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Keeping Simple Secrets

Munwani makes the most of French cooking at Chez Andree

There is perhaps no better antidote to a winter storm than French onion soup, and Chez Andree serves up the kind of home-cooked soup that transcends any language.

Laurence Matrat and her brother Stephen now own the restaurant that their parents founded 38 years ago.

“My mother wanted to have a restaurant that served country French cooking… the kind of food that she ate at home as a child and the kind of food that she prepared for us,” Laurence said.

What exactly is “country French cooking?” According to Patricia Wells, an American authority on French cooking, “Whether practiced in a country auberge (inn) or a busy Parisian restaurant, at its heart, bistro cooking is home cooking; and that means no special skills are required, no exotic pots and pans, no hard-to-find ingredients – just a love of good food and good living.”

PAKISTANI BY BIRTH, Yousef Munwani has been chef at Chez Andree for more than 20 years, succeeding his father in the position.

“I came to this country in the late 1970s and was working at a 7-Eleven,” he said. “I remember that someone said to me that I should become a professional man because I spoke such good English.”

His father offered him a place at Chez Andree, but Munwani heeded the advice he’d heard, and go about it professionally. He went to school in Bethesda and became a chef. “After I graduated, I came here and worked with my father,” he said.

It was his introduction to all the secrets of good, simple French country cooking – Chez Andree style, that is. “We make lots of soups and many dishes that our customers have come to love,” Munwani said.

One of those soups is, of course, French onion soup. “The secret to every soup is the stock, taking great care and patience,” Munwani said. “Every soup takes at least two to three hours and some take even more, especially pea soup, one of our favorites, which takes more than 24 hours because you have to soak the peas overnight.”

At Chez Andree, there is always a bowl of soup, a homemade paté, a fish, veal, beef or chicken entree and, of course, a fabulous dessert. As Wells says, “French food always made from the freshest of ingredients, is simpler, less complicated but no less delicious.”

French Onion Soup (Soupe a l’ oignon)

1 large Bermuda onion (approximately 1 pound)

2 cups dry white wine such as a Muscadet or a Macon Villages

3 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 tbsp. brandy or cognac

6 cups homemade, saltless chicken broth

6 slices fresh baguette (French bread)

2 cups freshly grated French or Swiss Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine onion, wine, and butter in a baking dish and braise on medium-low heat, uncovered, until the onion is very soft and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 50 minutes. Heat the oven to broil. Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pan. Divide the onion into six portions and place them in individual ovenproof soup bowls. Top each one with a slice of toasted baguette and cover the bread generously with cheese. Broil 2-3 minutes under the broiler until the cheese is fully melted and gratineed. Serve immediately.