Many people in the Chicago area will remember my father Réal well. He was the longtime director of the Alliance Française. A wonderful gregarious man, very gifted at public speaking who absolutely loved food. There are two things I did not inherit from his set of genes. The first is the gift of public speaking. To speak publicly at my father’s level is an art form. He was brilliant. He could say one thing and literally mean another. I can remember one speech he gave while mad at me. He wove in some fatherly advice and a healthy dose of discipline. Not a single person in the crowd realized it. People were clapping and cheering. I was getting scolded publicly. The second was his cooking gene. Very sad about the first one. Positively giddy about the second. Quite frankly, the man could not cook at all. Or for those who knew my father well, his cooking was ‘god awful’ as he was fond of saying. I think my sister Anne inherited that gene. Thankfully my cooking gene came directly from Provence via my mother….
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys (chefs)
Don’t let ’em pick guitars (knives) or drive (cook on) them old trucks (ranges)
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys (chefs)
‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone
Even with someone they love
~ Ed and Patsy Bruce
I always feared Beau would follow my flour dusted footsteps into the kitchen. It’s not any kind of life anyone should wish upon their offspring, especially ones they love. That might sound a dire proclamation coming from a guy who spent over half his lifetime sweating in hot kitchens pretending to be a Chef. Cooking professionally is a hard knocks life riddled with unimaginable strife I would not wish upon anyone….
Many years ago I graduated from the prestigious New England Culinary Institute run by Michel LeBorgne, a hard nosed French Chef from Northern France. Like every great Chef before him, and probably every one since, Chef LeBorgne had his aphorisms we lived our lives by. They were repeatedly drummed into our thick skulls as we chopped vegetables, sauteed fish and made stocks. Every one growled required the standard ‘oui Chef” shouted back in unison like raw recruits at boot camp. Most were modified from the classic themes of how older generations had it much harder than us young punks. ‘We were so poor as apprentices, we only had one pair of shoes between the two of us” or “I used to walk to the restaurant uphill both ways.” The one that stuck and became part of my own repertoire was “I lost my first million in the garbage can”. That line inspired me throughout my career and helped maintain very low food costs and run a tight ship. Even now, decades later I am still guided by that principal….
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust
I want to express thanks to all the people in my life that helped get me to this point, even if kicking and screaming was involved on my part. I would be remiss if I did not thank my beautiful wife and partner in life, Lisa, who has been the sun nurturing my soul with her wisdom and encouragement. With her I have shared some of the best moments of my life and hope to share in many, many more. My little son Beaumont who’s inquisitiveness and true joy of life has retaught lessons that I have long forgotten or buried beneath the dust and cobwebs of being an adult. He has shown me that children are often more wise than their elders. I thank my mother and father for not only the obvious of bringing me into this world, but for sharing their passion for culture and gastronomy. It because of who they were that I am what I am. The picture below sits on my desk and fills my heart with untold happiness to see my folks at a very happy moment of their lives.
I want to thank my step father Karl Fritz, sister Anne, Joan and Gary Verne all for different reasons. I thank all the sous chefs I have ever been blessed to work with; Jason and Doug for many crazy times in New York living the dream. I thank Dave “the Animal” in PEI for an unbridled joy, fire and an intensity he brings to the kitchen elevating everyone and everything around him. I seriously walk in the kitchen every single day trying just to be a bit like him. I thank Beau Mac for looking long and hard and finding me in my witness relocation program far from the ranges, hiding among 10,000 gallon fermenting tanks at Bob and Claudia’s amazing winery in Northern California. His passion has relight the fire that glows white hot in my heart today. Pay it forward… Pay it back… I should probably thank all my mentors who’s love for cooking and kicking my ass on a daily basis got me to stand before the stage on which I am faced. There were many, but most notably, Michel Leborgne, Michel Martinez, Louis Szathmary and Franklin Biggs. These guys were legends in my my formative years and still hold a special place in my heart. In adding to them I must thank Joel Robuchon who let me do a short stage while on vacation in 1996. It is amazing how much one’s life can be upended in such a short amount of time. Going further down the culinary road I must be thankful to all the great Chefs who have lived before… They carried the torch, le feu sacre, forward throughout history and defined our culture and what distinguishes us from other animals. Without the greats like Careme, Garlin, Dubois, Nignon, Escoffier, Point… where would we be today?
So on this beautifully warm February day, I am thankful for so much. A special thanks to Lee Morcus for putting together a wild collection of characters who will people Figue, the latest greatest Mediterranean restaurant. It will be one hell of a ride!