A Famous French Chef Comes to Dinner

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Chef René Verdon (1924-2011) earlier in his career.

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When our mutual friend Annette Bonnell sent word last week that chef to the Kennedy White House René Verdon had died, it set me to remembering the night a decade ago when René and his chic wife, Yvette, came to dinner at my little San Francisco apartment. I’d only met René and Yvette briefly a couple of times, so I was surprised when Annette mentioned that they would enjoy being invited to dinner. While I was excited by the prospect of cooking for such a renowned couple,  I was also a bit intimidated.  What do you serve to the chef who created elegant dinners for Jackie Kennedy and who later operated Le Trianon, a legendary San Francisco restaurant where Julia Child dined? Turns out, René was sincerely interested in vegan cuisine and wanted to sample the kind of food we cook every week for our vegetarian dinners in Palo Alto. And so, a date was set, I devised a menu and at the appointed hour, Yvette and René arrived, accompanied by Annette and her husband Robert. Thankfully, the evening proceeded smoothly, a couple of bottles of wine were drunk, both René and Yvette revealed themselves to be humorous conversationalists and accomplished story tellers. Perhaps René recalled how he resigned as White House chef when Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson ordered him to serve frozen vegetables and Texas barbecue (he left in a “Gallic huff,” Time magazine reported). Most importantly, for me, everyone seemed to enjoy the food and the evening was declared a success. For René, it was, perhaps, one very small moment in a long and eventful life.  For me, it was an evening I will always remember. That a chef of René’s standing would come to dine on my simple food, and would praise it, meant a lot. In fact, René had a history of generosity in encouraging and supporting younger chefs. Annette, who has been friend to the Verdons for twenty years, describes René in one word: “adorable.” I can’t say I disagree.

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Here is the menu for our dinner honoring René and Yvette Verdon, May 8, 2000:

Red Bean, Mushroom, Vegetable Soup

Tofu-Garlic-Tahini-Miso Spread for Bread

Alsatian Onion-Tofu Tart

Wild Rice and Quinoa Salad with Pine Nuts, Turkish Apricots and Kumquats

Steamed Baby Bok Choi and Carrots with Ginger Vinaigrette

Apple and Cherry Crunch with Vanilla Rice Dream

Red Wines Brought by the Guests

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Read René Verdon’s obituary in the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the San Francisco Chronicle.

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2 responses

  1. I so wish you would offer the recipes for the dishes when you post such awesome and interesting menus. It is so easy to get used to making the same things over & over…

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