Blanche in the Kitchen
after 20 years as the eminence grise at the Fountain restaurant
in the Four Seasons Hotel, Jean-Marie Lacroix announced his retirement,
the community was desolate. Despite the fact that the then sous-chef,
now exec, Martin Hamman, did, and still does, admirable work in
the kitchen, Lacroix was a great favorite with even those people
who claim that they don't eat French food. We weren't unhappy
too long, for an announcement came from The
Rittenhouse Hotel that they had made a deal with Lacroix to
completely redesign and run their dining roomit would be
entirely his. As
David Benton, the general manager says:
"Lacroix was given absolute freedom with all of his ideas,
and he had a hand in everything, from the kitchen design to the
flowers. This empowers the chef and raises the level of the whole
Indeed, when I meet Lacroix in his glorious pale green and yellow
dining room, he is picking dead leaves off of one of the plants.
A soft-spoken, almost diffident man, with white hair and blue
eyes, he is obviously thrilled with his eponymous restaurant.
Keyser: Maître, when I first reviewed your new restaurant
I said, "You could never convince me that Lacroix was anywhere
near retiring. This venture is that of a young, eager chef, bursting
with ideas, who is yet to hit his stride. " Was I right?
Lacroix: Oh yes, I was, as you say, bursting with ideas, and
The Rittenhouse gave me carte blanche to do what I wished. I always
wanted to design my own kitchen, and had an idea for a menu that
would allow the diner to create his own menu, and spend less money
while doing it. I am free to experiment, so my diners can choose
their meal of three courses for $55, four courses for $65 and
five courses for $75. They can select any dishes and have them
in any order they wish.
When you say you are experimenting, are there things in your kitchen
now that were never there before?
Well, I am doing foam, which I like, and am using a great many
Asian spices, of course, but North African seasonings interest
me the most at the moment. Also, we find that more people are
interested in cheese now, so we pay particular attention to the
Maxine: I believe that French chefs, with their classical
training and discipline, are the backbone of our cuisine. Is this
true of any other group? Do you agree?
Yes, you can only start to experiment when you have the traditional
skills to work with. French training is essential, even the Italian
chefs know this. Here, we send young chefs to live and work in
France for two weeks every year. We have a European tradition
in our kitchen.
Are you feeling "the French backlash" since the Iraqi
People don't complain about the food, but many say they will not
drink French wine. I don't argue with them-we serve them a different
I've known you for some time, but I don't know where you come
I was born in Epinal, in the Franche-Comte region, and was trained
at Thonon les Bains. I cooked all over France, Switzerland, England,
Scotland and Canada, until I came to the Fountain in 1983.
When you are in France, where do like to go the most?
Oh, I like the small, more rustic restaurants that a number of
my friends own. But, I do like to go to Gagnaire as well.
Ah, Gagnaire is not shabby. Where do you go on your time off here?
I go around to see the other French chefs-we are all friends and
we eat together. I also go to New York to visit my friends there.
Do you see any trends developing for the future?
Not really. We are all aware of the global cuisine-Italian, Latino,
Asian-and we observe all these influences, and we cook seasonally
and buy locally whenever possible. Maybe, I'd like to revive some
of the old dishes-lately, I'm thinking about quenelles of pike
Let me know when you put them on the menu!