Recipe by John Robert Kennedy, executive chef, The Better Half.
I started cooking growing up. At big family gatherings, I was always in the kitchen. When you were brought into my household, into my family, we weren’t about possessions. It was about the food. It was always like that with us. This is still who I am.
I didn’t always cook, though. In fact, I spent the majority of my life in the military. I went to military school and then was an Army Airborne Ranger. When I got out, my brother-in-law Paul (we were very close) was dying and we performed his hospice care at home. I did most of the cooking. It was the only food anyone would eat. One day, after lunch, Paul grabbed my hand and said, “Why don’t you do this. Cooking makes you happy.”
After Paul passed away, I went to the California Culinary Academy. We were influenced by many different chefs there and — as you might say — many old-school concepts. For example, doing our own charcuterie and pâtés. I’ve worked with Thomas Keller, and Julia Child taught me how to do the lobster soufflé in a shell.
It’s interesting that some of the other people in my class are now some of the up-and-coming chefs in San Diego right now. We’re going back to the basics with our own interpretation of how we want to do it as well. It’s important. It’s about control and flavor and knowing what you are actually putting into something. Why the hell not do it yourself?
What I cook at home depends on what I am doing and what time of the year it is. For example, now I like pork scaloppini with whole grain mustard and date sauce with a sweet potato mash. I also really like curried pea soup. When fresh peas are in season, it’s really worth the effort of shelling them.
Serves 6–8 (makes 9 cups)
2 pounds fresh peas in shells or 2 cups frozen peas
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 small head butter or Boston lettuce, shredded (about 4 cups, lightly packed)
grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons sugar
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
HOW TO DO IT
Shell peas (you should have about 2 cups). Reserve about 2 tablespoons of small peas to use as a garnish.
In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, melt butter with oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often until soft but not browned. Blend in curry powder and tumeric, then flour. Add shredded lettuce, lemon peel and juice, sugar, and peas.
Remove from heat and gradually blend in broth. Bring to a boil, stirring over medium heat; then cover, reduce heat, and simmer until peas are just tender (8-10 minutes). Blend in half-and-half. Taste and add salt if needed.
Transfer mixture — about a third at a time — to food processor or blender and process or whirl until smooth.
To serve cold, cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Or return to cooking pan and heat, stirring often, until steaming hot. Serve garnished with reserved, uncooked peas.
NOTE: When the soup is served hot, the curry flavor is assertive. Chilled, it will taste more lemony. A dollop of yogurt is a nice, finishing touch, if you are serving the soup cold.