Ann Volkwein Saxton is a study in contrasts – pretty, blonde and brainy, her cookbook roster boasts a wide swath of good eating. Italian cooking in the Arthur Avenue Cookbook; Chinese delicacies in Chinatown New York and served up with a slice of Americana in Drive-ins, Diners and Dives.
Mixt Salads is her latest offering, a collaborative effort with Andrew Swallow of San Francisco’s Mixt Greens, his very own invention of salad boutiques that incorporate the green movement, organic sustainable farming, local ingredients, seasonal eating and the architecture of creating delectable, healthy and pure salads. His secret: blending textures, acidity, sweetness and “anatomy”, the art of combining ingredients outside the realm of traditional salads.
What’s her recipe for success? As any good cook will attest, it starts with the finest ingredients, and these she has in spades. After prepping at Andover, spending a year abroad with a French family in high school and earning an anthropology degree from Barnard, she found that studying people’s pastimes fed her food passion. Savvy enough to know she didn’t want to earn her living by cooking, she also was smart to combine her love of writing with food. After college, she externed at The Food Network, merely an emerging idea in the late 90s, where she co-produced and later helped design and manage the website.
Testing recipes came naturally (her mom was an earlier Julia, cooking her way through the famous Volumes I and II; her dad founded a gourmet dinner club) and Ann and her sister Katherine benefited from both. TFN gave her a wide berth, and while producing the show and creating the website, she earned her .culinary degree at night from Peter Kump’s Cooking School, (now renamed the Institute for Culinary Education.)
Then she was off to AOL for a 5-year stint, building on her web-based skills and writing features for its CityGuide, including restaurant and gourmet shop reviews.
A brief period of working with Susan Friedland, the cookbook editor for Harper Collins, followed, and she then wrote a collaborative book, Fifty Best Brunches in New York, which she co-authored with Jason Oliver Nixon for City and Company. It seemed Ann had found her niche. “Chef’s can’t write – even their recipes, if they have them, are scrawled on pieces of paper. Adapting them into usable form is my contribution.”
She then set off for Arthur Avenue, fascinated by the Italian enclave in the Bronx, and fixated on doing a book capturing the real Little Italy. Getting the shopkeepers to speak to her, however, took some doing. “The Italian-American community is traditional and tightly knit”, she recalls. So, calling upon her anthropology skills, she found people who knew community leaders, and gradually doors began to open. “Slowly I developed ‘street cred’” she recalls. Homey, Italian recipes, made with local ingredients, make your mouth water. She’s quick to give credit to Judith Regan, publisher of Judith Regan Books, whom she met at a photo shoot for The Healthy Table (another collaborative effort) for giving her “free reign” in creating the book.
Conquering Chinatown was her next endeavor, and the complex, vast regional differences required another set of skills. Ann discovered that there are areas south of Canal Street that rival those on the mainland. Who knew? Or that the carefully contained community was so challenging to permeate? Because of the language barrier, coupled with the issue of illegal immigration, she found the Chinese reluctant to trust an outsider. Undeterred, she persuaded a local priest to pave the way, and Chinatown NewYork is the result, with recipes and keys to the kingdom of Chinatown’s warren of shops and purveyors. While not for the faint of heart, shopping in the area is an only-in-New York experience, offering up a bounty of vegetables, fish and staples, some mysterious to most of us.
Collaborating with Guy Fieri, her next project was Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, patterned on the popular food show, capturing the culture of mom-and-pop places across the country. The process opened her eyes to the goodness of America (pun intended), where immigrants, willing to work hard, can become restaurant entrepreneurs. The book made it to number two on the NY Times best seller list, and its sequel, More Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, topped out at number one. She is at work on a third with Guy, which incorporates his own recipes.
Mixt Salads, the compilation of recipes used at Mixt Greens, takes its inspiration from Alice Water’s Chez Panisse, emphasizing locally grown, organic ingredients, carried to a healthy, fast-food concept. Trained chefs behind the counter create concoctions one can only imagine, and they used 55 thousand tons of lettuce the first year. Lines of customers extend out the door and around the corner of each of the 3 San Francisco, 3 Washington, D.C., and 2 Los Angeles locations. Andrew Swallow was a chef at Gramercy Tavern before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, followed by a stint in Aspen. He financed his venture privately, employing his sister, and her degree in biodiversity, to keep a balance and maintain accuracy of ingredients.
The book has a treatise on vinegars, explains 14 varieties of greens and tells you all you want to know (and then some) about properly picking beef, pork, chicken and seafood. Packed with fascinating recipes containing crisp, crunchy, creamy and chewy textures, all top the charts in various combinations.. One of Ann’s favorites for Spring is included below. Don’t be put off by the number of ingredients. Salads are created, not made. You will not be disappointed.
This Woman Around Town is married to Tony Saxton (and she is quick to remind one to include Saxton in her name), a tender touch in this era of women’s independence. They met at The Explorer’s Club, were together for three years, and then recently wed in Blue Hill, Maine. They divide their time between a beautiful brownstone on NYC’s Upper Eastside, and a house and garden in Austin, TX, where Tony runs FTL Solar, a company specializing in solar-designed canopies and structures that turn sunlight into energy. Both are avidly driven to preserve the environment, yet maintain conservative values. A study in contrasts. Kind of like those found in Mixt Salads.
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Dine: Tocqueville, One East 15th Street
Favorite Place to Shop: Oriol Balaguer, ABC and poking around in the Flower District
Favorite New York Moment: Emerging into Grand Central’s great hall and looking up at the starry ceiling always gives me a thrill
Favorite New York Sight: The majestic trees along The Mall promenade in Central Park, in any weather
What You Love About New York: The energetic pace of life–with take-out from 25 countries at your doorstep
What You Hate About New York: That same great pace occasions the loss of childhood favorites such as the closing of Cafe des Artistes
Mr. Bean – Spring Lamb with Grilled Baby Artichokes
½ cup chopped fresh garlic
10 sprigs fresh thyme
2 t. kosher salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
2 T chopped fresh garlic
8 spring lamb tenderloins
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 T chopped garlic
¼ cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 red bell pepper
8 baby artichokes
Extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces frisee
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the beans, soak them in water to cover for 4 hours. Drain.
In large saucepan, combine 8 cups water with the beans, lemon half, garlic, thyme and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 to 50 minutes, until al dente.
For the lamb, combine olive oil, rosemary and garlic in shallow dish; add the lamb tenderloins, and marinate for 3 to 6 hours, depending on how much time you have and how much flavor you want the meat to absorb,
For the tapenade, combine the olive oil, spring garlic and olives in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
For the salad, over an open flame, roast the bell pepper until all sides are charred, but not completely burnt. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 5 minutes, steaming the pepper, making it easier to remove the skin. Remove skin and seeds, then julienne and set aside.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil on the stove. Peel off the outer artichoke leaves until you reach a layer where they are almost yellow. Blanch the artichokes for 7 minutes, and then let them cool before cutting each one in half. Coat them with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the grill to medium high. Remove the lamb from the marinade, being careful also to remove any garlic and rosemary, as they will burn on the grill. Season with salt and pepper and grill for 4 to 5 minutes, turning a few times, until medium rare. Grill the artichokes at the same time, turning, for about 3 minutes. Let the lamb rest for 2 to 3 minutes, and then slice.
Assembling the salad
Place the beans, bell pepper, frisee and artichokes in a bowl with the tapenade. Toss gently and season with salt and pepper. Place the sliced lamb on top and serve.