1960s Archive

Heritage of Alexandre Dumaine

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On this memorable first occasion, we were asked at the end of luncheon what time we would like to have dinner. We fixed the hour for 8:15 and chose a comparatively simple dish that I happen to love: les oeufs toupinel. For this dish baked potatoes are scooped from their shells, coarsely mashed with butter, and returned to the shells with a julienne of ham and truffles. A hollow is left in the center for a poached egg which is covered with Mornay sauce. The potatoes are quickly returned to the oven to be gratinéed. To be perfect, the yolks of those eggs have to be runny.

As I said, nobody is allowed to upset the show at the Côted'Or by being late. At 8:09 the chambermaid knocked at the door.

“Six minutes to table,” she warned.

At 8:14 the telephone rang. Only a fool would have wasted time answering. I flew down the hall. The telephone could be heard pealing its last as I slid into my chair at 8:15 sharp.

“Magnifique,” exclaimed M. Dumaine, and he let out a great sigh of relief. The yolks were in just the right state of runniness.

Over the years we became good friends and had a chance to talk during the easeful moments at the end of a long day when all the clients had eaten beyond their dreams.

“You know, the better something is the less of it you should serve,” he once said. “When you go to a party or a reception at someone's house, you are handed a glass once you are inside the door. Why? Make the crowd wait ten or fifteen minutes. Everybody will be thinking, ‘What are they going to give us?’ The suspense grows. You shouldn't cut the pleasure of your guests by showing your opulence.

“Just before people become restless, you serve them something special—a very old Sherry or Port or Château d'Yquem—in a very pretty glass. Just half a glass. Everybody will be respectful. What a marvel. They will sip slowly because they will be afraid they won't get any more. Then you give them a second tear's worth. The service should inspire respect. You don't quench your thirst on a marc 1880 or Hospices de Beaunc. You must have the art of caressing on your tongue. That is when gastronomy is beautiful.”

I also learned then that M. Dumaine does not believe in mystique or in secrets. To him the history of French cuisine is an open book, and he will share his knowledge with anybody.

When Dumaine recently announced his intention to retire from the Côte-d'Or, offers were hardly lacking, and many a businessman offered to pay dearly for this reputation of gold.

One can sell an original score of Beethoven and a violin of Stradivarius, but what does it mean if the buyer is not a Vladimir Horowitz or a David Oistrakh? By the same token, Dumaine knew that without a kindred soul presiding over the stoves, his house, which had entertained the great of this world, could quickly disappear into dusty memory even if the walls remained.

In a gesture equivalent to the Olympic runner passing his torch to another runner who will race with the flame, Dumaine set about to select his heir, for he himself has no children.

He wanted to find a young man. A man of forty-five, he felt, would be already too old, too set in his ways. His successor would have to be an artisan, skilled and equipped to succeed with the most formidable recipes, and experienced in every phase of cuisine from charcuterie to pâtisserie. Furthermore, he must have such a love for his métier that no effort would be too great. To be a chef according to such standards is to be an artist. One will make a name but the chances of making much money are nonexistent. Even in France, to find a man capable and willing to accept the challenge is not easy.

Dumaine discovered his dauphin—a young Burgundian named François Minot—through Monsieur Pierre Mouquet. the president of the Club des Cent. The highest approval Minot could have received was the recommendation of the president of this group.

The Club des Cent is a powerful organization of gourmets. Its one hundred members possess the finest and most exigent amateur palates in France. Each man is a master of food and wine and each of them can professionally prepare a menu, as well as enjoy the results. In addition to arranging a few extraordinary banquets each year, the Club, every November, sends representatives to the États Généaux de la Gastronomic at Dijon, where sauces and vintages arc examined like affairs of state. The delegate to the November, 1962, meeting was Pierre Mouquet, a man parsimonious when it comes to praise. No one could be more aware than he of the difficulties of an official dinner for one hundred people, and this dinner was flawless. His taste buds on the alert. Mouquet inquired as to who was responsible.

It was the son of the owner of the Hôtel du Parc in Dijon. Mouquet Hashed word to Dumaine that twenty eight-year-old Francois Minot was a colt to watch. Two days later, Dumaine was in Dijon. The older man, outstanding in his field, and [he younger man, already with twelve years of experience behind him, talked cuisine.

Minor had been bred to the tradition. Behind him was a five-generation heritage of cooks and chefs. In 1830, his great-great-grandmother had run a Dijon inn. From 1900 to 1912, his maternal grandfather had been pastry cook and specialist in cold buffet tables for the Czar of Russia.

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