Sunday, July 27, 2008

Vive La France

To my mind, the American La France Speedsters of the early twentieth century represent the true epitome of American motoring. They were the Cobras of their day, made from the remains of American La France fire trucks with gargantuan six cylinder, 14.5 liter motors, stripped down to little more than a chassis, engine and wheels. The intrepid motorists would then, goggles and gauntlets in place, accost the road at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour! These are truly my favorite motor vehicles, and, if the day comes that I can manage to afford a brass age supercar, this will be my supercar of choice. Leave the Bearcats and the Raceabouts to the more timid of spirit – I will take the American La France every time!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Le Trianon

Another of the inspirations from my youth was René Verdon's Le Trianon. This restaurant was the epitome of a classical restaurant. It was dark and plush and beautiful. The environment was contrived to allow the diner to focus on his food, amidst the dusty pink brocades and ivory walls.

And the food! My God, if there is food in heaven, let it be prepared by René Verdon! Common misperceptions about classical cuisine: It is heavy, unhealthy and wasteful. Truths about classical cuisine: It uses butter appropriately, but not excessively (René Verdon was no Paula Deen!); it employs more fish and poultry than "pop" cuisine and it uses up every part of the animal! I am not going to suggest that Le Trianon was an ideal place for a dieter, no good restaurant is, but the food was exquisite and wholesome.

Verdon's first claim to fame in this country was as the chef to the white house during the Kennedy years. In his later years he wrote a marvelous book that does not get nearly enough attention titled The Enlightened Cuisine. In addition to his brilliance, he was a gentleman, through and through. When I was a sprout, dining at my parents' table atop a stack of cookbooks, Verdon made one of his typical tours of the dining room. In order to afford my parents some privacy, I now suspect, he took me to the kitchen where the help fawned over me. He gave me his toque and signed and dated it. That remained my most prized possession until a few years ago when it was lost with many other treasures.

Back in the era of places like Ernie's, Le Trianon was the true queen of the San Francisco restaurants. It was the last exponent of a great era of San Francisco dining.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Zeiss Ikon Contessa

The Zeiss Ikon Contessa is a pocket rangefinder camera dating from the early 1950s. It came equipped with a Zeiss 45 mm lens and, even in its era, it had a retro 30s appeal about it. I have always loved high-end rangefinder cameras, and this one stands out in my mind as being another work of functional art. I need to get a camera for work purposes in the near future, and I desperately want to get one of these, but, sadly, my good friend Steve has talked me into a digital (blech) camera for all sorts of practical reasons. One day, however, it will be mine. Ah, yes, it will be mine. . . .

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cookbooks I Wish I Still Owned

  1. The 1928 leather-bound edition of Ali-Bab’s Gastronomie Pratique. I learned most of my very limited French whilst decoding recipes from that encyclopaediac volume at my sainted mother's kitchen table, and I miss it like an old friend. Anything else that appears on this list is a distant relation to this work of art.
  2. Samuel Chamberlain’s British Bouquet, An Epicurean Tour of Britain, or, for that matter, any of Samuel Chamberlain’s books. Though not a cookbook, per se, I highly recommend the recently reprinted Clementine in the Kitchen, a narrative with a number of recipes included. The great thing about Chamberlain’s cookbooks was not so much the recipes and more the wonderful travelogues that he included. They were cookbooks for the foodie. In addition, the 50s Gourmet Publishing editions were these big beautiful white leather volumes that made you want to read them all the more. Everything of Chamberlain's should be in reprint.
  3. “Trader” Vic Bergeron’s Trader Vic’s Kitchen Kibitzer from 1952. It was a fantastic reference for things like “How to cook a steak” or “How to make a moderately interesting tossed salad with iceberg lettuce” and the like. More than a reference book, though, it was just a great, fun read.
  4. The big, brown Gourmet cookbook, two volumes that were my mom’s general reference. A wonderful basic.
  5. An old edition of The Joy of Cooking. I had one that was published just after WW II, and it was great! I liked the quirkiness of the older recipes.

This is one of those lists that I am bound to add to as time passes, but these are the ones that come to mind immediately. Are there any great old cookbooks that you wish you still had?