Here is a catalogue of refined pleasure, a chronicle of fabulous restaurants and famous acquaintances, a gastronomic memoir focused on the heritage of “real French food.”
In these pages, the Dryanskys travel everywhere, dine well and drink heartily, hobnob with aristocrats and members of the Universal Cassoulet Academy. They also periodically bewail the rise of exquisite food — the tiny portion beautifully presented — and the cult of the celebrity philosopher-chef.
For most of us, though, “Coquilles, Calva & Creme” is largely a book to dream over, since we will never eat ortolans — those tiny birds are now protected by law — or devour fresh black truffles, or sip a 19th-century wine (seldom any good), or spend the weekend at the Mouton estate with Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
Gerry Dryansky and his wife, Joanne, traveled to Paris in the early 1960s, and, after a brief stint at the Herald Tribune, he landed a job covering fashion for Women’s Wear Daily. In later years, he became the European correspondent for Conde Nast Traveler. These, it’s hardly worth saying, are jobs that many of us would kill for. In explaining how he learned about food, Dryansky writes:
“Think about what it was like to have an expense account that required me to keep in good contact, across the best tables in Paris, with the fashion makers and their business partners — and added to that, to be able to discover the newest, the best restaurants in town, as part of reporting about the city to guide the New York fashion world.”
Dryansky recalls high-living days of lunches at Maxim’s and the Brasserie Lipp — where Aristotle and Jackie Onassis might drop in for a bite — and long dinners with Coco Chanel and chats with the reclusive Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, in both senses, Pierre Berge. He evokes, too, the nightlife of the era:
“At Regine’s . . . you’d find Francoise Sagan alone with a scotch at her table in the entry, while deep inside, Catherine Deneuve, sitting with David Bailey, would be playing with her long blonde hair. A group of Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, among them Claude Chabrol and Jane Fonda’s onetime husband Roger Vadim, would hang out at the bar chez Castel, making wry comments about the young people . . . King Hassan of Morocco’s brother, Moulay Abdallah, spent a lot of time at Castel’s, when he was in Paris, but Jean Castel refused to let the king in. His Royal Highness arrived at the door with his bodyguards and wanted them to enter with him. Jean refused, unless they left their guns in the car. The king was not amused, and left.”