Words by Pat Tanumihardja (This article appeared in our Spring Issue 2015; this is an excerpt.)
Chef Tarver King dishes on what he learned in his mother's kitchen
A passion for food and cooking runs in Chef Tarver King’s family. The chef’s Russian grandmother, Tatiana McKenna, was the food editor for Vogue magazine and edited several cookbooks in the 1960s.
Even though King never knew her—she died when he was very young—his mother, Alexandra King, kept her memory alive in a way that ended up having a real impact on the young chef-to-be. “[My mom] would always tell me stories about cooking with her,” he says. “My grandmother would go foraging in the woods for chestnuts, and go hunting and come home and pluck feathers out of pheasants.”
A forager himself, King follows suit in his kitchen at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia. “We have one whole menu dedicated to foraged stuff so we go out all the time, all year long,” he says. “And I’ve played with recipes from [my grandmother’s] old cookbooks.”
King’s mom was a good cook in her own right. King has fond memories of eating cheese soufflé “as big as a basketball” and minestrone soup “that was to die for.”
However, chicken noodle soup was his favorite: “I know that sounds corny but when you don’t feel so good and Mom makes you chicken noodle soup …”
“I used to fake getting sick so I could get some!” he admits.
Although King’s mom didn’t push him toward a culinary career, she was very supportive. As a teenager, King worked at Le Chambord, a defunct French restaurant in Virginia Beach run by a Belgian chef who was “a yeller and a screamer.”
Discouraged, King would seek comfort in his grandmother’s experiences retold by his mom. His classically trained grandmother went to Le Cordon Bleu and had many stories about “French chefs who were always yelling and screaming and very disciplinary,” he says. “These stories helped me get through.”
Above all, King’s mom taught him the importance of sitting down to meals together.
King recalls that dinners at a friend’s house were often a non-event. “You eat and then you go on and do something else.” However, dinner at King’s house was a big deal: “Dinner was a time when family got together, especially in a house with three boys running around. It was a time when everybody slowed down and we’d talk about how everybody was doing.”
From The Vogue Book of Menus and Recipes for Entertaining at Home by Jessica Daves with Tatiana McKenna, Tarver King’s grandmother.
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese, approximately
½ cup butter
⅓ cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
12 egg whites
8 egg yolks
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter 2 (6-cup) soufflé dishes. Sprinkle the dishes with the Parmesan cheese, rolling them around until they are well covered and tapping out any excess.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the flour and cook it slowly, stirring until smooth, for 3 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the milk and bring to the boiling point over low heat, stirring until thickened and smooth. Add the Gruyere cheese and stir in. Remove from the heat and cool the mixture a little.
Beat the egg yolks and add them to the mixture. Add the mustard, black pepper to taste and several dashes of espellete pepper. Add salt to taste, depending on the saltiness of the cheese.
Whip the egg whites with a dash of salt only until you can turn the bowl over without the eggs sliding out. Stir a third of the whites quickly but gently into the cheese mixture, then pour this mixture over the remaining whites, and fold in, turning the bowl all the time until well incorporated.
Pour into the prepared soufflé dishes and bake without peeking for 25 minutes, preferably on the lower shelf of the oven. After 25 minutes shake one of the soufflé dishes very gently; if the mixture is very loose, bake for another few minutes for a soft soufflé. For a firm soufflé bake for 35 minutes in all. Serve immediately. Be sure to have ready very hot plates.
For a soufflé that will wait a little, place the soufflé dishes in pans of water and bake for 45 minutes. Notes: When the soufflé has been in the oven for 25 minutes, put a loaf of French country bread in with it to get hot and crusty. Slice a pile of summer sausage and serve with a jar of mustard. And lastly, toss a large salad of light leaves with herbs and a sharp vinaigrette. Have everything at the table (including the family) ready for the soufflé to come out of the oven. Serves 6–8.