by François de Mélogue
One of my favorite regions in America is Northern California. In a lot of ways, the picturesque Anderson Valley of Mendocino County reminds me in spirit of the South of France and Italy, though perhaps in an obscure kind of way. The sun-kissed rocky hills and foggy valley floor are home to thousands of acres of grape vines, small organic farms and herds of goats and sheep. Its bucolic small towns nestled among towering redwoods and craggy coastlines bathed in the golden California sunshine are a photographer’s wet dream. Like Peter Mayle’s biographical series ‘A Year in Provence’, Mendocino boasts a unique rhythm governed by its own cast of colorful characters that people the region. Artists, musicians, farmers, brewers, and vintners shape and enrich the colorful tapestry woven from a strong, sustain- able, organic and independent fabric.
Time is measured not by days, weeks or months but by the seasons. If Boonville is the cultural center of Anderson Valley life, then the Boonville Hotel has to be the incubator where ideas are contrived. I recently spoke with Kendra McEwen about piment d’ville, a fresher, more robust alternative to piment d’espelette for chefs and home cooks in America. “Piment d’ville all started in the kitchen at the Boonville Hotel where Chef Johnny Schmitt had been using piment d’espelette for decades after he discovered it traveling around Southern France.
One day he realized that we may live in the perfect climate to attempt growing the chile ourselves. In 2010 we cultivated a pepper field out back and grew 50 plants just to see if we could do it. We were pleasantly surprised to see that our fresh product was even better than what we had been buying out of France. We renamed our variety piment d’ville in respect of the espelette AOC, and in 2011 we grew 100 plants, then 1000 plants in 2012, 5000 plants in 2013, 10,000 plants in 2014 and this year we will plant 30,000. We grow it because we want to eat it on everything. That’s the real reason. And beyond that, we want to share it with everyone and help all kitchens be equipped with this “third spice” that becomes as invaluable as salt once you’ve tried it. The history of our company is still being written, really, as we’re only in our third year of selling commercially. We are a small town crew of spunky farmers and chefs. We do everything by hand, and we make sure to play just as hard as we work.”
Last winter I was in the Anderson Valley for a speaking engagement at the sold out 11th Annual Alsace Festival technical conference. My friend and designer extraordinaire, Torrey Douglass of Lemon Fresh Design, suggested getting together to do a Sunday afternoon tribute to piment d’ville. The menu gives you an idea about the versatility of this amazing spice: Radicchio Salad with grilled Monterey Squid flavored with lemon, basil and piment d’ville; Daube of Lamb Cheeks with Saffron Risotto, and, of course, Piment d’Ville Donuts with Moroccan Hot Chocolate. Its spicy sweetness was the perfect finale to our Sunday afternoon feast.
PIMENT D’VILLE DONUTS
Author: Chef François de Mélogue
Prep time: 10 mins Cook time: 3 mins Total time: 13 mins Serves: 8
A simple donut recipe anyone can make.
INGREDIENTS DONUT DOUGH
2 cups milk
1⁄2 pound butter
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup warm water
1-1/2 teaspoon dry yeast all purpose flour 2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons Piment d’Ville
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Piment d’Ville 1 teaspoon cinnamon
INSTRUCTIONS DONUT DOUGH
1. Boil 2 cups of milk and 1⁄2 pound butter together. When butter is melted remove from heat and cool till just warm.
2. Mix 1⁄4 cup sugar, 1⁄2 cup warm water and 1-1/2 teaspoon dry yeast together in a bowl and let sit for five minutes.
3. Put milk and yeast into the bowl of a mixer fitted with dough attachment. Add 2 teaspoons sea salt, 2 teaspoons Piment d’Ville and 6 egg yolks.
4. Start adding flour by the cup full till you have a ball of dough that is slightly sticky. I know this step will scare some of you. Brace yourselves. It will work out.
5. Knead for 8 minutes till smooth and elastic. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let double in size.
1. Weigh out two ounce pieces and roll into a log shape. Pinch the ends together, put in a warm place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and let rest till it doubles in size.
2. Deep fry in 350 degree oil till brown and crispy on both sides. 3. Roll in granulated sugar mixed with Piment d’Ville and cinnamon.
I use a large heavy gauged pot filled half way with vegetable oil. Put a deep fryer thermometer to check temperature. Be careful not to crowd pot with too many donuts because they will cool the oil and cause the donuts to soak up more fat. Drain donuts on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels.
If you want to serve donut holes simply portion out balls and fry them.
MOROCCAN HOT CHOCOLATE
Author: Chef François de Mélogue
Prep time: 5 mins Cook time: 5 mins Total time: 10 mins
A seductive Adult Hot Chocolate children of all ages will love.
INGREDIENTS HOT CHOCOLATE
1 quart grass fed milk
1 pound bittersweet chocolate 1⁄4 c. sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 teaspoons piment d’ville
1 big pinch saffron
1. Combine everything and bring to boil.
2. Stir well.
3. Serve in small cups. The hot chocolate will be thick and rich. This ain’t your powdered hot chocolate.