A Culinary Trip Around the Mediterranean with Joanne Weir

By Kaye Cloutman, Photography by Michael Kagan and David Darugh

When was the last time you shared an interest with a group of people who were as passionate about something as you are? If it’s been a while, then I seriously urge you to plan to do it again soon. I get this excuse all the time: “Life gets in the way, and I am so swamped with all sorts of hare-brained stuff!” A very good friend whom I haven’t seen for years told me very recently “Do something excellent; then pat yourself on the back for a job well done.  How does that feel?” No man is certainly an island, and there is definitely magic that happens with collaboration. Whether it is seeing a concert, hiking up the mountains, running for a noble cause, or talking about your favorite books over potluck food, the impact of positive group activities gives us that priceless sense of belonging that is an integral element to our overall human existence.

Last Thursday, I had the very special privilege of visiting Joanne Weir’s lovely home in San Francisco. This multi-talented and renowned chef-turned-author and TV personality juggles her yearly calendar with cooking and traveling tours and book signings. If she isn’t teaching in her home kitchen, Weir is spotted as the guest of honor at local foodie events or taping her PBS show Weir Cooking in the City. With Alice Waters and Madeleine Kamman as mentors, it is no wonder that Weir is the recipient of many culinary awards and honors from Julia Child, IACP and the James Beard Foundation. Weir is almost always surrounded by people who love her food and mentoring and that Thursday morning was no exception as I witnessed a group of wonderful folks swarming her kitchen table like bees on a honeycomb.

Joanne is always enthusiastic about teaching and sharing experiences from her many travels

The scent of herbs and breads saturating the air was intoxicating as I proceeded towards her kitchen island and patio. She had about seven students that day–most of whom traveled from different states. They had been immersed heavily with Joanne and her cuisine for a couple of days now attending the Trip Around the Mediterranean cooking course. From Southern France and Italy’s rustic charm to the wonderful and magical Greece and Morocco, each day gives students the opportunity to concoct dishes that celebrate these countries’ cultures, but I was super elated that day when I found out that they were going to prepare recipes from Spain. The Philippines, being a Spanish colony, has long honored a great number of Spanish-inspired dishes. My grandmother embraced their cuisine to the highest degree when she was still alive, and I vividly remember the merienda cenas she so lovingly put together each and every day. The command my abuela had of the dinner table was almost sacred and Weir’s kitchen successfully evoked precious memories from my childhood.

Her Chorizo Hand Pies crumbled perfectly in my mouth, and I immediately felt the mild heat and tasted the savory flavors of the chorizo, prosciutto, and cumin that merged beautifully with every bite. It surprised me to know that Tequila was used as an integral part of this recipe, and washing it down with her Winter Sangria with white peaches and ginger that had the fruity Gewurztraminer and triple sec was a truly refreshing treat. I really couldn’t get over the sangria; it had a striking peach glow that contrasted superbly with the blueberries. This beverage left me wanting more.

Afterwards, I approached another student who flew in from Arizona, out on the patio as she and her husband were sauteing and watching the paella intently. The couple had attended a cooking class in Arizona, where Joanne was the guest chef and they were immediately drawn to her and her cooking style. “I started buying her books and watching her shows. I collect a lot of cookbooks, and I almost constantly have to test them before I can confidently serve them to my guests, but it’s a different case for Joanne. Her recipes will always come out superb, no matter what. Testing is unnecessary.”

For a couple more minutes, I was just a spectator. The chicken broth in the paella had gradually reduced, which revealed splendid colors from the saffron, cooked rice, olives, pimiento, peppers and parsley, but it wasn’t until she and Joanne finished the topping with generous portions of chicken, shrimps, and clams that you could call it a masterpiece. It was like the crowning of a royalty.

Lunch was a real treat. I got to sit down and exchange pleasantries with Joanne and her students. Sarah Pearson, brand manager for Freixenet and Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards in Sonoma was the special wine guest that day and she poured us some of the most divine Spanish wines I’ve ever tasted. The Cold Tomato Gazpacho from Andalusia was a great way to start things off. The summer weather and the activities around the kitchen added to the already temperate ambiance, so pairing it with the crisp, vivid and aromatic white wine Vionta Albarino was a revitalizing delight that had an excellent palate presence. The Paella was next, and I was quick on my toes to get a hefty serving of this immaculate main course. Delicious pieces of seafood and poultry, with the perfectly crusted saffron rice, washed down with the Tape?a Tempranillo, was authentic Spain and I almost felt like I was dining inside a Valenciana kitchen.

“Was this from grapes harvested in the Galicia province?” a male student asked as Sarah poured a glass of the beautiful Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut. “The vineyard is actually located on the Mas Bernich estate in the high Penedés, where it receives abundant rainfall throughout the year. The Trepat grape used here has its origin in Serral, where the alluvial valley climate creates the perfect environment for the clean light, refreshing structure of this Cava” Pearson explained. How wonderful… Weir’s students knew their wine varietals and geography by heart. I virtually visited the Mediterranean as they each shared their experiences in Provence, La Rioja, Tuscany, and Macedonia.

Joanne pulled me to her home office afterward, and I was in awe that the place was replete with books mostly belonging to the food and wine category. “Exactly how many published books do you have?” I asked Joanne. “There are probably twenty–eight of which I authored–and the rest I collaborated with other magnificent personalities in the food arena,” Weir clarified. “I enjoy my cooking travel and tours abundantly, but I would really like to do some of the Asian cuisines in the near future–particularly Indian and Thai. The flavor dynamics and aromatic cooking of these regions have really fascinated me over the years.”

The Citrus and Cinammon Crema Catalana that was freshly torched waited for me at the dining table, and the majestic hand-blown bottle of Segura Viudas Reserva Geredad beside it will immediately send a dessert-lover to cloud nine. This fabulous and final course is the Catalan version of the French dessert crème brulée and was definitely off-the-charts with its custard-like consistency and flavor. The food and wine pairings that day were exceptional and definitely made a mark on my palate. Joanne’s vibrant aura in and out of the kitchen is unique and will stand out in any situation. I feel honored to have had the privilege to cross paths and raise my glass in a toast together with a woman of such gift and passion.

(L-R) Culinary Assistant Patricia Rodgers, Joanne Weir, GEV Magazine EIC Kaye Cloutman, Culinary Assistant Inken Chrisman and Culinary Assistant Elizabeth Harvey

Cook with Joanne Weir!