Articles

How I became a French Chef

The secrets of French sauces and seasoning are revealed by this Canadian who learned at the famous Cordon Bleu that good food, like love, requires a tremendous amount of time and work

MAX ROSENFELD July 15 1954
Articles

How I became a French Chef

The secrets of French sauces and seasoning are revealed by this Canadian who learned at the famous Cordon Bleu that good food, like love, requires a tremendous amount of time and work

MAX ROSENFELD July 15 1954

How I became a French Chef

Articles

MAX ROSENFELD

The secrets of French sauces and seasoning are revealed by this Canadian who learned at the famous Cordon Bleu that good food, like love, requires a tremendous amount of time and work

AT A MEETING of Allied officers during the most sombre hours of 1942 an English officer asked Winston Churchill, “Why do you insist on defending France? You know very well it’s finished.”

“My young friend,” replied the Prime Minister, “a country that makes more than two hundred varieties of cheese can’t possibly be finished.” Thus, with characteristic humor, the old maestro pointed out that it’s virtually impossible to understand France without knowing and appreciating her celebrated cuisine.

This was my own experience in France where I lived for three years. I went there to study French culture at the Sorbonne but it wasn’t until I took up cooking at the Cordon Bleu, the oldest and the most renowned cooking school in the world, that I was able to find out what makes the French so French. I decided to find out the secrets of French cooking when I realized that after three months of attentive listening to the serious and dignified professors, the most significant thing I had learned about the country was that the wonderful cuisine flourishes at every social and

economic level; whether I ate in fine restaurants, pension dining rooms or hole-in-the-wall bistros it seemed impossible to get a bad meal in France.

Two days after I discovered the Cordon Bleu I bade farewell to the Latin Quarter, the Faculté des Lettres and the Bibliothèque Nationale and went in search of a different kind of knowledge, at the institution which the founder, Marthe Distel, dedicated in 1895 with these words: “Nature

imposes on human beings two imperious needs before which all the most ardent passions efface themselves: to drink and to eat . . .”

L’Ecole du Cordon Bleu was founded not primarily for professional chefs but for the daughters of upperand middle-class French families. As the years passed, however, the school acquired the reputation that made it the Mecca of aspiring gastronomes, and men and women from all over the world came to learn the art of cooking. Through its modest doors at 129 Faubourg St. Honoré have passed thousands of young apprentice cooks who became famous chefs. Also, there have been society matrons, newlyweds and experienced housewives. All were equal under the exact ing discipline of the classroom.

The school has changed hands several times and is now owned by Monsieur Max Brassart and managed by his wife. There are four instructors, the chief of them being dark, suave Pierre Mengallette, who has a restaurant of his own in Montmartre. In recent years an average of sixty students, the majority of them French women, have been in attendance at all times. Lessons are given in the form of demonstration-lectures. It is possible to take one lesson or a course of 120 lessons leading to a diploma. The cost of a lesson is 350 francs which is about a dollar. I took more than eighty lessons, but skipped those on the preparation of such dishes as calf’s head, lark pâté and saddle of hare.

The kitchens of the Cordon Bleu provide the opportunity of working under the supervision of a maître de cuisine but many students attend t he lectures only and do their cooking at home. For close to five months I attended lectures on the average of three afternoons a week, and one morning and one afternoon weekly I was in the kitchen; I paid the equivalent of $25 a month for kitchen privileges, in addition to the cost of

materials. In my group there was a Danish chef, an ex-Gí planning to open a restaurant in Madison, Wis., ar. ex-Hungarian cabinet minister waiting for travel documents to take him to Chile where his brother owned a hotel, a girl from Massachusetts, a European diplomat’s wife and six Frenchwomen. One day the diplomat’s wife startled us by saying, “No matter what happens in the world politically, anybody who knows how to cook will be the person least likely to starve and most likely to be employable.” As I rode down on the bus on my first morning at the Cordon Bleu, I could already see myself merrily mixing ingredients in a magnificent gleaming tile-and-glass kitchen laboratory. A half hour later, when I entered the actual Cordon Bleu kitchen, what I beheld so startled me that I couldn’t believe I was really in the famous place. When I was reassured I anxiously enquired whether this wasn’t just a beginner’s workroom, the chamber of the great chefs being elsewhere in the building. I was informed that we were in the institution’s main kitchen. A Canadian housewife would have shrieked at what I faced: a dingy and dimly lit

room, unwashed utensils scattered everywhere, the equipment looking unchanged since the founding day of the school—not a dishwasher, not a refrigerator, not a handy garbage disposer in the place.

All the equipment it takes to run this world centre of fine cooking is a few wooden tables, several dozer, old and heavy pots and pans, some drawers of well-worn knives, and twisted and battered mixing spoons. The only thing identifying the Cordon Bleu with the twentieth century is a row of electric ranges, but not one as up-to-date as the one for which my mother got $20 on a trade-in ten years ago in Toronto. I was ready to bet any

money that no one could come in and make poulet à la popincourt in a setup like this. Fortunately I was only talking to myself because a few weeks later I had the opportunity to visit the kitchens of two top Paris restaurants, La Tour d’Argent and Maxim’s. La Tour d’Argent is one of the oldest restaurants in Paris and claims to be the place where the fork was invented in the fourteenth century; and from what I saw in its kitchen it has recognized few culinary inventions since then. Both La Tour d’Argent and Maxim’s still use huge coal ovens; apparently no cooking stove has yet been invented which beats those heated by coal.

Three Days for One Sauce

The demonstration-lectures at the Cordon Bleu are held in a room where the instructor works behind a counter facing the students seated in four tiered rows of chairs. The day I enrolled the scheduled lesson happened to be pot-au-feu. If it may be compared to anything more familiar to us, it’s New England boiled dinner. Escoffier called it “the symbol of the French family” and there are numerous variations of the dish. Essentially it’s a piece of non-roastable beef cooked with vegetables till it becomes fork tender. All in one pot it gives the first course, broth with cubed vegetables floating in it, then the main course, platters of beef with vegetables around it. It’s part of the weekly menu in all French households because the rich broth left over furnishes a savory basis for soups and sauces.

While the instructor, jolly, wry-humored Max Bugnard, addressed us, two boys peeled and chopped. When he said the cooking would take

several hours and therefore we would not see the result until late in the afternoon I felt the time had come to release a little more scientific knowhow to backward Europe. I confidently raised my hand and suggested that a pressure cooker would finish the thing in twenty minutes. “That’s a wonderful idea,” said Bugnard drily, adding after a slight pause, “if we had several starving people who had to be quickly fed.” Turning to the whole class he said solemnly, “In cooking, as in life, anything that is worthwhile takes a lot of time. Beaucoup de temps, beaucoup de temps—that’s one of the greatest secrets of good cooking.” It’s a point that cannot be over-emphasized.

After I had spoken I heard someone whisper, “Where he comes from they get food in tin boxes!” Someone else murmured, “Over there they have steaks in pills and they put marshmallows in salad!”

I had yet to learn that it sometimes takes three days to make a sauce and that cooking a chicken may require over twenty receptacles and a whole day’s attention. But the casserole is a French invention too and it can be the biggest time-saver in any home. Busy Canadian housewives would find working out a dozen casserole meals a big help. Each meal is complete under one lid meat, fowl, cheese or fish with accompanying vegetables, all in a single dish. Most of the pots and pans necessary to t heir preparation can be cleaned before the food is even cooked.

Every lesson at. the Cordon Bleu begins with a considerat ion of the raw materials: we were taught how fish, meat, poultry and game should look and feel, how to judge a joint of meat and how to tell a young bird from an old one; how to recognize fresh fish, sound fruit and fresh vegetables, and even to tell the very Continued on paffe 31

Here’s how to master that exacting delicacy, a golden creamy omelet. Even French chefs believe that it’s the most difficult feat of them all

How I Became a French Chef

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 21

best from the quite good. The almost imperceptible difference between fresh and freshest is all important. And shopping is not a twice-a-week affair but must be done every single day.

Listening to lectures about shopping is a great help but the only way to acquire shopping experience is to buy

it. There are no supermarkets in France and shopping means daily visits to four or five stores and market stands. Bread is not obtained at a grocery store but at a bakery; a pâtisserie is a separate place again. The only place to get milk is at a laiterie. The butcher limits himself to the sale of beef, veal, lamb and sometimes pork. Poultry, game and all sausages are handled by other merchants. Such specialization is unavoidable because no French housewife would trust a system that offers pre-cut meats in glistening cellophane. She wants to

confer personally with the butcher and watch the meat cut according to her directions. At the grocer’s she wants to taste a sliver of cheese and discuss its merits.

The central source of practically all the food eaten in Paris is Les Halles, which Emile Zola referred to as “the belly of Paris.” Farmers for miles around take their wares to this wholesale centre. Cabbages are piled six feet deep on the road outside the buildings. Mountains of fragrant strawberries, pyramids of carrots, deep beds of watercress are delivered,

weighed, counted and bargained for.

! Greenhouse growers arrange their carnations, tulips and lilacs on the long benches. The air is redolent of flowers, ripe peaches and oranges. Vegetables and fruits in France do not have to travel far so they are not picked half-developed but allowed to ripen in garden and orchard. This is one reason French fruit and vegetables seem j exceptional.

Les Halles is beyond doubt the beststocked market in the world, displaying live fish, lobsters and eels in tanks, truffles, mushrooms and morels, any luxury you fancy. The vast meat halls j contain prime meats and game, ranging i from capons to boar’s head. Hut these i are bought up for the luxury stores I and hotels and the morning throngs of ! Parisians hurry about filling their baskets with cheaper stuffs, here and at the numerous smaller markets all over the city.

The average French housekeeper figures out exactly what she will need for the day and buys not a fraction more. If all she needs is one egg she will buy only one egg. All her purchases are on this scale but before laying down one franc she may trudge weary kilometres around the entire market and to several shops until she has found the best at the cheapest price.

The characteristic French thrift is a natural result of scrimping made necessary by successions of wars. The masses were forced to make the best of giblets, tripe, lungs and pigs’ hearts, and now there is actually a preference for these parts. Every root, leaf, stem, flower, fruit and nut finds its place in the cuisine. Frogs’ legs came into popularity in France because poverty spurred the Frenchman on in the discovery of new foods. He also made use of the snails that live on the vines of Burgundy.

The French became excellent cooks not despite their limitations but because of them. In making the only food they could get appetizing, they developed an absolute genius for seasoning. It’s impossible for the French housewife to cook unless her kitchen is supplied with nutmeg, cloves, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, mustard, chilies, safj fron, basil, mint, marjoram, peppercorn, anise, sage and mace.

Such Lavish Leftovers

The secret of the delicious aromatic i flavor in soups and sauces is the use of a bouquet of herbs or a bouquet garni, and sometimes it is indicated in a French recipe. To make a bouquet garni, lay upon the left hand a few branches of fresh parsley, well washed, and place upon this a sprig of thyme,

! a sprig of marjoram, a bay leaf, a sprig of basil, a celery leaf, and a small piece ; of cinnamon stick, also a clove of garlic if liked, together with a small blade j of mace and a pepper pod (long pepper). Fold the parsley around the other herbs and tie with strong j cotton into a neat bundle.

The use of every scrap of food adds to the French housewife’s seasoning variations. L'art d'utiliser les restes —creating different and savory dishes out of leftovers of all kinds—is an important part of the tradition of French cooking. For instance, there is nothing around a kitchen that looks less promising than leftover soup meat ! but the French housewife has a way j of handling bouillie which makes a distinguished dish out of it. She achieves this by browning tiny onions in butter and adding them to the boiled beef cut into small pieces. This is seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. A tablespoon of consommé, a glass of dry white wine, garlic, parsley, both well chopped, and a little hutter are

added, and the mixture is cooked for about ten minutes while the sauce reduces to one fourth.

To step up the taste and tenderness of cheap cuts of meat, the French naturally utilize what has always been a cheap commodity in their country —wine. However, now that French wine cooking has been widely adopted, the meats benefiting from it are usually the most expensive; this has given rise to a mistaken notion that only expensive wine is suitable for cooking. Obviously this is not true because a vintage wine is recognized by its distinctive flavor and if the flavor of the wine happens to be recognized in the sauce, then the sauce is not successful. The important thing to remember about the use of wine in cooking is that the wine is cooked. In the process the wine itself is volatized, its flavor blending with those of other ingredients into a harmonious ensemble, which perfumes the dish and fills the kitchen with the aroma of delicious things to come.

Shopping in Paris, I was shocked to find that in the land of Louis Pasteur the milk is not pasteurized. He is remembered chiefly as a defender of wine as a part of man’s healthy diet. Science may have revolutionized everything from transportation to lipstick but it is kept strictly oüt of the French kitchen. At the Cordon Bleu we had no thermometers, no scales, not even a simple measuring cup. When I asked how long lamb cutlets should cook, the answer I got was, “What’s the use of saying cook for twenty minutes? Do I know the quality and tenderness of your meat, the freshness and size of your vegetables?” It was often baffling to work with measurements like a little sugar, a handful of flour, a few eggs, a whisper of onion, a generous sprinkling of brandy but we were constantly told that a recipe is not a prescription but a suggestion. “A great deal depends on expressing your own individuality and imagination.” One afternoon the instructor had me to thank for providing him with the best illustration for this attitude to cooking. Our group was making soufflés.

I had come across a precise recipe in a smart American magazine which I decided to follow. There was a festive atmosphere in the kitchen as one by one the students opened the ovens and brought forth delightful golden souillés, puffed up like chefs’ caps. But when I took out my own it was a flat blacktopped pancake.

Disappointed and confused, I brought over the instructor; he smiled victoriously and called the others around him. “The writer of this recipe,” he explained, “may be a gourmet but he is not a cook; he loves good food and may know how to put words together but definitely not eggs, flour, milk and butter. By learning to think through a recipe, instead of following it slavishly, you would at least be able to spot the inaccuracies in the instructions for making a beautiful dish; you could then rewrite the recipe and turn

out something probably very like what ! the writer ate before describing it.”

All the same I am firmly convinced ! —and this is from Cordon Bleu experiJ ence too—that it is bad policy for a j beginner cook to try anything but j the most exact measurements pos| sible. Actually, experienced cooks acquire a sort of sixth sense regarding measurements out of their experience. But this still leaves plenty of room in ! which the beginner can experiment. I When I feel in a creative mood, I follow the example of most French j cooks and turn to leftovers where the | choice of ingredients is very wide and [ the creative possibilities are unlimited, j

Here is a simple way the Cordon j Bleu taught me to transform leftover j cooked meat into a glamorous banquet j dish. Slice the meat, or mince it, but don’t wet it, and turn it over in hot j fat, spreading on a very little meat j extract to tune up the flavor. Then cover the meat with slices of cooked potato or a heap of creamy mashed potato, and leave it in the oven to j become brown. You’ll get a lovely ; polden brown if, in addition, you cover j the potato with a good sprinkling of j grated cheese. Brighten this effect by ! putting on a few slices of paper thin lemon, a few slices of tomato or unpeeled cucumber or sliced olives to j grill with the potato-cheese. At the last minute, sprinkle on some finely chopped green things like watercress, sorrel or parsley and your artistry night evoke an extra compliment.

It's All in the Sauce

Whenever I particularly enjoyed a dish in a French establishment, I visited the kitchen to speak to the 1 chef and in most cases he gave me the recipe. But I have learned to expect that no matter how closely I may follow it, add or subtract, change or improve, I will rarely succeed in bringing to the table quite the same thing that the French chef made of it. There is hardly any difference between the dishes as far as the basic ingredients are concerned, but the one important difference which no recipe can describe and which raises French cooking to its high peak of excellence is les sauces. French sauces include not only the gravy on the stew and the cream sauce on the cauliflower but also encompass the salad dressings, the melted-butter dressings and other appetite-provoking additions which North Americans do not ordinarily consider to be sauces.

The secret of sauce magic is tasting. ; The chef never measures out ingre; dients according to a formula, drops them into a pot at once and then hopes j for the best. He adds the flavoring j in small amounts and throughout the ¡ cooking process keeps on tasting. He j takes great care in adding the salt and j pepper; the liquid reduces in cooking but not the amount of salt and pepper ¡ put into that liquid, so that the finished dish is bound to be more highly seaj soned than when it started. But to ¡ bring out the flavor properly the right ! quantities must be there at the time of cooking; adding them at the dinner table will not do. For this reason a great chef must have such a refined palate that when he tastes a filet mignon he can count with his tongue the grains of salt used to season it.

He must take as much care of his palate as a singer of his vocal cords; therefore he drinks very little wine, never hard liquor and he never smokes.

Evidence kept piling up at the Cordon Bleu that more than an ocean divides us from France. A girl from Massachusetts raised her lovely hand one day and asked if when the instructor named the ingredients for a dish he would also mention the inter-

national units of vitamins and other food values. The instructor, fiery Raymond Desmeillers, looked quite puzzled and replied, “How should I know, I’m not a doctor! Rut if you want my medical opinion—the healthiest food is the kind which is the best flavored.”

In France a doctor is just a doctor but a chef is an artist. In 1923 the Salon d’Automne, the great, seasonal art show in Paris, officially recognized gastronomy as the ninth art (moving pictures being the eighth). In France, chefs are often more famous than painters, writers or politicians; they have a popular following like bicycle heroes of the Tour de F rance and stars of the screen and stage. The ruban of the Légion d’honneur is the French equivalent of knighthood and is frequently bestowed on deserving chefs. Last year when Gaston Marin retired as chef on the French Line he was decorated with the Légion d’honneur, Croix de guerre and Mérite maritime.

French chefs feel their kinship with fellow artists very strongly—even though one of the most famous, Carême, spoke of sculpture as “one of the branches of pâtisserie.” In Paris alone there are 46,000 painters and the bill for a number of meals in a restaurant is often paid with a picture; some have become quite valuable and some are worth less than their cheap frames. Camille Renault, proprietorchef of Chez Camille Renault owns over 300 paintings of contemporary artists. If you compliment him on his food, he’ll take you upstairs and show you some of the better paintings in his collection. Cafés like the Dome and the Rotonde in Montparnasse proudly exhibit on their walls these blank cheques signed by artists.

After I had been at the Cordon Bleu for a while and was able to make some critical remarks about the cooking to my neighbors in the restaurants, all the barriers that remained standing between the French and myself suddenly dropped. Previously I had tried to get into conversations by saying something about the current performance at the opera; I tried commenting on the bicycle races; I even began to dabble in Existentialism. The response was always very polite but unmistakably cool. But when I opened up with food everyone was anxious to get into the discussion. And during last year’s strikes in Paris there were some nasty clashes but the fighting stopped at midday when the police and the disturbers dispersed for lunch. Grievances were renewed at two o’clock !

After I had learned to make dishes like chestnut soup, croquettes, veal chops and veal stew 1 began to wonder when the Cordon Bleu would teach us to make one of those “complicated” recipes of the French cuisine, the kind with the long and fancy names. I asked Pierre Mengallette, the instructor, and he replied, “Never.” He gave an explanation of the three schools of French cooking. There is haute cuisine (which comprises the renowned recipes of the great chefs), cuisine bourgeoise and peasant—or in other words, classical, family and plain-folk cooking.

Most of our misunderstanding about French cooking, which accounts for the little progress made in its study and practice, arises from the confusion of these divisions. In many cook books the French recipes are an unfortunate jumble of simple dishes and those of the most complex description. What can be more irrational than to give recipes for Prunier’s Lobster à l’Américaine, Flamed Peaches à la Maison Dorée intermixed with those of stewed rabbit, ragout of beef and such dishes? It’s thoughtless to present a housewife with the recherché recipes of a famous

chef because the duties of a chef in a large luxury restaurant or hotel are very different to those of someone cooking en famille.

Peasant or plain-folk cooking consists of les plats régionaux and since the higher classes spring from the local dishes, they are the most basically French. The Cordon Bleu concentrated chiefly on cuisine bourgeoise. In France, haute cuisine is taught in a separate institution, the Ecole Hôtelière de Paris. To be admitted to this school the student must pass a stiff written examination which is about on a par with that of the élite corps of the French Army. The course lasts a minimum of four years and to attend the school a student must have a robust physique, excellent eyesight and a well-developed sense of smell and taste.

Mouth-Watering Onion Soup

The dishes of regional and family cooking are simple and without pretension. It is the sort of cooking North Americans like. It is the kind of food which should be eaten in the home and prepared by mother in her blue apron rather than a $15,000-a-year chef. North Americans once resident in France are ever afterward attacked by a returning longing for onion soup, which even the peasants regard as a cheap peasant dish. Several versions of this soup are known in France but the finest of all, in my opinion, originates in and near Lyons, where onions are esteemed as roses are elsewhere.

An old Lyonese recipe is now yours. In a flameproof three-quart soup casserole melt a half cup of butter and sauté three thinly sliced onions until golden brown and soft. Sprinkle flour over the onions and stir until well blended. Heat two quarts of beef stock (a can of consommé with water will do nicely). Cover and simmer for twenty minutes. Add seasonings—one bay leaf, one teaspoon brown sugar, one-half teaspoon salt, one-quarter teaspoon pepper. Cover and place in oven (300 degrees) for one hour.

Toast eight thick slices of French bread, butter them, and sprinkle thickly with grated Gruyère cheese. Uncover the soup and stir well. Arrange the

toast over the top of the soup and place the casserole in the hot oven (375 degrees) three to four minutes or until the cheese melts. One-half cup of dry white wine added just a few minutes before serving will give the soup a delicate overtone. Bring the casserole at once to the table and serve in hot soup plates. This quantity serves six.

Soup à l'oignon, like the peasants’ snails and frogs’ legs, is now served with ceremony in the finest restaurants. But anyone who has eaten it in Paris knows that it tastes best at a marbletopped table or counter of some little bistro. The reason for this is that a bistro is a tiny restaurant which a couple runs on not much more than a family scale. There are over 8,000 restaurants in Paris and over half of them are bistros; in both cooking and atmosphere every one is different. The bistro being as technologically backward in refrigeration and food storage as the average French family, it is essential that everything be prepared to order. This in turn means that food is freshly bought, freshly cooked and arrives at the table at the pink perfection of succulence. Anyone who has enjoyed some of the delights of this cooking agrees that it is far wiser for the French to linger in the nineteenth century than attempt to mechanize their meals. This is a marvelous attitude for cooking but the French also apply it to industry and agriculture.

The French are creators and much too individualistic for mass-production methods and this more than any other factor accounts for the economic difficulties of this potentially rich country.

Sharing a stove with half a dozen Frenchwomen—and shopping with them and sampling their cooking—I couldn’t help learning a lot about them personally. I no longer feel sorry for the French housewife who spends so much time in the kitchen. She is not lured by dishes which can be most quickly made because cooking is her creative work and not in the same category as dishwashing and making beds. It is an important way to please her husband and she has been brought up to think that pleasing him is her main goal in life. The great compliment to a young girl is not that she

is brilliant or beautiful but that elle plaît (she pleases) and to a middle-aged woman, elle plait encore.

One afternoon a middle-aged Frenchwoman was looking at a recipe for angel cake in a magazine I had received from home. She was shocked when she turned a few pages and came upon an article called, An MD Gives You Key to Happy Marriage; it was illustrated with graphs and statistics and contained a handyto-clip square in which was printed a seven-point summary of instructions. “I suppose if I follow this recipe I’ll look as radiant as the girl on the cover,” she said sardonically. ‘‘Now it’s clear to me why you have so many divorces over there. It’s because you turn to psychologists, psychiatrists and marriage counselors for instructions on love and they also give you precise recipes for marriage.”

The one subject besides cooking on which everyone in France considers himself an expert is love, and this too is an art and not a science. Everyone makes marriage suit his individual taste and the only factors on which everyone agrees is that it requires beaucoup de temps and a lot of imagination. Of course they have their share of problems too but they don’t expect an automatic formula or a bright little gimmick to fix everything up. Anyhow, the French are very thrifty and they would never be so wasteful as to throw out the ingredients or scrap the marriage in order to begin all over again.

And Now—the Omelet!

The last lesson I took at the Cordon Bleu was on egg cookery. We were told there are 685 ways of serving eggs; the instructor outlined a few as he placed a pan on the stove and prepared for the practical demonstration. Then he announced he was going to perform what is considered the most difficult feat of the prande cuisine, which is making a good omelet. He set aside about three tablespoons of butter and out of six eggs and seasoning he prepared a lightly beaten mixture.

In a matter of seconds, not minutes, it was done! The moment he put the butter in the pan and swirled it around quickly he poured in the egg mixture. The moment the eggs were in the pan the edges began to set; immediately he ran a spatula under the centre so that all the uncooked part ran under the cooked. Twice he did this; then he took a hot dish in his left hand, and gently slipped half the omelet onto it and with a deft turn of the right wrist lowered the second half on top of the first. He quickly passed it to the front ro,w of students with a tray of forks and proceeded to make another.

Tasting his omelet I felt I had never tasted omelet before. In France, its native home, the perfect omelet is served baveuse, that is, the interior is semiliquid or creamy. Preparing an omelet is supposed to be the supreme test of any chef. His secrets are: a thick

iron pan should be kept for making omelets only and after use it is never washed, but rubbed over with some clean tissue paper, then with a piece of clean rag. The pan must be left on the fire empty for a good quarter of an hour in order that it be so hot that the piece of butter you put in smokes at once. Once made, an omelet must not and cannot wait, not even a minute. But as the instructor passed the last omelet to the third row, all women, he said, ‘‘It’s not the eggs and the butter and the salt that goes into the omelet, it’s the love that goes in.”

‘‘This,” he added with a knowing look, ‘‘is the greatest secret of French cooking.” it