Friday, June 18, 2010

"I like to start off my day with a glass of Champagne..."

...I like to wind it up with Champagne, too. To be frank, I also like glass or two in between."

- Chef Fernand Point, the man who famously drank a full Magnum. Every day.

The quote above is taken from Joseph Wechsberg's "The Finest Butter and Lots of Time," published in the September 3, 1949 edition of The New Yorker. The classic piece is romp through France via Fernand Point, chef and owner of the Michelin three star La Pyramide restaurant just outside of Lyon, who served as mentor to Paul Bocuse, Jean and Pierre Troisgros, Alain Chapel, Roger Verge and Michel Guerard, among others.

And the man knew how to party.

He started his day with a shave by the barber
and a glass of Champagne on the garden terrace.

Wechsberg's piece is one of my favorite pieces of food writing ever, and I'm going to excerpt a few sections for your morning's reading pleasure. The full article is available here. I hope you're sipping some bubbly. TGIF.
When I went to France this summer, after an absence of more than a year, I was pleased to find that, for the first time since the end of the war, my Parisian friends had stopped griping about the black market and rationing and were again discussing, passionately and at great length, the heady mysteries of la grand cuisine, which next to women, has always been their favorite topic of conversation in times of content. Once more with the air of brokers divulging something hot in the market, they were confiding to each other the addresses of good restaurants.

The finest restaurant in France, and perhaps anywhere, it was agreed by my always well-informed friends, is not in Paris. If I wanted to have the epicurean experience of my life, they assured me, I would have to go to Vienne, a town of twenty-three thousand inhabitants in the Department of Isere, seventeen miles south of Lyon, at the confluence of the Rhone and Gere rivers. There I would find the Restaurant de la Pyramide and its proprietor, the formidable, the one and only M. Point...

"But it's not a question of whether on not you will go," my friend said. "The question is will M. Point let you eat in his place? He has thrown out American millionaires and French ex-ministers when he didn't feel like serving them... But I think I can help you with an introduction. I have a Britsh friend, M. Piperno, who happened to be among the Allied troops that liberated Vienne, and I'll have him give you a etter that will open all doors for you. Any friend of M. Piperno's is treated royally at Point's. But be sure to call M. Point well in advance to reserve your table. And for heaven's sake, don't think of ordering your meal! You don't order at Point's. He tells you what to eat...

My friends in Paris had urged me to prepare myself for my monumental lunch by eating only extremely light food, and very little of it, during the preceding twenty-four hours, and I was hungry and cross when my overnight train pulled into Vienne early the following morning... "You'd better plan to spend the night," they had said, "No use trying to rush away. You have to relax after a meal at Point's." There were only a few people on the street - pale, stockingless girls who were carrying small lunch boxes, and shabbily dressed men who looked as though they surely had never lunched or dined at Point's...

The rain had stopped and the sun had come out, but even under these favorable conditions the exterior of M. Point's temple for gastronomes presented an unprepossessing appearance... A man in a white jacket approached from the rear of the house, greeted me cheerfully, and took my raincoat and hung it on a hanger in the hall, as is the custom in French homes. I said I wanted to see M. Point, and was ushered into a small, pleasantly furnished salon. The walls were hung with paintings and mirrors, a gold pendulum clock stood on a buffet, and a large glass-topped table sat in the middle of the room. On the table were Champagne glasses and a half-empty magnum of Champagne, and behind it stood a huge man. He must have been six feet three and weighed three hundred pounds. He had a longish, sad face, a vast double chin, a high forehead, dark hair, and melancholy eyes. I couldn't help thinking that one of M. Lecutiez's sybaritic Roman emperors had come to life. He wore a comfortably large suit, and a big bow tie of black silk ornamented with a flowery design, like those the eccentric citizens of Montparnasse and flamboyant Italian tenors wore in the old days.

I introduced myself and we shook hands. I gave him Mr. Piperno's letter. M. Point read it casually and shook hands with me again. "Sit down!" he commanded with a magnificent gesture. "For the next few hours, this house will be your home. I'm delighted you came early. Gives us a chance to talk and drink Champagne. Quiet Veronique!" On a chair beside him, a precisely clipped brown poodle was making hostile noises. "Veronique belongs to the family," he said. "We also have a nine-year-old daughter, Marie-Josette. Enfin!" He filled two Champagne glasses and said, "A votre sante."

[ed note: They go on drinking and talking, and then...]

M. Point led the way out into the hall, around a few corners and down a stairway into a big, brightly lighted cellar with earthen walls... In the center of the room was a table covered with baskets of fresh fruit -- enormous pears, Calville apples, lush peaches, and aromatic fraises de bois. A roster of the wines in the cellar hung on one wall. It listed 219 names, in foor columns. Glancing at random down the second column I saw Richebourg '42, Romanee-Conti '35, Corton Charlemagne '38, Les Grand Echezaux '42, Hermitage '98, Romanee-Contee '43, La Tache '43, Hermitage la Cour Blanche '06, Vosne-Romanee '93, Corton Charlemagne '42, :a Tache '37, Romanee St. Vivant '40, Pouilly '40, Montrachet '29, Richebourg '29, Chambolle Musigny '21, Hermitage Blanc '70, Marc de Bourgogne '29 and Vire Chapitre '26. "What a mess!" said M. Point, "We've always had them mixed up -- don't know why. Anyway, it's not a bad selection. We have all the great vintage years of Chateau d'Yquem, back to 1908, and a lot of fine years of chateau Margaux and Chateau Lafite Rothschild. You can see we're crowded in here. I had to rent a place down the street for Pierre to keep his Champagnes in... Let's go up to the kitchen and give some thought to your lunch."

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