The upcoming Easter holiday has us thinking of culinary icon Alice Waters’s way with the humble egg. Every time her daughter, Fanny, who lives in London, makes the journey to her mother’s house in Berkeley, California, she’s greeted with an egg cooked over an open flame in a hand-forged iron spoon. “It’s like the seduction of the return,” Fanny says.
On a recent visit to their Berkeley kitchen, we asked Alice and Fanny about the ritual. “The egg spoon was hand-wrought by Sicilian master blacksmith Angelo Garro of Renaissance Forge in San Francisco,” Fanny told us. “He’s a mythical figure,” said Fanny. “His mind is impotable.”
To Fanny, the egg spoon tradition is illustrative of the pleasure of manual work: “Doing something in a slightly slower, even sometimes less efficient way, is actually really pleasurable,” she said. “I remember that so much from my childhood, like pounding something in a mortar with my mom. It took us ten or fifteen minutes to do something an electric device could do in thirty seconds, but it meant more time being together in the same space.”
Photography by Daniel Dent for Remodelista.
To cook the egg, explains Fanny, her mother makes an “oven” of logs over a small bed of coals so heat envelops the spoon on all sides. When the coals are hot and the logs aflame, she heats the spoon, adds a little olive oil and the egg, and slides it into the oven. “It puffs up like a little soufflé,” said Fanny. “It’s kind of amazing the way the egg reacts to the multidirectional heat.”
Says Alice of the source of the technique: “I saw it in a book about the magic of fire, with illustrations on cooking in the fireplace around the world. There was a spoon, and an egg in the spoon, and I said, ‘Oh, how beautiful—I can cook an egg in a spoon.’ So my friend Angelo made it for me.”
Alice and Fanny share a deep appreciation for the irregularity of handmade goods and their exceptional quality that becomes obvious over decades of use. “Everything in my mom’s kitchen gets used,” said Fanny. “Things aren’t held back for special occasions or special guests; the idea that something can have that kind of permanence and resilience is amazing.”
Angelo also made a double egg spoon for the pair; “it’s for mom and daughter on Christmas Day,” Fanny says.
The importance of the ritual—and its star ingredient—is undisguised in the household. “My ex didn’t like eggs,” said Fanny, “and my mom said plainly: ‘I don’t care for him.'”
“When I was young, we cooked on the fire a lot,” Fanny says. “Maybe three out of five meals at home.”
Even when she’s not cooking in it, Alice lights a fire to keep the Berkeley chill at bay. “She was policing the quantity of logs I was putting on it just this morning,” said Fanny. “She likes a robust fire.”
For a full tour of Alice’s kitchen, go to A Berkeley Kitchen Tour with Alice Waters and Fanny Singer.
N.B.: The egg spoon has stirred some controversy of late; read on in The New York Times.