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In the Kitchen with Michele Anna Jordan

Sebastopol chef-turned-author tells stories through food

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'You want to learn how to make a salad? I'll teach you how to make a salad," says Michele Anna Jordan, moving quickly through the modest kitchen in her Sebastopol home. Placing a wooden bowl already filled with mixed greens in front of her, she reaches with her other hand for a two-gallon jar to her left.

"The first thing you do when you make a salad is you put salt on it. 'Insalata' means that which is salted," she says.

Her hand reaches into the giant salt jar and she waves it over the bowl in concise circles, raining down tiny white crystals of flavor.

"Then you put on some really good olive oil," she continues. "You're kind of generous with this." More circling; Jordan is indeed generous. "Then you add a little bit of acid, and for this you can squeeze a lemon on. And that's it, that's your daily salad." Jordan smiles, red curls spilling over the frames of her glasses. "If you want to get really fancy, you can add some peppercorns."

For Michele Anna Jordan, this isn't just a salad; it's a story told through shared experience. And it's a story she's been telling since she was seven. This year, the former chef and author of more than 20 books is looking back and telling some of her favorite stories once again, rereleasing four currently out-of-print books from her Good Cook's Book series. Each title is infused with new recipes, new narratives and full-color celebrations of tomatoes, mustard, oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper.

On May 15, Jordan appears at the Occidental Center for the Arts for a reading and discussion that highlights her most recent rereleases, The Good Cook's Book of Tomatoes and The Good Cook's Book of Mustard, as well as her other recent works, More Than Meatballs and Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings.

BORN TO EAT

Jordan was born and raised in Vallejo. "I was born a good eater; my mother was not a good cook," she says. From an early age, Jordan exhibited a sophisticated palate, one that allowed her to identify watermelons' peak ripeness at age four and propelled her to order her steak rare before she was in high school. By seven years old, Jordan was throwing dinner parties and recreating dishes by taste alone.

"The hardest thing was getting my mother to get the ingredients I wanted," she laughs.

Self-taught in the kitchen, Jordan moved to Sonoma County full-time in 1972, where she attended Sonoma State University for liberal studies, as well as French, Russian and English literature. "I just cooked. I had dinner parties for everybody in college," she says.

Forty years ago, Sonoma County was a very different place. "There was no food scene, but there was a farm scene," she says. "I used to go out to buy salmon in Bodega Bay. There was Miller's drive-in dairy in Petaluma. It was an actual drive-in and they had raw milk in glass bottles. There was Sonoma Cheese Factory."

Jordan was soon working in restaurants, learning tricks of the trade on the job and refining her palate. A decade later, she was running professional kitchens, even earning "Outstanding Sonoma County Chef" from the Sonoma County Art Awards in 1989.

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