Thanks to a happy Christmas memory, French food makes Maria Hines feel all warm and fuzzy.

It was Christmas in France and Maria Hines, owner/executive chef of Tilth, was homesick for her family. She was sharpening her skills in the world’s greatest culinary country, but she didn’t speak the language even a little. So it came as a complete surprise when the crew at the restaurant where she worked included her in their predinner service holiday meal.

She and the rest of the staff made roasted capon with truffles, cardoons with bone marrow, and fruit tartlettes. They ate in the dining room (family meal was usually served at a small table in the kitchen) at tables covered with gorgeous fabrics and real silver. They drank kir royals and wine, and chose cheeses straight off the cart.

After the meal, each member of the crew received a beautifully wrapped gift from the owners.

Ever since that winter, she says, French cooking “has had a warm place” in Maria Hines’ heart.

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