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My first job with M.F.K. Fisher

Champagne in a tree stump, half-and-halfs, and a restoration dinner at Last House

By Sheana Davis

As a youth taking on my first job I was sent to Bouverie Ranch, where I would assist a woman, Mary Francis (aka M.F.K. Fisher), prepare for her celebrations each weekend. I was 15 at the time — thanks to Mick Chantler at Sonoma Valley High School for the connection.

Each week I would take the bus from Sonoma Plaza to Glen Ellen, get picked up by the property caretaker, and work for four hours. We would make bouquet garni, harvest herbs, and make stocks of chicken, duck, vegetables, and more. As we cooked, Mary Francis would drink her infamous drink, which I learned to prepare: sherry and vermouth, also known as a “half-and-half.”

As I would work and prepare her mirepoix of carrots, celery, and onions with garlic, she would enjoy her half-and-half in a mason jar covered with cheese cloth and a rubber band from her newspaper delivery. M.F.K. would fill a tree stump with ice and Champagne bottles, make mini pancakes, and make creme fraiche as we were preparing for her weekend of hospitality. M.F.K. would also have me prepare baguettes with prosciutto and brie wrapped for her guests; I learned many years later she would have her guests sit on their sandwiches prior to eating!

Now, please keep in mind that at 15 I knew not who M.F.K. was nor her history — rather it was my first job. If I knew now what I did not then? How many questions I would have!

After one year, I departed to go cook at a “real restaurant,” and those were my words at 16 … Only years later did I learn who M.F.K. was. I should have stayed to learn more and add to my culinary education. I can only imagine whom I met during my weekly culinary experience but did not know. I hope and think it made the experiment for M.F.K. better that I was young and ready to cook for her.

Now fast forward to 2016. I had just sold my restaurant and had some time to volunteer. I went to visit Dr. Quinton Martins (now owner of True Wild) about his mountain lion project at Audubon Canyon Ranch, and we met at M.F.K. Fisher’s Last House. It was rundown and used as staff housing, which is great as housing is short here in the Valley. I approached the director, John Peterson, and inquired about restoring Last House, and that’s how it started … Together with M.F.K.’s daughter, Kennedy Golden, Glen Ellen’s Margie Foster, who had also worked for M.F.K., and a team of volunteers from ACR, we restored Last House of M.F.K. We cleaned, painted, and gathered art and furniture, and recreated Last House. Our greeter, James Pendergrast, was a friend of M.F.K.’s, and he always had the best stories — he experienced the Champagne in the tree stump, swimming in the water fountain, and dinner partiers at Last House. I cherish his memories of his times with M.F.K.

We then hosted a celebration and fundraiser at Last House, called the “Last House First Meal” in honor of M.F.K. We invited chefs from around the country to prepare a dish, hosted 100 guests, and together we celebrated MFK at Last House for a First Meal.

It was my honor to recreate Last House First Meal in honor of MFK. And sincerely, I share the drink I would make M.F.K.

Half-and-Half by M.F.K. Fisher

1/2 cup dry vermouth 1/2 cup dry sherry Ice for shaking (If using large cubes, use a metal spoon to crack them into smaller pieces.)

Juice of 1/2 lemon Dash of angostura bitters (optional) Lemon rind for serving For additional information on Last House, please visit Sheana Davis and Ben Sessions are the proprietors of The Epicurean Connection in Sonoma.