Saturday, January 22, 2011

Raices, otra vez.....

Our new fish supplier in the City found us some farm sturgeon. Farm sturgeon gets a big Green Light on the list, so…….why not?

We go way back with sturgeon.

Our logo is sturgeon related……

Our opening gift from artist Zevi Blum from a series of culinary engravings he had done in upstate New York while working for Steuben Glass.

The drawing depicts a scene from the life of Vatel, a legendary sixteenth century chef.

“Vatel” is also a must-see chef’s movie starring Gerard Depardieu and Uma Thurman.

Vatel’s world was the world of the Three Musketeers. He first worked for Fouquet, the finance minister of Cardinal Mazarin. Mazarin was the head of state for Anne of Austria (Geraldine Chaplin in the movie), the regent for her young son Louis XIV. Her affair with Lord Buckingham…who actually turns out to have been as queer as a four-dollar water pistol….. and the crooked financial dealings of Mazarin and Fouquet, caused a royal rebellion among the princes and generals who supported the young Louis.

Vatel was Fouquet’s chef. He presided over the grand feast in 1661 to which Fouquet invited Louis XIV and all the generals to the palace of Vaux-le-Vicomte. Fouquet had built the palace with all the stolen money, and did not survive his hubris.... or the banquet, at least politically. He was arrested by D’Artagnan of Three Musketeers fame, and likely went on to become The Man In The Iron Mask. Really.

The architects of Vaux-le-Vicomte did survive. Andre le Notre, Louis Le Vau, and Charles le Brun went on to build Versailles for Louis XIV.

Hey, when you have lemons….make lemonade.

The baddest of Louis’ generals was The Great Condé, Louis de Bourbon, aka Enghien.

Enghien controlled the vast quasi-country of Burgundy as well as Berry and Lorraine. He was married to the daughter of Richelieu, which would be enough for most folk, but on top of that he was the most capable general in France.

After the fall of Fouquet and Mazarin, Louis XIV got the architects of Vaux-le-Vicomte….and Enghien stole Fouquet’s chef!

The Condé lived at Chantilly, the still-gorgeous palace an hour from Paris.

Vatel was officially the maitre d’hotel, as well as chef. This meant he was in charge of everything: grounds, staff, kitchens, farms, vineyards, stables, livestock, fisheries, mines….you name it. The Condé ran his territory like an independent country, so Vatel had full powers, and full responsibility. The Culinary Karl Rove (his real name was, in fact, Karl Watel…..Swiss).

Ten years into Louis’ reign, the King decided he needed to kick the ass of the Dutch and the Flems. He needed a general, and the Condé was still the best….even though his most recent experience had been kicking Louis’ own ass and stealing the best chef in France.

Meanwhile, the Condé was dead broke after ten years of royal intrigue, and needed Louis’ money…… but he couldn’t let Louis know.

So…..Louis came for a royal visit to hash all this out, with his full, treasury-breaking entourage. Think P-Diddy and J Lo coming by for the weekend…..with Liz Taylor and the Kardashian’s.

Vatel was ready.

For opening night, they served sturgeon. Sturgeon was (and still is… in England) a royal prerogative. At Christmas, Prince Charles portions out filets to his Cool List. No one is supposed to serve it without royal permission, technically now…and definitely in 17th century France.

So, to let Louis know what was what, and who was who…..and who was really King Daddy at Chantilly…. and in Burgundy, even though they were broke…..Vatel and the Conde laid out the royal fish for their royal guest.

Sturgeon are enormous anadromous fish…They live in salt water, and return to fresh water to spawn, like salmon and trout and steelhead. They are hard to kill, live a long time, and can run fifteen to twenty feet, easy.

There was one famous sturgeon….I can’t remember where…that thrilled and appalled the public by eating ducks like popcorn in a public park.

To cook the sturgeon, Vatel had to have special pans made, and to serve them, special giant silver platters. Vatel controlled the mines, the metal market, the artisans…the whole deal.

Timing was, of course, crucial.

Failure was not an option. The galleys awaited anyone, Vatel included, who screwed up.

Row, row, row yer boat…..

Sturgeon are always presented proceeded by a piper…..Union rules.

In our logo, you see first Vatel with his mace of office, then the pipers, then here comes the sturgeon….An eighteen footer….

As Vatel made his entrance before the King, the crowd was puzzled by the pipers….then stunned to see the sturgeon…being served by a General to the King….The Sun King no less!

“Fuck you, Louis… are in MY house. I make the calls here……”
Holy shit! And, it was not lost on anyone present the last royal meal presided over by Vatel resulted in death and dismemberment for his boss….

As the procession came into the dining room, suddenly the first platter-bearer tripped. The others stumbled with him, and the entire fish came crashing down in a heap of steaming flesh, twisted silver, and screaming servants and guests.

When the chaos died down, all eyes turned to Vatel standing quietly by the door to the kitchen, surely doomed to the galleys.

Vatel looked at the mess, shrugged his shoulders and turned to his assistant, “Ooops. See if we have another one in the back…….”

On cue……out came more pipers…..and a 24 foot sturgeon!

The all-time catering “Fuck you!”
(I am still waiting for the right bride and/or mother-of-bride to pull this one on with a wedding cake…….One would assume 100% deposit….)

Post-script: The Condé got the job,and the money. Vatel did not do as well.

For the next night’s dinner, he had ordered 10 tumbrils of fish from Calais. Only one arrived, and the meal circled the Drain of Disaster.

Vatel took out his sword, held the point against his heart, and ran into the wall.
The ultimate chef’s tantrum….and the ultimate beleaguered chef’s guilt trip.

Vatel’s other legacy is Chantilly cream…..whipped cream with sugar (what a concept!) that was served to the 2,000 guests the night of his demise.

Honi soit qui mal y pense!

One there is who bad there thinks!

Hey, and in the movie he gets to sleep with Uma Thurman….

And the movie’s tag line:

“Some men are too noble to live among aristocracy….”

Hold that thought, Chef.
Voila….our logo.

Many thanks to Etienne Merle, Zevi and Jon Blum……


Blogger Steve Jones said...

Wow. This is so interesting that I am going to read it again after more sleep. I thought I knew this already, and yet...

9:13 PM  

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