Claire and I met a few years back, at Barnes and Noble in Jackson, MS. In no time our conversation jogged along the food pyramid while we talked about tea, veggies, and of course baked goods. I didn’t realize it at first that she was the soul behind one of my favorite treats from the local co-op: chocolate chip oatmeal cookies! They are pure yummy goodness!!Claire’s approach to food is holistic. She doesn’t just enjoy “eating and making it, but living it, learning it and loving it.” She is a true food artist who marries the old and sacred parts of food with the new. A health/eco-conscious philosophy is marinated at the heart of it all. Kristina
Tell us a little bit about yourself name, location, stories, personal stuff.
Well, my name is Claire Fountain… born and bred in the southern state of MS and now I live in Brooklyn, NY. Upstate NY was home for a while and I have to say, it is the spot for real seasons and a fall that takes your breath away. Apples, pumpkins and real fall chills all spells soup, pie & roasts. The city is a funny spot with food from where you might want, and access to all, yet most people still get delivery. Find some smaller spots with great chefs, real love in the food and a conscious about where their ingredients come from…and you’re golden. “tis a food life for me.”
Apart from cooking and food things, what do you do?
Most of my work, when I’m not actually baking, is in food writing and food consultation. I believe that my connection with food is not so much about the actual food but the life and passion around it. I live for the taste of it. Comfort food can get a bad name and I think that’s a shame. We have to take what we know now about health and the environmental impact of food and marry it with the role food plays in our lives. It is home, memory, acceptance, culture, sharing, etc. I enjoy helping the old and the new coexist in a way that allows others to live just as fully, so I do a great deal of recipe trouble shooting, baking for friends, teaching cooking or baking sessions and basically empowering others to get out there and enjoy it too.
What first made you want to become a food psychologist/chef?
It started with the library and my obsession with perfection of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Then it was biscuits…then pancakes. I was into the science behind food, the history, the lore… everything that was food I would read. Did I enjoy Dickens? Not as much as I did researching (and making!) traditional Victorian foods… Already catering and teaching cooking classes at a young age, college seemed like a bother, though I flipped all my course around to mirror what I wanted to know about: Food. The anthropology of it matters a good deal to me as we are now having to go back to an older way of eating close to the earth as we did before industry was born and turned food into commodity. A sad truth.
“I sense my life is like what was said in willy wonka, “My dear boy, do you ask how a fish swims, or how a bird flies?” “No, you don’t. They do it because they were born to do it,..” I was born to me a baker and yes, everything I make is also satisfying and delicious.”
What inspires you to cook?
Inspiration comes from the soul purpose and passion that fuels me everyday… it is unspoken. I would have it no other way. Quite the story of my life, though I cook to find solace. Come back to myself, and honor those around me.
What is your favorite recipe?
There is a favorite for every mood, every season, every person and the list goes on. Some favorites are those I make over and over, time after time. Namely items with shrimp, bouillbasse (tops!), scones with big fresh berries and yeasted cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting. cakes, cookies, muffins… You must stop me before I get into the vegetables dishes or this will be much too long. (Psshh: Fennel, leeks, parsnips, fresh tomatoes and okra are big winners.)
Who is your favorite chef, person who inspires you and you aspire to become?
That’s a biggie. Many mentors have come into my life at just the right times to inspire me as they should… to help me to see certain things in food, learn a new way or encourage me to keep going. Martha Stewart is huge to me as are many of the chefs around the country who do what they do day in and day out.
Simple ways to maintain a healthy and eco-friendly kitchen.
I cannot stress enough knowing where your foods come from and taking a moment to consider what you are buying and why. It is important to educate yourself on what matters to you, your family…your health concerns, etc. It seems so easy as we have long relied on government standards to “tell us what to eat” but that is quickly changing as we see the reality of most foods we thought were safe and healthy. Do not blindly trust things, but inquire about things. There is no harm in wanting to know. It is our right.
That being said, thinking a little more also applies to buying locally if you can, and factoring in waste (packaging, excess gas mileage, or what you might not eat.) Compost if you. Start a community garden. Buy from a farmer’s market. Join a co-op. And most of these options also save you money. It’s a win-win for you and the environment. This is one spot I have helped me with developing a “weekly meal diagram” I devised that lays out foods in a working puzzle so you can see what you have, and how you’ll use it. These meals are built around seasonal and/or local items that are also nutritious.
Name top five favorite ingredients.
Sea salt, shrimp, butter (an unsalted quality one,) fennel, sweet potatoes …. (eggs could be here too only because they are a master piece of science that is a backbone of many classic dishes; sweet and savory. Plus, what else makes a great breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or batch of cookies?)
Name top five must haves in the kitchen.
A good knife. A wooden spoon (or more, they can warp with time and use if not taken care of.) A cast iron skillet. A dutch oven. Good produce.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I see my books being published and hopefully managing a like-minded community of folks who also believe in being conscious about food, bridging old with new and living fully. It takes time and heart, which I think can be lost in hustle and bustle. One bite and one meal at a time, celebrate the little moments.
Anything else you’d like to add.
I enjoy nothing more than hearing other’s stories, tips and/or tidbits about food and life. Children dress up as vegetables? Planting herbs this year? Make the best taco on the block? Host a Frisbee and crawfish cook-off? You tell me! I welcome and enjoy all stories, and give credit where credit is due by featuring some of these great inspiring folks on my website. So gather round and pass the stories my way.
Contact info, ways moms could reach you for a consultation/advice.
Being in love with the tomatoes of the Hudson Valley farmers markets, I decided to show case the tomatoes in a beautiful tango with the shrimp, all topped with the local organic olive oil. Throwing tradition to the wind, I went for it. Sautéing plenty of chopped garlic in full bodied olive oil, throwing in diced summer tomatoes which need little help tasting wonderful, and adding a few more ingredients yielded a dish that was less Shrimp Creole, and more Shrimp Claire-ole.
2 tbs. Ana Marie olive oil, plus more for drizziling
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped (or red if you prefer)
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced or chopped depending on taste
2 tbs. tomato pase
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, about 2-4 depending on size
(I don’t skin or seed them, but you can if you like)
1 small bay leaf
salt and ground pepper to taste
1 lbs large or jumbo shrimp (21/25 count preferred, peeled, leaving the tail on)
fresh parsley or basil, chopped
1.) Heat a medium deep sided, oven proof skillet (I prefer and use a cast iron here) over medium heat, adding in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once you the oil glistens, toss in the onions and pepper. Cook until tender, about 7-9 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste, cooking for 1 minute more, until both are fragrant.
2.) Add the tomatoes, and bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and add the bay leaf. Simmer until mixture becomes thick, about 20-30 minutes.
3.) Nestle the shrimp into the tomato mixture and cook just until the shrimp are pink and begin to curl slightly, about 2-3 minutes. (I actually turn the heat off, put the shrimp in, and let it sit 10 minutes or so. The heat cooks the shrimp thru perfectly without any risk of them becoming over cooked and rubbery.)
4.) Place in bowls and drizzle with olive oil, topping with fresh parsley or basil.
*I eat it like this. It is also great served over hot rice, and made with a little hot sauce.