Many people in the Chicago area will remember my father Réal well. He was the longtime director of the Alliance Française. A wonderful gregarious man, very gifted at public speaking who absolutely loved food. There are two things I did not inherit from his set of genes. The first is the gift of public speaking. To speak publicly at my father’s level is an art form. He was brilliant. He could say one thing and literally mean another. I can remember one speech he gave while mad at me. He wove in some fatherly advice and a healthy dose of discipline. Not a single person in the crowd realized it. People were clapping and cheering. I was getting scolded publicly. The second was his cooking gene. Very sad about the first one. Positively giddy about the second. Quite frankly, the man could not cook at all. Or for those who knew my father well, his cooking was ‘god awful’ as he was fond of saying. I think my sister Anne inherited that gene. Thankfully my cooking gene came directly from Provence via my mother….
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! What an incredible start to the day! Despite staying up later than I wanted sorting through over 300 pictures taken yesterday I feel great. Beau still hasn’t fully adjusted to the time change but is doing better. He is a little crabby and needy when he wakes up but after a double espresso he seems to be able to cope. Just like his Daddy….
Definition of EPIGRAM
1: A concise poem dealing pointedly and often satirically with a single thought or event and often ending with an ingenious turn of thought
Benjamin Franklin’s famous epigram, “Remember that time is money”
– Merriam Webster Dictionary
Definition of EPIGRAM, in food terms
1: A French dish consisting of two slices of lamb, usually a slice from the breast and a chop, cook then breaded and fried.
Phileas Gilbert (1857 – 1942), famous Chef who collaborated with Escoffier on le Guide Culinaire relates the origins of the culinary dish ‘Epigrammes’:
“It was towards the middle of the 18th century. One day a young marquise overheard one of her guests at the table remark that when he was dining the previous evening with the Comte de Vaudreuil, he was charmingly received and, furthermore, had had a feast of excellent epigrams. The marquise, though pretty and elegant, was somewhat ignorant of the meaning of the words. She later summoned Michelet, her Chef. ‘Michelet,’ she said to him, ‘tomorrow, I shall require a dish of Epigrammes.’
The Chef withdrew, pondering the problem. He looked up old recipes, but found no reference to anything of the kind. None of his colleagues had ever heard of the dish. But no French master Chef is ever at a loss. Since he could discover nothing about the dish he set about inventing one. Next day, inspiration came and he created a most delicate dish.
At dinner, the guests fell into ecstasies over the dish before them and, after complimenting the lady of the house, desired to know its name. The Chef was called. With perfect composure he replied, “Epigrammes of Lamb a la Michelet.
Everyone laughed. The marquise was triumphant, though she could not understand the amusement of her guests. From that moment, the culinary repertoire of France was enriched by a name still used to this day.”
Epigramme of Fillet of Trout, from Charles Elme Francatelli’s book entitled “Francatelli’s Modern Cook” (1886 edition):
“Trim the fillets as above (cut to resemble pear shaped fowl breasts), bread crumb one half, in the ordinary manner, and place these into a saute pan, with clarified butter; put the remainder into another saute pan, with clarified butter, without being bread crumbed, and season with pepper and salt. Fry the fillets, drain and dish them up in a close circle, placing one of each kind alternately; fill the center with some scollops of fillet of soles, tossed in a spoonful of Bechamel sauce, and some chopped and par boiled parsley; pour some Aurora sauce over the plain fillets (taking care not to smear those that are bread crumbed), pour some of it round the base, and serve.”
Charles Elme Francatelli was a pupil of Careme and maitre d’hotel and chief cook to the Queen.
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust
I want to express thanks to all the people in my life that helped get me to this point, even if kicking and screaming was involved on my part. I would be remiss if I did not thank my beautiful wife and partner in life, Lisa, who has been the sun nurturing my soul with her wisdom and encouragement. With her I have shared some of the best moments of my life and hope to share in many, many more. My little son Beaumont who’s inquisitiveness and true joy of life has retaught lessons that I have long forgotten or buried beneath the dust and cobwebs of being an adult. He has shown me that children are often more wise than their elders. I thank my mother and father for not only the obvious of bringing me into this world, but for sharing their passion for culture and gastronomy. It because of who they were that I am what I am. The picture below sits on my desk and fills my heart with untold happiness to see my folks at a very happy moment of their lives.
I want to thank my step father Karl Fritz, sister Anne, Joan and Gary Verne all for different reasons. I thank all the sous chefs I have ever been blessed to work with; Jason and Doug for many crazy times in New York living the dream. I thank Dave “the Animal” in PEI for an unbridled joy, fire and an intensity he brings to the kitchen elevating everyone and everything around him. I seriously walk in the kitchen every single day trying just to be a bit like him. I thank Beau Mac for looking long and hard and finding me in my witness relocation program far from the ranges, hiding among 10,000 gallon fermenting tanks at Bob and Claudia’s amazing winery in Northern California. His passion has relight the fire that glows white hot in my heart today. Pay it forward… Pay it back… I should probably thank all my mentors who’s love for cooking and kicking my ass on a daily basis got me to stand before the stage on which I am faced. There were many, but most notably, Michel Leborgne, Michel Martinez, Louis Szathmary and Franklin Biggs. These guys were legends in my my formative years and still hold a special place in my heart. In adding to them I must thank Joel Robuchon who let me do a short stage while on vacation in 1996. It is amazing how much one’s life can be upended in such a short amount of time. Going further down the culinary road I must be thankful to all the great Chefs who have lived before… They carried the torch, le feu sacre, forward throughout history and defined our culture and what distinguishes us from other animals. Without the greats like Careme, Garlin, Dubois, Nignon, Escoffier, Point… where would we be today?
So on this beautifully warm February day, I am thankful for so much. A special thanks to Lee Morcus for putting together a wild collection of characters who will people Figue, the latest greatest Mediterranean restaurant. It will be one hell of a ride!