The Little Chicken That Could, The Little Tart That Couldn’t

Alice Waters, I thought you were crazy. I’ve been roasting chickens for a long time now and when I flipped through my Chez Panisse Cookbook the other night and read your recipe for roasted chicken I couldn’t believe it. No fat! No melted butter brushed on the surface (like The Barefoot Contessa’s) or softened butter smeared around (like Grant Achatz’s). No olive oil massaged into the skin (like Marcella Hazan’s) or bacon laid gingerly across (like Nigella Lawson’s). Your recipe asks the reader to simply sprinkle on exotic seasonings (1 tsp crushed fennel seed, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper flakes, 1 1/2 tsps additive-free kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper), to stuff the bird with thyme and then to place it in a roasting pan and roast for an hour at 400 degrees. That’s it. How could it possibly taste good without any fat? And yet look:


Alice, I think you may be a witch. A good witch, but a witch nonetheless. This bird was more flavorful and juicier than any roast chicken I’ve had before. How do you come up with recipes like this? Are you some kind of sorceress? Do you ride around the Bay Area on a broom like Angela Lansbury in Bedknobs and Broomsticks? Do you stare into a crystal ball and wait for words like “fennel seeds” and “cayenne pepper flakes” to appear? What are you, are you human? Well, whatever you are, I bow to your magnificent authority. Your roast chicken recipe may be my new staple.

Now bring out the other California chef, you know the one. The one I previously lauded as having written my favorite new cookbook. That’s right, bring out Suzanne Goin of “Sunday Suppers at Lucques.”

Suzanne, I love you. I love what you’re about, I love that your recipes are so complex and creative and dynamic. But I have to ask you a question: what’s the deal with this caramel tart!?!?


I spent lots of time and money making this! I made the pastry dough from scratch. I had to roll it out. I had to fit it into the tart pan. And then I had to make the caramel: scary caramel while Diana and Craig made popcorn because they’re impatient.

“You’ll see guys,” I told them. “When this tart’s done you’ll be sorry you filled up on popcorn.”

Well I followed your recipe to the letter. I used a candy thermometer and got it exactly to 310 before pouring it on to the nuts and adding the salt. After adding the filling to the pre-baked pastry, I refrigerated–like you said–for two hours. Do you know what kind of restraint that took?

And for what! I took it out, two hours later, and cut a piece and bit in and the caramel globbed on to my teeth like an alien creature from a Star Wars movie. Craig took a bite and said “blech! it’s too sweet.” Diana took a bite and said, “The texture’s a little weird.”

Back into the fridge it went and the next afternoon I was ready to give it another chance. So I cut in and nearly had to saw my through. I took a bite and nearly cracked a tooth. So now look where it is:


It’s in the garbage making love to a lobster carcass (leftover from a video I just shot! more to come!) I’m sorry you had to see that, but do you think I liked having to throw it away? All that energy and hope in the trash but nobody wanted to eat it! Oh Suzanne, how could you do this to me? We were so happy together.

I’m sorry, but Alice is moving in. I’ve packed your things and there’s a car service on the way. I hope you understand—it’s not personal. It’s just every time I look at you now, my teeth hurt. Please forgive me.

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