Archive for November, 2013

Cuisine à la Camelot, 1961

November 27th, 2013

cuisinealacamelot

By Joseph Temple

On the same day Americans were summoned to ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’, John Fitzgerald Kennedy sat down for his first meal as 35th President of the United States.  After starters of creamy tomato soup and deviled crab meat Imperial, the next course catered specifically to the new Executive Branch of JFK and LBJ: New England boiled stuff lobster with drawn butter and prime Texas ribs of beef au jus.

This was the beginning of Cuisine à la Camelot.

For a thousand days, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue became the epicenter for lavish state dinners and meals that symbolized early 1960s enthusiasm.  Historian Marie Smith in her 1967 book Entertaining in the White House writes, “Not since the days of Dolley Madison had the White House been the scene for such brilliant entertaining as was done by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her history-conscious husband, John F. Kennedy – and not since the days of Thomas Jefferson, America’s first gourmet of renown, had more serious thought been given to White House standards of food and drink.”

Julia_Child_at_KUHT  Mastering-the-Art-of-French-Cooking  Dom-Perignon-Moonraker-Bond  DSCF6173
INFLUENCES: Julia Child (left), the world’s first “celebrity chef” popularized French cuisine with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2nd from left). Spy James Bond drinks Dom Pérignon ’46 in the 1955 novel Moonraker (2nd from right).  Kennedy was a huge fan of author Ian Flemming and his 007 character, who debuted on the big screen in 1962’s Dr. No where Sean Connery’s character tells his captor after trying to break a bottle of Dom Pérignon ’55 over a guard’s head “I prefer the ’53 myself.” (right)

It was 1961 and Julia Child was at the height of her popularity after releasing volume one of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Anything French was distinctly fashionable throughout American culinary circles.  So it is no surprise that many dishes served to the Kennedys and their guests paid tribute to White House Chef René Verdon’s Parisian roots.  With casseroles of the 1950s clearly out-of-style and the ration books of the 1940s a distant memory, the new  administration was a clear shift from the previous era symbolized by Truman and Eisenhower.

Chef Verdon took over an operation previously run by caterers and Navy stewards not known for producing quality dishes and transformed it into the modern White House kitchens we know today.  Promoting local fresh foods before it became fashionable, his kitchen staff cemented the Kennedys as hip culinary trend setters  – resulting in many suburban housewives making soufflés, pâtés, and pork rillettes for their own dinner parties.

Debuting with trout cooked in Chablis, roast fillet of beef au jus, and artichoke bottoms Beaucaire, Chef Verdon’s meal for JFK and British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan made the front-page of the New York Times, prompting Craig Claiborne to write, “there was nothing like French cooking to promote good Anglo-American relations.”

For the visit of Korean General Chung Hee Park, a lunch that can be described as classical upscale French cuisine meets Southern style cooking was served.  It featured snails in brown butter parsley sauce, barbecue chicken, potatoes, and creamy mushrooms.  A simple yet elegant lunch filled with the charming rustic touches of an open grill.

White House Chefs  3b36339r  026402pv
(Left) White House Executive Chef René Verdon (third from left) and members of the White House kitchen staff pose with an assortment of cookies. The kitchen went through numerous renovations in the 20th Century.  The kitchen in 1901 (middle) and in the 1950s (right).

And during most of 1961, the Kennedys drank almost exclusively French Wine and Champagne.  An example wine menu from the 1961 White House gala in honor of former President Harry Truman: 1955 Château Gruaud-Larose – an underrated vintage of pure cedary Cabernet second growth, St. Julien styling, 1958 Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles – a Chardonnay with pronounced notes of creamy buttered apples, and 1952 Cuvée Dom Pérignon Brut.

It is no surprise that Jack Kennedy loved Dom — the same drink consumed by a fictional spy named James Bond in the Ian Flemming novels that the  president devoured.  And while Agent 007 preferred a ’53, the 1952 served at the White House was a long aging firm rich year when there was still some barrel fermentation for complexity.

In an era before Twitter, cell phone cameras, and a tabloid media, the press largely complied with the Kennedys’ request that the wine list from White House functions not be printed in the next day’s  newspapers.  However, when word began to leak that no American wines were being consumed, public pressure convinced them to start serving wine from the United States and more specifically California – a region that hadn’t yet exploded into the mainstream.

“We served only French wines in the beginning,” recalled Kennedy White House social secretary Letitia Baldrige.  “But about six months into the Administration there was such a hue and cry about it that we began to serve mostly American. We would serve one good French – either a wine or Champagne – but the other two wines would be American. And sometimes we would serve an Italian wine such as a Soave Bertani.”

At the table with his guests however, Kennedy was not always on top of his game in terms of dinner diplomacy. When Monaco’s Prince Rainier III and his movie star wife Grace Kelly stopped by in 1961, the president worried about mispronouncing his name “Prince Reindeer.”  Months earlier, he had enraged Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker when at the White House, he called him in front of the entire press corps “Prime Minister Dee-fen-bawker.”  He did not want an incident like that to occur again.

17713_0092_1_lg  JFKWHP-KN-C17889 Grace Kelly White House visit meeting John F. Kennedy
(Left, Middle) Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco Arrive at White House for a Luncheon in Their Honor. (Right) The menu for their visit.

But as they enjoyed their light lunch of Salade Mimosa, Soft Shell Crab Amandine, and Spring Lamb à La Broche Aux Primeurs, JFK accidentally responded to the Prince with “Prince Reindeer” in his signature Bostonian accent.  Thankfully, the gaffe was short-lived when in an interview four years later, the Princess recalled every detail of the lunch including all the dishes she had eat – a clear sign of success for Kennedy’s kitchen staff!

Away from Washington, JFK and Jackie were treated to an impressive feast at Buckingham Palace.  It was 5 June 1961 and a little over a month since the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.  The previous day in Vienna, Kennedy had stared down Nikita Khrushchev in a high-stakes game of nuclear diplomacy over Berlin – setting the stage for future confrontations in 1962.  So with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip by his side, the president ended his European charm offensive by enjoying some very royal dishes.

John F Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth, 1961 Menu for JFK's visit to Buckingham Palace
(Left) Prince Philip, Jacqueline Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth and JFK pose for a photo at Buckingham Palace.  (Right) The menu from that event.

Beginning with creamy pea soup, hollandaise sole garnished with asparagus second, lamb and buttered green beans was served as the main course.  This seemingly simple menu would have been masterfully executed with classic French techniques to impress Her Majesty and guests.  Not only did the many refined sauces showcased make precision timing critical, the showstopping Grand Marnier soufflé served for dessert is one of the most difficult dishes to execute for such an expecting crowd.

Clearly, 1961 served as transformational year for food and wine served in the White House; 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was now on the cutting edge of the culinary arts.  An exclusive team of superb cooks, headed by a French chef, would shape food and wine served even today to the modern Presidency.

Please have a look at the pictures and menus on this page by clicking to enlarge them.  Also, vote for what you think is the best dish served during this year and leave your comments.  Special thanks to Sid Cross who helped to provide information on the wines.

JFK Inauguration Luncheon MenuPresidential Dinner MenuJFKPP-043-037-p0003

What dish would you like to recreate from this article?

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SEAFOOD CHOWDER CHOWDOWN

November 25th, 2013

Seafood Chowder

Judged on November 20, 2013 the 6th Annual Ocean Wise Seafood Chowder Chowdown for this popular fundraiser at the Vancouver Aquarium (www.vanaqua.org) to support their continuing fight for sustainable seafood (www.oceanwise.ca). Blogged earlier in my May 27 posting about the wonderful work being done by Ocean Wise. Lots of recipes were submitted by British Columbia restaurants and after some earlier preliminaries a select 13 entries arrived for the finals to be judged by us and the 600+ enthusiastic patrons. Each was paired with a unique craft beer chosen by the chef to complement their dish. The People’s Choice vote was won by Chef Ned Bell of Yew in the Four Seasons Hotel using humpback shrimp, all local cranberries, hazelnuts, apple relish, corn, purple cauliflower in a base of pink peppercorn 35% cream. Winning the judge’s vote for the second consecutive year was Chef Chris Whittaker of Forage with an exact repeat encore of his very successful menu item of Creamy BC Spot Prawn Chowder. Many chefs utilized in the mix some of our great Dungeness Crab even serving it in the empty crab shell – and of course lots of clams and clam nectar. Surprised so many chefs still feel the need to use flour or potato starch to thicken.

Lots of questions raised again by me during the judging as to what is required to make an outstanding chowder. Certainly in this criteria were some of our scoring items of clean delicious taste, aroma, appearance, presentation, creativity, prep & delivery (warm, seafood intact, good textures), beer pairing (Chablis or crisp Sauvignon Blanc also would have worked well with many of the chowders except the spicier ones which needed Gewurztraminer). Every year sees submissions of over 90% creamy New England style and hardly any tomato-based Manhattan styles. One bowl of rich creamy chowder can be satisfying but when you are trying so many in a row your palate really appreciates the change-up of a more refreshing tomato character – and in previous years even tomatillos!

Please give us your wisdom on what makes for you a great chowder. Vote whether you prefer New England vs. Manhattan – not a football match!

What chowder do you prefer?

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APPLES

November 18th, 2013

Apples

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is an old maxim I learned growing up as a child. It must have unconsciously influenced me as I have been following this regime all my life. I am still hoping that the flavonoid quercetin they contain is helping to keep my brain active.

Presently enjoying the brand new crop of apples. Few foods offer the wonderful sensation of biting into a crisp sweet juicy apple! So many varieties to choose from for various uses as set out in www.theyummylife.com/files/Comparing_Apples_to_Apples.pdf   Their list doesn’t include Cox’s Orange Pippin, Spartan, Sunrise, and others such as the newest commercial variety Okana. I like the way Golden Delicious hold their shape in apple pie. For eating raw they list 11 different varieties as highly recommended. Gala “mild, sweet, crisp”  is my usual go to but I also like fresh Ambrosia. Fun time to experiment and determine which type of apple is your fav.

Please vote on your personal choice.

What's your favorite apple?

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1983 BORDEAUX

November 11th, 2013

1983 bordeaux
By schuey (originally posted to Flickr as Cheval Blanc 1983) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Every year seems to bring up new special anniversary wine tastings. Next year undoubtedly will include a focus on how the 1989 Bordeaux and underrated Burgundies are doing at 25. This year I attended several enjoyable events spotlighting 1983 red Bordeaux at 30 years!

Coming right after the ripe concentrated consistent 1982 was a tough task. The 1983 micro climates varied really favouring the southerly drier Medoc regions of AOC Margaux & Pessac-Leognan. Also the hot humid conditions in August resulted in some grape rot & mildew especially where the principals were away on their annual vacation rather than at home in the vineyards like May de Lencquesaing of Pichon Lalande. Their wine is in my opinion the best most complete complex Pauillac in 1983 edging Mouton (cedar) and far better than Lafite (paler and drier) and Latour (atypically light herbal).

What about the wine of the vintage? Domaine de Chevalier and Haut Bailly are typical of a certainly better 1983 than 1982. However Haut Brion & La Mission both show better in 1982 than 1983. Not outstanding on the Right Bank. There are some delicious elegant wines from the Margaux appellation in 1983. Palmer is a star but I have found bottle variation recently as it ages. Served to me blind against Chateau Margaux (and other 1983 wines) twice in the last few months Palmer was both times lighter in colour less structured and less aromatic than Chateau Margaux – a real classic.  Robert Parker prefers Palmer and I agree with him that Chateau Margaux 1983 can have “cork” issues. Still I prefer 1989 Palmer over 1983 – and of course that marvellous trio of 1970, 1966, and 1961.

My vote now for what can be THE wine of vintage 1983 in Bordeaux is Chateau Margaux. One of their many successes under the brilliant Mentzelopoulus & Pontellier team!

Post your vote for the Bordeaux wine of the 1983 vintage. Your thoughts on how they are aging.

Have you tried a 1983 Bordeaux?

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RED FRUITS vs. BLACK FRUITS

November 5th, 2013

Red vs Black fruits

The regular wine column every weekend in The Vancouver Sun newspaper by my long time good friend Tony Gismondi just raised some interesting issues.

Tony postulates that “After decades of chasing intensity and concentration of fruit along with a commensurate level of oak and alcohol, the style of red wine is fundamentally changing in many regions of the world.”  Check out his comments at www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/world+reds/9116810/story.html

As we all know It is extremely difficult to make a great wine anywhere in the world. The climatic conditions can vary from marginal ripeness like for sparkling wine in England (remember Nyetimber in West Sussex declaring no 2012 vintage) to excessive heat in parts of Barossa Australia (will this shiraz need acidification?). It is impossible to obtain perfect growing conditions every year even in Bordeaux or Burgundy. Most knowledgeable consumers are looking for some definition or “sense of place”  in their wine. Just letting the terroir speak can sometimes be overlooked by zealous winemakers. One of the best tests of quality for me is to decide whether the wine is balanced and delicious – inviting you to go back and drink more. This important measure is hard to judge in a wine competition where you are not swallowing the wine for that test but spitting it out. There has been a tendency by some judges to go for the biggest, richest, openly expressive higher alcohol wines. Remember less is often more in finding that “finesse and grace”.  I personally have been an outspoken champion of this latter point of view in wine competitions for decades.

I am encouraged to see this article stating that the new “goal is to bring those grapes to perfect ripeness in almost every vintage and to harvest red fruits over black, finesse over power, leading to drinkability over all other attributes.” Hopefully this will lead to better more distinctive complex drinkable wines. Bravo!

What are your thoughts on red fruits vs. black fruits or what attributes you look for in a red table wine?

What type of grape do you prefer?

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