Do they toss the "Solitary Salad"?
Offbeat News Friday, May 7, 2004 (blame Netscape ...)
'Solitary Salad' on Menu for Jailbirds
PARIS (Reuters) - Fancy a "Solitary salad" or some "Jail-style apple pancakes?" French prisoners
have published their own cookbook to teach other inmates how to produce low-budget meals with
simple prison cooking equipment.
The book, "Cooking Just For Me," seeks to live up to France's reputation for gastronomic excellence.
It features 100 recipes by convicts that range from sophisticated fish dishes to rich chocolate cakes
"Cooking in prison forces you to be creative: You only have a pan, a saucepan and an electric stove
-- that's all," Claude Deroussent, a doctor in the Ensisheim prison in southeastern France who launched
the project, told Reuters.
Deroussent called on France's 60,000 prisoners last year to send in their favorite recipes and asked
renowned chef Marc Haeberlin to select the best out of an overwhelming 600 replies.
"I was very impressed by the prisoners' inventiveness," said Haeberlin, whose Alsatian restaurant
L'Auberge de l'Ill near Strasbourg has received the Michelin guide's top three-star rating.
"Some prisoners have built their own oven by putting one electric stove on each end of a stool and
wrapping aluminum foil around it," he said.
"Ingredients are another challenge. Not everything is as readily available as here in my restaurant.
Some convicts say they save biscuits at breakfast to make cake later on."
Haeberlin said he was amused by the inmates' instructions on some of the recipes he received.
One message read: "This recipe takes time. But time is not really scarce in here."
A prisoner from Caen in northern France who provided the best recipe -- sea bream with mushrooms
and lettuce -- was awarded a television set by prison authorities.
In March, the 160-page book was distributed free to Ensisheim inmates. But its authors aim to publish it
in prisons nationwide and to even sell it in shops.
Deroussent is seeking a publisher and said he hoped proceeds from any sales could go to a prison
doctors' association, of which he is a member.
"The recipes suit anyone living on their own and cooking for themselves, such as students or elderly
people," Deroussent said.
He said cooking was psychologically important to prisoners, who spend a lot of time alone and have
little physical activity.
"We call chefs like Haeberlin creators. Like him, the prisoners feel they are creating something when
they cook," he said.
The cookbook includes advice on weight loss and cholesterol, of concern to many prisoners, Deroussent
said. Its recipes are written in a simple style suited to culinary amateurs.
It also offers tips for cooking in a small prison cell -- not unlike the cramped apartments in which many
Parisians live. Adding a small amount of vanilla to oil before frying fish, it advises, reduces fish odor in
a cell or small room.
Haeberlin said as many men as women had sent recipes and the book offers a colorful ethnic mix, from
traditional French meals to Moroccan couscous dishes.
"One thing stood out: There was a surprising number of recipes for chocolate cakes. Maybe, if you're a
bit lonely, chocolate is what you really long for," he said.