MEN WHO CAN'T COOK have always come back at women who can by claiming that even if most cooks are female, the best cooks are male. For these men
— and for women who are interested in what their men would really like to eat
— an Irish-born bachelor named Basil FitzGibbon will come as a fresh and welcome addition to the culinary evidence.
FitzGibbon. who now lives in Montreal, has spent a great many of his forty-eight years eating. cooking and talking about good food, and for the past two of them he has earned most of his living by doing his talking over CBC radio and television. This fall he began writing about food too. and a weekly column he calls That Man in the Kitchen is appearing in a growing number of newspapers across Canada and will soon be launched, along with his radio and TV shows, in the U. S.
A former professional actor (he toured Canada with My Tur Lady). FitzGibbon is type cast for the role of leading chef. He is an urbane sixfooter. whose two hundred and fifteen pounds arc molded into a silhouette that signals a lifelong love of food. His round, cheery face, from w hich his curly brown hair is beating an upward retreat, is highlighted by a marvelously bristling RAF mustache (this is an honest acquistion: he was a wing commander in the RAF). He speaks in a rich, cultured British accent. So much, in fact, are his appearance and his manner a part of his success as an expert on food that his contract with the Hall Syndicate of New' York, which handles his column and programs in the U. S., stipulates that he must keep, among other things, his mustache. And FitzGibbon himself has admitted with jolly frankness that "I really couldn't do this without the mustache and the limey accent, you know."
HOW TO PREPARE AN ARTICHOKE
The truth is, however, that he probably could. For Basil FitzGibbon can cook, as I discovered recently when I invited him for a week end at my home near Montreal. He turned up with the ingredients for a Saturday dinner and a Sunday breakfast. For dinner we were to have artichokes, lamb w'ith carrots and Brussels sprouts, a salad and Spanish melon.
There were four of us for dinner, so Basil, had four artichokes. He cut off the stalks as close to the base of the artichokes as possible, making
cross-like incisions in the base to cut down the cooking time. "But not too deep." he warned. Then he thoroughly washed the artichokes to remove any remnants of sand or soil, snipped the points off the leaves, and placed all four artichokes. tops down, in a pan small enough to hold them tightly in place. "Otherwise you have to tie them to prevent the leaves from springing out, and that's a bore." he said. He added water, not quite covering them; the juice of one lemon; and a tablespoon of salt. He cooked them for about forty minutes, "till the base is tender and the leaves pull out easily." Meanwhile he prepared a lemon-butter sauce, melting the butter and straining it to remove any sediment, added the lemon juice and seasoned with pepper.
He wiped the six-pound leg of lamb with a damp cloth and removed the excess fat. Then, with a sharp knife, he inserted slivers of garlic in both top and bottom of the roast, and rubbed it with salt and pepper and crushed rosemary. In a shallow roasting pan he made a bed with two chopped stalks of celery, leaves and all. one chopped medium-sized onion, two sliced carrots and two sprigs of parsley. He placed the roast on top of this bed. added three quarters of a cup of water and put the pan in a preheated 325degree oven, allowing twenty-five minutes to the pound. "I don't favor the French practice of ten minutes to the pound." he said. "I like my lamb pinkish, but cooked." He also explained that if you used a meat thermometer, an internal temperature of 175 degrees would give the desired pink. 180 degrees, well done. When the roast was ready, he removed it to a platter and placed it in the warming oven. “Roasts." he said in the manner of a man revealing the ancient wisdom of his tribe, "are always better if you can leave them for a bit after they're done."
Using a spatula he made sure that all the pan juices were well mixed, blending in the browned solidified bits before straining them into a saucepan. He pressed the vegetables into the strainer to get all the juice from them. He allowed the gravy to stand for a few minutes and removed the fat from the surface, then reheated the gravy and tasted it for seasoning.
Earlier he had chopped some fresh mint very fine, sprinkling it lightly with sugar as he chopped. and mixed it with malt vinegar and more sugar to let it stand for an hour.
He had also prepared the carrots while the roast was in the oven, cutting them lengthwise, or Julienne style. He added very little water to the dish, seasoning with a little salt and sugar, drained them before they had become quite soft and added pepper and butter.
He thoroughly cleaned the Brussels sprouts, cross-cutting the base of the larger ones, and cooked them till they were just beginning to get soft. "1 hate over-cooked or English-style vegetables." he said. "They should still have some bite to them." Previously he had boiled a half pound of sweet chestnuts, cooled and peeled them, dropped two tablespoons of butter in the bottom of a casserole dish, added the halved chestnuts, drained the Brussels sprouts and added them to the chestnuts, with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
For the salad he had purchased Boston lettuce, endive and water cress. He washed the lettuce thoroughly, drained and dried it. washed the endive and the water cress. In my largest wooden salad bowl he sprinkled a little salt to act as an
abrasive, and rubbed a garlic clove into the salt. He added a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, freshly-ground pepper, a half-teaspoon of dry mustard, then a salad spoon of wine vinegar, which he stirred until all the ingredients were dissolved. After this he added French olive oil ("don't use a strong oil") in proportions of three parts oil to one part vinegar, and stirred patiently till the dressing became cloudy and began to thicken. Then he broke up the lettuce by hand into fork-sized pieces, dropped it into the bowl, added the endive which he cut across in half-inch pieces, and sprinkled the water cress over it all. “Let it stand until just five minutes before serving. Then toss."
The large green Spanish melon hail been in the refrigerator for chilling. Now FitzGibbon cut sections of lemon to serve with it. The whole meal, with which I served a couple of bottles of Mouton Cadet Bordeaux wine, an inexpensive bottling of a great vineyard, was a delight. The artichoke was done perfectly and the lemon-butter sauce, a new one for me. made an ideal accompaniment. The lamb was done to a turn, the juices running; the carrots were tender but still firm and sweet. The Brussels sprouts with chestnuts made an intriguing combination, and the blend with the simple gravy from the juice of the lamb and the fresh mint sauce made it a memorable course. The crisp fresh salad, with its unique mixture of water cress, endive and tender Boston lettuce with the mild French dressing, came as a refreshing contrast.
HOW TO INTEREST MEN IN F000
The pink flesh of the Spanish melon, its flavor accentuated by the lemon juice, melted in the mouth.
Over coffee and liqueurs, Basil told me something of his past. Born in Cork. Ireland, he cooked his first omelet at the age of ten and has been an enthusiastic chef ever since. At nineteen, he was apprenticed in the men’s clothing industry in Leeds. England, at the same time studying textile design at Leeds University. In 1937 FitzGibbon joined the RAF. and was soon a pilot officer with the duties — to him delightful — of looking after the squadron's mess. He flew a Hudson in the Battle of Britain and logged a hundred and twenty-two missions as a bomber pilot before he was transferred to Canada as an instructor. Except for a brief trip home, FitzGibbon has been here ever since, working at one time or another as a sales manager, tomato importer, radio actor, theatrical impresario and manager of the Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra.
On radio and television, which he caught onto in I960, he gives new recipes, tries some himself. reviews cook books, discusses seasonal dishes and answers questions from his mail. About a third of this mail comes from men. mostly businessmen or professionals who reflect, in FitzCiihbon’s opinion anyway, an awakening of interest in fine food by the Canadian male. "French Canadians have always had this interest." he says, "but I get mail from all over — even from Canadian soldiers in Germany, who hear my program (Continental Kitchen) rebroadcast on the Armed Services Network." FitzCiibbon says he's really sorry for men who still aren't interested in food, and pities their wives. He believes that the best w'ay for a wife to arouse her husband's
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He added rosemary, lemon juice, parsley, stock and a glass of sherry. Breakfast was ready
interest in lood is to try a new dish every week, but only one. “That way she won t get beyond her depth.”
On Canadian cooking in general he is merely polite, but he believes it is nonsense to say, as Quebeckers sometimes do, that the only good meals served in C anada are served in Quebec. "The railway hotel chefs on the prairies are among the best in the country," he says.
FitzGibbon is a strong believer in cooking with wine, but, like all good chefs, points out that it is not the alcohol in the cooking that is important: only the bouquet.
On Sunday morning, Basil was back in the kitchen.
The menu called for scrambled eggs w'ith bacon and kidneys, toast and jam, cheese and coffee. He prepared the eggs in a double boiler. "That way you can control the speed of the cooking, so that the eggs don't get a chance to dry out and go hard.” For four, he used nine eggs — “two for each guest and one for the pot.” In the top of the double boiler he placed two tablespoons of butter, and as it started to melt he beat the eggs wdth a metal beater, adding four tablespoons of milk. He seasoned with salt and pepper, and poured the eggs over the melted butter, stirring with a wire mixer and adding chopped chives as the eggs gently cooked.
Meanwhile he had fried the bacon in an iron pan and removed it as it became crisp. He drained it and placed it in the warming oven.
The kidneys he began by slicing lengthwise in halves, cleaning and w'ashing, and removing membrane and fat with scissors. Then he sliced them in thin pieces, and dropped them into an iron saucepan in which butter w'as already sputtering. He kept them at a high heat for less than two minutes, then placed them in a strainer to drain off the butter. “This is the classic Escoffier method of treating kidneys to remove strong flavor and at the same time assure that the kidneys will remain tender.” he announced. He carefully scoured out the iron pan, added fresh butter (two tablespoons) and two cups of sliced mushrooms. As soon as the mushrooms began to soften he added the kidneys and seasoned with salt and pepper, a little crushed rosemary, finely chopped parsley, and dredged a tablespoon of flour over the kidneys. Then he added a half cup of soup stock and a wineglass of sherry, squeezing in a little lemon juice. When no more blood showed on the outside of the kidneys he pronounced the dish ready. His work had taken under three minutes from the time the kidneys had been added to the mushrooms.
Eater. I drove Basil back to his home, both of us full and happy, and 1 reflected all the way that there is at least one Canadian male who has a newly reawakened interest in food and who is glad that Basil FitzGibbon is around to keep it growing. Me. ★
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