Alice Waters has already named a restaurant after her daughter, but Fanny is hardly old enough for nursery school, much less chef's school. And so it is with the renowned American chefs: They are not only too young to turn their aprons over to their children, most of them are the first in their family ever to have worked in a kitchen.
In France, however, the great chefs are often the sons (though rarely the daughters) of chefs. They have grown up in the kitchen and, to nobody's surprise, wind up at their fathers' elbows. Thus, for the next generation's culinary leadership we look to the cradles rocked by this generation's best cooks. Three prominent sons of prominent chefs visited the U.S. recently to promote the public television series, "Dining in France," and as they cooked they talked about how they had become chefs.
Jean-Michel Lorain, whose restaurant, La Co te Saint-Jacques in Joigny, was the lone new recipient of a third star in the Michelin guideld,10 sw,-2 sk,2 this year, works side by side with his father Michel. It was the son who this year was named "Chef of the Year" by the Gault-Millau guide.
But Jean-Michel didn't always plan to be a chef. He didn't start his training until age 18 after earning a bachelor's degree in physical mathematics. That's a pretty late start by French standards.
In contrast, Michel Troisgros by age 18 had already earned a degree from a hotel school and worked in two of the most revered kitchens of France, Roger Verge''s and Alain Chapel's. Troisgros was brought up in a three-star kitchen by a culinary family, his father Pierre and uncle Jean, both chefs. His older brother has two restaurants in Brazil, and his sister and cousins all work in the restaurant business. At age 28 his ambition, with all his siblings, in-laws and cousins, is "to take the place of Paul Bocuse around the world."
Troisgros had never considered any other kind of work. "It's so natural when you are around the people who say cooking is the best work in the world," he explained. "It's a long brainwashing."
Jean-Paul Lacombe, chef of the two-star Le'on de Lyon, learned his father's profession despite the opposition of his mother, who didn't want to see her son in such a hard job. But he didn't expect to have it so hard so soon. He had spent only vacations working in his father's restaurant. When he was 22, his father died suddenly and he came home to keep it going.
Now he works with his mother and older sister, and runs a bistro as well, having earned for Le'on de Lyon a second Michelin star. Lacombe is also about to open, with three other French chefs, a restaurant in Los Angeles. So much for hard jobs.
But what if the son is not a good chef? "It never happens," insisted Lacombe. "I have never seen this situation."
Of course the son of a chef has certain advantages, besides genetic ones, that help assure his success. He not only grows up watching a professional chef close at hand, but he can get apprenticeships in the best kitchens more easily than an outsider could. Lorain, as soon as he decided to enter the brotherhood, was sent to work in the three-star kitchens of Troisgros and Taillevent, then to Girardet after his military service. Troisgros and his brother Claude made world tours, Michel's including apprenticeships at Girardet and Chez Panisse.
The leaving home is as important as the coming home, according to Lorain. When a youth begins his training, he said, he must learn from other chefs because it is difficult for a son to be in the kitchen with his own father. "He needs to have no special treatment in the kitchen," explained Lorain.
After that, "the teaching of the father is very important, but only after," he insisted. Ultimately, a father can teach his own son more than another chef could. "He can teach not just the kitchen but the whole routine and the atmosphere of the restaurant."
Does the son, after all his travel and his experience in other kitchens, ever teach the father? "Maybe . . . " Then Lorain grinned and stopped himself. "No!" he dutifully concluded.
Lorain talked of interdependence, of working as a team with his father. "I taste his plates and he tastes my plates," Lorain said of his father. They are so attuned, he said, that friends who try to guess which dish was made by the father and which by the son are likely to guess wrong.
Also in the French culinary tradition, Lorain has recently married, and brought his wife to work in the restaurant along with his mother, who is the sommelie re, and his sister, who works on the business side of the restaurant.
And so the culinary heredity continues, as it does with the Daguins at Hotel de France in Auch and the Rostangs in Paris and Antibes. And the tradition expands, at L'Auberge du Pe re Bise in Talloires, where for the first time in anyone's memory it was a daughter, Charlene, who followed in father's footsteps. Tabletalk
I was impressed at first by the energy of the Liberty Cafe at Manhattan's South Street Seaport, which was aiming to gross a million dollars during July 4 weekend. But it turns out that this 366-seat restaurant with a view of the Statue of Liberty is more arrogant than energetic: It plans to earn that amount by charging $1,000 a person for dinner July 4, $500 per person for dinner July 3 and lunch July 4. Last time I was at the Liberty Cafe, the bill was barely $15 a person for lunch.
In the mood for predicting the future? Crank this data into your crystal ball: Renowned Cornell University hotel school's 61st annual student-run hotel weekend this month had magic as its theme. A Wizard of Oz reception was complete with emerald forest and yellow brick road, and breakfast was in the spirit of Walt Disney's Fantasia.
American ingenuity on a more modest scale: For those of us who don't mind ordering pizza and subs at a counter but hate having our numbers or names called out when they are ready, Frank's Pizza in Lexington, Va., has worked out an efficient compromise. After you order at the counter, a waitress serves your table. LA COTE SAINT JACQUES SAUMON AUX EPICES (4 servings)
1 pound salmon fillet with skin on, cut in 4 pieces
FOR THE GARNISH:
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon butter
FOR THE SAUCE:
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 apple, finely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup fish stock or fish bouillon
1 1/2 teaspoons good curry powder
1 tablespoon cream
Cut the salmon into 4 servings, set aside while you prepare the garnish and sauce.
For the tomato garnish, saute' chopped tomato and shallot in butter for 5 minutes. Set aside.
For the sauce, saute' onion and apple in 1 tablespoon butter until softened but not browned. Add fish stock and curry powder and simmer a couple minutes. Stir in cream over low heat, then whisk in 6 tablespoons butter, a tablespoon at a time. Strain the sauce if desired, and set aside in a warm spot while the fish is cooked.
In a large saute' pan, heat remaining 1 tablespoon butter, then arrange the fish fillets skin side down and cook slowly, watching carefully so as not to overcook. Do not turn the fish. It will gradually turn opaque from the bottom up, and is done when the surface just begins to turn opaque.
Spoon tomato garnish in center of 4 plates. Spoon curry sauce around it. Remove the skin from each fish fillet in one piece and set aside. Arrange fillets, cooked side down, on top of tomato, then put skin on top of each fillet and serve immediately.