Three Generations of Exquisite Taste

Each of the Zagat Vintage Dinners have allowed superb, world class chefs to locate a theme, and then execute it…with all their imagination and passion.

We dined last night at the penultimate Vintage Dinner held at Jean Georges, with lovebirds and wonderful artists in their own right, Maxine and Andrew. The evening was a paen by Jean Georges, himself a three Michelin Star marvel (whose earlier restaurant Lafayette at the now defunct Drake Hotel in New York competes with Per Se for the most memorable meal I’ve ever had in the United States, and virtually anywhere else), to his mentor Louis Outhier. Chef Outhier was one of the entrees into the flavors of Thailand and the Far East for Jean Georges, arguably the greatest modern innovator and master of fusion (as opposed to ‘CONfusion’ cooking which sadly abounds) cuisine. They together piloted Lafayette.

Chef Outhier in turn had studied with Chef Fernand Point, who jousts in culinary history books with Paul Bocuse (who apprenticed under Fernand Point for some time) for the honor of being the ‘father’ of  nouvelle cuisine. Years ago at what was once the finest wine and food event in the world, The Masters of Food and Wine at The Highland Inn in Big Sur, I heard Paul Bocuse explain that nouvelle cuisine was supposed to exemplify elegance and aesthetics, not tiny morsels glittering with everything but taste.

The evening last night was a tribute to Fernand Point who famously intoned, “Butter, butter, give me butter!” Happily for us, though perhaps not in time for his arteries, the cuisine he helped inspire, is no longer bounded by any one ingredient, even one as venerable as truly luscious, creamy butter.

His father and mother were cordon bleu chefs whose restaurant was in a railway station. When their restaurant was snubbed by the authorities, Fernand who had learned cooking at this parents’ aprons, came to Lyon. He adored the classical ruins in the city, particularly the majestic pyramid that stood down the street from his restaurant. His famous restaurant came to be called thus, “La Pyramide”.

For Chef Point, dining was a complete experience, and he was vigilant as to every detail. Every aspect of preparation, Baccarat crystal and Limoges China, service and presentation, had to be superb and immaculate. He broke with tradition and came out of the kitchen and met with guests as well, beginning to transform the role of the Chef into a conduit of an overall experience, not just a grumpy genius hidden away in the kitchen.

He lived life large and with gusto, no less in his craft as elsewhere. He famously said, “I’m not hard to please, I am content with the very best.” No outside disturbances were allowed to interfere with the pleasures and stimulus of what on most evenings was an extraordinary elegy to cuisine and elegance. No more than 50 tables were accommodated. Once full, the President of the Republic himself would have been shooed away.

Art needs masters and apprentices, the latter both being culture carriers and savvy innovators. But their innovation has to come from a depth of understanding as to what they are building on and what they are innovating from. Based on the exquisite meal last night, I believe Fernand Point and Louis Outhier, and for that matter Paul Bocuse, would all have been utterly delighted at the luster of the evening…it was as Fernand Point envisaged great dining to be, an exeptional total experience with Jean Georges as an exquisite conductor.

Business literature argues today that we are in an experience economy and that what people want and will pay for and stay loyal to, are complete experiences that are both relevant and unique, which at once meet key expectations and in other ways take our breath away with pleasant surprise. We need both newness and consistency, both finesse in execution and the ability to enchant in terms of the design and delivery of the key experiences we offer. In that, last night was a master class!


Gelee de Citron au Caviar et Creme Fraiche

Lemon Gelee with Caviar and Creme Fraiche with Brut NV, Taittinger La Francaise en Magnum

Truffe Surprise

Black Truffle Surprise (the ‘surprise’ being a decadently silky foie gras center!) with Pinot Gris 2000, F.E. Trimbach Hommage a Jeanne

Asperges Vertes Aux Morilles et Vin Jaune

Green Asparagus and Morels with Vin Jaune with Sancerre 2006, Lucien Crochet Le Chene

Loup De Mer en Croute “Fernand Point”, Sauce Choron

Black Sea Bass En Croute, Sauce Choron with Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Domaine Monpertuis 2006

Homard a la Nage au Champagne, Julienne de Legumes et Cerfeuil

Lobster a la Nage, Julienne Vegetables and Chervil with Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2006 Etienne Sauzet

Sorbet au The,  Arrose a la Poire William

Tea Sorbet with Pear Brandy

Rotie de Volaille aux Truffes Noires, Epinard a la Creme

Chicken Roasted with Black Truffles, Creamed Spinach with Pessac-Leognan 2004, Chateau Bahans Haut Brion

Caravanes de Dessert

Caravan of Desserts with Sauternes 1998 Chateau Guiraud and Banyuls 2006 M. Chapoutier