Irene Watson, Editorial Editor of Reader Views, is pleased to have Valerie Hart, author of “The Bounty of Central Florida,” as a guest.
Hi Valerie, thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Irene: Valerie, why do you think “The Bounty of Central Florida” was an important book to write? What goals did you have?
Valerie: Regional cookbooks have flooded the market. Southwestern, Northwestern, Cuban, Caribbean, Cajun and combinations of these, including the American innovation called Fusion that incorporates Asian with any of the other featured regions and creative new chefs that are incorporating fresh ingredients from the areas.
When we moved from Miami to Central Florida 15 years ago, the kitchen changed dramatically. In addition to local Italian restaurants featuring tomato-based Sicilian cuisine and a handful of Mexican catering for migrant workers in this citrus area, mama-papa restaurants north of Orlando served a unique cuisine of their own. This drew on its South American roots with a rustic twist on accessible fish and game simply grilled or fried and accompanied by fruits and vegetables freshly plucked from the trees and the ground.
Every spring-fed lake produces sea bass. The largest lakes are flooded with alligators and tilapia. The St. John’s Brackish River is rich in blue crabs and shrimp, and its tributaries are full of redfish, sea bass, and snook. Wood ducks seem to exist solely for the pleasure of the pan, and a little south in Osceola County, wild turkeys and deer breed in abundance for happy hunters. And like the rest of the South, barbecue reigns supreme with its own versions of Central Florida’s sweet, spicy and mustard-based sauces slathered on gigantic slow-smoked pork ribs.
My goal, as the food writer for The Daily Commercial, was to make people aware of the abundance of the area.
Irene: What challenges did you have in writing this book and how did you overcome them?
Valerie: The challenges were lovely. My many trips down the St. John River with ancient boaters put me in direct contact with the people who live and earn their livelihoods from the streams of the intercoastal waterways. My membership and association with the NWTF (National Wild Turkey Federation) not only taught me how to fry a whole turkey, but also instilled respect for this dedicated group of conservationists who teach women to survive in the wild as a responsible control of weapons for children.
The most difficult challenge, however, was writing the book as I faced Monday’s deadline to write Thursday’s newspaper column and teach cooking at the homeless shelter. There just wasn’t time to do everything, and I was spending more and more hours creating recipes late.
at night and opening my computer to record them before the sun rises.
Irene: Are the recipes your own creation? Have any of them been passed down to you from the family?
Valerie: The recipes are my own, derived from my sense of taste, smell, and desire to create. My educational experience in France (later Cordon Bleu courses after I started teaching cooking in Miami) and our 30-year business in Italy, where we had an apartment in Florence and traveled extensively in northern Italy, put me in contact. with a crowd
of country cooks and “nonnas” (Italian grandmothers) in the kitchens of the houses who shared “secrets” passed down from generation to generation.
Irene: How did you start cooking? Did you cook as a child? Where did you learn to cook? Do you have a funny story while learning to cook that you can relate to?
Valerie: I would love to say that I learned how to cook from my mother and grandmother, but fortunately this is not true. My mother and grandmother had absolutely no talents in the kitchen, probably because they always cook to do it for them. The only foods my mother knew how to cook were roast beef, turkey, and roast lamb chops. Those were the days when all the fat was left on monkeys and formed a scab. We not only ate the top fat from the meat and between the bones of the chops; we enjoy it. And the trick was to eat the turkey and the meat before the sauce was poured over it and solidified into a hard white mass.
We had a German cook for many years. My parents traveled a lot and left me in their care. The kitchen was a sultry wonderland of chocolate, custard, and veal which she delicately dipped in beaten eggs and then homemade breadcrumbs before frying into a golden brown delicacy she called Wiener Schnitzel which she served with French fries and buttered noodles. . Elizabeth never used an electric mixer, but beat the butter, sugar, and egg whites by hand to make her 6-Layer German Doboschtorte, Viennese Rich Chocolate Sachartorte, and Hungarian Caramel Cake. She was my first culinary mentor and her recipes appear in my first cookbook, The New
Irene: I see in your biography that you aspired to be an opera singer, but you ended up in a career as a gastronomic writer and then a career in cooking. Are there times when you would like to turn the pages and pursue a singing career?
Valerie: Sometimes, even though my life would have been very different. I will always remember having studied with the great André Bogé on the stage of the Grand Opéra in Paris. He obviously didn’t have enough ambition, or maybe I realized that he didn’t have the voice meant for greatness.
Irene: Do you have a favorite recipe from this book? Why?
Valerie: Guests and family who dine with us usually ask me to make the lime cheesecake or individual flourless chocolate soufflés for dessert. My duckling is a kid’s favorite and I will offer 2-3 variations of sauce for their pleasure. I really love pumpkin soup and
Refreshing Strawberry Salad. I make dozens of Mushroom Roll hors d’oeuvres and dessert Profiteroles to freeze for unexpected company and because our linden trees are so prolific, you will always find a frozen Lime Pie.
Irene: This is a second cookbook for you. The first was The New Tradition Cookbook, which was published in 1988. What did you learn after writing the first one that changed in your second book, The Bounty of Central Florida?
Valerie: My first cookbook was written as a result of my years as a food writer for the newspaper in Miami Beach and the food restaurant I owned for 15 years at my husband’s wholesale furniture showroom, Imports for the Trade. The restaurant was my test kitchen. We did not sell the food, rather we offered it to the designers and their customers as it would be done at home. The daily changing buffet became so popular that people lined up around the block. We serve more than 100 people each day in the restaurant we built inside the brick showroom of the old Union Station in Chicago that had been torn down.
Although most of the format of the first book was based on American cuisine and my interpretation of French and Italian cuisine, Miami Beach’s wonderful ethnicity allowed me to discover recipes for matzo balls, gefülte fish, stuffed cabbage, beef brisket, and potato pancakes. that I published in the newspaper during the Jewish holidays. It would go down to what has become the “in” area now known as “SoBe” which, in the late 1960s and 1970s, was still populated solely by elderly Jews. I would approach the ladies who were shopping. Each had a different recipe for the same dish and each thought that theirs was the best. Then I would go home and experiment and try and try again until the combination of ingredients was to my liking. Then I would write my food column.
The common denominator of the two books is my belief that people like to read about fine cuisine but want to cook and eat staples.
Irene: What do you hope will come out of this cookbook experience for you? Thinking of writing another?
Valerie: I don’t know if I’ll ever write another cookbook, but I have so many recipes that don’t appear in the first two that it tempts me. Anyone who cooks knows that there is always a new and different method of preparation to please the palate. There is never a last chapter to cook.
Irene: Thank you Valerie. Is there anything else you would like to add about your cookbook or your experience?
Valerie: I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself. This is the first time I have been asked these questions and the interview has been very pleasant.