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A CHEF'S TALE by Pierre Franey


A Memoir of Food, France and America

by Pierre Franey with Richard Flaste & Bryan Miller

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-394-58600-X
Publisher: Knopf

 Franey, recently retired from his New York Times and syndicated food column, looks back with clarity, precision, and considerable charm on his Burgundy childhood in a food-centered family; his rigorous training in Paris eateries (after leaving home and school forever at 14); and his American career as a French chef making his name in restaurant kitchens, newspaper columns, cookbooks, and television series. ``Anyone who has ever tried to cook well knows that about 50 percent of the job is focus, the willingness to concentrate,'' Franey notes. His own ability to focus on the details of food preparation combines with the specificity of his recollections to make his memoir solidly evocative. Still fresh in his mind's eye, it seems, are the fish he caught and cooked for family lunches when he was eight and even the ingenious devices he and his friends used to catch their prey. He recalls the elaborate dishes (including a boned, stuffed turbot soufflÇ) that, as a teenage apprentice, he ``felt I had to master if I was ever going to be anybody.'' And he still remembers his ``effervescent elation'' on entering New York harbor as a fairly lowly member of the hierarchy tapped to staff the French pavilion's kitchen at the 1939 World's Fair. Franey's independent nature informs his story's more dramatic moments: his surprisingly successful defiance of orders in the US Army during World War II; his resignation, after 20 years at New York's regal Pavillon restaurant, following a dispute with owner/manager Henri SoulÇ; his painful split with New York Times food man Craig Claiborne after years as an uncredited partner in Claiborne's restaurant reviews and recipe columns. (``I think about him all the time, even now.'') Franey has little to say about his marriage or his personal life in America, if he has had one apart from food and cooking. But his memoir of kitchens past is enlivened with anecdotes and personality sketches and peppered with authoritative parenthetical tips on culinary procedure. Unlike his more recent, eclectic ``60- Minute Gourmet'' entries, the 100 appended recipes, many tied to events reported in the book, are mostly French, though trimmed for current lower-fat standards. And he explains how the others are grounded in the cuisine he knows and does best. (Book-of-the-Month- Club Alternate Selection)