All good cooks have someone who made an impression on their life and for me, it happens to be my grandmother, Simone Hubert.
Simone was a French woman who was raised in West Warwick, Rhode Island. She spent most of her time either in the kitchen or out in her amazing flower garden. When I was asked to tag along with her to go grocery shopping, it took the better half of a day.
Simone would go out to Narragansett to pick up our quahogs at the little bait shop, and she would coax the owner to give her a few quarts of clam juice (which she never paid for). She would also pick up a bushel of live crabs.
We would drive down to a small town called Artic to pick up bread at a little bakery, and we would stand in the lobby talking to the baker for what seemed like hours. I would always get a Cabinet (milk shake) while I sat not so quietly on a bar stool.
Our next stop would be to see her friend, the butcher, to pick up salt pork and a variety of other meats that she never had to ask for. He just seemed to know exactly what she wanted and she trusted that he knew, which always seemed strange to me as a young boy. She would always stay and talk and talk and talk, but I was happy since the butcher just kept feed
ing me all kinds of deli meat. Sometimes he would make a sandwich of fried bologna, homemade bread and really spicy mustard.
Simone would also make a stop for gas since her Oldsmobile Cutlass Convertible was not a hybrid, and we would go into the gas station to the produce market that local farmers kept stocked.
If I was well-behaved on our shopping spree, Grandma would sometimes stop at Del's Lemonade. If you have never had Del's, you have never had lemonade! If I was really well-behaved, she would stop in Warwick and get a giant fried dough thing covered in powdered sugar. Yum!
Grandma never shopped at the grocery store because she wanted to know all the different markets and what they could supply to her during all the different seasons. I really had no clue that she was teaching me how important it was to support local food sources and to buy food that was not processed. She would drive all over town, spending her hard-earned money on people she knew and had grown to appreciate that she needed them and they needed her.
The example she set for me was incredibly valuable, as I came to understand that she was teaching me to know where your food comes from. Feed your child a fish, feed them for the day. Teach your child to fish, feed them for a lifetime.
Simone was a fantastic baker, cook, grandmother and friend. I miss her immensely -- and her Manhattan clam chowder is the best, and there are possibly thousands of people in and around West Warwick who will attest to it. She would bring some in small containers on our shopping sprees and give it to all of her "friends" at the markets she frequented. They all lit up when they saw Simone and always asked "Si! Did you bring us chowdah?"
I am glad to share her piece of history with you. Grandma told me the first time I helped her make chowder, "Gregory this recipe is not good if you don't add love and a little bacon!"
MANHATTAN CLAM CHOWDER
1/2 pound salt pork
1 quart white onions, chopped
2 quarts potatoes, cubed small
10 pounds tomato puree (pureed whole peeled tomatoes)
1- 1/2 quarts clam juice
1- 1/2 quarts chopped clams (quahogs)
Sauté salt pork and onions in kettle, stirring frequently until translucent. Add potatoes, clams, juice and puree. DO NOT drain clams. Simmer for 2 hours and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove salt pork before service. For Rhode Island chowder, remove tomatoes and add clam stock. Makes 16-22 servings, enough to share with your favorite store owners.
Greg Campbell, executive chef at Pier 22 Restaurant in Bradenton, can be reached at email@example.com.