A Toast to a Diplomat With a Cook's Heart
Wednesday, January 3, 2007
In 1985, when a senator called Jeane J. Kirkpatrick to ask why she was leaving her position as the first female U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she replied, "Harry Truman used to say that if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I believe the converse: If you can't stand the heat, get back to the kitchen."
Kirkpatrick, who died last month, loved cooking for her family and friends almost as much as talking about political ideas. As articulate about rice as she was about Ronald Reagan, who appointed her, she honed her techniques by cooking breakfast and dinner for her three boys in Bethesda. Before she was a professor at Trinity College and later Georgetown University, she was a stay-at-home mom until her youngest son, Stuart, was 8.
As the boys were growing up, she tried out recipes learned in Europe on summer vacations with her husband, Evron, known as Kirk, also a professor. Packed into a Peugeot, the Kirkpatrick family traveled through Spain and France, dining at one-, two- and three-star restaurants. Her kitchen was filled with paella pans and copper pots that she bought on those trips.
After returning home, the Kirkpatricks hosted regional wine and cheese tastings with intellectuals who included close friend Anne Crutcher, a food and political writer for the Washington Star.
"My favorite parties include talkers," Jeane told me once. "It makes it more lively that way."
I met Jeane in the 1980s. My husband, Allan Gerson, was her counsel for the U.N. post. They talked politics. She and I communed over food. The first dinner I attended was at her official residence in the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
At my table was the Soviet chief delegate, Oleg Troyanovsky. Trying to cut his overcooked quail, Troyanovsky called it as tough as the American delegate's foreign policy. Jeane and I laughed about it later because her chef always insisted on serving quail -- and it was always tough.
Several times, Jeane invited my husband and me to the French region of Provence, where she rented a house and later built one, conveniently located right next to the three-star restaurant Oustau de Baumaniere. While there, we went to the markets, shopping and then cooking most of our meals.
Once we dined at Les Baux, as we called it. The Kirkpatricks, living on professors' salaries, didn't worry about the spiraling cost of the meal. They savored every morsel and took delight as I dipped into my first chocolate souffle with mint.
But it was in Washington over the past 20 years that we enjoyed so many meals together, first at her house and then, after Kirk died, at restaurants. Often we went to Jean-Louis at the Watergate and later to Palena or Michel Richard Citronelle, all restaurants she loved, carefully discussing the quality of each dish.
Jeane liked the holiday season best. Before Christmas, she would have us dress the tree, calling it true ecumenicalism. As my Jewish children unwrapped the ornaments, she would tell the story of the angel handed down from her mother, the Styrofoam eggs covered in glitter made by her sons and White House Christmas tree ornaments that she received each year. I realized then that the Christmas tree told the story of her family just as our Passover Seder, at which she was a regular, became the story of ours.
Even during the U.N. years she would shine at Christmas and Thanksgiving, where everything was prepared from scratch: turkey, fruit stuffing, and pecan, chocolate cream and fruit pies.