Franc ois Haeringer is part of a disappearing breed of restaurateurs who run their kitchens with discipline and tradition, not "concepts" and trendy cuisine. Perhaps as a result, his Great Falls, Va., inn, L'Auberge Chez Franc ois, is notorious for its two-week waiting list for dinner reservations.

At 68, Haeringer still works seven days a week, supervising his staff of 60, planning the menu, ordering the food, cutting tenderloins into fillets and tasting the sauces prepared by his two sauciers. His days begin at 6 a.m.

An Alsatian, Haeringer says he was the first Frenchman born in the town of Obernai after German-controlled Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France following World War I. He came to Washington in 1947, worked for his brother Alfred at Haeringer's Buffeteria on 14th Street and then ran the kitchen at the Chevy Chase Club with his uncle. He briefly cooked at an Alaskan resort before returning to become the chef at the Three Musketeers in downtown Washington. In 1954, Haeringer bought the Three Musketeers and changed its name to Chez Franc ois. When the restaurant was razed for a new office project, he moved to Virginia and opened the inn at Great Falls in 1976.

A small man with a raspy voice and thick accent, Haeringer can be somewhat gruff. His wife of 39 years, Marie-Antoinette, calls him a perfectionist and readily admits that he is a difficult man.

On the other hand, Haeringer can be generous and warm, feeding the entire restaurant staff every day and sitting down each afternoon at 4 to have dinner with his wife and three sons, all of whom work full-time at the restaurant. It is this regard for family and hominess that sets the tone at his restaurant. Haeringer may not want to admit it, but that's one of the reasons why the phone is always busy at L'Auberge Chez Franc ois.

Years ago, when I was a little boy, you had no television, you had nothing. So what do you think {the French} did? They ate. They made love and ate. That's all. Period. That's all there was.

At 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning, my mother was in the kitchen cooking. The whole damn day. This was her life. On Sundays, it was very simple. Between 1 and 1:30, we were sitting at the table. At 4 o'clock, we were still at the table.

There were five brothers; two died. One died very young, and Jacques, he died when he was 16 years old. That's why I came. Mama was very disturbed. She was going to the cemetery every day and talking to him. The doctor told her, the only thing is to have another child. My mother had me when she was 40 years old. I was always her little one. Even during the night, she would see if I was covered up -- and I was already 7, 8 or 9 years old. I think I was a little overprotected.

Daddy was always out working. My sister and brothers were older. They're very outgoing. I'm a loner, really. I get that from my mother. I don't talk too much. I am not always a joyous man. It's just not in my nature.

When I was 16, it wasn't that I didn't like school. I wanted to be a cook like my mother was. So I went in an apprenticeship at L'Hotel Chambard in Kaysersberg {in Alsace}.

At that time, it was like slavery. We needed a union, which we didn't have. Now that they have them, sometimes they want too many things.

In the morning, I had to get up very early, like 4, 5 o'clock. I had to go downstairs, clean the stove, take the ashes out, fill up the coals.

I really had a little difficulty in the beginning when I was an apprentice. I cried many times. I had a little room above the bathroom with a tiny window, and every morning I was waking up with a headache.

But I wanted to do it. It's like anything else. If someone wants to be a doctor, he studies long hours or long years. If you don't have the will or ambition, you don't go nowhere. I don't care what you do.

The problem in the States is that the apprenticeship is not used. You get some young people -- they might be ambitious -- but they don't have the will. They don't have the time. They only want to have a big hat. They call themselves chefs.

To be a chef is a career. It is something you have to be proud of. And for doing that, you have to learn. You have to learn to wash dishes first, to peel potatoes first, to clean the stove first, to clean the floor first, to clean the pots first.

I stayed at the apprenticeship for three years. From there, I went to the Plaza-Athe'ne'e in Paris. Then the war came. It was a funny war, a funny time. I was a soldier in Dijon in the infantry. First I had a machine gun, but when we went to the front, they needed a cook.

One day, I remember, the lieutenant came and told me, "You have to make very quick food." I just had a sack of rice. At that time, you had to put wood for heating the kettles. They weren't insulated. My God, you know what I did? I burned the rice. You should have heard all the stories what they called me -- all kinds of names.

I cooked for the commander, too. In the end, when we made the retreat, they gave me a machine gun again. Then I was taken prisoner. Then {the Germans} took all the Alsatians and put them in the German Army. I didn't want to go into the German Army. So a good friend of my father's wrote to Mr. {Alfred} Walterspiel at the Four Seasons Hotel in Munich.

It was not the best time. I was lucky because Mr. Walterspiel liked me, and I was not a bad cook. I had to cook for {the Nazis} when they had big things, especially out of town.

There was a stove. One Gestapo was on one side, the other Gestapo was on the other. I couldn't put my hands in my pockets. When I wanted salt or pepper or anything, a German officer would bring it on a silver tray. When I wanted to go to the toilet, somebody went with me. It was quite an experience.

It was a time which very few people are going to understand. It had to be done. I had to do it. If I would have said no, they would have put me to the front.

When I came to America, it was unbelievable. I was floating on thin air. I remember the first time I went into a drugstore. I was like a little boy. It was fantasy. It was a fairy tale.

My brother had a good business {the 14th Street Buffeteria, a kind of cafeteria}, and I helped him. Then I worked at the Chevy Chase Club. A lot of Italian people worked there. I couldn't speak English or Italian and I had a hell of a time.

Some butter was always disappearing from the icebox. I never could find out who it was. One day I caught the guy. He went to the icebox, took out a pound of butter and put it in his jacket. I put him on the stove to make hollandaise that day. When he was finished, all this butter was dripping down. Then I fired him.

I am too stern sometimes. But on the other hand, it helps keep the business straight. You cannot be a sweet, nice guy and do business. You just can't.

I remember I always admired Lucien Diat, the brother of {renowned chef} Louis Diat, when I was at the Plaza-Athe'ne'e. He could say things in a tone of voice, very calmly, very appropriately, and you wouldn't do it anymore. But I blow up, that's what my problem is. It has to come out. I sometimes see more or feel more than other people do. And I think it irritates me that they don't think it or they don't feel it.

I think my biggest problem is stress. In the restaurant business, you never rest. The only time you rest is a little when you sleep -- and then you dream about it.

The restaurant is like a show. The show has to go on. The customer is not interested that your chef didn't show up or your waiter didn't show up. Nobody's interested in that. But you have to think about that on a daily basis. I worry about everything.

I think I am not trying to outdo anybody. I'm just an average little guy who wants to do the best he can. That's all. I'm not a bragger. I am not looking for any chi-chi or tra-la-la. I don't do that. That's why I survive.

All my people, when they come in, they must say hello. I have no punch-in clock. This is one of the old-time ways of doing things.

Most of my people have been with me a long time. The problem with me is that they have to understand me. And then how to deal with me. Every night, at 5:30, I have a meeting with my help. I tell them what we have, explain the menu. I tell them that they are like spies for me. I want them to tell me everything, whether it's their fault or the customer's. Sometimes they don't tell me when it's their own mistakes, sometimes they do. I tell them -- look it's much better if I find out from you.

Sometimes my wife will say, "Well, you're too tough." I don't think I am too tough. Unless you have discipline, you have nothing. You can have an army of a million people and an army of 500,000 people. The one that has discipline is going to win, and I don't give a damn how many people it has. You have to have discipline. You have to have rules. I learned that when I was an apprentice. And then when I was a cook.

My main preoccupation is my customers. But it's not always that good to be friends {with them}. I remember when we opened, Jacques {Haeringer's son, now the head chef} was always doing something special for friends and people who came here. And I always told him, I said, "Jacques, this is a very bad habit because the day you are not doing it, they will be mad." And it happened, too.

Look, it happened to me. A very big person in television, he wanted to come. We said we were booked, and we were booked. No, even if the president would have come, I couldn't have put him in there, for God's sake.

When we had the movie star Burt Reynolds here, and Paul Newman, I tell my help, "Forget it. They are here, they want to have a nice, quiet time. They don't want to be always harassed by everybody." And my rule is, whoever comes, if they come with their wives or girlfriends, or whatever, that's their business. I don't want any part of it.

Sometimes I would like to have more contact with some of the people -- customers and fellow chefs -- but I don't because I guess it's my nature. I'm not as intimate as some of {the chefs}, but they're downtown, and I am up here.

When I came to Washington, D.C., there were not many restaurants. Then, after years, the new generation came. And they and me, because of our difference of ages, never really got close. Jean-Louis Palladin and all those chefs, they're much younger than I am. They think differently than I do. We didn't have the machines, the modern conveniences. We hardly had an icebox, for God's sake. I had to adjust to the lighter, easier way of cooking. The only ones who think like me are Maurice Bell {the retired chef of the International Club} and Jean-Pierre Goyenvalle {chef at Le Lion d'Or}.

There are so many things you can reminisce about. You reminisce about the things you did wrong in your life. We always say, "I wish I would have known." But that doesn't help us.

After a cook, I always wanted to be a surgeon. I was very good with my hands. I might not have gotten married. I might have stayed in France. I don't know. I was supposed to stay here for one or two years for learning with my brother. And in the end, I stayed here.

I was very attached to Alsace. We had a beautiful house in Obernai. Then when my father and mama died, my sister and my brother, they sold it. I wanted to keep it. I wanted to be a restaurateur in that house. We all have early dreams and dream about something that we never get.

Jacques, my oldest son, he sometimes feels that he has to be with his children more than I was with mine. He has that motherly instinct that he felt I didn't have. I didn't go with them to baseball games or things like that. I didn't have the time or, some days, I was tired. When I had the business downtown, I just wasn't home. You had to be there in the morning, and you had to be there at night.

My son Robert always tells me that I am never going to retire. He says one day I am going to fall into the onion soup and just disappear. ::