“Cooking is not complicated. You have to be well organized, to remember things, and to have a bit of taste.”
— Eugenie Brazier
People think of French cooking as fussy and prim, but it is also elemental. And a cook like Eugenie Brazier reminds us of that.
This book of her recipes and recollections, collected in 1975, are anchored in personality and history. Eugenie Brazier grew up on a French farm and her first memories are of chores before breakfast and a brisk face scrub after she’d eaten.
Her recollections are brisk as well. Through her life, Brazier did what was necessary to support herself and her son, to deal with wartime privations, and to survive and thrive as a female restaurateur. Primarily, what had to be done was hard, daily work. And anyone who had the energy to keep up with her was valued–including future meilleur ouvrier, Paul Bocuse.
Perhaps most reflective of her personality is what the book doesn’t include–mention of her six Michelin stars, the meals served to presidents and movie stars, the starred chefs who started out by washing dishes in her kitchen.
Brazier recalls that she always like to cook and always liked things to be clean–good things for a future restaurateur. She began by cooking for a Lyon family during World War 1, moved on to work in a restaurant, then another, and then opened her own in 1922 with 12,000 francs she’d saved from her labors. Her first menu cost 5 francs: crayfish mayonnaise, pigeon with peas, and brioche with rum-flamed apples. She had a slow start, but soon her biggest problem was finding enough chairs for all her customers. One day, a local vendor simply delivered the chairs she needed and told her to pay as she could. And she did, every franc.
And you can still eat at La Mere Brazier, on Rue Royale in Lyon, where the menu has been updated with foams and jam on iberico. Or you can try these classic recipes–you’ll learn and you’ll dine. These are recipes, warns the translator, in the “oral tradition.” They have been transcribed from interviews and measurements are only precise where they have to be. So right away, you’ll learn to use your eyes and brain when cooking.
The book begins with eggs, which I think only the French truly appreciate and Mere Brazier puts them through their paces. She begins with basic, but precise scrambled eggs, then she poaches, coddles, and cocottes them, bringing them to apotheosis in quenelles and soufflés. That alone is the work of a year in the kitchen.
You may never make eels Charente or pork head cheese, but perhaps there will be a New Year’s Eve that warrants truffled crepes and why not return to a nostalgic quiche Lorraine, rich with cream and four eggs (measurements here precise).
Yes, it’s good to eat with La Mere.