In the late 1980‘s Annie Copps sauced and sauteed in Boston’s best kitchens. It was a revolutionary time for restaurants; the word “local” wasn’t yet exhausted, but chefs Jasper White and Lydia Shire were just beginning to create five-star cuisine with American ingredients and traditions. Michela Larson of Michela’s restaurant had banished red sauce from her kitchen, and was redefining Italian dining, spooning out curiosities like gnocchi, caponata and fresh pasta. Todd English was just a quiet, heavy-browed guy with a mad passion for Mediterranean flavors and delicate crusted pizza. Gordon Hammersley and Jody Adams were sous chefs, and Annie Copps was in the middle of it, on the line at Jasper’s, Michela’s and Olive’s kitchens. Every Sunday off, Copps prepared dinner with her roommate, a young South Boston girl named Barbara Lynch, who also worked at Michela’s and Olives when she wasn’t buried in the great Italian cookbooks by Waverly Root and Elizabeth David. Copps remembers watching her zealous roommate studying, and saying to herself, “I’m into this; she’s REALLY into this.” Barbara Lynch went on to open five successful restaurants of her own, including No. 9 Park. The women are still great friends.
But Annie Copps’ high-octane personality couldn’t be contained in one career. She began flirting with a television camera in the 1990‘s, working with Jaques Pepin and Julia Child shooting their cooking show, at the same time beginning a masters degree in public health. Oldways, an organization dedicated to preserving traditional ways of eating, derailed that degree. Copps spent four years with them traveling to villages in Spain, Italy and Greece, putting together conferences with chefs, local public health officials and food importers, finding ways to promote specific regional foods in ways that would sustain those cultures. The next time you put farro, bulgher, yogurt, avocados – even olive oil – in your shopping cart, know that most of those ingredients are grocery staples thanks to Oldways’ efforts.
Copps eventually came home to Boston for yet another career variation, this time as food editor of Boston Magazine from 2000 to 2005. Yankee Magazine lured her away as their food editor from 2005 to 2011.
I’ve worked with people like Copps before – we all have. Not only are they doing their job better than anyone in the room, but they’re so dynamic you can’t wait to get to work to be with them. If you’re in the restaurant business, you stay late and sit at the bar with the crew just because that person is going to be there, and you know no one will ever stop laughing. Copps operates with more horse power when she’s having a simple dinner interview than most of us on our sharpest days.
That’s probably why her next career move was to the Today Show, where, in three minutes and twenty-seven seconds she can teach America how to make lobster an affordable meal: she whooshes through a warm lobster dip, then baked lobster tails accompanied by a cherry tomato and lobster salad. And she cripples you with humor. I had to watch the video three times to finally stop laughing and get the recipes right.
Copps is also currently co-host of WGBH’s Daily Dish, and spending autumn to winter teaching cooking classes on the Oceania Cruise Line, home to a restaurant created by Jaques Pepin. Here’s Copps on Pepin: “He’s a great chef, a wonderful man, and (at seventy-seven) still the last one at the party.”
I asked Annie for some sweeping comments on current food trends; she answered, “I”m happy to see foams and smears go. I still love plates that look really beautiful, but not manipulated. I want local, regional, and seasonal to stay; they speak volumes for the sustainability of communities. I hope the word ‘foodie’ goes away.”
Copps is sometimes droll, sometimes ribald, sometimes killing. Next to that, she’s a practical and smart cook. Each of her recipes is that hallowed combination of simplicity, just enough surprise and glamour to be more than homey, and deliciousness.
Here’s a recipe for the best open-faced tart you’ll ever make. As Copps says, “That dough is fantastic. You can make it, and freeze it, and it is still so flakey (could be all the BUTT-er). If you leave the sugar out, it’s a terrific top for chicken (seafood) pot pie.”
Annie B. Copps’ Open-Faced Peach and Blueberry Tart
1 ½ cups (6 ¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
11 tablespoons (5 ½ ounces) cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons whole milk
About 3 cups sliced (1/4-inch thick) peaches (skins removed if you like), or just about any combination of fruits and berries (except bananas)
About 1 cup blueberries (pick through to remove any stems)
1/4 cup brown (or white) sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch or tapioca
2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
almond paste (optional)
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut the butter into ½ inch cubes and add them to the flour. On low speed combine the butter and flour just until the flour is no longer white and holds together when you clump it with your fingers – 1 to 2 minutes. If there are any lumps of butter larger than a pea, break them up with your fingers.
In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk and milk, then add to the flour mixture (on low speed… about 15 seconds ought to do it). The dough ought to still be a little lumpy and perhaps dry. Dump it onto a clean and lightly floured work surface. Work it with the heel of your hand, pushing and smearing it away from you then gathering it back together with a bench scraper, until the dough comes together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, then flatten it into a flat disk and refrigerate for at least a half hour (up to four days—you can freeze it for months and months).
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a 13 to 14 inch-round–it’s okay if the edges are little ragged. Place on a baking sheet and stick it back in the fridge while you get the fruit together.
For the filling, you’ll need about 4 cups of fruit total and I am all for whatever makes you two happy, perhaps whatever is in season when you get a hankering for pie. Combine the fruits, sugar, cornstarch, and extract (if using).
If using almond paste, form about 4 to 5 tablespoons into a ball; flatten the ball, then roll out into a thin circle.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes. Place the almond paste disk in the center (it’s okay if it tears—you can even break it up into pieces). Heap the fruit in the center of the dough leaving a 2-inch rim around the outside (or carefully arrange it in circular pattern if you are using sliced stone fruit or apples). Fold the edges of the dough over the fruit, pleating as you go.
If you are feeling fancy, you can make an egg wash and brush the exposed dough, then sprinkle it with sugar. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the pastry is light brown and juices are starting to run.