FRENCH COOKBOOK: A CULTURAL EXPERIENCE

Is it possible for a cookbook to be a cultural experience? It is if we look at Monique Jamet Hooker's Cooking with the Seasons. Mme Hooker is well-known in Chicago for her restaurants and as a cooking-school chef. Her past expertise includes being owner/chef of Monique’s Café and Monique's French Cuisine and Food Styling. Additional credits include experience as a lecturer, demonstrator, instructor at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC), at Kendall College Culinary School, Evanston, and at the Cooking Academy of Chicago. But it is not her experience as a chef or in restaurant management nor the experience, enthusiasm, and humor she brings to her lectures and demonstrations (she has done at least two programs for the Chicago/Northern Illinois AATF Chapter) which is of interest here. It is the short articles and pictures which she includes in Cooking with the Seasons and her comments about the recipes themselves which make this cookbook a piece of cultural history. Her own heritage is a childhood spent at Manoir de Kerbiquet, a 17th-century château-farm in Brittany, with her parents, three brothers, and six sisters. To explore the concept of seasonal cooking, Monique Hooker has divided her book into twelve chapters—one for each month. The introduction to each month (chapter) includes anecdotes and memories about the month or season in Brittany. The recipes are based on the regional specialties available at the particular time of year with adaptations for the Midwest (Chicago) where Mme Hooker makes her home. "The pleasures of cooking and eating foods seasonally, with family and friends, are rarely practiced in our prepackaged, hurry-up world," says Mme Hooker in the introduction. Her book encourages these pleasures—even if only once a month —for she suggests a special menu for each month. Some are particularly French, such as a Harvest Dinner (September), while others are more universal: an Easter Dinner (April), a Bridal Dinner (June), a Christmas Celebration; others are specifically American: Fourth of July Picnic or a Trick-or-Treat Supper. But each monthly anecdote is preceded by a picture of the Jamet family at work or at leisure in their native Brittany with comments on the activities of the seasons. For example, the first chapter is "April"—a time of renewal and revitalization—which includes an Easter dinner. In "June" we see a picture of a typical Breton wedding in the 1930s for 1800 friends and relatives, all in Breton costume.

This is not French haute cuisine, but regional cooking with simple, easy-to-follow recipes, supplemented with possible variations, "Monique’s Touch," and "Sidenotes" which give further explanations of a technique, a French culinary item, or other possible choices of ingredients. Mme Hooker received one of the "Best Cookbooks" awards from the International Cookbook Revue (ICR) presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair, 1997.

How could this cookbook be used to teach culture? Plan a regional seasonal monthly meal with students or colleagues, using the menus as a basis for the experiment. If the class involved has a Francophone or international mix of students, compare or contrast these recipes and menus month by month with the students’ own backgrounds and culinary experiences. Use the idea of celebrations by asking students to write about one of their own special family traditions or menus. The many remembrances and celebrations of childhood speak of another time and place, but for Mme Hooker, they echo the joy she finds à table, with hopes that her readers will discover their own.

Anne Hebert
Chicago Public Schools (IL)

NATIONAL FRENCH WEEK ACTIVITY: LA FONTAINE ET LA CUISINE

A  task force composed of AATF members of the Chicago/Northern Illinois Chapter from several elementary through post-secondary institutions has created a Web packet of materials for French teachers to develop the theme of La Fontaine et La Cuisine during National French Week. The materials include several fables by Jean de La Fontaine, selected for their accessibility and interest to different ages and language experiences, elementary through post-secondary. The French fables are accompanied by translations in English by the late Professor Norman B. Spector, Northwestern University. Monique Hooker, chef and author, has selected and adapted recipes to reflect each fable. These recipes could be used to create a potluck meal.

In addition, members have created word games, a crossword puzzle, and a list of ideas to exploit the theme. A biography of Jean de La Fontaine and a suggestion of Web sites are included. Some of the activities could be shared with colleagues in other disciplines to highlight a French connection during November.

 

Reference

Hooker, Monique Jamet and Tracie Richardson. Cooking with the Seasons: A Year in My Kitchen. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997. ISBN 0-8050-4866-9. Pp 426. $27.50, paper $17.50

Last update: July 31, 2015