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Exceptions from this type of lingo often signal promising gastronomical finds, for even as a chef might err on the billboard, being slightly off the mark in comprehending the lowest common denominator, so too might the side dishes retain a regional or idiosyncratic signature.
"Eggroll and Barbecue Take Out" could spell disaster, but at least it will probably be a memorable one. "Live Bait and Ice Cream" indicates a particular sensibility. The old-fashioned word "cafe" is often a plus, especially when preceded by the cook's first name, and surrounded, at six A.M., by a semicircle of parked police cruisers and pickup trucks bearing local license plates. Once inside, listen for a bell attached to the door, look for day-of-the-week specials listed on a blackboard in illegible penmanship, and keep an eye out for real plants in the windows. If actual herbs or tomatoes are growing, settle yourself upon a round stool at the lunch counter. And if the owner confesses, with some pride, that the well-scrubbed stains on the baby high-chair upholstery were made by her very own grandchildren, contemplate permanent residence. You may have stumbled into an eatery where children are regarded as people with smaller appet.i.tes and not as a separate, cholesterol-crazed subspe-cies.
It's the kind of joint Mickey and Minnie were always pulling into during their journey of forty years past, the Americana full of Frank Capra faces, bottomless cups of coffee, and in-the-booth jukeboxes with selections drawn from local favorites rather than MTV. It flourished when geography meant more than a printout of bills from the same motel chain, when the Mississippi River divided-except for Pitts-burgh-the radio stations whose call letters began with a W from those that started with a K, when every small town produced its own version of a newspaper reporting its own version of the news. And it still exists.
In 1986 my wife and I drove across country with our daughters to visit my grandmother. We probably appeared to be the ideal demographic-the nuclear family feeding group-but in our hearts we were Kerouac, ready to be transformed by the bizarre, the offbeat, the unknown. We eschewed major highways, fine family dining that provided 79 79 crayons with the place mats, and set our radar for hand-st.i.tched curtains in the windows of establishments with names like Betty's. We spent a night in the Atlasta Motel because it advertised "in-room clock radios"
and "heat." And late one afternoon we came by chance upon the cafe of our dreams in an otherwise ordinary little town in the Pacific Northwest. A mimeographed sheet, tucked between the salt and pepper shakers, informed us that a "pie war" was presently under way with a rival establishment, one block down Main Street, and as a result, a slice from any of the sixteen varieties made fresh on the premises that morning could be had for only thirty-five cents. So confident was the baker that he invited us to sample the compet.i.tion (naturally, at the same price), then return and get our money back if his was not better.
For me, it was Paoli squared-Parsifal had found the Holy Grail-and five years later we didn't just come back to that town to order more pie.
We came back for good.
80 EVAN JONES.
Delmonico's In the early nineteenth century, the first American menu to list all its selections in two languages-translating the names of French cla.s.sic dishes in an adjoining column-was that of the Restaurant Francais des Freres Delmonico. Among the scores of entrees presented on its eleven crowded pages were a dozen kinds of simmered beef, seven variations of grilled steak, and thirty-eight chicken dishes, including euisse de poulet euisse de poulet en papillot en papillot, or drumsticks in paper sleeves. Once, this menu, in a puffed-up phrase, was declared to be "the Magna Carta of sophisticated and gracious dining in America." Whatever the encomium, the beginning of Delmonico's was the start of something good, a first effort to a.s.sure New York diners that they could eat as stylishly as bon vivants across the Atlantic.
The man behind this bill of fare (it translated "ham and eggs" as jambon de Virginie aux oeufs jambon de Virginie aux oeufs) was twenty-eight-year-old Lorenzo Delmonico, whose family made its surname a part of the American language, a.n.a.logous with eating in splendor. Astonishingly, none of the family had been trained in le vrai cuisine le vrai cuisine, nor had even waited tables in Paris. The first of the clan was John Delmonico, a retired sea captain whose three-masted schooner had engaged in trade between the West Indies and New York, and who had grown up in the wine country of the southern Alps. Fed up with life at sea and impressed with the boom-town tempo of Manhattan, John brought over from their home in the Swiss province of Ticino his elder brother Peter, who was a confectioner, as glad to shake off the dust of the Old World as he. Together they began to operate a small shop near the Battery in which they sold wine from barrels, and offered a place to sit for patrons who bought fancy cakes and ices. When it opened it was as unpretentious as any one-room hamburger joint-about a half-dozen wooden tables with primitive chairs to match, and a counter along one side that was laden with the newly baked pastries, napkins of white cloth, and pottery cups and plates. But soon the cafe developed a reputation for hospitality and "the prompt and deferential attendance" that could not be had, as one 81 young diner recalled, at any other New York eating place of the period.
The unimpressive shop caught on, and became known in advertis.e.m.e.nts as "Delmonico & Brother, Confectioners and Restaurant Francais," for John and Peter had found that they could hire French cooks from the steady stream of immigrants arriving in pursuit of American dollars.
Yet however prosperous the brothers may have been as entrepreneurs, neither of them suspected when they welcomed their nephew Lorenzo that the family's success for the next hundred years was a.s.sured. Under their proprietorship, and with the chance to learn from the French emigres in the kitchen, the nephew turned himself into an astute and sensitive master of Parisian-style dining.
It was a time when there were virtually no places in Manhattan that could be called restaurants. The average public dining room, according to a firsthand report, served little else but "very rare roast beef in thick slices, or a beefsteak barely warmed through, English plum pudding, and half-and-half ale...customers helped themselves, bolted the food, and rushed out...." On the other hand, the same observer noted, Delmonico's offered "delicious dishes and moderate charges [which] suited the pockets of Knickerbocker youth...." James Fenimore Cooper drew the contrast in sharp distinction when he returned from living abroad.
"The Americans are the grossest feeders of any nation known..." he told his readers, "their food is heavy, coa.r.s.e, and indigestible...."
It was plain to the Delmonicos that their rescue squad had arrived in time. The family of uncles, nephews, and cousins soon decided to take on New York, and they found the compet.i.tion guilty as charged by Cooper. A few blocks from the brothers' cafe on South William Street was Daniel Sweeney's "six-penny house." Here a small plate of stringy meat and tepid vegetables could be had for sixpence, and rice or cornmeal mush went for ninepence-Sweeney's may have been the first self-declared "fast food" dining room in the U.S. Not much different was Brown's Ordinary in Water Street, likened by a Tribune Tribune reporter to an English-style chophouse, one which-hard to believe-dealt every day with up to two thousand customers. The quality of Brown's food may have been a cut above Sweeney's, but there was nothing to appeal to New Yorkers who wanted to dine in leisurely style. reporter to an English-style chophouse, one which-hard to believe-dealt every day with up to two thousand customers. The quality of Brown's food may have been a cut above Sweeney's, but there was nothing to appeal to New Yorkers who wanted to dine in leisurely style.
More and more of them were becoming interested in nightlife. There were "pleasure gardens" for food and frolic, and there was, at last, John Jacob Astor's elegant hotel, which attracted people who had learned not to bolt their food. The more serious eaters among them discovered Delmonico's, and the interest in the cafe's novel menu per-82 suaded the brothers in 1829 to open a second place, and to bring over Lorenzo, then only nineteen. For a decade, while New York developed into a city often praised by travelers ("situated on an island...it rises, like Venice, from the sea [and] receives into its lap tribute of all the riches of the earth") Lorenzo saw the opportunities in the same rosy terms. He became convinced that Delmonico's should attract all those New Yorkers who had acquired cultivated appet.i.tes as well as purse strings open to expensive, even luxurious dining. When a fire forced the construction of a new Delmonico's, the family imported two Pom-peian columns to frame the corner doorway of the impressive three-story building at 2 South William Street, which had a cafe, lobby, and dining room on the ground level, and ballrooms and lounges above.
The word "Delmonico" was chiseled in stone above the Italian pillars.
As the family supply sergeant, Lorenzo ensured the best of ingredients for the kitchen by rising daily before dawn to check out the open-air market on the Hudson River side of town. Here was a sprawling scene of sheds, stalls, piers, patched and rebuilt structures filled with game and much pork, and almost as much beef, some produce from the nearby countryside, bananas from the Caribbean, seafood from the Atlantic, and delicacies from Europe and the Mediterranean. A dark-haired, stocky youth distinguished by full sideburns and a good wardrobe, Lorenzo knew how to get the best from farmers and merchants, or any other suppliers. By midmorning daily he was on his way back, his car-riage loaded with garde manger garde manger booty. If the vegetables that day had been less than choice, he could meet the chef's needs most often with the produce the family had planted on the two-hundred-acre farm it maintained near what was to become Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. booty. If the vegetables that day had been less than choice, he could meet the chef's needs most often with the produce the family had planted on the two-hundred-acre farm it maintained near what was to become Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
Like other Manhattan eating places, Delmonico's prided itself on wild food served in sophisticated style. The visiting British writer Captain Marryat, a satisfied patron who was impressed by the New York market bounty, wrote that "the great delicacy...are the terrapin and the canvasback ducks.... They have sheeps' head, shad...their salmon is not equal to ours...oysters are very plentiful, very large, rather insipid...[but] there are plenty of good things for the table...." Nineteenth-century travelers often based their judgments of American restaurants on the taste of food that was not domestically raised, for they rightly believed that a knowing chef could distinguish himself by his understanding that woodland fish and game draw unique flavors from the nature of the country in which they mature. Like Les Trois Freres Provencaux, which brought to Paris the taste of the Mediterranean, 83 83 Delmonico's reflected untamed America. In the era in which pork was considered "common doin's," the choice of red meat was a sign of vir-ility, and status, too. Pigs overran the new country "like vermin," and they were treated as such. They were easy to raise because they fended for themselves. In rural districts a good-sized hog was shared by three or four families. In the towns, pork wasn't considered impressive enough for a home-cooked company dinner, and it was unfit for Delmonico patrons-the stylish restaurant's lengthy menu, which Lorenzo had composed, lists not a single item of pork.
In the British-American tradition, that early bill of fare is dominated by beef, and it wasn't long before Lorenzo's kitchen staff was known for featuring a particular piece of beef-it was the first cut near the head of the short loin, the chunk that is now known variously as a club steak, or a "Delmonico." The cut has always been an expensive choice; home recipes sometimes have cautionary phrases appended: "Delmonico steaks-if the budget allows." In Jeanne Owen's Delmonico recipe, that dynamo of New York Wine and Food Society after World War II stipu-lated a further qualification. "If an added touch of sw.a.n.k or taste is desired," she wrote, "pour [a pony of brandy] into the pan after the steaks have been removed ' pour glacer pour glacer' as the French have it. Then pour the juices of the meat mixed with brandy over the steaks."
"Sw.a.n.k" was a word just coming into usage as Lorenzo Delmonico, taking over after the death of John and the retirement of Peter, began to make the restaurant a synonym for fashion. In the minds of New York's gentry, Lorenzo's immediate compet.i.tion was the dining room of the Astor House, the nearest contender for the "sw.a.n.k" patronage.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Astor was enthusiastically touted by Americans and Europeans alike as a "palace" among hotels.
But, though it served de luxe de luxe meals to those who could afford them, its big dining room offered a table d'hote menu with a mingling of French and colonial items, including boiled cod alongside meals to those who could afford them, its big dining room offered a table d'hote menu with a mingling of French and colonial items, including boiled cod alongside ballon de mouton aux ballon de mouton aux tomates, macaroni au parmesan tomates, macaroni au parmesan, and desserts as prosaic as Queen Pudding.
As a restaurant without the burden of providing rooms for scores of travelers, Delmonico's stuck to menus that were exclusively a la carte.
Under the system that became known as "the American plan" (a carryover from colonial days of roadside taverns), hotel keepers charged their guests a lump sum that covered three to four meals a day as well as a place to sleep. The custom may have started out with a wayfarer eating whatever his landlord and family were having for breakfast, din-84 ner, or supper, but as hotel compet.i.tion grew, potluck gave way to something that was described by some observers as "cuisine." Table d'hote, in its "American plan" version, meant vast tables loaded with dozens of dishes, hot and cold. There were tureens of soup, and platters bearing choices of meat and game, various vegetables, and great bowls of cornmeal pudding and other boiled grains. The common table was perceived as a symbol of democracy, but its days became numbered when society caught on to the Delmonico vision of what a good restaurant could be like.
In the course of his long influence on American eating, Lorenzo presided over a half-dozen establishments bearing the family name.
He had a keen sense of New York's residential shifts. When John Jacob Astor moved his family (Astor House remained on lower Broadway) to the Thirty-fourth Street site later occupied by the Empire State Building, Lorenzo watched the trend that made Fifth Avenue a necklace of ornamented mansions. In one of these, the four-story Italianate town house on Fourteenth Street built by a whale-oil tyc.o.o.n, Lorenzo established at the beginning of the Civil War a splendid complex of restaurants, ballrooms, cafes, and residential suites. He kept the downtown restaurants on South William Street, and one near City Hall, but in the new place the Delmonicos could concentrate on what the Times Times called called "the very centre of fashionable life." The newspaper, indeed, expressed doubt that Europe could boast anything to compete with the new Delmonico's in understated elegance.
The ground-floor cafe on Fourteenth Street, with its marble-top tables and without a bar that pandered to those who might order alcohol, was the first of its kind; the private dining rooms and apartments upstairs were innovations that enhanced the life-styles of powerful men. There were travelers who came to Delmonico's not simply to dine well but to share with Lorenzo their enthusiasm for the fastidious preparation of food. General Winfield Scott was a Mexican War hero who became Chief of Staff, and his career had required him to cover the country on inspection tours from which he returned to check in at Delmonico's.
He was the only candidate for the presidency who was defeated (as gossip had it) by charges that he was guilty of luxurious eating. He was notorious for putting on airs, and he was accused of posturing by those who whispered that he lived on "hasty plates of turtle and oyster soup."
A bountifully padded soldier, six feet four, he seemingly would rather be fat than President-he carried only four states when he was defeated by Franklin Pierce.
85 Scott was one of a very few regulars who could get Lorenzo to leave his small office to dine vis-a-vis. As longtime friends, they could discuss the menu, trading expertise about origins of cla.s.sic dishes. Scott had eaten studiously in Paris, at least once taking his officer's leave time to drink in the mysteries of Chef Baleine's cuisine at Rocher de Ca.n.a.le, or the techniques that distinguished Very's, and La Restaurant Les Trois Freres Provencaux. But, at least as importantly, he brought Lorenzo news of the delights of American gastronomy beyond the New York horizon.
Scott applauded the Delmonico policy of serving only aged southern hams, and those from Charles County, Maryland, stuffed with spring greens, were among his favorites. For his own larder, he had regular shipments to his quarters of barrels in which, packed in the ashes of fruitwood fires, were hams taken only from hogs that ran wild in beechnut woods. Scott once pa.s.sed on his appreciation of Great Lakes whitefish along with a recipe: "They must be cooked done done, and immediately rolled up, one after another, in a napkin, doubled and heated almost to scorching. Then they are to be served and eaten immediately, unrolling the napkin as the fish are wanted." The gourmandizing general was as keen about roast canvasback duck as either Lorenzo or their friend Sam Ward (who liked his duck with gooseberries), while the Delmonico kitchen recognized the best of American cooking by serving the bird with fried slices of hominy grits. Unlike other waterfowl, the canvasback of the eastern seaboard fly-way chose to feed on the roots of an aquatic gra.s.s known as wild celery, which then was rampant in the Chesapeake Bay region.
As Lorenzo's menus increasingly recognized the best of native provender, Americans felt freer to boast openly of regional dishes.
Canvasbacks appealed to nineteenth-century epicures because they lacked the fishy tang characteristic of other wild ducks. European restaurant-goers bolstered local pride. Charles d.i.c.kens, in whose honor one of Delmonico's most noteworthy galas was given, told his readers about the skies over the Chesapeake Bay that were blackened by the seasonal flights of canvasbacks, and the Delmonico chef, Alessandro Filippini, later wrote that "no game is more highly praised or more eagerly sought after in Europe," in effect certifying the general American contribution to cla.s.sic feasting.
Two items of the Delmonico kitchen that evolved into menu cla.s.sics were aspic de canvasback aspic de canvasback and truffled ice cream, the latter becoming an essential in the minds of New York high livers who liked to have a and truffled ice cream, the latter becoming an essential in the minds of New York high livers who liked to have a 86 86 hand in their own private dinners. Leonard Jerome, the grandfather of Winston Churchill, was one, and so was August Belmont, a Wall Street leader of the new social order. As important as any of numerous others was Lorenzo's longtime admirer, Sam Ward, the so-called King of the Lobby, who at sixteen had become a devotee of the first Delmonico cafe. Throughout his influential life in New York and his career of political advocacy in Washington, Ward made a practice of eulogizing Lorenzo, once describing him as "the young Napoleon of our future army of restaurateurs," once as one who was shrewd enough to see "the unfolding resources of the mighty West." Sam Ward had gone to California during the gold rush, and had eaten with miners who had made famous the simple combination of oysters and scrambled eggs known as Hangtown Fry. But in the East, Ward became known for his own recipes for such delicacies as wild mushrooms and aged Virginia ham under gla.s.s, and for his way with minced chicken and bacon. He was an epicure whose advice on food and wine was sought by contem-poraries who, coming into sudden wealth, were in much need of social guidance. Like Winfield Scott, Sam Ward had brought home from his serious study of Parisian kitchens many ideas to enhance the dinner parties that made his name almost as much a household word as that of his sister who wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." And he may have been the only amateur cook permitted by Lorenzo to prepare his own sauces side by side with Delmonico chefs.
In the ballroom of Delmonico's on Fourteenth Street, Ward McAllister, nephew of Sam Ward, established his reputation as the guru of society matrons. He began the custom of exclusive dances, which were known as cotillions and were most often followed by elaborate supper parties; and he also invented the term "the Four Hundred" to designate those he found acceptable as the "society" that counted. He made Newport, R.I., famous for society picnics staged on his country estate. It was his boast that he showed America how to entertain alfresco as ostentatiously as at a meal in Delmonico's indoor opulence. But after a brief period, McAllister found it shocking that in Manhattan fewer than a dozen of the best families had their own chefs, and that the nation in general was being taken over by nouveaux riches nouveaux riches.
The majordomo of the Four Hundred may not have realized just how times had changed.* But the signs were there. Increasingly, Lorenzo * Unlike Lorenzo, McAllister refused to see much merit in cooking that wasn't French ori-ented. At a dinner for sixty in Newport he arranged a "cook-off" between a noted black cook Unlike Lorenzo, McAllister refused to see much merit in cooking that wasn't French ori-ented. At a dinner for sixty in Newport he arranged a "cook-off" between a noted black cook and a French chef. The latter, he said in his autobiography, was "very much the victor...an and a French chef. The latter, he said in his autobiography, was "very much the victor...an educated, cultivated artist"; his compet.i.tor had only "a wonderful, natural taste, and the educated, cultivated artist"; his compet.i.tor had only "a wonderful, natural taste, and the art of making things savory, i.e. taste good." art of making things savory, i.e. taste good."
87 found himself dragooned into providing food and service for people who preferred to entertain at home. Manhattan families summering in Newport prevailed upon Delmonico's to cater country parties, and dozens of waiters were transported north, along with wagonloads of food, as relief for the kitchen staffs of Newport's wealthy vacationers.
The middle cla.s.ses were affected differently by the new tempo. In the 1880s, armed with new culinary technology, more modestly affluent families were beginning to use their kitchens and dining rooms in a renewed effort, an observer said, "to secure or elevate their often shaky status." As servants proved hard to get, Juliet Corson addressed the new interest in food by opening the New York Cooking School in response to requests from some of the city's wealthy hostesses. Dinner parties at home became the vogue. One might not be able to afford Delmonico's or to rival the Astors in elaborate cooking, but guests could be impressed by expensive ingredients when they were prepared with care for your own dinner parties.
Nonetheless, Delmonico's remained the Times Square for itinerant diners-out as well as the Fifth Avenue crowd, and as always it was the place to find the best of new ingredients from everywhere. An habitue named Ben Wenberg, who operated his own coastwise shipping line to the Caribbean and South America, added to the restaurant's aura when he came in from a voyage one day and demanded a brazier and spirit lamp in order to demonstrate a new lobster recipe. His dish was found to be so agreeable that it went on the menu with his name appended. His elegant creamed lobster became even more talked about after Wenberg was turned out of Delmonico's following a fight he caused with another patron-what had been known as Lobster Wenberg was henceforward listed as Lobster Newburg.
Delmonico's was also the place where people first began to speak with some excitement about avocados. Richard Harding Davis, novelist, playwright, swashbuckling journalist, and escort of Ethel Barrymore, made his usual reentry visit to Delmonico's upon return from a.s.sign-ment in Caracas. On this occasion, he showed up bearing a basketful of avocados, which he had eaten for the first time in Venezuela. Although other Americans by then were growing avocados as an exotic fruit, they weren't yet being served at the table. A Florida horticulturist had brought some from Mexico in 1833, and a couple of generations later 88 an avocado grove was planted in Santa Barbara by a California judge named Ord. But Delmonico regulars were the first Americans to encourage a place on the menu for a fruit course of "alligator pears," as they were first known. As listed in the ma.s.sive Delmonico book of recipes, the fruit was peeled, cut in slices, seasoned with salt, pepper and vinegar, with lemon slices on the side. After some acceptance early in this century, the myriad ways of serving avocados began to develop after World War II, when they were grown in Florida and California as a cash crop that became available in supermarkets. Henry T. Finck, the New York music critic and gastronome, compared his first encounter with avocados to "the discovery of a new song by Schubert or Grieg, or a new painting by t.i.tian." The avocado's firm flesh, "though soft and custardy," he wrote, "has a most exquisite flavor which, with oil and vinegar makes a symphony of flavors." After the early introduction at Delmonico's, avocados became so characteristic of American summer fare that they are available in every small town.
The pervasiveness of the dish called Chicken a la King (the bane of business lunches and sometimes served as a late supper indulgence) has been attributed to one of Lorenzo's guests, but there are also others credited for the first serving of this creamed chicken that is made prettier with chopped green pepper and pimiento. For some reason, claims about its origin are numerous. Foxhall Keene, a rather rich young patron, is said to have brought the idea to Delmonico's, and on Long Island the chef of the Brighton Beach Hotel prepared an almost identical recipe and asked his boss, E. Clarke King, to lend it his name. Charles Ranhofer, who presided over Lorenzo's kitchen for years after his boss's death, is the chef who got the honors for creating Baked Alaska, a dessert conceived to help celebrate the purchase of the territory that is now the forty-ninth state.
As Lorenzo's life as the host of New York raced on, he was given credit for the influence he had on the nation as a whole. "O rare Delmonico!" a literary editorial writer intoned in the New York Herald New York Herald, "we would say [this] of the great king of cuisine, as it was said of Ben Jonson, did it not strike us that a captious world might think that the perfect chef of chefs was in the habit of presenting his viands underdone. Let us rather say sagacious Delmonico sagacious Delmonico, for it is the live tradition of nearly a century in Gotham that 'as Delmonico goes, so goes dining.'" Praise for Lorenzo followed him as once more he moved uptown, building in 1876 a lavish new complex of dining rooms on Fifth Avenue and Twenty-sixth Street. The new restaurant was described as "the pride of the nation,"
89 by the Tribune Tribune. The newspaper wasn't shy about its approval: "There is no restaurant in Paris or London or Vienna which can compete with our Delmonico's in the excellence and variety of its fare," the Tribune Tribune writer continued. "This is mainly the result of keeping the business in the same family...." writer continued. "This is mainly the result of keeping the business in the same family...."
As general manager of the four Delmonico establishments, Lorenzo had the help of his brother Sirio, who often came along on his sunrise marketing sorties and who ran Delmonico's on Chambers Street. A cousin was in charge of the Broad Street place, Lorenzo's brother Constant at the old South William Street quarters. Charles, Lorenzo's nephew, took command of the new flagship restaurant on Fifth, and in the kitchen was Chef Charles Ranhofer, the Paris-trained cook who had had stints in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., before Lorenzo hired him. Ranhofer believed, as he once wrote, that the "culinary art should be the basis of all diplomacy." It was a statement Lorenzo might have made. He picked chefs and sous chefs for Delmonico kitchens who were to continue his standards for hospitality and high-quality cooking when they ran restaurants in other regions. Lorenzo and Ranhofer saw eye to eye immediately, and the young chef (he was twenty-six when he took over Delmonico's) got the credit for developing Lorenzo's policy of emphasizing ingredients considered uniquely American. Ranhofer's paupiettes of kingfish and buffalo fish bavarois failed to ignite the public fancy as did Baked Alaska, but his touch with earthy American ingredients was an inspiration of sorts for cooks at home. He took, for example, pumpkins he had cut into matchstick size, parboiled the pieces, and dusted them with flour, then deep-fried them as a forerunner of shoestring potatoes.
Ranhofer was firmly in place when Lorenzo died in 1881, leaving the Delmonico empire to his nephew Charles. The transition proved to be seamless, but across the street from the newest Delmonico address was a former waiter who was to make his name as a rival to all that Lorenzo had initiated in his half-century of restaurant building. Louis Sherry, who earlier quit his job as maitre d'hotel in the dining room of the Hotel Brunswick, began to challenge Lorenzo's reputation as a pacesetter.
Delmonico's was a place for serious banquets in honor of visiting fire-men from the reigning Prince of Wales to Louis Bonaparte, the future Napoleon III. Sherry's became the same kind of gastronomic inst.i.tution, housed in equal l.u.s.ter in a four-story mansion designed by Stanford White.
Sherry's was a rendezvous for J. Pierpont Morgan and his set, and 90 90 for a while the compet.i.tion was nip and tuck. "The public...fickle and uncertain," wrote Frank Chase, the host of the Algonquin Hotel Round Table, "would shift for no apparent reason back and forth across the avenue. One year, Sherry's would have the advantage, until suddenly everyone would begin going to Delmonico's, and continue for a year or so before they suddenly shifted back. If you were taking the reigning favorite of the theater to lunch or supper...you would first find out which of these two places was in favor at the moment." The kitchens of both restaurants were considered superlative; the compet.i.tion was often heated up by Louis Sherry's skillful flattery of society egos and by Charles Ranhofer's mastery of the gala dinner. The feud was inspired publicity, and newspapers and nationally distributed magazines filled columns with what went on in the kitchens and who sat with whom in the dining rooms.
One result was that "Delmonico" became the unchallenged synonym of excellence in the gastronomic world. The family name was appropriated by various hotels and restaurants as new eating places were opened across the country. In downtown Boston's Pie Alley there was a Delmonico cafe that flourished for years. One of the earliest popular stops in San Francisco was named without apology the Delmonico Hotel.
Even restaurant proprietors in cow towns and mining camps composed menus by copying directly from Delmonico's, although these enterprises, said one reporter, "were prepared to serve only a limited selection of frying-pan and boiling-pot victuals." Only a gullible stranger would take such bills of fare seriously. The novelist Owen Wister tells of a traveler who ordered vol-au-vent vol-au-vent because he saw it listed. As Wister had it, "The proprietor yanked out his six-shooter and said, menacingly: because he saw it listed. As Wister had it, "The proprietor yanked out his six-shooter and said, menacingly: 'Stranger, you'll take hash!'"
In places where the chef (rather than the establishment's name) had been acquired from the original Delmonico's, there was nothing primitive about the menus. Among the most creative of those trained by Lorenzo was Jules Harder, who bemoaned the fact that California's suddenly wealthy mine owners were too ignorant to appreciate his delicate sauces. In San Francisco, after ten years at Delmonico's, Harder was hired to open the kitchens of the celebrated Palace Hotel with its equally impressive Palm Court. A generation later, another Delmonico graduate signed on at the lavishly appointed Broadmore Casino, a Colorado oasis that brought New York's rich to climb Pike's Peak.
Meanwhile, simple dishes credited to Delmonico's, like veal hash in St.
Louis, potatoes with Parmesan in St. Paul, capon au vin blanc capon au vin blanc in New York State, began to in New York State, began to 91 appear in local charity cookbooks and became circulating recipes among home cooks. The spicy dish called Country Captain, a southern version of curried chicken, was a national success after Alessandro Filippini, who had served Delmonico's as both a restaurant manager and chef, included the recipe in his The Table: How to Buy Food, How to Cook It and The Table: How to Buy Food, How to Cook It and How to Serve It How to Serve It (1889). And the compendious (1889). And the compendious Buckeye Cookery Buckeye Cookery, published in the same period, provided housekeepers with instructions for the uncomplicated Delmonico custard ice cream recipe. As late as 1970, James Beard published in his American Cookery American Cookery the beefsteak and oyster pie instructions of Pierre Caron, the Delmonico chef whose book, the beefsteak and oyster pie instructions of Pierre Caron, the Delmonico chef whose book, French French Dishes for American Tables Dishes for American Tables, had been translated in 1886.
There were b.u.mper crops of recipe manuals of all kinds during the decades in which the Delmonico name was preeminent, and some reflected the influence on home kitchens of professional cooks. Chefs like Victor Hipzler, who gained fame after he left Sherry's to take over the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, wrote columns for newspapers. His creations, or his variations on old themes, had such t.i.tles as Celery Victor, or Lalla Rhook (a frozen punch named for a Persian fable).
Among restaurants that served the dishes-along with Charles Ranhofer's Baked Alaska-was Solari's of Geary Street in San Francisco, where the Drews and the Barrymores might be seated next to the family of M. F. K. Fisher, and where the dramatic Delmonico dessert was considered a "bigger eyecatcher" for the Fishers than Broadway's royal family.
In an a.s.sessment of the American appreciation of food served with style and finesse, Charles Ranhofer identified the people who ate Delmonico's food as "by taste and breeding epicureans." Within a decade of Lorenzo's death, Ranhofer published his book called The Epicurean The Epicurean, in which he expressed this snide sentiment along with a 1,500-page collection of professional recipes. He dedicated the work to "the Messrs.
Delmonico for the interest shown by them in developing the gastronomic art in this country." For some of Lorenzo's faithful, the book was an act of treason. Years after his boss was dead, Leopold Rimmer, who ran one of Lorenzo's dining rooms, branded it "the only mistake ever made against the interest of the Delmonico business [because it] gave away all the secrets...every Tom, d.i.c.k and Harry who calls himself a cook, and learned his trade in Delmonico's kitchen, can make up the finest dinners with that book.... There is hardly a hotel in New York today,"
said Rimmer bitterly, "whose chef did not learn his trade at Delmonico's."
For Wall Street regulars at the end of the twentieth century, the 92 92 Delmonico name remains carved in stone above a pillared entrance at the corner of Beaver and South William Streets, where the first of the family's opulent hostelries opened in 1838. A century after Lorenzo's death, the New York Times New York Times described the Delmonico corner as "a melancholy sight, so empty and deserted that it seems unhaunted even by ghosts." It is true that the last member of the Delmonico clan left the restaurant business during Prohibition, but the reputation Lorenzo created hasn't been extinguished. I went down to South William Street to have lunch one day not long ago. The restaurant was back in business, and the place was filled with prosperous people, happily eating from a menu that reflects the country's bounty. Perhaps Lorenzo's greatest contribution is that he made the Delmonico name a symbol of American food with a sophisticated edge, not only in restaurants but in average kitchens. Delmonico's helped to push the country away from the idea of food as fodder. Increasingly, most Americans took to Lorenzo's standards as a sign of civilization. Others, like his friend Mark Twain, would still cling-when it came to eating at home-to traditional fare that was simple, untainted, and abundant; and they remained suspicious of anything that seemed to be putting on airs. described the Delmonico corner as "a melancholy sight, so empty and deserted that it seems unhaunted even by ghosts." It is true that the last member of the Delmonico clan left the restaurant business during Prohibition, but the reputation Lorenzo created hasn't been extinguished. I went down to South William Street to have lunch one day not long ago. The restaurant was back in business, and the place was filled with prosperous people, happily eating from a menu that reflects the country's bounty. Perhaps Lorenzo's greatest contribution is that he made the Delmonico name a symbol of American food with a sophisticated edge, not only in restaurants but in average kitchens. Delmonico's helped to push the country away from the idea of food as fodder. Increasingly, most Americans took to Lorenzo's standards as a sign of civilization. Others, like his friend Mark Twain, would still cling-when it came to eating at home-to traditional fare that was simple, untainted, and abundant; and they remained suspicious of anything that seemed to be putting on airs.
93 ALICE WATERS.
The Farm-Restaurant Connection I have always believed that a restaurant can be no better than the ingredients it has to work with. As much as by any other factor, Chez Panisse has been defined by the search for ingredients. That search and what we have found along the way have shaped what we cook and ultimately who we are. The search has made us become part of a community-a community that has grown from markets, gardens, and suppliers and has gradually come to include farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. It has also made us realize that, as a restaurant, we are utterly dependent on the health of the land, the sea, and the planet as a whole, and that this search for good ingredients is pointless without a healthy agriculture and a healthy environment. have always believed that a restaurant can be no better than the ingredients it has to work with. As much as by any other factor, Chez Panisse has been defined by the search for ingredients. That search and what we have found along the way have shaped what we cook and ultimately who we are. The search has made us become part of a community-a community that has grown from markets, gardens, and suppliers and has gradually come to include farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. It has also made us realize that, as a restaurant, we are utterly dependent on the health of the land, the sea, and the planet as a whole, and that this search for good ingredients is pointless without a healthy agriculture and a healthy environment.
We served our first meal at Chez Panisse on August 28, 1971. The menu was pate en croute, duck with olives, salad, and fresh fruit, and the meal was cooked by Victoria Wise, who, together with Leslie Land and Paul Aratow, was one of the three original cooks at the restaurant. The ducks came from Chinatown in San Francisco and the other ingredients mostly from two local supermarkets: the j.a.panese produce concession at U-Save on Grove Street and the Co-op across the street. We sifted through every leaf of romaine, using perhaps 20 percent of each head and discarding the rest. We argued about which olives we ought to use with the duck and settled without much enthusiasm on green ones whose source I don't recall, agreeing after the fact that we could have done better. To this day we have yet to find a source of locally produced olives that really satisfies us.
We don't shop at supermarkets anymore, but in most respects the same processes and problems apply. Leslie Land recalls, "We were home cooks-we didn't know there were specialized restaurant suppliers. We thought everybody bought their food the way we did." I think that ignorance was an important, if unwitting, factor in allowing Chez Panisse to become what it is. Often, we simply couldn't cook what we 94 wanted to cook because we couldn't find the level of quality we needed in the required ingredients, or we couldn't find the ingredients at all.
Our set menus, which we've always published in advance so customers can choose when they want to come, featured the phrase "if available"
with regularity during the first seven or eight years. Since we've always felt that freshness and purity were synonymous with quality, there were few guarantees that what we needed would appear in the form and condition we wanted when we wanted it.
If, as I believe, restaurants are communities-each with its own culture-then Chez Panisse began as a hunter-gatherer culture and, to a lesser extent, still is. Not only did we prowl the supermarkets, the stores and stalls of Chinatown, and such specialty shops as Berkeley then possessed (some of which, like the Cheese Board and Monterey Market, predated us and continue to develop from strength to strength) but we also literally foraged. We gathered watercress from streams, picked nasturtiums and fennel from roadsides, and gathered blackberries from the Santa Fe tracks in Berkeley. We also took herbs like oregano and thyme from the gardens of friends. One of these friends, Wendy Ruebman, asked if we'd like sorrel from her garden, setting in motion an informal but regular system of obtaining produce from her and other local gardeners. We also relied on friends with rural connections: Mary Isaak, the mother of one of our cooks, planted fraises des bois for us in Petaluma, and Lindsey Shere, one of my partners and our head pastry cook to this day, got her father to grow fruit for us near his place in Healdsburg.
Although most of our sources in the restaurant's early days were of necessity unpredictable, produce was the main problem area, and we focused our efforts again and again on resolving it. Perhaps more than any other kind of foodstuff, produce in general and its flavor in particular have suffered under postwar American agriculture. Although we've been able to have as much cosmetically perfect, out-of-season fruit and vegetables as anyone could possibly want, the flavor, freshness, variety, and wholesomeness of produce have been terribly diminished.
With the notable exception of Chinese and j.a.panese markets that even in the early seventies emphasized flavor and quality, we really had nowhere to turn but to sympathetic gardeners who either already grew what we needed or would undertake to grow it for us.
Our emphasis-and, today, our insistence-on organically grown produce developed less out of any ideological commitment than out of the fact that this was the way almost everyone we knew gardened. We have never been interested in being a health or natural foods restaurant; 95 95 rather, organic and naturally raised ingredients happen to be consistent with both what we want for our kitchen and what we want for our community and our larger environment. Such ingredients have never been an end in themselves, but they are a part of the way of life that inspired the restaurant and that we want the restaurant to inspire. Most of us have become so inured to the dogmas and self-justifications of agribusiness that we forget that, until 1940, most produce was, for all intents and purposes, organic, and, until the advent of the refrigerated boxcar, it was also of necessity fresh, seasonal, and local. There's nothing radical about organic produce: It's a return to traditional values of the most fundamental kind.
It had always seemed to us that the best way to solve our supply problems was either to deal directly with producers or, better still, to raise our own. By 1975, we'd made some progress with the first approach, regularly receiving, for example, fresh and smoked trout from Garrapata in Big Sur. One of my partners, Jerry Budrick, had also set up a connection with the Dal Porto Ranch in Amador County in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, which provided us with lambs and with zinfandel grapes for the house wine Walter Schug made for us at the Joseph Phelps Winery. Jerry also acquired some land of his own in Amador, and it seemed an obvious solution to our produce needs for us to farm it. In 1977 we tried this, but we knew even less about farming than we thought we did, and the experiment proved a failure.
Fortunately, during the late 1970s some of our urban gardens were producing quite successfully, notably one cultivated by the French gardener and cook at Chez Panisse, Jean-Pierre Moulle, on land in the Berkeley hills owned by Duke McGillis, our house doctor, and his wife, Joyce. In addition, Lindsey Shere returned from a trip to Italy laden with seeds, which her father planted in Healdsburg, thereby introducing us to rocket and other greens still exotic at that time. Meanwhile, we were also learning how to use conventional sources as best we could.
Mark Miller, then a cook with us, made the rounds of the Oakland Produce Market each dawn, and we discovered useful sources at other wholesale and commercial markets in San Francisco. Closer to home, we bought regularly-as we still do-from Bill Fujimoto, who had taken over Monterey Market from his parents and had begun to build its reputation for quality and variety.
It's difficult now to remember the kind of att.i.tude to flavor and quality that still prevailed in the mid and late 1970s. When Jeremiah Tower, who was our main cook at Chez Panisse from 1973 to 1977, once 96 96 sent back some meat he felt wasn't up to scratch, the supplier was apologetic: No one had ever done that before. And Jerry Rosenfield, a friend and physician who has worked on many of our supply problems over the years, caused an uproar one morning when he was subst.i.tuting for Mark Miller at the Oakland Produce Market: Jerry insisted on tasting tasting some strawberries before buying them. Jerry was also a key figure in securing our sources for fish, probably the first of our supply problems that we were able to solve successfully. During the restaurant's first few years, we served very little fish at all, such was the quality available-despite our being across the bay from a city renowned for its seafood. But, in 1975, Jerry brought us some California sea mussels he'd gathered near his home, and they were a revelation. We asked him to bring us more, and in late 1976 he became our fish dealer, buying from wholesalers and fishermen ranging up the coast from Monterey to Fort Bragg. Along the way he began to be a.s.sisted by Paul Johnson, a cook from another Berkeley restaurant called In Season, who took over from Jerry in 1979 and who today sells what is arguably the best fish on the West Coast. some strawberries before buying them. Jerry was also a key figure in securing our sources for fish, probably the first of our supply problems that we were able to solve successfully. During the restaurant's first few years, we served very little fish at all, such was the quality available-despite our being across the bay from a city renowned for its seafood. But, in 1975, Jerry brought us some California sea mussels he'd gathered near his home, and they were a revelation. We asked him to bring us more, and in late 1976 he became our fish dealer, buying from wholesalers and fishermen ranging up the coast from Monterey to Fort Bragg. Along the way he began to be a.s.sisted by Paul Johnson, a cook from another Berkeley restaurant called In Season, who took over from Jerry in 1979 and who today sells what is arguably the best fish on the West Coast.
Our produce problem, however, remained unsolved, and we decided to have another try at farming. John Hudspeth, a disciple of James Beard who later started Bridge Creek restaurant just up the street from us, owned some land near Sacramento that he was willing to make available to us in 1980 and 1981. In some respects, this farm was a success-producing good onions and potatoes and wonderful little white peaches from a tree John had planted-but we weren't equipped to deal with the valley heat or the land's penchant for flooding. While the farm did produce, it produced unreliably, and we had to continue to obtain supplies from elsewhere. It also finally disabused us of any illusion that we were farmers. We realized that there seemed to be only two solutions available: extending and formalizing the system of urban gardeners we already had in place, and establishing direct connections with sympathetic farmers who could grow what we needed-that is, farmers who, since we didn't know enough farming to do it ourselves, would farm on our behalf.
In the early 1980s, two members of the restaurant staff, Andrea Crawford and Sibella Kraus, and Lindsey Shere's daughter Therese established several salad gardens in Berkeley, one of which was in my backyard. These eventually met most of our needs for salad greens, but for other kinds of produce we remained dependent on a hodgepodge of often-unreliable sources. Two things happened in 1982, however, that turned out to be tremendously important. First, Jean-Pierre Gorin, a 97 friend and filmmaker teaching in La Jolla, introduced us to the produce grown near there by the Chino family. And, second, Sibella Kraus became the forager for the restaurant and eventually started the Farm-Restaurant Project. Jean-Pierre happened by the Chinos' roadside stand, tasted a green bean, and arranged to have two boxes sent to us immediately. The beans were exquisite, and I flew down to find out who had grown them. We became good friends, and to this day we receive nine boxes of produce from the Chinos each week.
Meanwhile, as Sibella had become more and more involved with our salad gardens, she decided that she would like to work with produce full-time and proposed that she become the restaurant's first full-time forager, an idea we agreed to with enthusiasm. Sibella spent her time on the road locating farmers, tasting their produce, and, if we liked it, arranging for a schedule of deliveries to Chez Panisse. In 1983, we funded the Farm-Restaurant Project under Sibella's direction, which set up a produce network among a number of Bay Area restaurants and local farmers and culminated in the first Tasting of Summer Produce, now an annual event at which dozens of small, quality-conscious farmers show their produce to the food community and the general public. Sibella left us to work for Greenleaf Produce (from whom we still regularly buy) and has become an important figure in the sustainable-agriculture movement. She was succeeded as forager by Catherine Brandel, who has since become one of the head cooks in our upstairs cafe. During this period, Green Gulch, run by the San Francisco Zen Center, became an important supplier, as did Warren Weber, whom we continue to work with today. We were also fortunate to have Therese Shere and Eric Monrad producing tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce, and lamb for us at Coulee Ranch near Healdsburg.
During her tenure as forager, Catherine continued to develop the network Sibella had created, finding, for example, a regular source of eggs for us at New Life Farms. But she was frustrated, as we all were, by the seeming impossibility of finding meat that was both flavorful and raised in a humane and wholesome way. Since the beginning of Chez Panisse, we had been forced to rely on conventional suppliers, a continuing disappointment given how much progress we had made with other kinds of materials. But, in late 1986, Jerry Rosenfield took over as forager from Catherine, and over the next two years he made enormous strides in finding meat sources for us. Jerry had been living in the Pacific Northwest and had discovered a number of ranchers and farmers there who were attempting to raise beef, veal, and lamb without hormones and 98 under humane conditions. In particular, the Willamette Valley between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, became a source for rabbits, lambs, goats, and beef, although Jerry also located producers closer to home, including ones for game and for that most elusive bird-a decently flavored, naturally raised chicken. We still have a way to go, but today, for the first time in our history, we are able to serve meat that really pleases us.
We have made progress on other fronts, too. In 1983, for example, we helped Steve Sullivan launch Acme Bakery, which bakes for us and for many other local restaurants. And, recently, we've realized a close approximation of our dream of having a farm. In 1985, my father, Pat Waters, began looking for a farmer who would be willing to make a long-term agreement to grow most of our produce for us according to our specifications. With help from the University of California at Davis and local organic food organizations, Dad came up with a list of eighteen potential farmers, which he narrowed down to a list of four on the basis of interviews, tastings, and visits. We settled on Bob Cannard, who farms on twenty-five acres in the Sonoma Valley.
Bob is very special, not only because he grows wonderful fruits and vegetables for us-potatoes, onions, salad greens, tomatoes, beans, berries, peaches, apricots, and avocados, to name a few-but also because he is as interested in us as we are in him. He likes to visit the restaurant kitchen and pitch in, and we send our cooks up to him to help pick. He takes all the restaurant's compostable garbage each day, which he then uses to grow more food. He is also a teacher at his local college and a major force in his local farmer's market. He sees that his farm and our restaurant are part of something larger and that, whether we acknowledge it or not, they have a responsibility to the health of the communities in which they exist and of the land on which they depend.
The search for materials continues, and I imagine it always will. We are still looking for good sources for b.u.t.ter, olives, oil, and prosciutto, to name a few. But, even when we find them, the foraging will continue.
Ingredients will appear that we'll want to try, and we in turn will have new requirements that we'll want someone to fulfill for us. Whatever happens, we realize that, as restaurateurs, we are now involved in agriculture and its vagaries-the weather, the soil, and the economics of farming and rural communities. Bob Cannard reminds us frequently that farming isn't manufacturing: It is a continuing relationship with nature that has to be complete on both sides to work. People claim to know that 99 plants are living things, but the system of food production, distribution, and consumption we have known in this country for the last forty years has attempted to deny that they are. If our food has lacked flavor-if, in aesthetic terms, it has been dead-that may be because it was treated as dead even while it was being grown. And perhaps we have tolerated such food-and the way its production has affected our society and environment-because our senses, our hearts, and our minds have been in some sense deadened, too.
I've always felt it was part of my job as a cook and restaurateur to try to wake people up to these things, to challenge them really to taste the food and to experience the kind of community that can happen in the kitchen and at the table. Those of us who work with food suffer from an image of being involved in an elite, frivolous pastime that has little relation to anything important or meaningful. But in fact we are in a position to cause people to make important connections between what they are eating and a host of crucial environmental, social, and health issues. Food is at the center of these issues.
This isn't a matter of idealism or altruism but rather one of self-interest and survival. Restaurateurs have a very real stake in the health of the planet, in the source of the foodstuffs we depend on, and in the future of farmers, fishermen, and other producers. Hydroponic vegetables or fish raised in pens will never be a real subst.i.tute for the flavor and quality of the ingredients that are in increasing jeopardy today. Profes-sionally and personally, both our livelihoods and our lives depend on the preservation of what we have and the restoration of what we have lost. The fate of farmers-and with them the fate of the earth itself-is not somebody else's problem: It is our fate, too.
There is clearly so much more to do. But ultimately it comes down to realizing the necessity of the land to what we do and our connection to it. Few restaurants are going to be able to create the kind of relationship we have with Bob Cannard, but there are other routes to the same goal. I'm convinced that farmer's markets are an important step in this direction; they also contribute to the local economy, promote more variety and quality in the marketplace, and create community. As restaurateurs and ordinary consumers meet the people who grow their food, they acquire an interest in the future of farms, of rural communities, and of the environment. This interest, when it helps to ensure the continuing provision of open s.p.a.ce near cities and the diversity of food produced on it, is to everyone's benefit. Country and city can once again become a mutual support system, a web of interdependent communities.
That's 100 why fresh, locally grown, seasonal foodstuffs are more than an attractive fashion or a quaint, romantic notion: They are a fundamental part of a sustainable economy and agriculture-and they taste better, too. Of course, people respond, "That's easy for you to say: In California you can have whatever you want all year round." I tell them that's true, but I also tell them that most of it tastes terrible. And, while there's no reason to forgo all non-locally-produced ingredients-I wouldn't want to give up our weekly shipment from the Chinos-local materials must become the basis of our cooking and our food; this is true for every region of the planet that has produced a flavorful, healthy cuisine.
What sometimes seem to be limitations are often opportunities.
Earlier this year, in the lee between the early spring vegetables and those of mid-summer, we had an abundance of fava beans, which we explored in the kitchen for six weeks, served in soups, in purees, as a garnish, and, of course, by themselves-and we discovered that we had only begun begun to tap the possibilities. There was a stew of beans with savory and cream, a fava-bean-and-potato gratin, fava bean pizza with lots of garlic, a pasta f.a.gioli using favas, a rough puree of favas with garlic and sage, and a vinaigrette salad, to name a few. The point is that what const.i.tutes an exciting, exotic ingredient is very much in the eye of the beholder and that few things can be as compelling as fresh, locally grown materials that you know have been raised in a responsible way. to tap the possibilities. There was a stew of beans with savory and cream, a fava-bean-and-potato gratin, fava bean pizza with lots of garlic, a pasta f.a.gioli using favas, a rough puree of favas with garlic and sage, and a vinaigrette salad, to name a few. The point is that what const.i.tutes an exciting, exotic ingredient is very much in the eye of the beholder and that few things can be as compelling as fresh, locally grown materials that you know have been raised in a responsible way.
When I was first thinking about opening what would become Chez Panisse, my friend Tom Luddy took me to see a Marcel Pagnol retro-spective at the old Surf Theater in San Francisco. We went every night and saw about half the movies Pagnol made during his long career, including The Baker's Wife The Baker's Wife and his Ma.r.s.eilles trilogy- and his Ma.r.s.eilles trilogy- Marius, f.a.n.n.y Marius, f.a.n.n.y, and Cesar Cesar. Every one of these movies about life in the south of France fifty years ago radiated wit, love for people, and respect for the earth.
Every movie made me cry.
My partners and I decided to name our new restaurant after the widower Panisse, a compa.s.sionate, placid, and slightly ridiculous marine outfitter in the Ma.r.s.eilles trilogy, so as to evoke the sunny good feelings of another world that contained so much that was incomplete or missing in our own-the simple wholesome good food of Provence, the atmosphere of tolerant camaraderie and great lifelong friendships, and a respect both for the old folks and their pleasures and for the young and their pa.s.sions. Four years later, when our partnership incorporated itself, 101 we immodestly took the name Pagnol et Cie., Inc., to reaffirm our desire to re-create a reality where life and work were inseparable and the daily pace left time for the afternoon anisette or the restorative game of petanque petanque, and where eating together nourished the spirit as well as the body-since the food was raised, harvested, hunted, fished, and gathered by people sustaining and sustained by each other and by the earth itself. In this respect, as in so many others, the producers and farmers we have come to know not only have provided us with good food but have also been essential in helping us to realize our dreams.
102 PAUL SCHMIDT.
What Do Oysters Mean?
T his is an excerpt from a book about food in fiction. It began as a cookbook, his is an excerpt from a book about food in fiction. It began as a cookbook, but it got more complicated and more interesting the longer I worked on it. but it got more complicated and more interesting the longer I worked on it.
When we think and write about food we are often thinking and writing about something else. Food always means something beyond the fact of what we put something else. Food always means something beyond the fact of what we put into our mouths. Food, I found, is about loving and living and dying into our mouths. Food, I found, is about loving and living and dying.
Eating, like making love, is a sign we will not die. But food and death are inseparable. To prepare food is to destroy one thing in order to preserve something else. Eventually I came to realize that I was really writing about pa.s.sion and death, just like Tolstoy and d.i.c.kens and Joyce and Proust-and like most cookbooks. And that struck me funny, finally.
The piece opens with part I, chapter 10 of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Anna Karenina, Karenina, translated by myself translated by myself.
As Levin entered the restaurant with Oblonsky, he couldn't help noticing a certain expression, almost a contained radiance, that suffused Oblonsky's face and his whole presence. Oblonsky took off his coat, and with his hat c.o.c.ked to one side he made his way to the dining room, giving orders to the Tatar waiters in tail coats who flocked about him with their napkins. He bowed right and left to friends who greeted him joyfully-here as everywhere else-and went to the hors d'oeuvres buffet, where he drank a gla.s.s of vodka, took a bite of fish, and said something to the heavily made-up Frenchwoman in her ribbons and lace b