Adventures with Lottie
Episode 346: The Tale of the Spicy Soufflé by Amelia Morris of Bon Appétempt
My phone rings at 4:00 am. The hour of the wolf. No one calls at this hour with good news. Nervous, I lurch at my end table and flip open my phone.
“Amelia. It’s James Oseland. Editor-in-chief—”
“I know who you are.”
“Tim needs your help.”
In one long, breathless sentence, he explains: As winner of Saveur’s Best Food Blog 2012, Tim is being sent to Paris as part of a Saveur-sponsored celebrity blogger tour. “He’s insisting you join him. A private jet is waiting for you at a super secret airstrip just south of Beverly Hills. A car is outside your house. Go now!”
“I need to think.”
“You can think when you’re dead. Now, go!”
I bounce around in the back seat of a black town car. A wave of nausea washes over me—did I mention the driver gently blindfolded me before screeching off into the crisp pre-dawn? Even though I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to these adventures with Tim, something about this one—the blindfold, perhaps?—is making me uneasy.
As Oseland promised, I arrive at a private airstrip right in the middle of Los Angeles. How did I not know about this place? Tim proudly stands on the wing of a droop-nosed, previously decommissioned Concorde. The words Air Doof are boldly emblazoned across the jet’s shiny fuselage.
The plane takes off and champagne is poured. Once we’ve reached our cruising altitude, Tim looks out the aircraft’s slim window and begins waxing philosophical on super-sonic flight. “You can actually see the curvature of the earth from up here. It’s breathtaking. Wouldn’t you agree?”
I want to say something witty, but I’m jacked-up on adrenaline boosters (The driver of the town car offered me two adrenaline boosters. I graciously accepted.) and so all I can muster is an inquiry re: the in-flight entertainment.
Tim snaps and the cabin lights dim. The movie Ratatouille begins playing on a mounted flat screen. We both admit our passion for French cinema.
We arrive in Paris and are whisked to the Ritz hotel, only to find that it’s closed for a multi-year renovation.
“Just my luck!” Tim and I say at the exact same time. We look at one another and break into uncontrollable, completely unhinged laughter.
“JINX!” I scream. We continue laughing for what feels like minutes. Post-fit, I gasp for air and fire off a command/question: “Brasserie Lipp?”
Over dinner, Tim explains that he’s invited me to Paris because, as part of the celebrity blogger tour, he has been asked to perform a cooking demonstration. He must create the perfect soufflé in front of a live studio audience. Tim digs into his pocket and throws onto the table what looks like a sad, crinkled brochure. I inspect the jenky document. It’s an advertisement for his demonstration. According to the pamphlet, the following personalities will be in attendance: Jacques Pepin, David Liebovitz, Thomas Keller, an ornate urn containing the ashes of Julia Child, and Alice Waters.
I hold up the paper and ask him: “Did you make this on your computer?” He concedes that he did.
“I’m in some serious hot water over here!” he exclaims, burying his head in his hands. Then, he leans across the table and confides: “Ever since winning the best blog award, I’ve been living high on the hog. Famous chefs do all my cooking now. I’ve been buying airplanes and working on my perfume: Doof Fume. On a whim, I bought us two tickets for the next Virgin Galactic test voyage. What I’m saying is I’ve lost my touch, Amelia! I need you to teach me how to cook again!”
I take a deep breath and exhale releasing one long Ohm.
“I’m going to help you,” I finally say and can hardly believe the words coming out of my mouth. Until this point, I’ve been nothing more than the adventurer’s assistant. A dim-witted tag-a-long. Me help Tim? I hope I have what it takes!
Tim claps furiously. “Garcon!” he shouts to no one in particular. “More champagne, sill voos playte!”
“Tim!” I screech. “According to your pamphlet, the demonstration is tomorrow morning. We have no time to sip champagne. C’mon!” I grab his hand and run towards the restaurant’s kitchen. “Pardohn! Pardohn! Coming through! Tim and I! Out of our way! Pardohn!”
Once in the kitchen, I explain to the chefs—in perfect French—the entire situation. They walk me towards the soufflé station and tell me it’s all ours.
Tim’s jaw drops, as if to ask: What are you, some kind of French-speaking idiot savant? I tap him under the chin to close his mouth, but it drops again. I attempt once more to close his mouth with force, explaining the wonders of the language-teaching podcast series Coffee Break French, but astonishment and gravity win out and his jaw falls open a third time. I shrug and move on.
Montage: I teach Tim how to measure ingredients, how to make a roux, how to spell and pronounce the word roux, how to separate eggs, how to beat egg whites into stiff peaks, etc, etc. We make cheese soufflé after soufflé until Tim finally gets the hang of it. Still, when it comes time to taste each creation, we end up looking quizzically at one another, both knowing that there’s something missing. Sadly, we just can’t put our finger on whatever is missing from these lovely soufflés.
We work through the night, but at around 3am, we take a break and walk across the street to Café de Flore for a couple of cognacs.
At a sidewalk table, we toast our inevitable defeat. “We did our best. It’s a good soufflé. It’s just not a great soufflé.”
Just then, a woman with long brown hair, walking a standard poodle, passes by our table. “Oh my goodness. Is that Sporty Spice?” I whisper.
Tim shoots me a sideways glance. “How on earth would you recognize—” And then he stops mid-sentence. “Holy Doof! That’s it, Amelia! That’s the missing ingredient!”
“What? What is?”
“Spice! You’re a genius. We forgot to add spice.”
As soon as he says it, I know he is right. We hadn’t even used salt and pepper. “Jiminy Christmas, those were spice-less soufflés we were sampling!”
Tim throws down a one-hundred-dollar Euro and runs back across the street to the kitchen, yelling, “It’s time. Time to spice things up!”
I take off after him, holding my bowler hat onto my head so as to not lose it. (The driver of the town car gave me a bowler hat. I graciously accepted.)
A few hours later, the demonstration goes off without a hitch. In fact, Alice liked it so much that she included it in her next cookbook, The Art of Simple Food.
Tim and I celebrate by taking that trip on Virgin Galactic. While floating around in zero gravity, we stare down at our home planet and kick around ideas for a space blog.
Goat Cheese Soufflé via Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food
Melt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat:
5 tablespoons butter
Stir in and cook for 2 minutes:
3 tablespoons flour
Whisk in, little by little, whisking thoroughly between additions:
1 cup milk
Season the bechamel with:
Fresh-ground black pepper
A pinch of cayenne
1 thyme sprig, leaves only
Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Separate:
Stir the yolks into the white sauce. Add:
4 ounces soft, mild goat cheese
Stir in and taste for salt. It should be ever so slightly too salty to make up for the unsalted whites, which will be added later.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter a 1-quart soufflé dish, or another baking dish such as a gratin dish, with:
1 tablespoon butter
Whip the egg whites into moist firm peaks. Stir one third of the whites into the soufflé base. Then gently fold the base into the rest of the egg whites, taking care not to deflate them. Pour the mixture into the buttered dish and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until puffed and golden, but still soft in the center and jiggly when shaken gently. (FYI: After 25 minutes, my soufflé was totally cooked, possibly a little overcooked.)