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3. Dishes for Artists

BEFORE coming to Paris I was interested in food but not in doing any cooking. When in 1908 I went to live with Gertrude Stein at the rue de Fleurus she said we would have American food for Sunday-evening supper, she had had enough French and Italian cooking; the servant would be out and I should have the kitchen to myself. So I commenced to cook the simple dishes I had eaten in the homes of the San Joaquin Valley in California -- fricasseed chicken, corn bread, apple and lemon pie. Then when the pie crust received Gertrude Stein's critical approval I made mince-meat and at Thanksgiving we had a turkey that Helene the cook roasted but for which I prepared the dressing. Gertrude Stein not being able to decide whether she preferred mushrooms, chestnuts or oysters in the dressing, all three were included. The experiment was successful and frequently repeated; it gradually entered into my repertoire, which expanded as I grew experimental and adventurous.


One day when Picasso was to lunch with us I decorated a fish in a way that I thought would amuse him. I chose a fine striped bass and cooked it according to a theory of my grandmother who had no experience in cooking and who rarely saw her kitchen but who had endless theories about cooking as well as about many other things. She contended that a fish having lived its life in water, once caught, should have no further contact with the element in which it had been born and raised. She recommended that it be roasted or poached in wine or cream or butter. So I made a court-bouillon of dry white wine with whole peppers, salt, a laurel leaf, [1] a sprig of thyme, a blade of mace, an onion with a clove stuck in it, a carrot, a leek and a bouquet of fines herbes. This was gently boiled in the fish-kettle for 1/2 hour and then put aside to cool. Then the fish was placed on the rack, the fish-kettle covered and slowly brought to a boil and the fish poached for 20 minutes. Taken from the fire it was left to cool in the court-bouillon. It was then carefully drained, dried and placed on the fish platter. A short time before serving it I covered the fish with an ordinary mayonnaise and, using a pastry tube, decorated it with a red mayonnaise, not coloured with catsup -- horror of horrors -- but with tomato paste. Then I made a design with sieved hard-boiled eggs, the whites and the yolks apart, with truffles and with finely chopped fines herbes. I was proud of my chef d'oeuvre when it was served and Picasso exclaimed at its beauty. But, said he, should it not rather have been made in honour of Matisse than of me.

Picasso was for many years on a strict diet; in fact he managed somehow to continue it through the World War and the Occupation and, characteristically, only relaxed after the Liberation. Red meat was proscribed but that presented no difficulties for in those days beef was rarely served by the French except the inevitable roast fillet of beef with sauce Madere. Chicken too was not well considered, though a roast leg of mutton was viewed with more favour. Or we would have a tender loin of veal preceded by a spinach souffle, spinach having been highly recommended by Picasso's doctor and a souffle being the least objectionable way of preparing it. Could it not be made more interesting by adding a sauce. But what sauce would Picasso's diet permit. I would give him a choice. The souffle would be cooked in a well-buttered mould, placed in boiling water and when sufficiently cooked turned into a hollow dish around which in equal divisions would be placed a Hollandaise sauce, a cream sauce and a tomato sauce. It was my hope that the tri-coloured sauces would make the spinach souffle look less nourishing. Cruel enigma, said Picasso, when the souffle was served to him.

The only painter who ever gave me a recipe was Francis Picabia and though it is only a dish of eggs it merits the name of its creator.


Break 8 eggs into a bowl and mix them well with a fork, add salt but no pepper. Pour them into a saucepan -- yes, a saucepan, no, not a frying pan. Put the saucepan over a very, very low flame, keep turning them with a fork while very slowly adding in very small quantities 1/2 lb. butter -- not a speck less, rather more if you can bring yourself to it. It should take 1/2 hour to prepare this dish. The eggs of course are not scrambled but with the butter, no substitute admitted, produce a suave consistency that perhaps only gourmets will appreciate.

When the Germans in 1940 were advancing we were at Bilignin and had no precise information concerning their progress through France. Could one believe the radio. We didn't. We heard cannon-fire. Then it grew louder. The next morning dressing at the window I saw German planes firing on French planes, not more than two miles away. This decided me to act in the way any forethoughtful housekeeper should. We would take the car into Belley and make provision for any eventuality as I had done that April morning of 1906 when the fire in San Francisco had broken out after the earthquake. Then I had been able to secure two hams and my father had brought back four hundred cigarettes. With these one might, he said, not only exist but be able to be hospitable. So at Belley we bought two hams and hundreds of cigarettes and some groceries -- the garden at Bilignin would provide fruit and vegetables. The main road was filled with refugees, just as it had been in 1914 and in 1917. Everything that was happening had already been experienced, like a half-awakening from nightmare. The firing grew louder and then the first armoured car flew past. Crushed, we took the little dust road back to Bilignin. The widow Roux, who for many summers had been our devoted servant and later during the Occupation proved to be our loyal friend, opened the big iron gates to let the car through and we unloaded the provisions. What were we to do with the two enormous uncooked hams. In what could we cook them and in what way so that they would keep indefinitely. We decided upon Eau-de-Vie de Marc for which the Bugey is well known. It seemed madly extravagant but we lived on those two hams during the long lean winter that followed and well into the following spring, and the Eau-de-Vie de Marc in which they were cooked, carefully bottled and corked, toned up winter vegetables. We threw nothing, but absolutely nothing away, living through a war in an occupied country.

The Baronne Pierlot, our neighbour, was chatelaine at Beon, some ten miles away. One day, before the war, we had driven over to a goute [2] to which she had bidden us. It was being served in the summer dining-room whose windows and door gave on to a vast terrace. In the foreground was the marsh of the Rhone Valley lately reclaimed by the planting of Lombardy poplars, to the south the mountains of the Grande Chartreuse, to the left in the distance the French Alps and over it all the Tiepolo blue sky. The table in the dining-room set for twenty or more was elaborately decorated with pink roses. Madame Pierlot's observant eye passed quickly and lightly over each object on the table. I heard her tell the valet-de-chambre to ask the cook for the piece-de-resistance and to place it in the empty space waiting for it in the centre of the table. But Marc did not leave the room, he merely took a cake from the serving table and put it in the empty space. There was evidently some contretemps. I was enlightened when I caught knowing looks passing between Gertrude Stein and one of the daughters-in-law of the house. It was Gertrude Stein's white poodle, a very neat thief, who had done away with whatever had been in the centre of the table. Later when Madame Pierlot, to show that she had forgiven the dog, threw him a piece of cake we could not protest that it was against our principles to reward a misdeed.

Madame Pierlot was an old friend of Paul Claudel and there had been a long controversial correspondence over the years, largely on religious subjects; Claudel a devout Catholic, Madame Pierlot not. Bernard Fay said that she had been converted once and forever by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. She told Gertrude Stein one day that Claudel's letters were beginning to bore her and she was equally bored by having to answer him. She had written to him saying that they would no longer defend their opinions, that they would no longer write to each other, but they would remain the same good old friends they had always been. Claudel could not resist having the last word. He wrote that in spite of her continuously avowed unbelief he was certain that when he died he would find her in Heaven welcoming him with arms extended, to which she replied -- Who tells you that I am to die before you.

If Madame Pierlot was known as an exquisite hostess it was not only for her wit and charm or for her impeccable taste in choosing her guests and her menus, but also for the care with which her old cook, Perrine, prepared the menus. Madame Pierlot told me that when she was engaging her to come to be her cook she asked her if she knew how to prepare several complicated dishes which she mentioned. She saw that Perrine had had a large experience. As she was well recommended, I decided, Madame Pierlot told me, to engage her, but I told her that it was on the condition that she would forget everything she knew and follow the recipes and the instructions I would give her.

Our enchanting old friend was as original in her housekeeping as in everything else. Long ago the Figaro which was then the newspaper read by the fashionable world asked well-known society women to contribute recipes which were to be printed in a special column. When Madame Pierlot was asked to be one of the contributors she sent the recipe for


A surgeon living in the provinces, as fond of good cheer as he was learned, invented this recipe which we acquired by bribing his cook. No leg of venison can compare with a simple leg of mutton prepared in the following manner. Eight days in advance you will cover the leg of mutton with the marinade called Baume Samaritain, composed of wine -- old Burgundy, Beaune or Chambertin -- and virgin olive oil. Into this balm to which you have already added the usual condiments of salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, beside an atom of ginger root, put a pinch of cayenne, a nutmeg cut into small pieces, a handful of crushed juniper berries and lastly a dessertspoon of powdered sugar (effective as musk in perfumery) which serves to fix the different aromas. Twice a day you will turn the gigot. Now we come to the main point of the preparation. After you have placed the gigot in the marinade you will arm yourself with a surgical syringe of a size to hold 1/2 pint which you will fill with 1/2 cup of cognac and 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice. Inject the contents of the syringe into the fleshy part of the gigot in three different spots. Refill the syringe with the same contents and inject into the gigot twice more. Each day you will fill the syringe with the marinade and inject the contents into the gigot. At the end of the week the leg of mutton is ready to be roasted; perfumed with the condiments and the spices, completely permeated by the various flavours, it has been transfused into a strange and exquisite venison. Roast and serve with the usual venison sauce to which has been added just before serving 2 tablespoons of the blood of a hare. [3]

Everyone thought that the syringe was a whimsy, that Madame Pierlot was making mock of them. Not at all. Years later I found it in that great collection of French recipes, Bertrand Guegan's Le Grand Cuisinier Francais. The Baronne Pierlot's recipe is classified, it has entered into the Grande Cuisine Francaise.



1. The leaf must come from Apollo's Laurel (Laurus Nobilis), better known outside France as the bay.

2. Here, a lavish afternoon tea-party.

3. A marinade is a bath of wine, herbs, oil, vegetables, vinegars and so on, in which fish or meat destined for particular dishes repose for specified periods and acquire virtue.

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