The Gourmet Gossip - Gary Sappington

Free-lance chef Gary Sappington shares some of his advance-preparation specialties.



Gary Sappington, a free-lance chef, prepares one of his specialities in his small, functional kitchen.

Reprinted from the June 1977 issue of Palm Springs Life Magazine.

It is well known that Gary Sappington, free-lance chef, extraordinaire, prepares and serves divinely elegant fare for some of our most celebrated desert residents.

What is not well known, however, is what Gary Sappington might prepare and serve at a party of his own.

As one of a group of dinner guests in his home recently, I speak with authority when I say Gary prepares and serves the same divinely elegant fare with the same enviable, quiet efficiency he provides for his many happy-to-have-found-him clients.

"I believe the secret of a good party is a relaxed hostess or host," Sappington said. "That mood is much easier to achieve if one is secure in the knowledge that everything, especially the food, is in readiness before the first doorbell chimes. When I work out a party menu for myself or others, I deliberately include as many make-ahead dishes as possible. In my opinion, recipes that require involved, last-minute cooking should be reserved for entertaining a small group, such as two people."

Prompted by Sappington's obvious enjoyment as he deftly assembled creamy, green avocado slices and sections of juicy, fresh grapefruit on a bed of torn lettuce leaves in his functional kitchen, I asked if he had always liked to cook.

"Well, yes and no," he replied. "I began to cook out of necessity at a very early age. I liked to eat and there wasn't anyone else to do the cooking!

"My father liked to cook and was a cook in the Army where he gained quite a reputation for his unusually light and airy baking powder biscuits. When he left the service, he opened a restaurant. By the way, he was the first one to serve 'Chicken in the Ruff in Tacoma, Washington. As I said, he had the restaurant and worked long hours. Since it was up to my sister, Sandra, and I to run the house, we divided the chores. That is, we did for awhile. It soon became apparent when I did the wash the clothes ended up multicolored, and when I made the beds, they were lumpy. Dad never complained until one day, he jokingly remarked that Sandra's baking powder biscuits were like little, hard-shelled turtles. From then on, I cooked and she did the housework!

"As I grew older," Sappington continued, "and went through the usual years of school, marriage, children and divorce, cooking was a pleasurable pastime for me. I read a great deal, too, about the art, as well as the background of fine cuisine. One day, I'm not really sure why, I came to the conclusion that a lifetime was very short. Maybe I was bored, I don't know. At any rate, I knew I had to make a living/or myself but I felt I could do it in a manner that offered more challenge and less regimentation. Because I liked to cook, I determined I would try my hand at that, professionally. Not in a restaurant, but in private homes, for special occasions. At least, I thought, it was worth a try."

His decision made, Sappington went into action. He flew to France for several weeks of concentrated tutelage at Le Cordon Bleu de Paris, and then returned to Palm Springs, eager to begin his new lifestyle.

"Mrs. Sidney Klein, a truly beautiful person, was my first client," Gary recalled. "It seems so long ago, now. I remember, she seemed to have more faith in my epicurean abilities than I did and gave me carte blanche in her kitchen. I am happy to say everything went well and within weeks I had more work than I had ever imagined.

"I must admit," Gary said with a laugh, "there have been disasters, too. For example, one evening I prepared a lovely soufflé at the home of Mrs. Shirley Baskin. Somehow, as I was arranging dessert plates, my sleeve or button or something caught the soufflé dish. Suddenly I was staring in utter disbelief at a floor covered with a layer of lemon fluff! Magnificently undaunted, Mrs. Baskin walked to the freezer and removed a carton of one of the famous '31 flavors' of ice cream. Believe me, I'm sure I have never seen a more beautiful sight!

"I've gained in courage since then, and experience. Now I look forward to bigger and better goals for the future. As each year goes by, I can see the possibilities for opportunities are almost limitless in the field of cooking and its preparation."

When he visited France, Sappington was introduced to a charming woman, Madame Marie-Blanche de Broglie, who founded and operates the Princess Ere 2001 Cooking School in Paris. She holds classes there as well as at her château in Normandy, near Rouen, where she resides with her husband and two sons.

This past spring Sappington sponsored Madame de Broglie's visit to the United States, during which time she gave a mini-series of cooking demonstrations here and in San Diego. "The presentation was met with such enthusiasm," Sappington happily declared, "I've been asked to bring Madame de Broglie back again next spring.

"In addition, I hope to conduct a tour group of adventurous gourmets and gourmands to France next summer. Present plans include eight days filled with morning cooking instruction by Madame de Broglie at her château where the group will lodge, afternoon excursions to the surrounding countryside, and a final day participating in a champagne gala at the de Broglie apartment in Paris. Naturally, it is still very much in the working stage; there are so many things to consider, but I am very excited about it."

At this point we sat down to enjoy a most festive meal, timed perfectly, served beautifully and with each bite of food tasting better than the last. I feel very confident Gary Sappington made the right decision when he chose cooking and its many phases as his lifetime work.

The following recipes are from Sappington's vast number of advance-preparation specialties. It is possible they may be recognized as something prepared by him and savored in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hope or Mr. and Mrs. Hal Wallis or Mr. and Mrs. Charles Borwick — the list goes on and on. His name, together with his gastronomic delights, has become an integral part of many at-home social events since the day Mrs. Klein said, "Gary, you're hired!"

Gnocchi in Tart Shells (In three parts)

Pastry:

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tbs. vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1-1/4 sticks sweet butter (10 tbs.)
3 tbs. lard (needed for texture)

Butter must be prepared before using by placing it in a tea towel and pounding it with a mallet or rolling pin to remove excess moisture. Refrigerate if necessary after pounding, since butter must be cold but workable.

Pile flour in the center of a marble slab or pastry board. Fashion a well in the center of the flour. Into the well, place remaining ingredients. With your fingers, work the flour gradually toward the center to gather together and combine. As you work, gently push the dough out and away from you with the palm or heel of your hand in quick motions to smooth flour and any large bits of fat Scrape dough into a large ball. Dust lightly with flour. Wrap in foil and refrigerate to "rest" for 2 hours or overnight.

To prepare shells; Remove pastry from foil and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll to about a 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired size circles for tart or muffin pan. Use your fingers to press the pastry into the bottom and sides of the pan and form an even rim. Prick slightly with a kitchen fork to prevent puffing during baking. Bake shells in a 425° oven, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness of pastry. Should be lightly browned. Set aside.

Gnocchi:

2/3 cup water
2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbs. sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 U.S. graded "large" eggs

Cut the butter into 4 pieces and put it in a saucepan with the water, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. The butter should melt before the boil is reached. Have the flour ready in a cup.

As soon as the water comes to the boil, lower the heat to simmer, and dump in all the flour at once. Stir vigorously, with a wooden spoon if available, until all the flour is absorbed. Thick dough results. Use the spoon to mash the dough against the bottom and sides of the pan for 1 or 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes.

Place the steel knife in position in the work bowl and add the contents of the saucepan. Process for 10 to 15 seconds. Remove the cover and break 4 eggs into the work bowl. Put back the cover and process until smooth and shiny, about 30 to 45 seconds. The mixture will be very thick. This dough can be used immediately, or covered and refrigerated for one or two days.

The above recipe is puff shell dough from "How to Use Your Cuisinart Food Processor" by Cuisinarts, Inc. — any recipe for pate a chou may be substituted.

Place prepared dough into a large pastry bag fitted with a large decorating point (No. 8 — used for éclairs). Hold pastry bag over large pot of slow-boiling, salted water. Squeeze and cut dough with a sharp knife into 1/2-inch lengths. Dip the knife periodically into water to prevent sticking. Continue until all dough has been used. Boil 8 to 10 minutes or until fluffy but firm. Drain into colander, then lower colander into a deep pan filled with cold water. Drain again and set aside. These may be made in advance, covered and refrigerated.

Béchamel Sauce:

4 tbs. butter
4 tbs. flour
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/16 tsp. white pepper
1/16 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup Swiss cheese, grated (preferably Jarlsberg — Norwegian)

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, stir in flour and cook for a moment or two. Remove from heat and gradually stir in milk. Continue until all milk has been used and sauce is smooth. Return saucepan to heat, and cook, stirring constantly until sauce is thick. Remove from heat, add seasonings and cheese. Stir to melt cheese. Set aside.

To prepare finished dish: Combine gnocchi and béchamel sauce. Pour into baked tart shells that have been arranged on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake in a 350° oven about 10 minutes, or place under the broiler just long enough to melt cheese. These may be prepared as much as 3 hours ahead, ready for final baking.

Lemon Souffle

Souffle base:
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs. flour
3/4 cup milk
6 egg whites
Grated lemon peel and juice of 1 lemon, plus 2 tbs. sugar
Powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks until lemon yellow. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add flour and mix until well blended. In a saucepan, scald milk (do not boil) and pour slowly into egg mixture. Return to saucepan and cook over medium heat until thick. Remove from heat and stir in lemon peel, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar. This is the cream, or base, portion of the souffle and may be prepared as much as a week ahead. To store: place in a covered container and refrigerate. This amount of base is enough for two 11/2-quart souffles. In other words, to use the entire amount of the base mixture would require 12 egg whites.

To finish soufflé: Prepare straight-sided 1-1/2 quart casserole or soufflé dish by buttering sides and bottom of the dish. Lightly dust buttered areas with granulated sugar. Turn dish upside down over sink to remove excess sugar. Heat oven to 400°. Beat egg whites until very stiff, and then fold beaten whites carefully into half the base mixture until well distributed. Pour into prepared dish. If you have prepared the mixture correctly, Sappington does not feel it is necessary to tie a "collar" to the soufflé dish for the soufflé to hold its shape. A trick is to run a knife or long spatula to form a trough around the edge of the mixture, about I-1/2 inches in from the rim of the dish, before it goes in the oven. It will appear like a groove in the baked soufflé, and the center of the mixture will rise from the rest.

Bake soufflé 10 to 15 minutes, or until well risen and top is lightly browned. Dust top with powdered sugar and serve immediately. Do not push into soufflé with spoon. Instead, use two spoons in a back-to-back motion and break the airy mixture into serving portions.

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