“Six California Kitchens is the quintessential California cookbook, with farm-to-table recipes and stories from Sally Schmitt, the pioneering female chef and original founder of the French Laundry.
Sally Schmitt opened The French Laundry in Yountville in 1978 and designed her menus around local, seasonal ingredients—a novel concept at the time.
With permission copyright image by Mariah Tauger for LA Times.
(April 27, 2023)
“In this soon-to-be-classic cookbook, Sally Schmitt takes us through the six kitchens where she learned to cook, honed her skills, and spent her working life. Six California Kitchens weaves her remarkable story with 115 recipes that distill the ethos of Northern California cooking into simple, delicious dishes, plus evocative imagery, historic ephemera, and cooking wisdom.
With gorgeous food and sense-of-place photography, this is a masterful, story-rich cookbook for home and aspiring chefs who cook locally and seasonally, food historians, fans of wine country, and anyone who wants to bring the spirit of Northern California home with them.
Six California Kitchens will have you eager, in equal parts, to curl up in an armchair and read this inspiring memoir cover to cover, and/or to tie on your apron and pull out your soup pot.”
EatDrinkFilms is pleased to bring our readers a few excerpts from the book, two wonderful recipes, a selection of photos and the award-winning New York Times short film by Ben Proudfoot, The Best Chef in the World.
Reprinted from Six California Kitchens by Sally Schmitt with permission from Chronicle Books, 2022. Photographs unless otherwise noted © Troyce Hoffman.
Preface: My Six Kitchens
We all have a ladder to climb, and then descend. We ﬁrst learn, then achieve, and ﬁnally share what our lives have been all about. My ladder was made up of six kitchens, all of them in California.
My ﬁrst rung was my mother’s kitchen. There I was taught the craft of cooking, which had been handed down through generations of my family. It was passed along to me with care and an emphasis on quality, and it was done gently, with love.
The second kitchen was my ﬁrst commercial one. It was an established operation, but when I was abruptly thrust into it, I had to ﬁgure out how to make it work. So I used what I had learned in my mother’s kitchen: quality, care, craft.
On the next rung up the ladder, I had the chance to design my kitchen and really cook in it for the ﬁrst time, in my own restaurant, the Chutney Kitchen. I did it the way I wanted to, using what I’d learned, and I learned much from doing it.
When starting out, one never knows how high the ladder will reach. My husband, Don, and I reached the apex at the second restaurant we started together, the French Laundry, where we worked for sixteen years. They were magniﬁcent years—cooking for others, sharing food, creating a welcoming atmosphere, striving for quality.
The steps down the ladder are about passing forth, sharing what one has learned and ﬁgured out. My years at the French Laundry were followed by fourteen wonderful years of teaching in my ﬁfth kitchen, at the 30-acre [12-hectare] apple farm we had purchased. It was a time of expanding our community and sharing the joy of cooking, with hope, gentleness, and love.And then, ﬁnally, in my sixth kitchen in the small cottage on the Northern California coast, where we had retired, I didn’t cook for others; I cooked only for Don and myself. I had to learn to cook for two again, which was a pleasure in itself. These were sublime years, and I wish they could have gone on forever.
I am actually now in my seventh kitchen, the one I have not counted. My beloved husband died several years ago, and I cook for just myself now. I am still surrounded by my family, friends, former students, and customers, who all visit me. This matters. Now on the cusp of my ninetieth year, I live on the Apple Farm. I have a window I look out and can watch the change of seasons in the trees, the ﬂowers, and the animals that pass by. I have a kitchen to cook in. And I have a desk for writing.
It is time that I do that, do what I have been thinking about for years: write down and share what I have learned—my recipes, my techniques, and my thoughts on cooking, quality, and craft after working in my six kitchens. It is also my story of climbing up, then back down, this glorious ladder.
Ben Proudfoot’s newest film– a loving tribute to Sally Schmitt.
My Love Affair with Duck
Duck is my favorite meat. I started cooking it at the Chutney Kitchen, and in those early years, I could only get frozen duck from somewhere in the Midwest. I would have to take them out the night before to thaw them so I could bone them in the morning. And since I usually cooked legs rather than breasts, I would end up with a bunch of leftover breasts in the freezer. Bruce LeFavour, that extraordinary chef who ran Rose et LeFavour, over in St. Helena, preferred the breasts. So we would trade my leftover duck breasts for his legs.
Then I heard about Liberty Ducks, which Jim Reichardt was starting up in the Sonoma Valley. Even though it was a new business, Jim was a fourth- generation duck grower. His family ran, and still runs, the Reichardt Duck Farm in Petaluma, where they raise Pekin ducks.
But Jim wanted to strike out on his own, thus the name Liberty. He chose to raise a leaner and meatier strain of Pekin duck, which came out of Denmark. In addition, he refused to use antibiotics or hormones and he didn’t cage his ducks. He let them roam freely outdoors, feeding them corn and other grains. It made a difference. Their meat had a better texture, was more tender, and was deﬁnitely tastier.
And Jim was willing to sell pieces and parts. Hallelujah! I could buy great legs, breasts, livers, and duck fat in separate packages. Oh joy, because I could cook my legs several different ways on different nights. I had only one way that I liked to present the breasts, which was to pantry them and fan out the rare slices over bitter greens or cabbage, with something a little sweet to add contrast, such as sautéed apples.
The livers we made into my favorite presentation for big parties, Duck Liver Pâté with Rosemary & Orange. In later years, I learned to make a conﬁt, gently poaching the legs in large quantities of duck fat. But I gave that up because I decided that cooking the legs my way was just as good and quicker, and much less extravagant than using all that duck fat.
When it was just Don and me and I was cooking mostly for two, I was buying whole ducks again, still from Jim at my beloved Liberty Ducks.
I enjoyed boning out just one duck, as opposed to the ﬁfteen to twenty I used to do for the restaurant. I’d cook a duck leg for dinner one night, or two legs so I’d have enough left over to garnish a salad the next day or use for tacos. The breast I’d put in the freezer and save for a special occasion. The trimmings produced a little jar of duck fat and enough cracklings to garnish a salad or soup. The bonus, which I value most highly, was the large pot of stock I could make from the bones.
Portuguese Duck and Sausage in Rice
serves 6 / total time: 2½ hours
There’s nothing about the ingredients here that are Portuguese, but the idea for this recipe came from the Portuguese arroz de pato, a traditional dish of duck and rice from southern Portugal cooked in a clay pot with chouriço, the Portuguese version of chorizo. The clay pot not only looks great but contributes to the flavor of the food you’re cooking. Paula Wolfert, whose collection of unglazed earthenware numbers in the hundreds, has said that if she only had one dish to cook in, it would be a clay pot. In Oaxaca, I was touched by the heartfelt openness of the wonderful chef Abigail Mendoza, who lived in a simple adobe hut with a roll-up metal door. She prepares her native Zapotec food at Tlamanalli, her restaurant in Teotitlán del Valle. In her home, I watched her put a really big cazuela (a Mexican earthenware cooking dish) right on the open gas fire. I was terrified it would break. Later, when I looked at the beautiful cazuelas in the Oaxaca marketplace, they were so plentiful and inexpensive, I realized that if it did break, she could afford to replace it easily. Since then, I’ve been adding to my own collection. They are as lovely as they are useful.
How to bone a duck:
Boning a duck is just as easy as boning a chicken, and you do it almost the same way. The plan is to end up with two whole bone-in leg-and-thigh pieces, and two boneless breast halves, all with skins attached. I use the tip of my santoku knife, which is always sharp, but a boning knife works just as well.
1.With the breast side up, remove the wings and save them for the stockpot.
- Carefully ﬁnd the joint between the thigh and the carcass and cut around it, breaking it loose as you go. Don’t separate the legs from the thighs. Do not skin.
- Still with the breast side up, locate the tip of the breast bone, and with the tip of your knife, remove one breast as cleanly as possible.
- Repeat with the other breast piece. Do not skin, but trim some of the excess fat. Save all the remnants, bones, fat, and trimmings for the stockpot.
Preheat the oven to 400°F [200°C].
In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil: 6 cups [1.4 L] chicken stock
Lower the heat and keep the stock hot. On a work surface, place: 6 duck legs, with thighs attached, trimmed of any excess skin and fat, at room temperature
Season with: Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Transfer to a roasting pan and cook the ducks in the oven until deeply browned, about 45 minutes. Turn off the oven.
Pour off the excess fat, setting aside 3 Tbsp for this dish, and saving the rest to make the cracklings (see Note below). Return the duck legs to the oven to rest while you proceed with the recipe.
In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the 3 Tbsp of reserved duck fat.
Add: 2 large onions, sliced lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, sliced
Sauté until softened and season well with: Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Transfer the onion and garlic mixture to another large roasting pan, a casserole dish, or, best choice, an earthenware cazuela.
In the skillet, gently sauté until browned: 2 andouille sausages, sliced into coins
Discard the fat, and transfer the sausage to the roasting pan with the onions.
Add a little of the hot chicken stock to the skillet, heat turned off, and use a pastry brush to dissolve the bits and pieces on the bottom in the liquid. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour into the roasting pan with the onions and sausage.
Remove the duck from the oven and reheat the oven to 350°F [180°C].
In a clean skillet over medium heat, warm or melt: 3 Tbsp butter or olive oil
Add: 2 cups [400 g] rice
Cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is hot and just showing a little color, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the roasting pan along with: 1 cup [60 g] sun-dried tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
Arrange the duck on top. Pour over 4 cups [960 ml] of the reserved hot chicken stock. Cover the pan loosely with foil and bake until the rice is cooked, at least 30 minutes.
Uncover to let the duck crisp up again, about 10 more minutes.
The dish will hold, loosely covered in a 300°F [150°C] oven, for at least 1 hour. The extra time in the oven actually improves the flavor and texture. I like the crisp, brown edges around the pan.
To serve, spoon some of the rice on each plate and place a duck leg on top.
Sprinkle with: Cracklings from the reserved rendered duck fat and Coarsely chopped fresh parsley
Spoon a little of the remaining chicken stock over each serving.
Good chicken or duck stock is really important in this recipe.
To Make Cracklings:
Cut the reserve trimmings of skin and fat into 1/2 (12mm) inch dice. Warm reserve duck fat in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the trimmings, turn the heat to low, and cook the dice trimmings until they render their fat and are nicely browned. It will probably take about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and salt immediately. Keep warm or re-warm in oven when ready to use. These also make a delicious snack for a hungry cook or helper.
Apricot & Cherry Clafoutis
serves 10 / prep time: 30 min / cook time: 30 min
This is a simple way of producing a fruit dessert very quickly, and it is altogether satisfying and delicious. Sour cherries are traditionally used for clafoutis in France, but since we only have sweet cherries locally, I decided to add apricots for some extra zing. In France, they don’t pit the cherries, which probably makes them more flavorful, but it’s safer to serve the clafoutis without the pits!
This is at its very best served warm from the oven. It will puff up dramatically, and then lose air while cooling. So if you want to show it off, be sure to present it to your guests right out of the oven. It is a perfect brunch offering as well as a lovely dessert.
Preheat the oven to 375°F [190°C].
In a small dish, combine:
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Set aside the cinnamon sugar. In the oven, warm a 10 in [25 cm] deep-dish pie plate or a cast-iron skillet.
In a large bowl, whisk together until smooth (or use a blender):
1 cup [240 ml] half-and-half or milk
¼ cup [60 ml] melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
Add gradually, while whisking (or with the blender running): ²⁄³ cup [90 g] all-purpose flour
To the warmed pie plate (or skillet), add: 2 Tbsp butter
Swirl the dish to melt the butter, and scatter over the bottom of the dish:
3 cups [420 g] halved and pitted cherries
2 cups [450 g] pitted and quartered apricots, preferably Blenheims
Drizzle with: A splash of brandy
Return the pie plate to the oven. When the fruit is hot, after about 15 minutes, pour the batter over it and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture.
Bake until puffy and set, 25 to 30 minutes.
Serve, preferably very warm, with any of the following:
Apple cider syrup (recipe in book)
Vanilla ice cream or Cinnamon Ice Cream (recipe in book)
A dollop of whipped cream or sour cream
VISIT THE OFFICIAL SIX CALIFORNIA KITCHENS WEBSITE for articles, family history, events and much more.
The Schmitt family have many ventures.
Visit The Apple Farm in Philo where the Farm Stand offers wonderful apples & pears, jams & jellies, chutney, ciders and the best apple juice this editor has consumed. There are special Saturday Suppers and quiet overnight accommodations.
The Boonville Hotel offers prix fixe dinners Thursday-Monday with selected winery dinners plus 17 unique rooms for the perfect getaway.
Farmhouse Mercantile is across the street with an ever changing selection of items for the home and the body with a focus on local artisans.
To learn about the other family businesses including art, photography, clothing, design, branding and fine construction go here.
The San Francisco Chronicle published a series of articles about the Anderson Valley in April, 2023.
This undiscovered wine region is the affordable alternative to Napa Valley.
Locals want to keep it secret — but at what cost? This California wine region is at a crossroads.