Dining with Chef David Tanis

There are so many things to remember these days, so many things to juggle. We are eager to dismiss those tasks that seem overly laborious, and in recent years dinner has been the unsuspecting victim. Luckily for us, there are chefs like Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and David Tanis of Chez Panisse fame who would like to remind us of the importance of food. Tanis’ newest cookbook, The Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys ($35, Artisan), teaches that quality food and thoughtful preparation deserve our respect and our time.

We recently had the opportunity share a meal with Tanis, who offered his thoughts across a colorful spread of simple ingredients, thoughtfully crafted by Hopkins in preparation for Restaurant Eugene’s recurring author dinner series. We began with crab deviled eggs, duck terrine and pickled okra, followed by a fresh mixture of locally grown baby carrots, cauliflower and cipollini onions, then a beet salad with a surprising citrus tang and radish crunch. But this was just an introduction to the real showcase: roasted chicken with sage, bacon infused peas and cabbage with apples.

“Dining together (and not in restaurants) is so important to establishing culture,” Tanis reminds us. “Children need exposure to this.” Seems like a challenging assignment, doesn’t it? Not for Tanis, who still prepares dinner every evening after leaving the restaurant near 11 p.m. Tanis has made it easy for us, though; his recipes and insightful musings, seasonally arranged, emphasize the excellence of simplicity.

You’ll have no trouble gathering your brood around the table when you introduce them to Chef Tanis’ modern re-invention of classic Southern ingredients:

Molasses Pecan Squares

8 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup dark brown sugar

2 eggs, separated

2 tablespoons molasses

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup chopped pecans, plus a handful of whole pecans for topping

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch square baking dish.

2. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks, molasses and vanilla, and beat well.

3. Sift the flour with the baking power and salt, and add to the mixing bowl, stirring well. Stir in the chopped pecans.

4. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold them into the batter.

5. Spread the batter in the dish and sprinkle the whole pecans over the top. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out dry. Cool in pan and cut into 3-inch squares. (Makes 9)

From The Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys