Imagine a composer having to play his piece anew for each listener or a painter having to copy his work for every viewer. That's the task of a chef: to reproduce his art, all over from scratch, time after time, day after day, through the years. How does he keep from growing stilted and bored? Does writer's block have a counterpart in chefs?

I asked a kitchen artist known for his exquisite simplicity: Pierre Koffmann of La Tante Claire restaurant in London, one of five two-star chefs in England. He was visiting the United States for the first time, cooking for a week at the Morrison House in Alexandria, at the request of the owners after they had eaten at his restaurant. It was a rare experience for Koffmann, being away from his kitchen, and possible only because La Tante Claire closes for three weeks in the summer. Otherwise Koffmann is wedded to his stove. "I've never left Tante Claire when it was open. Never. Not one day."

Variety is not Tante Claire's hallmark. The menu is small (seven appetizers, seven meat entrees, five fish entrees, seven desserts) and, except for a daily special in each category, it changes only twice a year. Each change is so monumental that Koffmann could immediately recall how he was preparing the lamb when I was there three years ago. Then he roasted it in a salt crust and sliced it lengthwise; now he slices it crosswise, and steams it in a roll of wild mushrooms and leek leaves enclosed in plastic wrap. But when Koffmann tried to vary his galette de foie gras au sauternes, he hit a wall of resistance. "All the customers asked for the old foie. I had to bring it back."

Clearly his cooking shows no signs of fatigue. His 42 seats are booked as far as six weeks in advance. Koffmann admits, even so, "I find it boring to always do the same dish." And he confided that has had bouts of chef's block. "It did happen," he said. He combats it by stirring up his competitive spirit. "I'll go out and look at what they {other chefs} are doing. I talk to myself, I tell myself, 'You are able to do it better than them.'" And he keeps working.

The point, as Koffmann sees it, is to look for joy in the job. Some chefs deal with boredom by working less, he explained, but that is clearly not Koffmann's way. "You must love your job. When I go to bed at night I think about what I am going to do the next day."

And it is a matter of attitude: Koffmann sees chefs not as artists but as artisans. The art is in the repetition. "Troisgos said you need to be a very good chef to do the same thing all your life," he recounted; his kind of art is to do things the same way. "Sometimes routine can be perfection, too."

The dishes worth repeating lifelong, according to Koffmann, are the classical ones: Cassoulet or bouillabaisse. And he would not be fazed by preparing the same menu every day for the rest of his life. He would choose the specialties his customers demand he keep intact on the menu: galette de foie gras au sauternes, boned pigs' trotters stuffed with morels and sweetbreads, and caramelized pear tart.

Yet if chef's block really hit, and he didn't want to work anymore, he has no doubt about his reaction: "That day I sell my restaurant." What would he do? "I would love to have a bakery," said Koffmann, "to make bread, only bread." TABLETALK California is making inroads in foggy London, but with an English intermediary. Sally Clarke -- whose Clarke's restaurant is said to be popular and assumed to be American -- is actually British. She trained at Michael's of Santa Monica, and returned home with charcoal grilling and seafood salad with papaya.

It can't be long before McDonald's is serving chateaubriand if K mart is right. K mart, which has long been known for price-conscious shopping, has signed Martha Stewart, doyenne of upscale-entertaining, as advertising spokesperson for its table fashions.

In the chicken business, look for "Kentucky-roasted" as well as "Kentucky-fried" if test markets in the West approve. PIERRE KOFFMANN'S LEEK TART (4 to 6 servings)


1 1/4 cups sifted flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup vegetable shortening, chilled

1/4 cup ice water


6 medium leeks

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons cream

2 tablespoons milk

1 egg and 1 yolk

Salt and pepper to taste Place flour and salt in a shallow mixing bowl and cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle water over surface, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix in lightly and quickly with a fork, just until pastry holds together. Shape gently into a ball on a lightly floured pastry cloth, then flatten into a circle about 1-inch thick, evening rough edges. Using lightly floured, stockinette-covered rolling pin and short, firm strokes, roll into a circle about 3 inches larger than the pan you plan to use. Transfer pastry to a quiche pan, fold over the edges and crimp decoratively.

Clean leeks and slice the white stems finely. Cook them in butter for about 20 minutes, until softened but not browned.

In a bowl, mix the cream, milk and egg together, and add the seasoning.

Add the leeks to this preparation and fill the pastry. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes, or until pastry is lightly browned.