Sunday In Cafe Duex Margot

It used to be that a cook would wander into the garden and select whatever was ready to be picked and make a dish from it. They would separate the vegetable from the earth, inspect it closely and inhale its essence. They were intimate with their ingredients.

So, when you ate their dish, you weren’t just sampling their cooking skills; you were also tasting their ability to grow a healthy garden and select vegetables at just the right time. People appreciated the process that went into the dish, along with the dish itself because making good food was a difficult pursuit.

Today, if you made, say, a cream of tomato soup, modern food production would make it infinitely easier: you buy the tomatoes and the cream at the grocery store. And while your family might be impressed with your soup’s homemade qualities, we’ve lost the appreciation for the process. It’s easier than ever to make good food. Not so much in the 1800’s.

I recently made my family a from-scratch French meal that consisted of six dishes that took me days to prepare, even without having to milk the cow or bake the bread myself. My goal was to teach my grandsons, aged ten and twelve, the art of fine dining and to expand their horizons by trying new dishes that didn’t come from a drive-thru window.

I told them there were just two rules: the first was they had to try everything. The second was if they didn’t like something, they were to leave it on their plate without vocalizing their distaste. No yelling, “Yuck, I don’t like this.”

The first course was a cream of cauliflower soup, made from boiling cauliflower and potatoes in chicken broth, which were then pureed in the blender, and then seasoned. One grandson liked it, the other didn’t, but just as he had been asked, he didn’t express his opinion.

Next, braised leeks marinated overnight in a vinaigrette. No one cared for this beyond my daughter, and that was fine. The goal was to get them all to try new things and to learn to taste. After the leeks came a dish that was universally loved around the table: potato dauphinoise, which is sliced potatoes bathed and softened in simmering cream, then layered and baked in a casserole dish with Gruyere cheese, the cream, and a dash of nutmeg. This is a dish that could make you cry with appreciation.

Then, a break before the main course, which was steak frites, which is pan-seared steak and French fries, which any young man can appreciate, especially after being forced to try a braised leek.

Dessert was chocolate cake with a layer of white chocolate ganache in the middle.

One of my grandsons, aged ten, agreed to be my waiter, and he played the role like Marlon Brando, complete with a French accent (which sounded more Italian, really) and a towel draped over his arm. After each dish, he’d bring out the next course, and announce the name of the dish as best as he could, reading from a menu I’d printed out. He was the star of dinner, although the chocolate cake was a close second.

Maybe this all sounds over the top, but I write so much about nutrition and the corruption of food, and about how our children are growing up without culture or an understanding of the world around them beyond their phones. So I decided to stop complaining and actually do my part to add something more to the lives of the people around me.

Maybe it’s no longer important to know which fork is a salad fork and which fork is an entree fork or that the first thing you do when you sit at a table is put your napkin on your lap. But grandparents are charged with passing something of themselves along, whether it’s the love of a sports team or hobby, a love for food, or caring about manners. Grandparents can be powerful people in the life of a child. My husband and I often talk about what our grandparents meant to us.

So went a Sunday at Cafe Deux Margot, where cream soups, strange vegetables and lots of forks made an appearance at our humble table. It was quite a day, made all the more special by waiter and Maître d’ Joey, who never saw a role he didn’t love to play.

I hope they never forget it. It was an afternoon for the ages.


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