My most memorable meal: No. 16

When the king’s chef cooked for me

James Bannerman March 2 1957
My most memorable meal: No. 16

When the king’s chef cooked for me

James Bannerman March 2 1957

When the king’s chef cooked for me

My most memorable meal: No. 16

James Bannerman

The meal I remember best was cooked for me by a fat old man in a village called Meounes, near the seaport of Toulon in southern France. His name was Trotobas, and he owned a hotel so small and humble I was astonished when he invited me to come into the back room and take a glass of absinthe with him while we discussed what I was going to have for dinner. But what astonished me even more was the photograph on a little table in a corner of the room. It showed a bearded gentleman in tweeds, who’d inscribed it to his dear Trotobas and signed it simply, “Edward, R.I.” Yes, Trotobas said, that was King Edward VII, for whom he had cooked at Buckingham Palace.

recalls

JAMES BANNERMAN IS A WRITER, CRITIC AND RADIO-TV PANELIST.

Then the old man dropped the pretence of discussing my dinner and told me firmly what he’d decided I was to have. There would be simple hors d’œuvres: cold

cauliflower with a vinegar sauce, and a few paper-thin slices of Westphalian ham. There would be crayfish, from a horse trough he’d fitted up as a kind of crayfish para-

dise to keep them not merely alive but happy until the time came to cook them. Crayfish, he said, had to die happy to be fit to eat. As to the rest of the dinner he preferred, on second thought, to say nothing, and to surprise me with it.

When it was finally served the crayfish came drenched in a marvelous tomato sauce fragrant with herbs, in a huge bowl like a washbasin. After them there were roast squab pigeons basted in brandy, garnished with peeled grapes and stuffed with truffles and giblets. Then asparagus with velvety, foaming Hollandaise sauce. Next a rum omelet of unimaginable lightness and savor. And at the end there was country cheese and fresh bread to eat with it. There had been dry white wine with the crayfish, burgundy with the pigeon, champagne with the asparagus, and Curaçao with the coffee.

For all this, old Trotobas charged me the equivalent of one dollar —explaining he’d enjoyed making the meal so much he wouldn't have charged anything if he hadn’t felt my pride would be hurt, it