A French culinary maestro, Gaston Lenôtre passed away today at the age of 88. He began cooking at 13 and had a grand good life with many noteworthy accomplishments. After finding much success with his first upscale bakery in Normandy, he opened another (and then many others) in Paris, and branched out into deluxe catering. Later outposts included a pâtisserie in (sacre bleu!) France’s first shopping mall.
Universally respected, he founded a cooking school, l’Ecole Lenôtre in 1971, which professionals and amateurs flooded to. His mother, Éléonore, was one of the first professional women chefs in France and cooked for the Rothschild family. His father, also a chef, worked at the Grand Hotel in Paris. His son founded and runs the The Culinary Institute Alain & Marie LeNôtre.
I’ve had a close relationship with Lenôtre since 1979. Okay...well, actually...only with his recipes, when his Ice Creams and Candies book was first published. It has been in my kitchen since then and I really do feel his hand on every page. Lenôtre insisted that great results come from using fresh ingredients of the highest quality. Plus, his cute grandfatherly picture on the cover didn’t hurt.
In particular, his 2½ page vanilla ice cream recipe became a touchstone for my early ice cream ventures. Whichever recipe I use, I always refer back to his method, which isn’t revolutionary, it’s just perfect.
He guided me for the first time in steeping freshly ground coffee beans in milk and sugar for the fine base of a Glace Fin Moka or coffee ice cream. Remember, this was when Starbucks was still only in Seattle's Pike Place Market and we weren’t all crazed by intense coffee cravings.