Between Minot and Dumaine there was an immediate and real communication. The language was the same. Both regarded their hard profession as a great structure built by a handful of geniuses and refined by three centuries of talent. While the basic principles of French cooking once mastered remain the same, as in music, it is up to each instrumentalist to produce the tonalities, to draw forth the nuances, to reach higher and higher for the elusive note of perfection.
Dumaine spent hours in the kitchens of the Hôtel du Parc, observing the knowledgeability and the authority of Minor. He liked his dissatisfaction. When a dish came out well, Minot was all for trying it another way the next time. Furthermore, he had the prodigality of great chefs who never think of price when it is a question of primary ingredients.
Here, undoubtedly, was his spiritual heir. He then made his astounding offer. He, Alexandre Dumaine, recognized as the king of all chefs in France, would cede his realm to a young man, practically unknown in upper gastronomic circles. He would sell him the Côte-d'Or, and for a price below the bedazzlements proposed by the business tycoons.
Once, at the age of sixteen, Minor had been brought to the Côte-d'Or by his parents for a meal, as a part of his education. Since then, Dumaine had represented le bon Dieu, to be admired, respected, revered. Minot, awestruck by an emotion akin to lightning, felt dizzy and automatically refused outright. Not that he was a timid character. His previous career had already revealed his resourcefulness. At sixteen, he had begun his apprenticeship in restaurants of Paris and of the provinces. On his free days, he would go as a customer to other restaurants. If he came upon a dish that pleased him and whose preparation escaped him, he would later appear at the kitchen inquiring if they needed an extra hand for a week, or two, or three. When he had mastered the secrets of the dish, he moved on.
During his military service he had the temerity to say right out to his superior officers that there was something stupid in a system that wasted a brilliant cook on the duties of a simple soldier. Apparently he bludgeoned the right doors with his indignation, for he ended up as principal chef to General Coigny, commander in chief of French troops in Morocco. Minor's military career was no waste of time.
But Dumaine was more intimidating to him than the French high command. Sure of himself where the pots and casseroles were concerned, he was also perturbed at the thought of Dumaine's clientele. (Later, Minot was to discover a clientele that was exigent but not difficult. “Even the most famous come in here smiling and with great simplicity. They write or telephone in advance and sometimes they order in advance. It is a dream.”)
Despite Minot's vertigo, the discussions went on. Mme Jeanne Dumaine, the most gracious hostess in the entire hotel world, suggested that the Minots come over to Saulieu for a while.
Newspapers in Paris were full of the story. Dumaine was abdicating. For France, this was an event of national importance. In the spring of 1963 when the clients, full of trepidation, arrived, what did they find? Mme Dumaine was behind the desk as always, but at her side was young Mme Minot. The adored Alexandre Dumaine, in his white apron and high white toque, was in the kitchen as always, Except now Francois Minot was with him. Dumaine introduced Minot with a speech to his staff in the kitchen. Everyone cried because the personnel at the Côte-d'Or are like one family. Alexandre reassured them that there would be no change, and so it turned out. The atmosphere has retained its old serenity and confidence, and the food is as superlative as ever.
Jeanne and Alexandre Dumaine know that you don't just abandon a house like the Côte-d'Or. The transfer was arranged without brusquerie. The first season they remained as consultants. From now on, they are always available to the Minors for advice.
There will be people who go to the Côte-d'Or now and in the future who will scoffingly say. “Ah, but if you had only known it in the days of Dumaine.” But I am convinced that thirty years from now the same sort of people will be sighing, “Ah, if you had only known it in the days of Minot.”