I had a long-overdue lunch with my former academic advisor last week. Our conversations tend to be pretty free-flowing, covering everything from Jimmy Buffet lyrics to cheetahs and my maybe not-so-deep, dark secret. My maybe not-so-deep, dark secret is that I want to have my own restaurant someday. My neighbors in Decatur, Ga. knew it. My journalism colleagues have known it at various points in time. One of my graduate school classmates knows it all too well (and we’ve even discussed a Donald Trump-esque plan to develop an entire city block in New Orleans around business ideas like this that we’ve cooked up). My husband also suffers through my occasional fits of resto-reverie. He instantly (I imagine) regretted sending me to Paris for my 40th birthday after I returned to the States, told him I met a restaurant investor during a Paris By Mouth walking tour and felt that it was a sign that I needed to open a restaurant — the one I’ve wanted for as long I’ve been carrying on about it — in the City of Light.
His reply: “Why can’t you just have a food truck…here.”
My reply: “Because I want people to sit. At tables. In Paris, France.”
So, as I was saying, I was talking about this not-so-deep, dark secret with my former academic advisor, who has a long history of suffering through my weird ideas as well. He said I would be good at it, this running-a-restaurant thing. But being the doom-and-gloom type, he also told me all the challenges I’d face and things that could or would go wrong. All of what he said was legit and came from a place of…let’s just call it…informed hyper-concern. That is precisely why I told him my next plan: The concept, as I envisioned it, would be best tested out in the privacy of my own home. He tried to hide his horror and said “What about health inspectors?” I told him I ran a clean kitchen and that “these things totally work, especially in Havana. There’s a huge underground restaurant scene in Havana.”
He, too, sighed, which must mean I’m on to something.
When I think about my restaurant, I envision something similar in feel (though not identical, of course) to Jody Williams’ renowned gastrotheque Buvette, which is located in New York and now (ahem) Paris. Williams authored a cookbook of Buvette recipes that came out yesterday and I’ve spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out which simple-but-sophisticated dish to try first. I chose Lentils with Kale and Shallots, mainly because I had lentils on hand (and love them) and plenty of fresh kale growing in my backyard. I substituted onions for shallots though, and it still turned out fine.
To make this, you’ll need:
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
3 diced shallots
5 garlic cloves
1 tsp. red chili flakes (more, if you’re from South Louisiana)
1 bunch of kale, finely chopped
1 cup of lentils (be sure they’re the green French lentils called Lentils du Puy because they are yummy)
4 cups of water
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Here’s what you do:
1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add the garlic, shallots (or onions, if you’re me), chili flakes and kale and cook until tender, stirring constantly for about five minutes.
2. Add the lentils, salt and water to the pot, bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for an hour or two, splashing with water if the liquid dries up too quickly. You want the final product to be soft, but not too brothy. Season with nutmeg and more salt just before serving. It should look something like this: