In hearing that Ma Gastronomie
, the book about French restauranteur Fernand Point, was being republished after decades out of print reminded me of how valuable seemingly out of fashion food books can be. Point was a one of a kind, larger than life, obsessive lover of food and all that went with it. Even though I didn't eat at his restaurant until 22 some years after his death, his presence was everywhere, and the food shined. For me that meal in 1977 was the beginning of a chronological study of how modern French cuisine had evolved. But let's get back to the book, because the story is all there.
Ma Gastronomie was first published in 1969 in France. The book is an icon for many chefs. For me it was the beginning of understanding modern food. Fernand Point was a French chef and restauranteur who trained in the traditions of Escoffier. In the 1920s he opened a restaurant south of Lyon called La Pyramide. People adored him and adored his food. He was a big presence in spirit, in height, and definitely in girth.
Point had a delicious sense of humor; he lived for perfection, and because of that he streamlined French high cuisine by rethinking each dimension of this complicated system of techniques and philosophies. In the process he tipped the first domino in a line-up that would lead to what is happening in food right now.
In his kitchen the young rebels trained ? Bocuse, Chapel, the Troisgros brothers, and others. They were the men who would turn fancy French cooking on its ear with the Nouvelle Cuisine of the 1970s. The work of these innovators and their colleagues shaped what we would soon call New American Cuisine. They fostered the concepts of Asian/Euro fusion and started the long process of rethinking the science behind the food that is playing so dramatically in restaurants today.
Point died in 1955 at the age of 58. Ma Gastronomie is a book of his story, his recipes, and his sayings. Marjolaine Cake was one of his masterpieces. This multi-layering of nutted meringue and some of the trickiest butter creams in the business is a tour de force. If you want a day of Zen-like focus, take on the Marjolaine. The cake has been bastardized by a flock of talentless pastry chefs, but this is the real thing.
Point's sayings can charm. My favorite is his way of checking out a restaurant he didn't know. He said, "When I stop at a new restaurant, I ask to shake the hand of the cuisinier. I know if he is thin, I'll probably eat poorly. And if he is both thin and sad, the only hope is flight."
The next quote shows Point reflected for a moment then came up with this: "Before judging a thin man, one must get some information. Perhaps he was once fat!" (Ma Gastronomie is back in print as of June 2008).
Thank you, Powell's, for this week of blogging. Long may you reign.