High Bonnet: A Novel of Epicurean Adventures (Modern Library Food Series)by Idwal Jones
The chef's towering white toque, the high bonnet, is the mark of achievement to which every young sauce-stirrer aspires. Idwal Jones's urbane novel follows the young provincial Jean as he attempts to master culinary art at the hands of Paris's most distinguished chefs. Jean will win his high bonnet and the royal bearing that accompanies it - but not until he's had… See more details below
The chef's towering white toque, the high bonnet, is the mark of achievement to which every young sauce-stirrer aspires. Idwal Jones's urbane novel follows the young provincial Jean as he attempts to master culinary art at the hands of Paris's most distinguished chefs. Jean will win his high bonnet and the royal bearing that accompanies it - but not until he's had many outrageous adventures, in the kitchen and out.
High Bonnet is a sly send-up of the seething politics, subtle artistry, and enslavement to the palate that constitute life behind the kitchen's swinging doors. First published in 1945 and out of print for more than four decades, High Bonnet will delight readers of Anthony Bourdain's bestselling Kitchen Confidential or of Ludwig Bemelmans's Hotel Splendide.
Did you hear the one about the confiseur whose nougat was so highly prized? This man, who loved to cook and loved to fish, became a legend the day he hooked a trout and flicked it through the air, through the door of the local tavern, right into a pot of court-bouillon simmering on the stove. Wasn't that a way to get his truite en bleu! And did you hear the one about the young cooks who devised a Pleistocene dinner, complete with fossil moss, to celebrate the unearthing of an ancient haunch of musk ox? These and many other shaggy-chef stories are the heart of Idwal Jones's novel, which follows young Jean-Marie (nephew of the legendary confiseur) from Provence to cooking school and the attainment of his chef's toque, or "high bonnet."
Jean-Marie's journey is the mere skeleton of a plot on which the book turns -- it is truly incidental to the wonderful obsession with food that all the characters share. Even while Jean-Marie and his compadres are planning their Pleistocene dinner, they are doing so over jambalaya, salad, and brandy pudding, followed by a delicious eau de vie and strong coffee. When they leave the kitchen to dine out, they pass the time telling chef stories, including the one about the man who was once "ruined by a dish." It makes for delicious reading.
High Bonnet is another volume in the Modern Library Food Series. For more fun-with-chef books, check out George Orwell's classic Down and Out in London and Paris and Anthony Bourdain's modern classic Kitchen Confidential, as well as Ludwig Bemelmans's Hotel Splendide and Nicholas Freeling's The Kitchen. (Ginger Curwen)
Read an Excerpt
It Was the Medlars
The vender was again passing Xavier's café on the Toulon wharf with a basket of medlars on his head, a tuneful cry in his throat. The season being advanced, the fruit was dark-gold, pulpy, deliciously overripe.
"On this voyage to Genoa, Jean-Marie," the master of the Piccolo was saying, as he filled my glass, "you will be first officer. Bene?"
It was high rank for a youth just turned eighteen. The master was a Sicilian, gravely kind, with the petrel's luck in a hurricane, and he had taught me to navigate by thumb, eye, and quadrant. No longer was I a cabin boy. I could now tread the deck of the Piccolo with a franc's worth of gilt on my cap. There she was at her berth, rocking and jouncing in the tail end of a mistral, trim in the bright sunlight, and reeking of oil, wine barrels, and the woodsy smell of cork.
The vender sang out his wares. The wind came laden with the odor of them, and I thought of the medlar tree in my uncle's garden, and fell a-longing.
"For a day or two I should like to be home." I pointed. "That fruit-"
The master turned his head. "Medlars! And it is April already!" With elbows on the table he cupped his stubbled blue jowl in his hands and sighed dreamily, staring at the basket. "And at Palermo the old Suora Micaela goes crying her medlars. 'Nespole! Che belle nespole!' Ah, the indigo sea of the Concha d'Oro, and the sherbet we bought at the carts to eat with the Suora's fruit!"
The next minute we were eating medlars, which is an art when done properly. You pinch off the bud, gouge down to the seeds, then tear away the peel, and pop the medlar into your mouth. The three lucent seeds drop out easily like bullets. And you wash the pulp down with a gulp of Muscatel that bears the Tuscan mark on a black label.
By the time we had finished, the wharf and the Piccolo were wrapped in blackness, and fat Xavier in his cave back of the shop was fusing oil and wine in a great burst of flames. The incense of saffron was as magisterial as a fugue played on brass sirens. Xavier waddled over to us with the dish. Since it included young lobsters from the Porquerolles, and a good-sized rascasse, we prolonged our dinner until midnight.
"The next voyage, then," said the master when he saw me off on the autobus for the mountains above Nice.
"To the next!"
The vast Ajax-like arm that had conquered storms on the Mediterranean sketched a wobbly farewell in the obscurity of the arch. And Xavier, like a wine tun swathed in a sheet, waved a farewell like a benediction, as well he might, for I had spent a month's wages.
I never returned to the sea, nor ever saw the Piccolo again. It was the medlars.
Meet the Author
Idwal Jones was named Cordon Bleu Chef of the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles. He was the author of the novels The Vineyard, Whistler's Van, and China Boy and Other Tales. He died in 1964.
Ruth Reichl, editor of the Modern Library Food series, is the author of the bestselling Tender at the Bone and the forthcoming Comfort Me with Apples. Formerly the food critic of The New York Times, she is now editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.
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