ALICE RANDALL: Cooking in Nashville since 1983

Dirty Page: Bisque

photo: Andrea Behrends

photo: Andrea Behrends

Growing up in the 1960s, Alice Randall preferred watching Julia Child on PBS or Bewitched to cartoons. By middle school, she had her hands on a splattered copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

“It belonged to a friend’s mother,” she says. “The pages had gotten dirty when she was a stay-at-home wife and mother. By the time I graduated high school I’d cooked my way through it several times.”

In 1977, Alice arrived at Harvard with a burning ambition to study with Julia Child. During her sophomore year, she looked up Julia’s number in the Cambridge phone book, and called and connected. “We worked together one-on-one for a semester,” she says.

Fast-forward to early 1986, when Alice and her first husband, Avon Williams, were posted to Manila in the Philippines through Williams’ position with the State Department. Volumes one and two of Mastering the Art of French Cooking made the move with them.

“The recipe for American-style lobster bisque and its variations—particularly shrimp bisque—was something I made over and over in Manila. It rooted me to home and to the happiest days of my childhood. These dirty pages survived a revolution—the People Power Revolution in 1986,” she says.

Alice calls the recipe an “artifact.” She doesn’t cook this kind of cream-based soup anymore. Her daughter Caroline (who’s inherited a collection of almost 3,000 cookbooks spread across four homes) created a series of soups in the book the two recently wrote together called Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family, all based on vegetable stocks that have replaced the lobster bisque’s cream.

“Caroline says the recipes in our cookbook are her love letters to me, wishing me health and deliciousness,” she says. “I look forward to getting the pages of Soul Food Love dirty—and love that, once again, I only need one cookbook.”

Cindy Wall