging – you need to undo your conventional habits of rote and start to really think and feel what you are doing. The fundamental difference is dealing with a process of reinventing the menu every day, and more specifically, reinventing the relationship with the raw materials every day. Carole works inside-out from most chefs. Most chefs dream up a nice menu based on their ideas of grandeur, and then order the food to build their vision. Carole works by first hand selecting the food at the farmers market, lugging the crates of food back to the restaurant in her pickup truck, and then letting it percolate through her consciousness as the day proceeds, often writing and rewriting the menu as her ideas evolve throughout the day. At a time when organic and locally raised food can become easy catch-phrases, Carole has moved beyond platitudes into the reality of truly understanding the food and fostering a profound and visceral relationship with it by taking the time to dissect its nature and how it will best perform. The food from the local markets when handled this way speaks a different language – you will taste the difference. The corn, tomatoes and beets in her summer gazpacho vibrate with vitality and natural sweetness.

Being so truthfully connected to this process – a process that changes from minute to minute – demands discipline and hardship. If you are truly listening to the food, you will need to work this way, but most chefs are unwilling to deal with the hassle of working without routines. I have been making cheese grits with her for five years, and still there is a constant ongoing dialogue about how to best prepare them depending on multifarious factors that may affect the product – what brand of grits are they, how hot are they, are they going to break, how fine to grate the cheese for optimal melting, how to control the starchiness by not overcooking, etc., etc. The answer will never be a system or a set technique – the answers must be thoughtfully worked out every night like it was the first time. The basic idea is that nothing can be done mechanically - every prep job takes sensitivity to the nuance of the particular ingredient at hand. And then there is the issue of letting the food speak for itself - how do I chop the chives so as to preserve their "chiviness" and not make it appear that I've exerted my ego onto them - manipulated or refined them into something where their essence is lost? And then how do I place them on the plate – how can this gesture be as though I am painting - a brushstroke both purposeful and spontaneous at the same time. It requires great concentration and you must be in a focused zone to let the food drop artfully, so that the first original gesture is expressed on the plate. This is not about getting it perfect, it's about artistic gesture. You will have a hard time explaining this to a line cook which is why Carole chooses to employ local artisans rather than seasoned "skillful "cooks.

This desire to express the food artistically is not about ego projection, but rather the simple pure driving need to do what is right, work with real local ingredients and respect their inherent vitality. The process is unique and the end result is unique - you can taste it in the alchemy of smoke, vinegar, citrus, sweet and salt that harmonizes in every plate. To eat her food is to experience one giant gesture of love - love of beautifully raised, cared for and cooked food.

Today I know Carole as a friend and a mentor, and I admire her as a chef whose every step of the process is informed with integrity of intent. There are no compromises here – no sauce on the side. She is a member of the Washington DC artists community, fostering relationships and promoting the value systems that artists live by. Her plates are stages of a painting that changes every night and throughout the night. The process is excruciating at times, and calls for incredible discipline of purpose. You must constantly remember the greater goal, or else it all seems on the brink of falling into chaos. Many have marginalized her and even vilified her in her extreme dedication to her vision. But to the many that have tasted and experienced the smoke kissed richness of her food, the ones who "get it", there is nothing that compares.

And as to your question about farmers, here is what I wrote for the book about a working relationship I developed with someone "new."

Ali Moussali

Ali's been working the local farmer's markets for several years. I

first noticed his brown, earth-tempered hands stacking the tomatoes

behind the hand-painted sign of Potomac Vegetable Farms. He was

working with and learning from Hiu, the grand dame of organic farming

in the Washington, D.C. area. Hiu is Harvard educated, having raised

and taught her own 4 daughters. She farms the last agriculturally

zoned piece of property in Fairfax County, with a satellite farm in

Berryville, Virginia. Her sumptuous stand, laden with vegetables and

berries and framed by painterly-perfect bouquets of flowers sits

across Route 7, across the road from a big red barn, a mis-placed

memorial to the last operating dairy in the county which closed more

than three decades ago in the days when the megalopolis of Tyson's

Corner, DC's mini-version of Silicon Valley, crowded out farms for

tract mansions, elevating property taxes rates to the point where the

green hills and fields became more valuable and viable as pastures for

tract mansions than cows. Ali saw the lay of the land from the stand.

He heard the stories, witnessed the development occurring all around

and still chose to labor in agricultural trenches. Studiously and

stoically he chose to learn the canon of sustainable farming, organic

practices in the backdrop of local history and Hui's values. The

tomatoes he raised were always coming later because they had not been

dosed with chemical fertilizers, but were tastier. They were big

heirloom Cherokees, grown for flavor rather than beauty and round, red

tomato-ness. He always planted middle-eastern cucumbers, crunchy sweet

and never ever bitter. Not always so pretty, but the first ones

snapped up from stands by cucumber connoisseurs. He grew big leaf

basil for pesto, lemon basil for ice cream, poblano peppers for chile

rellenos and arabesqueing vines of tiny currant tomatoes; a cherry

tomato so small and sweet that it was kept on the vine in order to

preserve it's flavor

Two years ago, he approached me at the end of the market season. He

knew that I spent several hundred dollars each day at five different

markets. And he had a plan to strike out on his own and lease another

farmer's land, growing vegetables in the ways he had been taught by

Hui. He projected that his businesses viablilty and eventual success

could be fortified by contracting- speculatively, but humbly- as much

of his produce in advance to chefs who valued his work and would pay

appropriately and in significant volume. Of equal importance, Ali knew

about produce.. I knew that he knew what I would like. I trusted him

to grow the best things, to do as well as possible. All this left

unspoken.

So he started arriving that first spring with perfect lettuces, left

whole, quivering in the water of careful washing in big wooden troths.

He brought picture-perfect spring chives and cilantro, wild nettles,

spring-water cultivated watercress and field-grown wild arugula with

sweet spicy flowers. And as the spring rains and cool temperatures

progressed into a sticky hot summer, the vegetables he brought to my

kitchen each week got better and better. I knew that his produce was

among the best I had ever seen. We encouraged and motivated each

other. And then one day, in a burst of gratitude, I invited him to

come to eat at the restaurant. This New Orleans-born, great

books-educated man had never eaten a lobster. I enticed him to try it

in a dish made with his vegetables. And so, I sent out bowls of cool

summer gazpacho, his precious farm jewels cut and set into chilled

tureens topped with a split lobster grilled over the wood fire with

olive oil. He tasted and savored our food, basking in the glow of our

mutual labors. He saw what I had hoped would happen all along. That

with his ability to change a patch of earth into a magical place and

my ability to see the produce of his farm as relics of this

sometimes-supernatural world, we could bring people a kind of pleasure

never known before. Working together we could come very close to

culinary perfection.

Later that evening, Ali told me about his university stint. He had

graduated from St. John's College in Annapolis, the school where no

one majors in anything, but instead reads 'the great books' with an

impetus to turn out 'great ideas.'

Every season, working with Ali, I have been able to do that.

His poblanos inspire a pepper, onion and sausage pizza that customers

yearn for year-round but will wait for until July. His garlic is pink

and small, but with sweet, deceptively large cloves. They are among

the very best types to season my dressings and vegetable dishes. I buy

every bulb of garlic he pulls from the dirt and store them carefully,

deep into the winter. We work separately and wait together patiently

for the moments of ripeness and inspiration to join. My food is

informed by his farm's bounty, and his farm is sustained by my

customer's pleasure.

Somewhere, near your house, there is someone like Ali, an inspired

farmer yet to be discovered. A farmer who can inspire your own cooking

with food in the same ways mine has been by people like Ali.

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Chef Greenwood:

Thank you so very much for accepting Don's invitation to join this online community and share some of your thoughts, insight, and stories. I am enjoying this experience quite a bit, and look forward to the release of your book.

Like everyone else on this board, I too have a question.

Could you please share either your secret for making your Comet sauce, or a few times for a novice pizza maker such as myself or others on this board to try and duplicate at home?

Thank you,

Demetrius

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Chef Greenwood,

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Earlier in your responses you said your sauce went well with your crispy, salty crust. I've found your crust to be more like a cracker than a typical pizza crust. It is clear that you are very deliberate in your cooking process, so I was wondering why you chose to make the crust the way you do?

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Carole,

I think your fried oysters are some of the best I've ever had - what's your secret to making them so good?

Also, would you consider upgrading your ping-pong paddles?

And thank you VERY MUCH for your thoughtful answers so far!

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Might you consider serving your salty meyer lemon cake at Comet? It's my favorite cake in the world. I've dreamt about it all year.

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So I drove to Punxatawney, Pennsylvania (yes, the same place where the groundhog sees his shadow) and labored (in a hairnet no less) with my friend and colleague - chef David Hagedorn, now a columnist for the Washington Post,

to achieve something that would satisfy my idea for the pizza sauce - a pure flavour of tomato.

Carole - welcome, and thank you! As someone whose birthday is on Groundhog Day, I am very familiar with the culture of Punxatawney. :mellow:

I grew up with my grandma's tomato sauce in pastas, which were all day affairs that were more like an Italian brown sauce than a straight up tomato sauce. As such, I never had much appreciation for tomato sauces that, as you say, capture "a pure flavour of tomato." That is, of course, until I delved into the world of pizza. I know that for most advanced chefs, it's not about the recipe but the technique. Can you share any of your secrets for making this pure tomato flavor come out?

Apologies to grandma. Your sauce remains the closest I've tasted to perfection achievable on Earth.

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You obviously have a strong relationship with Mark Toigo. Do you shop at the Dupont farmers' market (or others) like I have seen Ris Lacoste and occasionally other chefs do? Do you use the market as a place to meet farmers, and then have them deliver to you? Are there other local farmers, who perhaps do not sell at farmers' markets, with whom you have working relationships? How do you meet them? How much product do you end up sourcing from typical restaurant suppliers? Aside from the obvious, are there products you use where what you can get from local sources is just not as good as an import from California or overseas?

Dear Zora,

Mark Toigo is a very close friend - someone I consider a member of my extended family- we have known each other for a long time. I began going to the farmer's markets when my son Dylan was a toddler. It is nearly Shakespearean verse to me- Tuesday-Fairfax, Wednesday-Vienna, Thursday-Annandale, Friday-Mclean, Saturday-Arlington, Sunday-Dupont. Those are my markets. I go to a different one each day from April through November- in winter I go to Arlington and Dupont if I have interest or patience. I love the atmosphere of dupont, but when it is a work related visit- i.e. needing produce for that night's service, I avoid Dupont like the plague- too many people, too frequently I'm issued a parking ticket (!), and too many shoppers vying for the same product. But I love the variety there, though each and every market is special, with it's own chord of farmers- Dupont has the best of the best- much to the credit of it's creator, Ann Yonkers, who has since extended this amazing mix to several other locations- Penn Quarter, H Street and Silver Spring among others. What makes the Dupont market stand out is the fellowshp of the farmers. They learn and grow each other's expertise within the spiritual space of the market. Sounds crazy, but Ali Moussali would never have struck out on his own without the support and encouragement of these colleagues.

I digress, back to Mark- as oddly enough as it may sound, I deliberately avoided this charismatic man at the markets for a couple of years- I dunno, in some ways I am shy, and his exuberance made me a little nervous. Many chef friends of mine knew him well, had been to his farm in Pennsylvania, and encouraged me to meet him. One sunny Saturday, however, I pulled up to the Falls Church market in my 65 Ford Falcon convertible and he came over to chat. I think he knew who i was, but he made it easy for me, admiring my car- whatever. Well the rest is history.Mark is part of both restaurants- part of who I am as a chef and a person.

Here is another excerpt from the book which may help elucidate Mark's role in my cooking, along with that of my business partner, James Alefantis-

Mark Toigo grew the best peach I ever ate.

One summer, the summer we turned Greenwood into Buck's Fishing & Camping, Dylan and I stayed with James and David at their grand house in Georgetown. The days were hot and the sky was always a shimmering undying blue. It never ever rained.

That, my mouth soon knew, were perfect peach growing conditions. By mid-July, Mark's stand was bursting with them. And i was so taken by the white ones, peaches i usually overlook in anticipation of the "real" ones, the yellow ones. Because the white peaches are sometimes just too predictably sweet and too perfumey, lacking the acid and deeper flavours that only, i believed, a yellow peach can contain. But Mark egged me on, 'go Carole,' he taunted, 'just try one. Bite into it. Have i ever led you astray?' So i did. And he did, smiling and knowing. And as the purest, sweetest, most peachiest nectar ran from the corners of my mouth, in that moment I thought about the possibility of buying every single white peach on Mark's truck and turning everyone i could think of on, to that mouthful of blue sky and summer.

It took only a single swallow and the blink of an eye to break one of those 'rules' i had made. The one about mixing sweet and savoury. I saw on a plate, a mozzarella salad made from the white peaches. Thinking i could roast them, overnight, ever so slowly, in a slightly warm oven, with subtle white balsamic vinegar, then stacking them on top of roughly slashed slices of cheese maker Paul Stephan's impeccably fresh Blue Ridge Dairy mozzarella with big ruffley opal basil leaves that Cinda Sebastian of Gardener's Gourmet had grown.

People hold taste memories in ways that can't be fathomed. But lots of folks remember that first time, and wait for the return of the short weeks that this dish is uncloaked in all it's beauty and splendor at Buck's, every summer.

I brought a big wooden crate of the white peaches to our 'summer home' for James and David and Dylan and me. They sat on the cool terra cotta tiles in the front hallway of the big house on N Street. All of us paused and ate one, two, covertly, overtly; biting into the seductive fruits every time we came or went. The peaches were an escape from the incessantly perfect azure sky, with the dry heat ripening the city and the fruits on the trees in Mark's Pennsylvania orchard. There we were, in the house in Washington, awaiting the re-birth of our restaurant on Connecticut Avenue.

P.S. I am working on the questions about Comet sauce, crust, fried oysters and meyer lemon cake today. But tomorrow is Valentine's Day and I have had my hands full all week. I do plan to make the salty meyer lemon cake for tomorrow though!

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Thank you for your gracious response to my earlier query, now something less serious:

Do you ever wake up in the morning and say, "the heck with simple preparations and seasonal food, today I want to foam something...I can't serve one more steak without going crazy, I need to deconstruct.

Also, you ever have one of those Toigo peaches with a farmhouse cheddar and good Sauternes on a hot summer night? Best dessert ever.

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Hello again everyone,

Sorry to have left the chat for a few days but last week was a hectic one- Valentine's Day is often one of the busiest days in the restaurant world and I found myself on the line for six consecutive nights- which although not a rare occurrence, was a grueling one in light of the volume as Thursday's Valentine's Day celebration spilled over into Friday and Saturday and even Sunday night- a night I found myself on the line alone, having sent the garde manger cook over to

Comet to help handle the volume. and early on I had to jetisson even the Buck's dishwasher as well, next door to Comet, finding myself alone in the kitchen for most of the evening. Needless to say we are all happy but tired, and now, I am back to answer a few more questions.

As to the Comet sauce - though I gave the narrative of how and where the idea of it came from, I never really gave any sort of recipe- though to give you the actual recipe would be misleading as the first ingredient for the 2007 batch is -

2200 pounds of fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded

I recommend that in season, you use fresh tomatoes, preferably plum tomatoes, but any  flavourful tomato, even canned, will work- I even love cherry tomatoes in a sauce. When making sauce in smaller batches from fresh tomatoes I do peel them and sometimes seed them - depending upon the amount of time I have. To peel fresh tomatoes, try the following technique - bring a large pot, filled three quarters full of water, to the boil. While the water is heating, prepare the tomatoes to be peeled by cutting an X through the skin at the bottom of the fruit- not at the stem- with each stroke about 1 1/2 inches long.

Put the tomatoes in batches of a single layer that will float into the pot and boil for about 45 seconds- just about the time it will take for the water to come back up to the boil after you drop the tomatoes in. Remove the tomatoes to a tray and keep in a single layer (don't pile them on top of each other) until you have processed all of them in this manner. using your hands and the little flaps that result, peel the skin gently off. You may use a knife to aid you, but if you

have followed the procedure correctly and the tomatoes are ripe, they should peel fairly easily. Remember to place a bowl beneath you to capture all the juice that results from the peeling.  To seed the tomatoes, cut them in half, through their widest part, the equator as I like to explain to the cooks (not top to bottom) and squeeze the seeds and gel out. you can rinse them if you like, but I feel that this washes out flavour. Again, catch all the juice and strain out any

detritus- reserving the juice for the sauce pot. at this stage it is important to taste the tomatoes, marking their acidity and sweetness in the fresh form on your palate, before the cooking process starts.

To make the sauce with 5 pounds of fresh tomatoes, I begin with 1 cup of olive oil and 1/4 cup of garlic, sliced thinly. I heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or sauce pan until it is just hot, but not smoking, that is, not hot enough to color the garlic. I place the garlic in the oil, lower the heat and stir for two or three minutes until the garlic is transluscent. then I add the peeled and seeded tomatoes, breaking up any large pieces with my hands and stir everything throughly. I turn the heat very low and simmer this, covered, for several hours (two to three depending upon my patience, longer is generally better) until the tomatoes are completely broken down and the flavours have mellowed.  once a thick and smoothish sauce has developed, I season it with salt and honey to taste.  This is the basic recipe for the sauce i use on the pizza. I must admit that the 2007 sauce is different from 2006- last year we used a hybrid tomato,

this year we used San Marzano plums. this year's tomatoes have more seeds than last (and they are tiny- so small in fact that they were able to pass through the screens that Nick Stello uses to strain the tomatoes through. next year, we will use finer screens!) and the tomatoes were more acidic.  The resulting sauce is less sweet but still excellent as a foil for the blue ridge dairy fresh mozzarella. interestingly enough, Paul Stephan (*) has increased the fat content of

his cheese which improves it's interaction with the changed Comet sauce. who knew that this would happen simultaneously? It's a happy

accident, as we say in the art world.

On to the crust... well, that is also a very simple recipe, one tested and adjusted over time. When we started our pizza research, James and I read everything

we could get our hands on about pizza, ate a tremendous amount of it, and made a lot of dough. For years and years I have made pizza and bread dough - it was a great party trick for my son's pre-school classes because it is such a simple thing- flour, water, yeast and salt- sometimes oil, sometimes honey- Wolfgang Puck adds a little milk for tenderness. All of the recipes work and all of them are good. James and I, however, concurred that the crisp should be as WE liked it - thin, crispy and salty. and that is what we have. trial and error allowed me to add in some things that are a bit out of the ordinary - our dough has some whole wheat flour (about 5% of the total- I like to put in things that are healthy that add to the flavour - kinda the theory that if it is healthy it shouldn't taste bad - as in, don't throw the baby out with the bath water-) and some semola flour (not semolina, but semola- a soft wheat that is ground very fine). We add no honey or sugar and no oil. This makes it crispy and salty. The most shattering thing I discovered was the use of italian "OO" pizza flour. ours goes by the poetic name of 'Luna Gialla.' At first we made very tasty dough with King Arthur organic bread flour. Then we tried the Luna Gialla. a side by side taste comparison revealed that the American wheat tasted like cardboard next to the Italian (don't know where the wheat is from, just that the flour is

milled in Italy).  The Italian is more expensive but it was a no-brainer, and quite frankly, a shock.

If you want softer, chewier dough, you can add olive oil and honey and a couple of teaspoons of milk. follow any recipe on the back of the package of yeast and adapt it to your taste. as I said, all the traditioonal recipes work, and they all taste good. Recently, a kind new customer brought us some pizza dough from Pepe's in New Haven. He was convinced that this was manna from heaven- however, a side by side comparison revealed to me how delicious our dough is. This gentleman posited that the reason Pepe's crust is "so good" is that they put shortening in it- sadly, shortening is about the unhealthiest fat on earth and is something I would never ever knowingly feed to children on a regular basis (though I must admit that a few spoonfuls of it go into the frosting for my beloved caramel cake). However, when James and I went to New Haven on our pizza pilgrimage I snuck back to the  auxiliary kitchen of Pepe's and saw where they made the dough. There were stacks of pillsbury flour out there- nothin' special- and again I say, all of the recipes work and all of them are

good. I just like mine.

(*) I have attached some photos of Paul's "new girls"- 15 beloved water buffalo that just arrived on his farm, though the milk won't be ready til Spring of 2010.

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Carole,

Having recently walked into Comet Ping Pong at 10 PM on a Saturday night, and counting over 100 people, it became very clear to me just how busy you've become in recent months. I want you to know how much I appreciate you taking the time to join us for this chat. Your thoughtful answers remind me that, on top of being a great cook (and a fine writer), your commitment to sustainable agriculture and small farms is unparalleled.

Thank you very much! And thanks for having two such wonderful restaurants, too.

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