Alumna cookbook author shares recipes from “Repertoire”
“THESE ARE REAL RECIPES from real life, and they really work,” says Jessica Battilana ’00, describing the recipes in “Repertoire,” her first solo, full-length cookbook. Battilana spent many years co-authoring books with renowned chefs Charles Phan, Chad Robertson and Matthew Jennings before venturing off on her own.
While Battilana was growing up, sharing food was always a part of her family’s daily routine, enjoying a meal during the holidays like many families or coming together with snacks after stacking wood outside. It was her mother’s love and enthusiasm for cooking that originally sparked Battilana’s interest in the culinary arts.
During her time on campus as a history major and English minor, what resonated most with Battilana was the power storytelling had in giving someone a voice and showcasing their identity. She felt the same passion for the culinary arts and its ability to spark connections. “The idea that I would do something with food was not so far-fetched,” she says.
After graduation, she began her career in the food industry, including an internship at La Varenne, a cooking school in the Burgundy countryside of France, where she tested recipes and learned how to make French classics. A few years later Battilana began working as a reservationist at Chez Panisse, the Berkeley restaurant founded by chef Alice Waters and known for its devotion to local, organic food. She soon began to put food — and writing — at the center of her life, taking a job in Sunset Magazine’s test kitchen and writing the Repertoire column for the San Francisco Chronicle, work that led to creating cookbooks.
“Repertoire” is more than just a book of recipes. Not only does Battilana detail cooking techniques and tricks, she introduces each recipe with a personal anecdote or story, giving people “a window into my life beyond the recipe, which makes it unique,” she says.
Much of the book’s inspiration comes from Battilana’s family, and she credits her children, whom she is raising with her wife, Sarah Picard ’99, for pushing her to think in new ways. “I don’t have time to go to four different stores [to find ingredients]. The book became an exercise in exploring the recipes we turn to again and again, and why.”
Everything in “Repertoire” is made with ingredients you can find at any grocery store, and through its unique narrative describes not just how long to cook ingredients, but what they should smell like and even sound like. Battilana hopes that her book can become a staple in kitchens everywhere, whether you are just starting out or have been cooking for years.
“The nice thing about cooking is you can start at any time,” says Battilana. “If you hone a small number of recipes, it’s instantly rewarding.”
– By Jess Ayer
This article appeared as “From Heart to Table” in the winter 2019 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
February 25, 2019