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Food on a Shoestring

Who taught Annabel Langbein ?

Annabel and Daniele Mazet-Delpeuch at the market in France. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

Being efficient with food is a resourceful skill to learn

The person who taught me what it really means to be a cook is French. Daniele Mazet-Delpeuch has a deep-rooted sense of resourcefulness and no meagre skills to transform humble ingredients into something of sublime deliciousness.

At her hands, a simple leek may become a tender tart or be baked and served with a mustardy vinaigrette with grated hard-boiled egg on top, or perhaps even be slowly braised in stock with potatoes for a soup, but whatever the means, the result will be delicious and there will be a pretty table, candles, a glass of wine and convivial conversation to go with it.

Such is her talent that during Francois Mitterrand's tenure as president she was his personal cook. They even made a film about her, Les Saveurs du Palais (the English version is Haute Cuisine).

For most of the year Daniele lives in the south-west of France on the small farm that has been in her family for at least 700 years. Recently, while clearing out the attic, she found some old receipts, from which she was able to decipher the sale of truffles from the farm to Louis XIV, who reigned from 1643 to 1715.

Aside from wine bottles, you'd be unlikely to find a single barcode on anything in her house. Everything comes from the farm, the market or one of her many cousins' farms. In the winter and the summer she gathers truffles; in late summer, the grapes from her ancient vines dry to raisins in shallow wooden boxes at the front door. Now in her 70s, she retains a capacity to work that leaves me exhausted.

Waste is a foreign word in her kitchen — the vegetable peelings and tips of herbs go into stock, the leftovers from last night's meal are transformed into something new, and over-ripe fruits made into jams.

For me, this resourcefulness is the hallmark that defines good cooking. That and tuning in to what's in season and getting your pantry well organised and allow you to transform everyday ingredients into dishes fit for kings and presidents.