Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers in Food: # 33: Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton have known each other for more than 15 years. Hirsheimer grew up in San Francisco and attended college in the San Francisco Bay area in the ’60s and ’70s, where she was much into the local food scene.

Hamilton is the daughter of Jim Hamilton of Hamilton’s Grill Room in Lambertville, where she was the chef when it opened more than twenty years ago. She is the sister of Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef/owner of Prune in Manhattan.

Hirsheimer was one of the founders and an executive editor of Saveur magazine, where Hamilton ran the test kitchen and served as food editor. Together the pair had more than 30 years experience working with magazines such as Metropolitan Home, Food and Wine, Cook’s Illustrated, and Martha Stewart Living and on cookbooks by Julia Child, Alice Waters, Mario Batali, Jacques Pepin, Lidia Bastianich, and other notables.
(Christopher Hirsheimer left, and 
Melissa Hamilton )

They decided to leave the commuting life and start Canal House in 2007 as a photo and design studio for cookbooks and magazines. They made their light-filled, second-floor atelier an  alternative place: "a studio, workshop, dining room, office and kitchen devoted to good ideas and good work relating to the world of food. The pair cook, write, photograph, design, and paint." They brainstorm and consult. Plus, with computers, they figured nobody knows or cares where they're physically located.” Friends told them it was a mistake...not only the publishing, but moving to small town New Jersey. They went ahead anyway.

Sounds like a dream, doesn't it? Start a small food business with your best cooking pal, sit around inventing cocktails and snacks at the end of every day — but both are determined women AND real cooks. Ms. Hamilton’s French heritage, Ms. Hirsheimer’s California childhood, both women’s extensive travels, culinary experience and spice collections add up to success. The first issue of summer recipes was simple they said, because cooking in that season is so minimal: salads, grilling, fruit, the occasional backyard paella. And so it began.

Canal House Cooking, published three times a year, has no parent company, no advertising and no distribution network other than independent bookstores and the Internet. But by designing and photographing it themselves, then outsourcing the printing to China when every local printer they approached turned them down flat, the women hope to both make it all work and preserve the publication’s homespun qualities. This may not sound like a successful idea in this day and age, but the books, which now number five volumes, have received acclaim not only from the national food media, but also from such disparate entities as Oprah and retailer Williams-Sonoma. 

One of their big breakthroughs came on food52.com, the website of food writer Amanda Hesser  and Merrill Stubbs. Hesser and Stubbs conducted what they called the Tournament of Cookbooks, a sort of round-robin competition among what they considered to be the most notable cookbooks of 2009. After votes by celebrity judges and the site’s readers, Canal House Cooking Volume No. 1 made it to the final round, beating out big-name books such as Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan and Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. (It lost to Seven Fires by Francis Mallmann.) 

Hirsheimer says: “Of course you have to have, one, a good product and, two, good timing. But you also need, three, some luck. We’ve been lucky. We had a vision, but you have no idea how it will fly.”

It would be fun to visit them while they work, as I read there's always something delicious bubbling on the stove or being pulled from the oven. In the morning,  café au lait.  On a wintry afternoon a steaming bowl of homemade soup and after hours a split of Champagne. The best part, though, is watching them work.  They move calmly and quietly and seem to communicate telepathically.  They work quickly, too, cramming in as many shots as possible while the sun cooperates. Photographing in natural light is Christopher's signature style. 

The pair continues to consult and collaborate on books and projects for their high-profile friends.

Here are some links you might like to check out:

http://thecanalhouse.com/  (Their website)
http://lunch.thecanalhouse.com/  (You'll LOVE the photos!)
http://www.amazon.com/Canal-House-Cooking-No-Summer/dp/0692003177  (the books)


My mother used to make a recipe similar to this, except she used morels. So I know ANY wild mushroom would be perfect in this recipe. I had to cheat a bit today because chantarelles have a season just like morels and unfortunately, it's not now. Chanterelles are worth their weight in gold anyway.....they are "golden looking, golden tasting, and golden priced." So I used one package of reconstituted chanterelles and the rest were maitake frondosa, also called "Hen of the Woods." Turned out to be a great combo.

Now I have to say, my favorite way to serve morels is simply sauteed and seasoned with salt and pepper, so if you're fortunate enough to find some chantarelles, they'd be perfect that way as well. Hirsheimer and Hamilton suggested serving this friscasse over mashed potatoes as well as pappardelle, but I remembered a visit a while back to The Greenbrier and they served an omelet filled with a fresh morel fricassee. So that's what I had for lunch the next day with the leftovers: an omelet filled with this delicious friscasse of wild mushrooms.

Fricassee of Chanterelles
Recipe by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirscheimer

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, divided 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup) 
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper 
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
1/4 cup dry white wine 
1 pound chanterelles, brushed clean (halved if large) 
1/2 cup heavy cream 
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg 
1 teaspoon fresh oregano plus more for garnish 
Fresh lemon juice 
1/4 pound pappardelle, cooked al dente, or 1 pound boiled new potatoes 

Melt 3 tablespoons butter with 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly golden, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add remaining 3 tablespoons butter, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add cream and nutmeg and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon oregano. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Toss in a skillet with cooked pasta, or serve over smashed boiled potatoes. Garnish with more oregano.

Join Mary from One Perfect Bite and all the other participants in this fun series.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Kathleen Van Bruinisse - Bake Away with Me 
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Lines from Linderhof
Amy - Beloved Green

 Ciao Chow Linda


  1. I am so fond of mushrooms. That dish looks matvelous and so tasty.



  2. Great writeup and wonderful recipe Barbara. For years mushrooms were not on my kist of favourite foods but all of that has changed and I have so much to learn.

  3. Again I'm not familiar with these ladies. Their lives sound incredible and filled with the things bloggers like us love.

    So glad you've featured mushrooms Barbara. I need to use more exotic mushrooms in my dishes. Your dish sounds wonderful with the noodles and cream.

  4. Dang, that dish looks amazing. Who names their daughter Christopher, though? Not nice.

  5. I've never been to their place but know the canal well... the town is everso adorable... a little touristy but you can't have everything. I can see being quite happy and content there.... cooking with a pal everyday... that is heaven, isn't it?
    I got the first season of their books but in the end... that was enough... they are gorgeous but not 3 books a year gorgeous. I think they are extremely talented and Christopher really changed the way people shoot food.... much more devil-may-care (although I sometimes think if I see one more raveled cloth under a dish I will scream).

    Lovely mushrooms!!

  6. Beautiful dish! There's something so comforting about their way of presenting and cooking. Now where I can I get a Tuscan rental ;D

  7. This looks so hearty and 'meaty'! There's nothing like mushrooms, wine and cream, great choice.

  8. This looks so hearty and 'meaty'! There's nothing like mushrooms, wine and cream, great choice.

  9. Yum. If only the Knight would eat a mushroom that isn't batter-fried!

    Their story reminded me of the first time I cooked with a friend... my childhood best friend. We were in French 2 together, and we had to prepare a dish that was, well... French. Somehow, we were allowed to do fondue. Chocolate AND cheese with nothing but fruit and french bread (NOT homemade - I didn't learn of my knack for baking for another 20 years or so). Big fun. Good memories.

  10. Pasta, cream, mushrooms--what's not to love? We have a great source of all kinds of mushrooms at our fabulous St. Paul Farmer's Market...I'll save the recipe.

  11. They have my dream job!


  12. The mushrooms look delicious! I love their Canal House cookbooks and look forward to their lunch email every day. They really are an aamzing pair.

  13. I love chanterelles! This looks so delish!

  14. What a cute photo of the mushrooms —they look like flowers. I've always liked the combination of beef, mushrooms, and noodles. This has to taste absolutely delicious with the chantrelles.

  15. What a wonderful recipe choice, Barbara. Your write-up of the women was wonderful as well. I love mushrooms and fortunately because of area forest they are inexpensive when in season. I'll have to try this recipe as soon as mushrooms come to our markets again. I hope you have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

  16. trekking your blog!!!


  17. Barbara Love this look delicious dear!!

  18. This must be a wonderful cookbook to make it that far in the food52 tournament. Another interesting background written on these two chefs too, Barbara.

    I know I'd love this mushroom dish! My mouth is watering just looking at your photo.

  19. I Love mushrooms and potatoes together so I would probably use both pappardelle and potato

  20. Canal House is such a great concept! I just read the most recent issue and wanted to jump up and cook several things. This wild mushroom fricassee sounds fantastic. I love mushrooms!

  21. pasta ribbons are so tasty and so adaptable. while chanterelles certainly wouldn't be on my list of favorite add-ins, i'm sure they make for a tasty mushroom-lover's dish!

  22. Ohhhhh this looks so heavenly.....mmmmmmmm.

    Amazing story, those two ladies!

  23. I too am unfamiliar with this pair though their work and lives sound enviable. I like the idea that they moved to a small town together to create a sublime live/work environment. Not everyone can do that very easily. I will look for their book.

  24. Chanterelles! they are golden, in all ways. A wonderful recipe, and I enjoyed this write-up. I finally read Blood, Bones, and Butter last month, so it's great to learn about the other talent in the Hamilton family.



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