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“Those who suffer the illusions that readers of T&C eat only beluga caviar and drink only vintage Taittinger were perhaps a little surprised when we ran full-length features on peanut butter…and the humble potato,” James Villas wrote in the 1985 Town & Country Cookbook. Villas was the inaugural food and wine editor at T&C, from 1972 to 1999, and his defiant opinions on cuisine, and life in general, helped define the flavor of the magazine. (“Elitist, proudly. Hedonist, assuredly…never a ‘snob’ or ‘cad,’ ” he once wrote in response to his critics.) Just ask Martha Stewart. “In the ’70s and ’80s, anyone who was interested in cooking followed James Villas at Town & Country,” Stewart says. “Our little gang of foodies all had this fabulous cookbook and would talk about the different things we made.” To celebrate T&C’s 175th anniversary, Stewart selected three of Villas’s recipes to prepare at her home in Bedford, New York.
Step 1: Taste As You Go
Villas abhorred the then-trendy nouvelle style of cooking, championing American staples instead (especially Southern cuisine from his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina). Stewart chose to prepare Villas’s recipes for potato, leek, and carrot terrine; fried chicken; and strawberry-peach cobbler (sans strawberries). “The terrine reminded me of one that chef Pierre Schaedelin (of Le Cirque) used to serve all the time at my house. It’s like the most delicious mashed potato wrapped in these beautiful, bright green leeks,” Stewart says. “I was curious to see what Villas’s recipe for fried chicken was, because I haven’t made it. His is very good and crispy, but I added quite a bit of salt and pepper. For the cobbler, which is a really pretty dessert, I used all peaches because they are gorgeous right now. A lot of people just follow a recipe exactly as written and then are disappointed. It’s so important to adjust to your taste.”
Step 2: Good Prep Takes Time
To create this T&C dinner party, Stewart began two days in advance. “Make sure you have the right peaches for the cobbler, and marinate the chicken overnight in milk,” she says. “The terrine is made the day before, so you’re pretty relaxed when the dinner comes around— except for the last-minute frying of the chicken, which I do before the guests arrive so that I don’t smell like fried chicken. Just tent some aluminum foil over it and put it in a warm oven.” Have a drink while you wait? “Never…but taste the cocktail you’ll serve to guests. I recommend a spicy margarita.”
Step 3: Get the High/Low Mix Just Right
“If I’ve learned nothing else during my years at Town & Country,” Villas wrote, “I’ve learned that the rich and successful love and respect a great hamburger as much as an elaborate fish baked in puff pastry.” T&C’s editors today can confirm this (especially if the hamburger is served next to a martini at JG Melon), and that ossetra caviar with potato chips and crème fraîche is a must at our holiday party. Even Stewart will take a dip in the low end. “Oh, I learned all about that from Kevin Sharkey [senior vice president of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia], who likes to serve Ruffles with Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix made with sour cream,” she says. “You want to know something? There is never anything left in the bowl.”
Food styling by Frances Boswell. Hair by Marco Santini at Tracey Mattingly. Makeup by Nicole Daisy Toye.
A version of this story appears in the October 2021 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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