Thursday, January 8, 2009

I'll Miss Gaston Lenôtre

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.

I also appreciated that anything that carried Gaston Lenôtre’s name would not only be delicious, but beautifully made. It may be time to get out the ice cream machine and revel in the classic confections that still speak to me after three decades.


DebCarol said...

A beautiful tribute. I'm sure his wish would have been to live on through his wonderful recipes in kitchens around the world.

Sue said...

Thanks, Deb, I appreciate it. And that's a really nice thought.

Lys said...

With the plethora of cookbooks on the market, sometimes its the ones that are tried and true that are the best...

Tom said...

I was in France and saw the TV coverage of his death -- it was a lot like the coverage here when Julia Child died. Even in a country where they crank out super chefs every day, he was truly special. Although he was one of the first big-names to go chain commercial, one commentator mentioned that in doing so he set a minimum standard for patisseries in many parts of France. I love the shops and the book -- and he seemed like a fun guy, too.

Sue said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Many of my favorites are from the 70's!

Bienvenue, Tom, you lucky traveler,
THAT is so interesting. I'm so glad to hear how reverently he was covered in France.

It was always my impression too, that, in any of the shops with his name on the door, you always got quality.

Emily said...

Very nice tribute, and that looks like great cookbook.

Sue said...

Thank you.
Em, take a look at it if you ever see it.

Anonymous said...

Gaston Lenotre was my father ,but i came to accept him calling thousand of others" mes petits, mes enfants".I witness ,he was an incredible artist,leader of people and entrepreneur.I worked with him 2o years,including as a baker and a cook.I am following his great principles in my culinary Institute in Houston (a junior college).Thank you for your tribute.My wife Marie and i hold his hand in his last hours.He had and shared a great life.He is resting in heaven.God bless you.

Sue said...

Alain (I'm assuming),
Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I know it must be so sad to lose your father. But it sounds like you know how much he was admired. What a wonderful thing that you're carrying on his work and teaching young people the principles that made him great.

My very best regards to you and your family.