Could Jean-Louis Palladin meet this culinary challenge? Could he, known throughout Washington for the exquisite and expensive French cuisine at his elegant Watergate Restaurant, plan a festive holiday meal for 10 that a normal working couple could prepare for the holidays?

The rules were simple. The dishes must be made in advance, the flavors must improve on standing, only American ingredients could be employed and only one hour could be spent in the kitchen the night of the gala dinner.

Jean Louis' response was brilliant.His dinner for holiday season, 1980, combines nouvelle cuisine with the French classics. The harvest colors blend beautifully. A pink, green, orange and white terrine of salmon and lobster with vegetables whets the palate. The main course (Palladin passed up the traditional makes an excellent substitute for those less adventurous) is strongly accented by a bright orange puree of papaya instead of the classic sweet potato dish. Passing through a sherry vinegared Bibb lettuce salad, Palladin leads us to the peachy cream bavarois aux peches for dessert. He cheated on the provenance of four items: the cheese, the kirsch, the sherry wine vinegar and the olive oil all were imports.

The price of this meal comes to about $55 for the wines and $95 for the food. The cost for those who substitute for the lobster and the venison will be substantially less. "Mais c'est une fete," insists Palladin at the price. No butter was used in the meal and only two cups of cream.

Accompanying wines must be American, says Palladin. He suggests a California chardonnay, red beaujolais and a champagne for dessert but allows you to choose for yourself.

Our game plan was straightforward. Starting at 10:30 a.m. one day and breaking for lunch we were finished by about 3:30 p.m. Allowing additional time for shopping and less experienced cooks the meal is broken down to three evenings of two to three hours' work before the one-hour preparation on the day of the grand event.

Now flip a coin to see who'll be the chef and who the sous-chef. Plunge in. Bon appetit and happy holidays! THREE DAYS BEFORE

After work, go to the store with this shopping list: Meat 1/4 pound prosciutto (optional) 4 pounds saddle of venison or bottom round of beef Vegetables 1 bunch (at least 4) leeks 1 pound carrots 1 bunch celery 5 turnips 1 bunch broccoli 1 pound fresh asparagus or 4 bunches spring onions 2 tomatoes 1 shallot Garlic 5 bunches Bibb lettuce Herbs Thyme Bay leaves Tarragon Fresh basil or mint Fruit 2 pints strawberries 7 peaches 4 medium papayas Other Salt Freshly ground pepper Olive oil 2 cans beef broth or bouillon cubs unless you have fresh stock. 2 cans chicken broth or bouillon cubes, unless you have fresh stock. 2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin Sherry or wine vinegar Peanut oil Sugar Hazelnut or walnut oil 2 cups milk 6 eggs 2 cups heavy cream 1 chevre Montrachet Wine 8 cups red cooking burgundy Kirsch Brandy or cognac 2 bottles white chardonnay 2 bottles red beaujolais 1 bottle champagne

(Some of the items above, particularly the game and the out-of-season fresh vegetables, will be available only at specialty markets such as Hudson Bros. and Neam's in Georgetown.) In the kitchen (20 minutes )

Dice the vegetables and prosciutto and begin marinating the civet. TWO DAYS IN ADVANCE (2 hours ) Cook civet. Make bavarois. Make puree of papaya. ONE DAY IN ADVANCE (3 hours ) From the florist

Buy flowers. From the market 1 1/2 pounds Pacific or Alaska salmon steaks, skinned and boned 2 1 1/2-pound lobster meat.(Cooked monkfish or cod may be substituted) In the kitchen Make the terrine. Wash the lettuce leaves. In the dining room Prepare flowers. Set the table. DAY OF DINNER (1 hour) From the market Pick up fresh bread at your favorite bakery. In the kitchen Blanch broccoli flowerets and tomatoes. Make fresh tomato sauce. Make vinaigrette sauce. Make coulis of strawberry. And finally Present the food. Enjoy! CIVET DE CHEVREUIL Ragout of venison (30 minutes) 2 medium turnips, peeled and diced 4 carrots, peeled and diced 4 stalks celery, peeled and diced the bottoms of 4 leeks, diced (Reserve leaves for terrine) 1 shallot, diced 1/2 medium onion, sliced thin 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin 1/4 pound prosciutto, sliced like cold cuts and diced (optional but adds a good taste) 4 pounds boned saddle of venison or bottom round of beef 8 cups red burgundy 2 sprigs thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1 bay leaf Salt and pepper to taste 3 tablespoons peanut oil 2 cups beef stock or canned beef or 2 bouillon cubes and 2 cups water 1 carrot, peeled, blanched and sliced in semi-circles for garnish

Chef and sous-chef -- Start your meal by peeling and dicing the vegetables and prosciutto together. Place at the bottom of a 6-quart casserole. Cover with the meat and then pour the wine over all. Add the thyme and bay leaf. Cover and refrigerate overnight. w

Sous-chef -- The next evening, remove the meat, drain, and cut up into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Then remove vegetables and wine marinade to separate bowls. Salt and pepper and saute the meat in 2 tablespoons peanut oil over high heat until brown on both sides. (You may have to do this in two batches.) Return meat to casserole and pour off the sauce left in the pan into a separate small container. Reserve for day of meal.

Chef -- Pour the red wine marinade into the browning pan and heat. Just as the mixture begins to boil, ignite with a match and flambe. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

Sous-chef -- Drain the vegetables. Saute them in the remaining tablespoon of peanut oil until they are lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Return to large casserole.If you have the outer crust of the prosciutto, add it in large chunks, removing it before serving. Add the meat (and bones if there are any), wine and bouillon and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender (about 40 minutes). Refrigerate overnight.

Chef -- Day of the dinner, degrease and heat up the stew. Just before serving, remove the meat and vegetables and reduce the sauce about one-third. Add the reserved browning sauce from two days previous. Taste. If the sauce is weak, take half the vegetables, puree them in a food processor and add to the sauce. Return the meat and the rest of the vegetables. Adjust seasonings. Serve decorated with thin circles of carrot. BAVAROIS AUX PECHES Bavarian cream with peaches (50 minutes) 7 medium fresh or canned peaches 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin 2 cups milk 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar 6 large eggs 1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Chef -- Butter a terrine or cylindrical serving or souffle dish about 7 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep.

Sous-chef -- Slash the peaches at top with tiny crosses and then plunge them into boiling water, cooking 10 minutes. Then plunge into ice water.

Chef -- Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup of the milk and set aside to soften. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 cup milk with the 1 cup sugar and bring to a boil. Take off the heat.

Sous-chef -- Separate the eggs.

Chef -- Beat the yolks until pale and thick, using a whisk. Pour the milk into the yolks, whisk well and pour into a large saucepan.

Sous-chef -- Peel and cut up 5 of the peaches and puree coarsely in a food processor.

Chef -- Add peaches to milk mixture, whisking constantly. Add the gelatin mixture, cooking and whisking until the mixture boils and then remove from heat. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and place in a flat pan with ice cubes underneath to cool down quickly.

Sous-chef -- Whip the cream which should be very cold, fold into the peach mixture and pour everything into the souffle dish or terrine. Cover and refrigerate.

Chef -- Cut the remaining 2 peaches into eighths. Cover with water and add 3 tablespoons of sugar. Simmer 10 minutes and refrigerate to use as the garnish.

Chef -- The night of the dinner, unmold the bavarois by placing the mold in warm water and sliding a knife around the custard. Then place a plate on top and turn over. The bavarois should fall out easily. Serve whole decorated with peaches or strawberries. If serving individually, cut in slices with a peach at each corner and surround but do not cover with strawberry Coulis. PUREE DE PAPAYES (40 minutes) 4 papayas 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt 35 grinds of pepper 1/3 cup heavy cream

Sous-chef -- Peel papayas, scoop out seeds and quarter. Bring 3 quarts water with 1 tablespoon of the salt to a boil and leave papaya in for 10 minutes or until tender. Then plunge into ice water. (This holds the color.) Drain and puree in the food processor. Refrigerate.

Chef -- The night of the gala, add remaining 2 teaspoons of salt, 35 grinds of pepper and the heavy cream. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning. Set aside. Reheat when ready to serve. TERRINE DE SAUMON ET HOMARD AUX LEGUMES (1 hour 15 minutes) 4 pretty leeks 3 quarts boiling water 1 1/2 tablespoons salt 3 large peeled carrots 3 medium turnips, peeled 2 broccoli stalks 1 pound fresh asparagus or 4 bunches spring onions 4 very thin salmon steaks (1 1/2 pounds), skinned and boned Salt and pepper to taste 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 1 1/2-pound lobsters or 1/2 pound cooked lobster meat or cooked, skinned, boned monkfish or cod steaks 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin 2 cups light stock or chicken broth or chichen or vegetable bouillon cubes and water. 1 bunch Bibb lettuce

Chef -- Grease a rectangular two-quart ceramic terrine mold well. Wash leaves in cold water, using your fingers to eliminate the last vestiges of grit. Separate and split open the individual leaves.

Sous-chef -- Put 3 quarts water and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt on to boil in a large pot. Wash and peel the carrots and run a lemon zester down the length of the carrot, cutting out strips at intervals. With a sharp knife cut the carrots into rounds 1/8 thick. This way you will make flowers. Set aside. Peel the turnips, slice in rounds 1/4-inch thick and then slice into 1/4-inch julienne strips. Set aside. Cut the broccoli stalks between the base and the flowerets into 3-inch cylindrical stalks (reserve the flowerets for the salad). Do the same for the asparagus or spring onions.

Chef -- As soon as the water boils, drop in the leek leaves for 2 minutes and quickly drain in ice water (Jean-Louis just put ice cubes in a basin with some water). This step is necessary to preserve the brilliant green of the leaves, which will form the "crust" of the terrine. Dry the leek leaves well on a towel. One by one, press the leaves into the terrine, laying them across the narrower width of the vessel and overlapping the edge of each leaf slightly over the edge of its neighbor. Lay the remaining leaves across the first layer to form the "crust" on the ends of the terrine.

Sous-chef -- When the water returns to a boil, drop in the carrot slices for 2 minutes. Then, using a skimmer or slotted spoon, remove to the ice water. Drain on a paper towel. Repeat the cooling and drying process for the remaining vegetables, cooking the turnips 1 minute, the broccoli for 3 minutes, and the asparagus or spring onions 2 minutes.

Chef -- Sprinkle the salmon with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan until fragrant. Saute the salmon for 10 seconds on each side until the surface is barely brown. Place on a towel to drain.

Sous-chef -- Plunge the 2 lobsters into the boiling water 2 minutes. Then cool in the ice water and shell.

Chef -- Layer the turnip strips parallel to the length of the terrine on the bottom with the layers about one-half inch thick. Layer the salmon on top of the turnips, placing the slices parallel to the turnip strips. Add about half of the carrot rounds.Then lay in the asparagus or spring onions, again lengthwise in the mold. Place a curled lobster tail at each end of the mixture, filling in the center with the pieces of claw and other meat. (Alternatively, lay in the monkfish or codfish here.) Top with the remainder of the carrots. Then bunch the broccoli in the center of the mold parallel to the turnips. Fold the overlapping leek strands over to cover the terrine.

Sous-chef -- Soak the gelatin in 1/2 cup of stock, broth or water to soften and add the stock, broth or bouillon cubes to the remaining 1 1/2 cups water. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the softened gelatin, stirring to combine well. Pour enough of the mixture into the mold to entirely cover the seafood and vegetable layers.Place heavy objects on a pan or other flat-bottomed vessel slightly smaller in area that the mold and weight down the terrine. Chill in refrigerator at least 24 hours.

Chef -- The day of the meal, remove the terrine from the refrigerator and trim away excess aspic from the surface of the terrine. Then slide a knife around the sides of the terrine and place a rectangular platter on top. Reverse the mold and gently but firmly thump the contents on to the platter. Adjust any misplaced strands of leek. Serve in individual slices surrounded by a leaf of lettuce topped with the tomato vinaigrette (See below). Or serve whole on pieces of Bibb lettuce dotted with cherry tomatoes, accompanied by the tomato vinaigrette, and slice at the table. (Caution: the terrine is very fragile.) TOMATE VINAIGRETTE (10 minutes) 2 tomatoes Salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 fresh basil or mint leaves

Sous-chef -- Remove the ends and the cores of the tomatoes, making a cross at the flower. Plunge into boiling water for about a minute, remove to ice water and peel. Dice into tiny pieces. (You may want to blanch the broccoli flowerets for the salad at the same time.) In a small bowl add the salt and pepper, vinegar, oil and chopped basil or mint leaves. Combine with the tomato. SALADE (10 minutes) 4 heads of Bibb lettuce Broccoli flowerets from terrine Salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar or wine vinegar 2 tablespoons hazelnut or walnut oil 2 tablespoons peanut oil 1 branch of tarragon

Sous-chef -- Wash and dry the lettuce the night before, wrapping in a towel. Before serving, combine with the broccoli. In a bowl place salt, pepper, and vinegar. Whisk in the oils and dot with tarragon. Pour sauce over a piece of lettuce topped with broccoli on individual salad plates. COULIS DE FRAISES Strawberry sauce (15 minutes) 1 pound strawberries 10 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons kirsch

Sous-chef -- Hull the strawberries and place all but a few pretty ones which you'll use for garnish in a food processor or blender. Add the sugar, puree and then add the kirsch.Place in a pretty pitcher in the refrigerator. p