The popular chef, teacher, and cookbook author tells Bluedot Living how to create memorable meals, avoid food waste, and savor the tastes of the season.
If you like to read about food, if you enjoy eating vibrant, seasonal food — or if you are lucky enough to live in the vicinity of Santa Barbara to take a Mediterranean-inspired, market-driven cooking class — you should know about Pascale Beale, if you don’t already.
Pascale Beale is a busy woman with a lot to share about good food. She is the author of nine cookbooks featuring seasonal recipes and menus, runs a small cooking school in Santa Barbara called Pascale’s Kitchen, and writes a monthly food newsletter. In the words of the late famed, French-born LA and DC chef Michel Richard, Beale’s food “reflects the essence of the seasons and she champions use of the freshest possible organic ingredients.” Beale, who will regularly contribute recipes to Bluedot Living, talks a lot about the joy of eating with others and the importance of planning meals with friends and family.
Growing up in France and England, she learned French classical culinary techniques from her grandmother, Provencal-Mediterranean cooking from her mother, and a love of good food from her father took her along as he sampled the many Michelin-star restaurants in France. When she moved to California in 1985, she took to the cuisine like the proverbial duck to water and made it her own.
You just have to read the descriptions of the recipes in this Mediterranean Vegetarian Feast class to know why each class at Pascale’s Kitchen usually reads “SOLD OUT:” Stuffed Dates with Goat Cheese, Pistachios, and Honey; Platter of Roasted Shawarma Cauliflower, Green Herb Tahini, and Warm Pita; Caramelized Carrots, Winter Root Vegetables with Sweet and Sour Dressing; and Apple, Spiced Fruit, and Fennel Seed Crumble.
Beale’s latest endeavor is a new type of cookbook/memoir, posted chapter by chapter each month on Substack called 9 x 12, Culinary Adventures in a Small Kitchen. Along with stories, the multimedia book ($5 monthly) presents videos that complement the narrative, an audio playlist, and always a three-course menu with recipes.
Those of us outside California, who don’t have the opportunity to attend her classes, luckily can turn to her many seasonally driven cookbooks and recipes such as the ones I’ve linked to below. We’ll be featuring them frequently in upcoming months on our Hub and local California websites and in our newsletters.
You use the hashtag #EverySeasonTellsaStory — can you elaborate on that and how you view seasonal cooking?
Seasonal cooking for me means using ingredients at their prime, so waiting for apricots to arrive in late spring rather than buying apricots flown half way around the world in winter. They will taste far better. Anyone who has eaten a mealy, bland tomato in winter compared to a sun-ripened juicy tomato in the summer can taste the difference eating seasonally makes. Some produce has a very short season — cherries, for example. I strongly believe that enjoying them for those few short weeks is better than eating a mediocre version later in the year just because you can find them at the market. Every season has its own stars, I believe it’s worth waiting for them.
What are people hungry for?
I think that more people are looking for experiences, rather than material things. In the food business, I see increased demand for hands-on cooking classes, cooking team-building events, learning from food artisans, meals in unique locations, and winemaker dinners. The pandemic changed how people view food with more people cooking at home and taking time to learn new skills, but after all the isolation, people seem eager to experience new culinary adventures with other people.
What is the best meal you’ve ever had?
That is almost impossible to answer. I’ve had many memorable meals, usually made special by those with whom I shared it. Often it’s a special dish that makes a meal memorable. I cannot narrow it down to one, but here are a few: An extraordinary seven-course lunch at Joel Robuchon’s in Paris that lasted nearly five hours. Every course was perfection. We ended up in the kitchen talking with the chefs and thanking them. A magical candle-filled dining room (the power had gone out) at Le Grand Vefour, also in Paris. As they had no electricity in the kitchen, no hot food could be prepared so we had a simple salad, some foie gras, and a plateau de fromage, served with sauternes. A waiter ran two blocks down the street and back (where they had electricity) to bring us warm toasted brioche presented on a domed silver platter. It was otherworldly, as though we had stepped back in time. The power came back on at the end of the evening and everyone asked for them to turn the lights off again! My grandmother’s Lapin à la Moutarde. She would make it every time we visited her. The dish was legendary in our family and I would happily drive across France to eat it. In a little osteria, in a tiny passageway in Venice, I ate the most sublime tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad. Those were the only two ingredients on the plate. It looked uninspiring, the blob of cheese next to the sliced tomato on a plain white plate. The owner then drizzled fresh, fresh olive oil over the tomatoes and offered a little salt and pepper. I have never tasted anything like it since. Ah, there are so many more …
What are some of the ways you have seen cooking change or how people are eating, especially here in California, since you opened Pascale’s Kitchen?
I look back at the menus I taught 24 years ago when I first opened the school and there’s so much meat! That is the biggest change. I don’t even offer classes with red meat on the menu anymore — I’m not sure if I would fill the class if I did. My own diet has changed a lot in that timeframe too. I may eat red meat only once or twice a year now, and eat a mostly Mediterranean vegetarian diet. There’s a much greater demand for fish, vegetarian, and vegan dishes. Now every third or fourth class I teach is vegetarian. The food is lighter, too.
Aside from making your recipes (and I count myself as a huge fan), what are some of the ways home cooks can become better cooks in the kitchen and help the planet at the same time?
Good food starts with the best ingredients you can afford. Sourcing them locally and eating seasonally is better for you and the planet. The carbon footprint of a vegetable that has been brought to a farmers market a few miles from your home, is much, much lower than something that has been flown half way around the world. Supporting local farmers and food artisans helps local communities thrive and your food will taste better too. If someone is starting out cooking, I would say master a few dishes to begin with before experimenting too much. Build your foundation and think about the flavors, taste, and textures of food you enjoy and focus on those, then bring in new ingredients to expand your repertoire. When hosting a dinner party don’t make all new dishes, perhaps try a new main course, or new dessert, but have at least one dish you feel confident with. Read cookbooks, food blogs, or watch videos about the types of food you like to eat. There is so much good information available on preparing food. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t buy too much food as you may not be able to eat it all before it goes bad. There is so, so much food waste. Learn to make the most of leftovers — the carcass from a roast chicken kept to make stock, for example. I like to do something called a TDF (Tour de Frigidaire), something made out of all the little bits and pieces left in the fridge. It could be a vegetable soup, a roasted vegetable dish, or a mixed salad. If ingredients are past their prime, I’ll turn them into a stock, a sauce, or pesto. These can be frozen and used later on.