CHEF JEAN Louis Palladin can be pardoned if he finds the English language a bit tricky. Last week he was still bemused about the two conradictory reviews of his restaurant, Jean Louis at Watergate, that appeared on the same weekend earlier this month. The one in The Washington Post was largely favorable. The one in the Washingtonian was devastatingly critical.
"It's all part of the business," he said with a shrug. But it took only a moment or two for him to warn to the subject. "Never in France [where Palladin's restaurant was one of only about 50 with two of a possible three stars in the Guide Michelin] have I read a review such as that," he said. "He [critic Robert Shoffner] didn't merely write about what he ate, he attacked me. He attacked my taste and my talent. If I were to believe him, I would go out there [he waved in the general direction of the Potomac River] and disappear."
Fortunately for the Watergate, Palladin's friends and customers have rallied to him, the chef said.
"People I don't even know call to tell me how offended they are for me, for France. I see other reviews this man has written hanging in restaurant windows in Georgetown and I wonder how much he knows. Maybe he knows a lot about spareribs and hamburgers and that's all."
As often happens in battles between restaurants and critics, the outcome is inconclusive.Watergate executives report no abrupt decline in customers at the restaurant. The Washingtonian has no plans to do a revised review or find another critic. But one source said there will e some fallout: Don't expect to find Watergate ads in future issues of the magazine.
Another chef, an American, was in Alexandria recently participating in photography sessions for a new volume in the Time-Life series "The Good Cook." Jeremiah Tower's work at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., in the mid-1970s gave him an international reputation in the food world. But his background is quite different from the traditional chef's training.
He explained that he began cooking in college (at Harvard) because he was "repelled by dining hall food." Later, in graduate school, he enjoyed cooking for friends on weekends, but thought himself enroute to a career in architecture. Visting in California and "down to my last couple of dollars" he surprised himself by applying for a kitchen job at Chez Panisse. "I was terrified," he said. "I had gotten the job by doctoring a soup. I knew how things should taste, but I had no idea how to run a restaurant kitchen. It was trial by fire. Luckily one of the cooks already there knew production, how much of what was needed to come out with 12 portions of soup. But he didn't understand seasoning. So we helped each other."
Tower went on to gain recognition for his innovations at Chez Panisse and at the Ventana Inn at Big Sur. He then spent time in France and was called to London by Richard Olney to help with studio cooking and photography for "The Good Cook." Each volume is being re-edited and reproduced in this country, causing some anguish to the originators, who feel the books should teach and inovate more than they do.
Teaching is something Tower seems drawn to, perhaps because of his long academic association. He talks enthusiastically about a class in taste recongition he has given at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. ("Just imagine tasting 36 different chocolates. It really woke the students up.") He also is very active in plans to create a four-year liberal arts degree program in food appreciation at Antioch College in Ohio. And on the practical side, he hopes to be at the helm of a new restaurant on Nantucket Island this summer.
In regard to training cooks, Baltimore's International Culinary Arts Institute will begin a six-month "Basic Restaurant Skills Program" next week. For information on this program, call (301)-752-1446. Those interested in general information about the Institute should write A. Sibbald Doan at the Institute, 19-21 S. Gay St., Baltimore, Md. 21202. . . Amateur cooks with a thirst for travel are being encouraged to visit Portugal this summer. Cooking lessons and a journey to Portugal's wine regions are included in three 15-day tours. During the first weeks of each tour, Michael Costa, chef and food-magazine publisher, will direct daily classes in an 18th century Lisbon bakery. Departure dates (from New York City) are June 14, July 12 and Sept. 6. For further information, contact Marie Mitchell at Travco Travel in McLean, (703) 356-7500 . . . stay-at-home cooks may want to examine the latest catalogue from The Wine and Food Library. It is an exceptional list of nearly 600 titles, the most expensive being a wine book from the 16th century, though there are many for $10 or less. For the catalogue, send a $2 check or money order to Jan Longone, 1207 W. Madison, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48103. . . Cooks with a yen to dine out may consider this a tempting counter-inflation move. The Palace in New York City, after establishing itself as the most expensive restaurant in the nation, is now offering a five-course meal for "only $50 per person. Wines and tips are extra, of course. . . Cooks seeking fresh flavors should know that Earthworks Greenhouse, 923 N. Ivy St., Arlington, has announced a selection of more than 100 herbs and scented geraniums, plus vegetable plants and other flowers. For information call 243-2498.