Archive for the ‘Warms My Heart’ Category

Memories of Chef Roger Fessaguet

Posted 04 Apr 2017 — by S.E.
Category Warms My Heart

Tonight I quietly dedicated service in the Bistro to Roger Fessaguet one of the most important chefs in the history of New York City and one who deserves to occupy our memories and hearts. April 2nd was the third anniversary of his passing and I think of him every year on this day.  For 20 years Roger was chef at New York’s four-star La Caravelle restaurant on West 55th street (near 5th avenue) starting when it opened in 1960 until his retirement from the kitchen in 1980.  Back in February of 2012 I spent three days with Roger at his home in West Palm Beach Florida recording his stories and blanketing him with the respect and compassion he deserved at such a late stage in his life.

Roger Fessaguet, Jim Griffin, Jean Jacques Dietrich

We were brought together by my mentor and good friend Chef Jean Jacques Dietrich – a lifelong  friend of Fessaguet. Dietrich lived with me when he first started teaching after retiring from the New York Athletic Club and we have remained close ever since. It was Dietrich’s idea to visit with Roger and record a bit of his history – an act of deep respect and love from one great chef to another.

Prior to visiting Roger time was spent reflecting on what life might be like at the end of a long career in foodservice. What happens when the world no longer pays attention after decades of adoration? What is life like when the spotlight dims then darkens – is there sadness or joy, bitterness or grace? What do the best chefs in the world value most after a career has ended and the sun begins to set on a life well lived.

Roger never expressed regret for being a chef and remained fulfilled by a magnificent career even later in life. He spoke at length about his great chef friends including Pierre Franey, Jacques Pepin, Jean Jacques, and Andre Soltner.  He loved reflecting back on life at La Caravelle, sharing wonderful memories of his staff and customers like Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, Salvador Dali, and others. An intellectual, he kept meticulous records and documentation including thousands of pages or recipes, reservation books, floor plans, sales records, menus, and memorabilia. Reviewing and sharing these materials brought him great joy. And he loved talking about his late wife Anne Marie who shared his journey until she passed away in 1985. Fessaguet had no regrets, he loved being a chef, loved the Franco culinary community and culture of New York in the 1960’s, remained a captivated culinary intellectual until the day he died and never stopped loving his beautiful wife Anne Marie.

One of Fessaguet’s Chef’s Knifes – West Palm Beach Florida 2012

Of the many anecdotes and stories shared by Fessaguet my favorite is his description of finishing a summer night of service at La Caravelle and jumping into his Porsche with Anne Marie for a high-speed 390 mile ride to his beloved cottage in Chamberlain, Maine. He and Anne Marie would roll the windows down in the car and floor it while driving north, scanning for police all the way to the cottage. Arriving around 5:00 in the morning, I can only imagine the two of them collapsing into bed with the sun just rising over Muscongus Bay and Haddock Island.  When Roger told this story his posture softened, his eyes sparkled, and his heart grew warm. He loved his cottage in Maine.

Fessaguet’s beloved “Finistere” Cottage, Long Cove Point, Maine

(this painting hung over Fessaguets sofa in West Palm Beach Florida)

He also made me laugh when I asked him about the restaurant name “La Caravelle “ and he joked about how so many people got the story wrong. Most, including the New York Times, incorrectly claim the restaurant was named after the small sailing ships used by Christopher Columbus – Fessaguet found this funny. The restaurant was actually named after the Caravelle jetliner built by French firm Sud Aviation in the 1950’s. It was on one of these aircraft that Chef Fessaguet flew for the first time – that the aircraft was French built made it all the sweeter. Such a fitting name for a restaurant that took flight the minute it opened in 1960.

Chef Roger Discusses the Culinary Brigade at Le Pavillon Restaurant

Roger was a great man and I remain thankful for having known him and for the tremendous impact he made on our profession. Few chefs have been as influential or demonstrated as much professionalism. Today we all stand on Roger’s shoulders, he is a true pillar of American gastronomy and he lives on in the many generations of chefs that are prospering today because of the path paved.  Great chefs never fade away – they live on in the many generations of chefs whose lives they impacted and whose professions they improved. At 82 years of age, the last trip he took prior to passing was back to Maine for one more visit to his beloved cottage. One last visit to the cottage filled with Anne Marie’s spirit and such joyous memories – the cottage purchased through the blood, sweat, and tears of hard work at La Caravelle. Roger never returned to Florida – he passed away shortly after visiting his cottage in a nursing home in Damariscotta. Rest easy friend.

Paul Bocuse – Auberge du Pont de Collonges

Posted 27 Jan 2017 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Travel, Warms My Heart

When I first met Paul Bocuse back in 1990 he was visiting the United States and made a stop in Rhode Island. I was assigned to be his assistant and spent a glorious stretch of time working side by side with his team preparing some of his classic dishes for a series of demonstrations and lectures including his iconic Truffle Soup and Rouget barbet en écailles de pommes de terre croustillantes (his famous Rouget with potato scales). The food was extremely simple, it wasn’t intimidating at all. Yet each dish had a certain level of complexity at the same time. His team worked with camaraderie and precision using strong classical technique. As an eager yet inexperienced 24 year old – his they treated me with incredible patience and grace, sharing advice and technique generously while remaining poised as I worked hard to do things correctly. My nerves and nervousness gradually transitioned to focus because of how well they managed me.

Painted Panel depicting Auguste Escoffier, Alexandre Dumaine, and Fernand & Mado Point

I was unaware of the importance of my experience that day though one of my mentors, Chef Jean Michel Vienne, did try to help me understand the depth and gravity of time spent in the kitchen cooking with Bocuse. Vienne explained in his heavy accent (he’s from Marseilles) how slicing black truffles with Bocuse himself is a once in a lifetime event. His comments went in one ear and out the other as I focused on the slicing with Bocuse looking over my shoulder steadily providing instructions translated by Vienne.  Like so many things in life – it wasn’t until years later that I realized what a gift it was to work with Bocuse even if just for a short period of time. At one point Bocuse touched my shoulder, smiled and gestured for me to keep working.  Today my eyes well up just thinking about it. As our time together ended Bocuse took pictures with me and Chef Vienne and signed our books and menus. He departed in a flash for New York offering to host us at Auberge du Pont de Collonges – leaving me with several ounces of fresh black winter truffles to enjoy (a treat I had never worked with until then).

Jean Michel Vienne, Chef Paul Bocuse, James Griffin – 1990

For multiple reasons it wasn’t until 26 years later that I finally found my way to Lyon.  Every time I worked to adjust a trip to Europe to visit Lyon the timing didn’t work. Then in the summer of 2016 things worked out and I was able to bring my daughter to Bocuse for dinner with a group of friends. To say that visiting Auberge du Pont de Collonges with my nearly grown daughter was a surreal experience is an understatement. Life has a way of taking twists and turns. She’s eaten at some of the best restaurants the world but to visit Bocuse with her (and her best friend) was overwhelming and beautiful. We were seated in the main salon, treated like royalty, and afforded the best restaurant experience ever. That Bocuse and his team have been doing this at a “Three Star” level for more than 50 years leaves me speechless. He and his team are culinary athletes of the first order.

As chefs we all stand on Bocuse’s shoulders. There are few if any who have done more to elevate our profession with such dignity, respect, grace, and consistency than Bocuse. When you consider the duration of his status as one of the best restaurants in the there is no comparison. Chef Bocuse, you make us better and elevate our profession. As a chef, I am forever grateful.

Salade de homard à la française

Escalope de foie gras de canard poêlée sauce passion

Rougets barbets en écailles de pomme de terre croustillantes

Granité des vignerons du Beaujolais

Pigeon en feuilleté au chou nouveau

Sélection de fromages frais et affinés “Mère Richard”

(Counter Clockwise : Comte, Fourme d’ambert, St. Marcellin, Tomme de Savoie)

Crème Chocolate et griotte

Baba ah Rhum “Tradition”

Gâteau président Maurice Bernachon

Délices et gourmandizes, Petits fours et chocolats

Dining Room


Place Setting

Menu: Auberge du Pont de Collonges MENU BOURGEOIS

Paul Bocuse – Auberge du pont de Collonges

40 Quai de la Plage

69660 Collonges au Mont d’Or

Tél. : 04 72 42 90 90


David Kinch – Manresa – Identity & Place

Posted 19 Nov 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Travel, Warms My Heart


Reflection is such a powerful process and I constantly grind away comparing what I learn each day with what I assume to already know. It isn’t unusual to find major gaps and sometimes when a gap is filled it leaves me feeling encouraged and moved. Hearing David Kinch describe his philosophy in such simple and elegant terms was such a profound learning moment.  A student had posed a question to Kinch leaning toward what drives him – what inspires him. His answer took us back to an early meal with Alain Chapel that reset his outlook and philosophy. A seminal eating experience that resulted in clarity and purpose – the kind every one of us seeks. Kinch looked me in the eye and articulated that everything they do at Manresa is reflective of who they are and where they are – lessons learned, in part, at Alain Chapel. A powerful lesson about identity and place that Kinch explains so easily – the complexity of his message honed by years of hard work and experience.

The definitions are simple. Identity: the qualities and beliefs, that make a particular person or group different from others[i]. Place: a specific area or region of the world, a particular country, city, town[ii]. Chapel provided Kinch with a gift at a very early stage in his development and, in turn, Kinch offers a road map for how to truly engage our craft. Our hospitality identity is who we are. Discover it early and with integrity and you are halfway there.  Place is where we are in all its beautiful and natural forms – discover this early and you will find your way home. We must know who we are in the hospitality profession – and build on (strengthen) this identity, and we must honor where we are in the world. What a wonderful and insightful message.

Three years earlier I dined at Manresa and visited with David. The meal was one of the top three in my life up to that point. After hearing Kinch’s philosophy in greater detail, the nuances of identity and place presented in that menu are even more profound. It was woven with ingredients from Los Gatos, and the Pacific coast region the restaurant inhabits. Identity was manifest in the classical and modern techniques employed along with hints at Kinch’s Louisiana heritage. Twenty courses of gorgeous cuisine of the highest standard. Such incredible hospitality and service so reflective of the pacific coast aesthetic – of Kinch’s identity and place.


Black Olive Madeline with Pate Feuille


Garden Vegetable with Yarrow


Chestnut Truffle


Cassava Oyster


Albacore Puttanesca Lightly Smoked


Abalone with Local Milk Panna Cotta


Sunchoke with Caviar and Brillat Savarin Cheese


Belon Oyster, Meyer Lemon, Seaweed Ice


Autumn Tidal Pool with Pine Mushroom and Scallops


Into the Vegetable Garden


Manresa Bread


Mussels with Gooseberry Emulsion


Spicy Fried catfish with Rice and Egg


Boudin Noir, Apples, Toasted Buckwheat


Venison, Quince, Saffron




Manresa Crackers


Red Kuri, Aged Gouda, Cassis


Black Sesame, Chocolate, Lime


Vanilla Ice Cream, Goats Milk Caramel


Friandise of Strawberry

20-chocolate-and-chocolate-mint-liquid-center-bon-bonsChocolate and Chocolate Mint Liquid Center Bon Bons

Manresa Restaurant

320 Village Ln,

Los Gatos, CA 95030

(408) 354-4330



The Lost Kitchen – Freedom, Maine

Posted 21 Aug 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service, Travel, Uncategorized, Warms My Heart

IMG_1339Tonight I was surprised – blown away actually – by my experience dining with Chef Erin French at her restaurant The Lost Kitchen way up in Freedom, Maine. This is a restaurant run by a team of women so dedicated to the cause that you can feel the restaurant’s heart the minute you enter. This is more than a dinner, it’s time spent in a family members home where the food and wine is incredible and the hospitality hangs on you like a warm blanket on a cold night. It’s a vibe so comforting and laden with hospitality that it’s hard to leave after dessert is served. Erin and her team of farmers, mothers, sisters, and friends has achieved the nearly impossible – an emotional connection with guests that strikes at your heart and palate. This place is incredible.IMG_1380

The restaurant is 200 miles north of Boston and just a half hour north west of Belfast in the rolling Maine hills some miles adjacent to the ocean. This is mid-coast Maine which remains a place suspended in time economically and one where people have learned to survive the hard way. Many spend the year working fingers to the bone while enduring summers that are all too short and winters that last too long. Freedom is typical – its small (very small) and has seen better days. We find our way down Pleasant Street and over the culvert to the parking lot on the other side of Sandy Stream. After parking the car and a quick walk back across a foot-bridge over the stream we enter the Mill at Freedom Falls.

Inside the warmly renovated post-and-beam dining room the welcome is deep and authentic – each barn-board table perfectly set. The menu is served banquet style and consists of four courses along with additional courses and amuse bouche.  The food is not precious or contrived – instead it dwells in the realm of elegant simplicity. French maintains a light touch and her dishes aren’t overly seasoned or salted. It almost feels like a certain level of restraint flows under each item – and I love her delicate touch. SheIMG_1407 serves 50+ guests a prix fixe menu with just one seating per night. During service she and two assistants prepare every item in a wide open kitchen – cooking on a 60 inch LaCanche range from France. There is no hiding in this kitchen – the kitchen and dining room are one. And French isn’t the type to hide. During the meal, often while foods are searing on the range, she personally visits each table in the restaurant offering warm greetings. She hauls ass – dressed in high heeled clogs, tailored jeans, a black blouse, and white kitchen apron. Her team exhibits care and great joy while floating through the restaurant during service. It’s easy to tell these folks truly appreciate those of us who make the trip deep into the woods for such a great meal. These women (the moms, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, and farmers) are reviving the town of Freedom through sheer willpower and hard work and we are, in part, the beneficiaries. This is more than a restaurant, it’s a community movement of the best kind. Pure hospitality flows freely here and this is rare indeed. It’s now one of my favorite restaurants. Heartfelt congratulations Erin.



Local Cucumbers, Radish, Butter, Cheese, Gougères, Olives, Cornichon, Marcona Almond


Pemaquid Oysters with Blueberry Vinaigrette


Mussels, Rosemary, Lime


Cold Wild Blueberry Soup, Buttered Croutons, Cucumber & Dill


Heirloom Tomato Salad, Many Basils, Smoked Ricotta


Local Lamb Chop, Whipped Feta & Lemon Butter, Fingerlings, Fennel, Tarragon & Peach, Baby Arugula


Sweet Corn & Vanilla Pot de Cream, Really Ripe Blackberries, Husk Cherries


LaCanche Range in Full Force


Plating Heirloom Tomato Salad with Many Basils

The Lost Kitchen

22 Mill St, Freedom, ME 04941

(207) 382-3333


Alinea 2.0

Posted 17 Aug 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends, Warms My Heart

Every so often I enjoy an evening of dining that stays with me and this was one of those nights. The recipe for this is always the same: an incredible restaurant, great guests, incredible service, and fantastic food. Our plan was hatched while visiting Vevey, Switzerland earlier this summer. My friend Rochelle Schaetzl of Nestle Professional told me she dreamed of dining at Alinea and that she would be back in the U.S.A. in August – this is all I needed to know! I quickly organized a table for four in The Gallery at Alinea for August and we invited her colleague Alec and Chef Charles Carroll to join us – a well curated group of expert food lovers.

Simon Davies, CDC, Alinea demonstrating The Imperial Shaker (second course)

Though I have dined at Alinea in the past this is the first visit since the restaurant was completely renovated and the first visit for Charles, Alec, and Rochelle. Part of the joy was watching members of my group work their way through the incredible and unpredictable dining experience at Alinea with pure joy and anticipation. From the moment we entered the restaurant to our final crossing of the threshold to the curb the experience was absolutely incredible. When you enter The Gallery at Alinea all the hype and commentary about the restaurant fades and full immersion takes over. To be sure, this is more than a dinner – it’s a multi-sensory event of incredible thought, hard work, craftsmanship, and care. No question the food is mind blowing but it’s equally important to note how stellar the FOH team is. Every member of the service staff knows every course (both wine and food) in intricate detail along with the choreography that goes along with each course. Precision is an understatement. Kudos!

There’s nothing like it in the world and words can’t express how incredible an experience in this space is. I hesitate even attempting to describe it out of pure respect for the restaurant and for Chef Grant Achatz and his team – my narrative will only fall short. Instead – I share images and clips of the experience below with the deepest of respect and awe for Chef Grant Achatz, CDC Simon Davies, and the entire Alinea team.

Truffle - King Crab - Osetra Caviar - Herbs with Pickled Shallot - Egg

Communal: Truffle – King Crab – Osetra Caviar – Herbs with Pickled Shallot – Egg

Gin Cocktail, Green Tomato, Chartreuse - Cucumber, Feta, Caper Leaf

Shaker/Roll: Gin Cocktail, Green Tomato, Chartreuse – Cucumber, Feta, Caper Leaf

Scallop with Corn Consommé - Shio Kombu, Nori

Crunch/Paper: Scallop with Corn Consommé – Shio Kombu, Nori

Tomato, Watermelon, Parmesan, - White Asparagus, Lychee, Lily Bulb - Apple, Apple, Yuzu, Lemon Verbena

Contrast/Sparrow-Grass, Swirl: Tomato, Watermelon, Parmesan, – White Asparagus, Lychee, Lily Bulb – Apple, Apple, Yuzu, Lemon Verbena

Icefish, Daisy Mandarin, Radish

Fry: Icefish, Daisy Mandarin, Radish

Pork Belly, Curry, Banana

Yellow: Pork Belly, Curry, Banana

Morel, blueberry, Lapsang Souchong

Glass: Morel, blueberry, Lapsang Souchong

Onion, Purple Allium, Black Pepper

Petal: Onion, Purple Allium, Black Pepper

Gruyere, Black Truffle, Pumpernickel

Toast: Gruyere, Black Truffle, Pumpernickel

Chicken, Palo Santo, Pineapple, Mezcal – Mango, Almond, Cinnamon

Smoke/Bon Bon: Chicken, Palo Santo, Pineapple, Mezcal – Mango, Almond, Cinnamon

Wagyu, Rice, Myoga

Bone: Wagyu, Rice, Myoga

Veal Cheek, Chamomile, Melon

Cloche: Veal Cheek, Chamomile, Melon

Fennel, Dark Chocolate, Lemon, Strawberry

Nostalgia: Fennel, Dark Chocolate, Lemon, Strawberry

Edible Baloon (taffy)

Edible Balloon – Taffy

Cherry, White Chocolate, Bourbon

Paint: Cherry, White Chocolate, Bourbon

Sesame, Brown Butter, Feuilletine

Gold: Sesame, Brown Butter, Feuilletine


Alinea Restaurant

1723 N Halsted St,

Chicago, IL 60614

Momofuku Milk Bar

Posted 08 May 2012 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, Pastry & Dessert, Warms My Heart

Milk Bar Cold Case

Momofuku Milk Bar isn’t fancy. The minimalist design including strand-board casework, small front counter, simple packaging, and chalk board menu suggest a place staged with simplicity and profit in mind. Fact is, I have never been overly impressed with the interior of Milk Bar and probably wouldn’t seek one out except for the fact that I am completely addicted to Chef Christina Tosi’s strawberry lemon cake truffles. Her candy bar pie is incredible too but the truffles draw me in whenever I am within a block of a Milk Bar outlet (usually the one in midtown). My trips to New York always place me within walking distance to the store on West 56th street, lucky peach indeed.

W56th St. Milk Bar

So it was with great joy that I watched Christina Tosi edge out some of the best chefs in the country to receive the 2012 Rising Star Chef of the Year from the James Beard Foundation. The honor is awarded to “a chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come” according to the foundation web site. That she is so talented, heads a growing empire of stores, is teamed with one of the most recognized chefs in the country in David Chang, and leads a team of folks mostly under the age of 25 is a testament to her talent. That she does all this in one of the most competitive and hyper food markets in the world is monumental. She deserves this recognition (even though I am a huge Dave Beran fan!).

Chef Christina Tosi (2012 James Beard Awards)

On stage, Tosi looked radiant in a black sleeveless dress with red pumps, her shoulder length hair straight and parted. Relaxed, she accepted her award with grace as chef Grant Achatz looked on (he won the award in 2003). She made sure to thank the Beard Foundation and, more specifically, to thank her extended team (as any good leader would). She showed tremendous poise and humility while also exuding great confidence. What a great role model at such a young age.

Congratulations Christina and the entire Milk Bar and Momofuku team…

Milk Bar Cookie Baskets

Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffle

Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffle Interior

L-R, Compost Cookie, Chocolate Chocolate, Cornflake Marshmallow Cookie

Candy Bar Pie

90 Minutes with Chef Chris Cosentino

Posted 19 Mar 2012 — by S.E.
Category Warms My Heart

One of the greatest joys of being an educator is seeing a former student achieve greatness. After more than 20 years in higher education, I can honestly say this is the real reason I keep at it…nothing is more rewarding. This past weekend I had a chance to catch up to Chef Chris Cosentino (Incanto, Baccalone, food network) in Chicago and spent time during the day tagging along with him for a while. Chris was one of my students years ago and his success warms my heart. He has always been exceptionally talented, hard-working if not irreverent, and gifted with creativity. His success is no surprise but years ago it was no guarantee.

We are in the kitchen in Chicago and Chris is electric prior to performing in front of five hundred spectators. He pulls me aside to show me a whole duck bloated with foie gras. In a few minutes he will demonstrate how to remove the enlarged liver from the duck along with other nasty bits and parts. The duck is gorgeous. Alongside the duck, Chris will demonstrate his new line of knives from Shun, he is giddy over these knives and tools. He always has something up, or tattooed on his sleeve as sponsors attempt to tap into his energy. The same was true last year when we connected; he was wearing a new pair of shoes form Mozo with honeycomb tripe printed on the toecap. He reeks of cool.

Chris has five minutes before he is due on stage and electricity is pouring out of him. While standing backstage he realizes that he hasn’t autographed the row of Kitchen Aid mixers lined along the wall so he darts off to tag a couple. In a flash he begins sketching a pig snout, eyes and ears on the front of the mixer and spins it around to squiggle a tail on the back, then signs his name just above the speed control while exclaiming “I drew a swine.” Where does this guy get his creativity?

Out front now, Chris begins his demonstration by carefully removing the livers from the duck, pulling out the lungs, gizzards and heart, joking “I left my heart in San Francisco” to a good laugh from the crowd. As Chris is cutting up with the crowd Chef Duff Goldman joins him and busts his ass for beating him during an episode of Chefs vs. City. The crowd is roaring now but Cosentino takes it in stride, never losing his concentration. He splits the duck down the sides removing the breasts on the bone, seasons all sides and places them in the oven at 500 degrees to roast. “This is old fashioned cooking…simple roasting done right” Chris shouts. While the breasts are roasting he sears a slab of the liver with salt and pepper, pulls the seared liver out of the pan and tosses in a spoonful of pinenuts and capers swirling them to heat. He has the final dish plated within seconds and on display and the crowd is going nuts.

Watching him I see that he’s found a way to channel his energy into something great. He’s comfortable, his skills are excellent. The life lessons and professional discipline he learned long ago while in culinary school provided just the foundation he needed to find his way. But the best thing of all is that he is happy. For nearly two hours while  we’re together his joy is contagious; an affliction I am quick to appreciate.

Thanksgiving: Thank a French Chef

Posted 23 Nov 2011 — by S.E.
Category Warms My Heart

It’s about more than Turkey although this guy was cool to look at when he crossed my path

There are so many things in life to be thankful for but today I reflect on and give thanks to those professional Chefs from France who, starting in the mid-nineteenth century, paved the way for modern American gastronomy. My gratitude was triggered earlier this week when I spent time looking through the original reservation book from La Caravelle Restaurant formerly located in the Shoreham Hotel in New York City. La Caravelle operated from 1960 until 2004 but its greatest renown was during the tenure of Chef Roger Fessaguet from opening in 1960 until he retired in 1988. It was Fessaguet who meticulously preserved the reservation books, menus, recipe books and artifacts from La Caravelle that I so respectfully had the chance to hold and review. The first reservation book from La Caravelle is a hefty 10” x 18” with a hard green canvas cover. Inside, written by hand in red pencil on the top of the first page, is the date “September 21, 1960” with luncheon reservations written by hand in blue ink in the left column below and dinner reservations in the right column; some reservations having been highlighted in yellow.  As I flip through the pages I notice that from the day the restaurant opened (a Wednesday night no less) Fessaguet didn’t close once until Thursday November 24th 1960 – Thanksgiving Day. He went 64 days without a rest, surely working fifteen hours a day (50+ covers at lunch, 80+ covers a dinner), every day for two months; a cool 105 hours per week.  Fessaguet was a culinary athlete with an exceptional pedigree and conditioning for the time including more than a decade at the famed La Pavillon.

Chef Roger Fessaguet is last on the right, front row, seated at the table (Vatel Club of New York)

Most agree that the opening of Le Restaurant du Pavillon de France at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a restaurant run by Maître d’ Henri Soulé and Chef Pierre Franey, marked the launch of fine dining in America. When World War II broke out in Europe Soule and Franey, in the U.S. for the fair at the time, remained in New York as refugees. On October 15, 1941 they opened La Pavillon as a permanent restaurant at 5 East 55th Street at Fifth Avenue. Within a few short years La Pavillon was recognized as the best restaurant in the country.  Eight years later in 1949 Fessaguet arrived in the United States as a fresh seventeen year old from France via Liberty Ship and found his way from Baltimore, his place of disembarkment, to the kitchen of La Pavillon in New York. Fessaguet remained at La Pavillon from 1949 until 1960 except for a two year stint serving as a Marine in Korea.

Chef Fessaguet Portfolio (the card titled “The President” was left after a dinner by John F. Kennedy)

At twenty eight years of age he jumped at the opportunity to join Messieurs Fred Decré and Robert Meyzen, also from Le Pavillon to open La Caravelle. Decré and Meyzen chose the name La Caravelle, a wooden boat with three sails used in the 15th century to explore the world, to convey the idea of new promise, an idea fitting when you consider how Fessaguet arrived in the United States. La Carevelle was one of what would be several restaurants that were spawned from La Pavillon in the 1960’s and Fessaguet, Decré and Meyzen quickly rose in restaurant rankings nationally eventually becoming the favored restaurant of Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and his son President John F. Kennedy too. Within the first three weeks of opening Ambassador Kennedy’s name appears multiple times; he dined for five days in a row during October 1960. That Jackie Kennedy tapped Fessaguet to find a chef for the White House during Camelot isn’t surprising. Fessaguet initially offered the job to a young chef Jacques Pepin but Pepin chose another path and Rene Verdon ultimately received the nod.

La Caravelle Reservation Book, November 24th, 1960

(photo courtesy of Richard Gutman, Culinary Arts Museum, Johnson & Wales University)

So here I sit reflecting on contemporary American culinary culture, the influence of the San Sebastian set and Spanish culinary innovation (all that foaming and spherification), of the great chefs of Italy and the rising influence of Asian and Latin chefs. It seems that French chefs are no longer at the center of things today but their influence is so enduring. The culinary arts are headed to new levels in America and we owe a debt of gratitude to those early French Chefs who stormed our shores in the mid 20th century and remained. Within two generations of their arrival a whole new generation of American chefs were cultivated under their tutelage both here and back in France and those chefs (David Burke, Larry Forgione, Alfred Portale, Barry Wine etc.) took hold of the New York restaurant scene and never looked back. These are such wonderful shoulders to stand on; ones that we should remember, respect, and offer a nod of gratitude every once in a while. Heureux Thanksgiving mon ami. 

The Home Port ~ Martha’s Vineyard

Posted 16 Aug 2011 — by S.E.
Category Full Service, Travel, Warms My Heart

You would think that sustainable seafood is a focus on Martha’s Vineyard but it isn’t, at least not to the extent it should be. Some restaurants, more than a few in fact, offer a sustainable choice or two but there are few if any as dedicated to sustainable seafood as The Home Port restaurant in the sleepy little fishing village of Menemsha located on the lower west side of this triangle shaped island. Don’t get me wrong, there are good restaurants on the island and some of them offer a sustainable seafood choice or two but none have integrated sustainable seafood into the operation in a manner that even comes close to The Home Port.

The Home Port Restaurant Back Deck, Menemsha, MA

The Home Port is an institution. In business since 1930, it’s a beloved landmark and family dining destination. Situated just on the eastern side of Menemsha harbor The Home Port faces south west offering deck side diners a view of one of the nicest sunsets on the east coast. My first visit here was twenty years ago and nothing about the restaurant has changed….except the menu.

Dining Room with Blue Glasses

I arrive in a group of four and a smiling college-age server leads us over to a table along the far wall along a bank of windows. She takes a quick beverage order (The Home Port is BYOB) and departs for a few seconds while we settle in. The sun is hanging low over the horizon painting the interior of the restaurant in light orange and yellow. Tables are hard pine and maple as are the walls and trim that compliment solid wooden chairs with just the right patina for a restaurant this old. The flatware and china are simple and you won’t find table linens or cloth napkins here.  This is the type of place where, when eating a lobster, you wear a goofy plastic bib printed with a step-by-step set of instructions for how to eat it (you know the one). No pretension here. Dozens of fish, well preserved by a taxidermist, line an entire wooden wall.  It’s such a wonderful, bright, warm and inviting dining room and I love being here.

Customers Under Taxidermied Fish

For years the Mayhew family (a Vineyard institution in and of themselves) ran The Home Port. More recently, for 32 years until 2009 to be precise, Will Holtham owned and operated the restaurant. Holtham, author of the just released Home Port Cookbook, decided to sell in 2009 and the Town of Chilmark proposed purchasing it for cool $2,000,000 so they could demolish it in the name of progress…a parking lot and public bathrooms. Enter a counter offer from Bob and Sara Nixon, owners of the Menesha and Beach Plum Inns. After a quick vote by the residents of the Town of Chilmark, the Nixon’s saved The Home Port and Holtham was on his way into retirement, cash, recipes and cookbook deal in hand.

Oysters on the Back Deck

After becoming involved with the local Fisherman’s Association Sara announced on May 27th, 2011 that The Home Port would only serve locally caught fish. By locally caught, she means fish that are caught in the coastal waters surrounding the island and landed on local docks.  I love it (go Sarah)! No one on the island is as deeply committed to sustainable seafood as Sarah and Bob and they changed their business model to prove it. This is why I am here.

Server With Specials

My server is back and she presents the table with a medium sized chalk board that lists all the specials for the evening. The Cherry Stones and Little Necks are from Menemsha (delicious), the Oysters are from Katama (exquisite), the Fluke, Bluefish and Squid are from Menemsha too. I order the bluefish with creamed corn just to give it a shot. To my delight, the fish is absolutely delicious and perfectly cooked. Bluefish is great but is has to be perfectly fresh, the fish has no shelf life. It’s best when seared or broiled hot with the skin intact, scales removed, since the flesh cooks quickly and falls apart easily. My fish had the skin intact, was crispy on the top and moist in the middle. Most people think of bluefish as a trash fish but when served correctly like this, it’s wonderful. I also have a taste of the local fluke and, although presented
simply (almost too simply) it too is perfectly cooked and well seasoned if not a bit ugly.

Blue Fish Looking at You

As I said before, The Home Port serves simple food. You won’t find the latest culinary trend or the most outrageous presentations in the world but you will find good and, better yet, local fish served properly cooked and well seasoned. Arrive just before sunset, sit on the back deck, bring your own booze and order one of the local sustainable seafood items. Enjoy!

Sautéed Fluke with Lemon Brown Butter, Kale and Local
Tomatoes, Boiled Potatoes

Broiled Bluefish with Parsley Butter and Local Creamed Corn

Menemsha Sunset

The Home Port Restaurant

512 North Road

Menemsha, MA 02252

(508) 645-2679

Freemon’s General Store: Creede Colorado

Posted 11 Jun 2011 — by S.E.
Category Travel, Warms My Heart

Sometimes a meal is more about emotion, peolpe, and place than it is about the food. As a professional chef, I know how emoion plays into an overall food experience. Perhaps this is why Freemon’s, to me, serves the best burger in Colorado. Tucked away outside the small mining town of Creede, Freemon’s is a seasonal mom and pop restaurant, general store, ice cream parlor and tackle shop that is known mostly to locals. Early summer is the best time to go.

Outside, the grass is still green at this altitude but the air is getting hot so we have the windows up and air conditioner on as we drive north. Later in the summer, this part of Colorado will dry out and the grass will become parched and brown but today the scenery is green and bright. Eve is driving us to lunch in her enormous black Suburban. Buddy the neurotic Border collie is in the back glaring though nose-smudged rear windows at the occasional rabbit or marmot scurrying in the underbrush, odd alien sounding whimpers rising in his throat at each sighting. Freemon’s is just minutes away now and my mind begins to wander as I think about Eve and how gracious it is that she is taking me to the place where she used to go regularly with her late husband Billy.

Rio Grande National Forest

Eve owns a cabin in this part of the state that she built years ago with Billy.  They had planned to fully retire and spend time here in the twilight of their lives until Billy, aged 74, fell to a bad case of cancer. Actually, it wasn’t the cancer that killed him it was the surgery that did him in. He was one of those New Mexico cowboys with a western drawl, Wrangler jeans, tan Resistol hat, and big silver belt buckle inlaid with turquoise. He was tough in a John Wayne sort of way but uniquely intellectual with a Ph.D., in French Literature. I used to kid him about his inability to control his drawl as he spoke French. Although fluent, he sounded like a cross between Ross Perot and inspector Clouseau. She loved him deeply, he loved her, and together they visited Freemon’s on a weekly basis. Eve invited be to the cabin for a visit and to lunch knowing I would make the trip.

Freemon’s Screen Door

Earlier today we met at the cabin so I could park my car and drive with her. Walking across the front porch of the cabin, Buddy has a melt-down at the front door and is exiled to the back yard so I can enter. We sit in the living room for a few minutes, large windows radiating Colorado sunshine through the panoramic windows facing north toward the Rio Grande National forest. There’s a white Resistol cowboy hat on the end table by the sofa and Eve hands it to me. “I want you to have this. You know we never had any kids and he would have liked you to have this. He always liked you” she says. I always liked him too and my eye’s wet with tears of humility as I take Billy’s hat and put it on my head. Oddly, it fits perfectly. She smiles, rubbing the small of my back as we head out the door.

Dry Goods

We pull into the dirt parking lot at Freemon’s in a cloud of dust, jump out leaving Buddy in the car (with the windows cracked open) and climb the worn wooden steps up to the entry. I pull open the spring-loaded screen door for Eve and follow her in as the screen door claps closed behind us. As the door swings closed I notice a small sign below the handle to the door with blue lettering reading “no wining, no rudeness” and an index card taped next to it reading “we do business the old fashioned way…sorry no credit cards.” Once inside a steady stream of locals approach Eve, greeting her and engaging in brief conversation. They all know her. It’s a local joint and social hub in this part of Colorado where news and gossip is shared and solidarity and support is offered. It reminds me of what America must have been like 100 years ago.

Service Counter

There’s a counter at the far right corner of the general store and behind it a large grill and ventilation hood. Three older women that remind me of my mother work the grill while others take orders at the cash register and coordinate delivery. Several small tables with Formica tops and beat-up chairs are randomly placed in spots where they fit along with a couple picnic tables with red checkered vinyl table cloths. It’s just about noon, all the tables are full and there’s a line at the cash register. We make our way forward and I order a burger with fries, Eve orders the same and we nudge our way through the crowd to a table that has just cleared and sit down.

Short Order Cooks

I look around the store, taking in the room. The décor is completely random and worn with rusted fishing lures, mounted horns and antlers of varying species, old photos and various ephemera and dusty artifacts. Eve is staring at me and smiling still and I realize I am the only one wearing a cowboy hat; Billy’s cowboy hat. The other men are wearing baseball hats; more than one has a John Deere logo on it. Our burgers arrive (the beef is custom ground by Mountain City Meats in Denver) and I take my first bite. It is absolutely delicious. Eve continues to smile as we feast on the burgers while an occasional visitor stops by the table to say hello. Life slows down for a moment and all is right in the world. My burger at Freemon’s is one of the best meals I have ever had, Eve’s smile part of what makes is all so right.

The Best Burger in Southern Colorado

Freemon’s General Store

39354 Colorado 149
Creede, CO 81130-9558
(719) 658-2954