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The Home Plate - Life and Lamb

Living le rêve: When “work” is cooking in a Chateau in Provence

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Q: Every summer you go to the South of France to cook - we’ve seen the photos on Instagram, and it looks amazing. How did you get that gig?

A: I cooked in Dublin, Ireland for a number of years, and before I left for the States I put my name up on the Ballymaloe job board. [Editor’s note: Ballymaloe is a famous cooking school, restaurant, organic farm and gardens in Ireland…it’s sort of the Alice Waters/Chez Panisse of Ireland, and a famous culinary destination in the UK] My work here slows down in the summer, when my catering clients in the Boston area take off for their summer properties, and I like to travel and cook in Europe. About five years ago I got a call from that listing to cook at a gorgeous villa in the South of France, in Provence. It’s in this adorable little hillside town, and I have to say the food just tastes better there. The vegetables, the herbs, everything is so fresh and flavorful…even the butter is amazing. The French would say it’s the terroir of course – the flavor imparted by the soil and climate - but is also about the love of food in that part of the world.
 Renee Scharoff by Lynne Graves
 Q: What’s different about sourcing food over there?

Some things you take for granted here in the States like peanut butter are pretty much non-existent, and Asian ingredients are hard to find. But on the other hand, one time I had a client who wanted some “fresh” foie gras, so I went to the farm down the road. My French isn’t great, but I figured out that they wanted me to come back in an hour when it would be “ready.” I did, and it was the freshest and best preparation that client had ever eaten.

Q: What’s the day-to-day look like?

All summer long, my clients host different groups of friends and family. There’s a dinner party every night, with formal courses and everything. The days are long, but it doesn’t feel like work, because I’m doing what I love to do, and in an amazing place. I have free rein to make the menu, and it’s especially fun because the guests change every week. One week it’ll be kids in their 20s, the next an older crowd, so it never gets old, and I’m always meeting fascinating people.

Q: I know you don’t cook and tell, but we know there are some lords and ladies at your table, right?

It feels normal at the time, but later I’ll realize I was just chatting with someone who knew Prince William and Princess Diana personally, or someone who let Will and Kate use one of their castles in Scotland. Who has two castles?

Q: What’s a favorite lamb dish that came from your travels there?

The Cardamom-spiced lamb roast is one that I first did there; there’s a lot of North African influence in southern France especially, and those flavors really work well with the local wine!

Step aside bunny

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 Step aside, bunny. As much as we love your chocolate eggs, Easter is a lamb day, and we at True Aussie Lamb are ready to own it! Sure, it’s a day of family and celebration, and often big gatherings around the table with kids, grandparents and in-laws. And while it may be a little more formal than your average affair, that doesn’t mean you have to spend all day slaving in the kitchen to turn out an impressive spread. We talked to world-class caterer Renee Scharoff of Blonde on the Run catering in Boston, MA for some of her tips and favorite Aussie lamb dishes to set the Easter holiday table with ease and style.

 lamb shank renee Q: Aside from tradition, what makes Aussie lamb and Easter work well together?

A: Especially here in Boston, it’s definitely not grilling weather yet, so low and slow in the oven is a good place to start. Roasted or braised lamb is always impressive, too — it has a special-occasion feel, even though it’s actually really easy to prepare. That’s another great thing about cooking low and slow. You can make it the night before, or “set it and forget it” in the oven while you take care of other details.

Q: What are some keys to a successful dinner party or celebration meal?

A: I have a fashion background, so I am always interested in the visual elements and making the table look pretty. I want great color along with great flavor, and bright and fresh works both visually and on the palate. We all eat with our eyes first!

Q: What are some of your favorite lamb dishes for Easter entertaining?

A: My lamb shank bourguignon is always a winner — it has the (other) holy trinity of bacon, lamb and wine, which is pretty much unbeatable. You can also make it the day before, which makes for a stress-free day of service. I think it actually tastes better the next day!

A little less traditional is my cardamom-spiced leg of lamb. It’s wonderfully fragrant with cloves, cardamom and cinnamon, and is very showy on the carving board. But it’s also very easy to put together, and once you put it in the oven, you’re basically done — very hands-off. You want to be spending time with your family, not be locked away in the kitchen.