Read an Excerpt
Remembering Bill Neal Favorite Recipes from a Life in Cooking
By Moreton Neal
The University of North Carolina Press Copyright © 2004 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.
Chapter One La Résidence
Appetizers and Soups
Hors d'Oeuvres Variés Platter
Artichokes with Tomato Fennel Sauce
Asparagus with Rosemary Mayonnaise
Asparagus and Shrimp Dijonnaise
Beet and Endive Salad
Gnocchi Verde with 2 Sauces
Chicken Liver Mousse
Apple Celeriac Soup
Mushroom Soup Forestière
Cream of Onion Soup
Onion Soup Lyonnaise
La Résidence House Vinaigrette
Vegetables and Side Dishes
Asparagus with Brown Butter and Capers
Broccoli or Corn Timbales
Grated Carrot Salad
La Res Potatoes
Timbale of Spinach and Mint with Fresh Tomato Sauce
White Bean Casserole
White Bean Purée
Mountain Trout à la Bonne Femme
Trout Rolls with Ginger-Mushroom Filling
Filet Mignon with Composed Butter
Boeuf en Daube Provençal
Calf's Liver with Avocado
Chicken Stuffed with Spinach and Cheese
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Duck with Red Wine and Shallots
Duck Breasts with Sauce Carroll
Grilled Leg of Lamb
Braised Pork with Bourbon and Prunes
Sweetbreads with Capers and Brown Butter
Veal Chops Italienne
Veal Kidneys with Mushrooms
Queen of Sheba Cake
Honey Chocolate Sauce
Espresso Ice Cream
Fig Ice Cream with Port
Galliano Chocolate-Chunk Ice Cream
Ginger Ice Cream
Honey Thyme Ice Cream
Grand Marnier Sabayon
Passion Fruit Sorbet
Fresh Fruit with Mint and Lillet
Cocktail La Res
La Résidence Coffee Blend
La Résidence was one of the first gourmet restaurants to come on the scene, and people in the area who had traveled to other parts of the country responded enthusiastically. The Neals really elevated the appreciation of fine food in the Triangle. -Marilyn Spencer, News and Observer
Bill Neal and I first bumped into each other, auspiciously enough, in French class when we were both students at Duke. He was hard to miss in the baggy red and yellow Hawaiian bathing suit he wore to every class-a ploy to catch my attention, he later claimed. It worked brilliantly! After we started dating, we discovered that cooking was a common interest. Almost from the beginning of our relationship, Bill and I whipped up dishes together in my dormitory's crudely equipped kitchen. We also loved to dine out, exploring the local culinary scene. But it wasn't until after we graduated and married that the restaurant bug bit us.
Bill was first introduced to restaurant work during his junior year at Duke. To earn a little pocket money, he hitchhiked from campus to his first serving job at the Country Squire Restaurant between Chapel Hill and Durham. The popular steak house exposed that country boy to the world of college town "fine dining." The Squire's guests sipped Mateus rosé and Taylor cold duck as they consumed fat wedges of iceberg lettuce slathered in sinfully thick blue cheese dressing. After the salad course, not just baked but "twice baked" potatoes appeared next to huge slabs of beef, all served on tables set with blue-and-white-checked tablecloths and napkins to match. This was a far cry from Red Bridges Barbecue in Shelby, Bill's family's favorite supper destination.
It didn't take long for Bill to notice that a waiter's personality could enhance the customers' dining experience and that the "charm factor" made a big difference in the amount of a waiter's earnings. Not surprisingly, Bill's tips were huge.
The two of us enjoyed spending his tip money on our own Mateus at the legendary Danziger family's flagship restaurant in Chapel Hill, the Villa Teo, our very favorite dining spot. This eccentric Franklin Street edifice offered the closest thing to French cuisine, then called "Continental," in these parts. We had no problem coming up with special occasions to justify indulging ourselves there, including our engagement.
During school vacations we visited my hometown in Mississippi, just up the road from the eating capital of the South. At 6:30 A.M. we would hop on the Panama Limited for New Orleans, arriving just in time for breakfast at Brennan's. Lunch at Galatoire's and early supper at Antoine's or Arnaud's rounded out the day. On the train ride back home, we happily digested and reflected on all that good eating. In our experience, the best Southern restaurants were actually French Creole. The menus were written in French, the waiters spoke French, and the food-French with a dash of Tabasco! Our standards and our cooking aspirations were based on the cuisine of New Orleans. Our culinary bible was the 1901 edition of the The Picayune's Creole Cook Book, still the ultimate collection of New Orleans's classic recipes.
A few years later, after we catered our way through graduate school, we abandoned academia for cooking. Bill dreamed of studying at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, but the reality of our meager bank account interfered. Instead, he entered the back door of the Villa Teo in the role of apprentice cook. Two years at the Country Squire had already taught him that restaurant work is a lot like show business: hours of preparation and hard work to be followed by an ostensibly effortless presentation. Pleasing an audience with a superb meal was right up Bill's alley. The Villa's exotic ambience appealed to Bill's desire for glamour, and the "demimonde" of a college-town restaurant kitchen teeming with highly educated eccentrics intrigued him. He was in a fertile creative atmosphere at the Villa and absorbed the lessons of a professional kitchen like a sponge.
Within a year, Bibi Danziger recognized Bill's promise and promoted him to the position of chef de cuisine, replacing his mentor, departing chef Henry Schliff. In the Villa's kitchen, Bill had discovered his true calling. By then I was cooking at Hope Valley Country Club, absorbing the lessons of an actual French chef, Jacques Condoret, but I soon followed Bill to the Villa as pastry cook.
In 1975 we decided the time was ripe to ride the wave of the fine-dining trend of the '70s and open our own place. Our vision was a place where, in the words of Alice Waters, who had just begun her own food revolution at Chez Panisse, "coming to [our] restaurant would be like going to dinner at the home of a friend who really knows how to cook." But finding the appropriate space in Chapel Hill proved harder than we bargained for. We had just about given up our search and considered relocating to another city, when R. B. Fitch, husband of our cooking buddy Jenny, called us about a building in Chatham County, south of Chapel Hill. As soon as we glimpsed the main house at Jesse Fearrington's dairy farm, now the burgeoning Fearrington Village, we fell in love with it, signed the lease, and moved right in.
A week before the restaurant opened, it was still unnamed. Bill and I, with nary a drop of French blood in our veins, had been reluctant to give it a name that would imply that we were French. A newspaper reporter nudged us to make a decision. We invited her to lunch along with a visiting French friend, as well as Georgia Kyser and her daughter Carroll, who were both helping us with the decor. At the table, these ladies dazzled us with tales of their annual summer visits to Provence. Under the spell of the Kysers' nostalgia, we settled on the name of their beloved pension in Saint Paul de Vence, a spellbinding little village that had also captivated us when we were there. The reporter's ensuing article committed us to the name "La Résidence," soon to be shortened to "La Res" by our regular patrons.
Bill and I were so innocent regarding the practical matters of running a restaurant that failing never even entered our minds, at least not his. His confidence swept me away, and we proceeded to run the place "by ear." Bill dazzled his staff and patrons alike, and they loved being a part of the experiment.
Bill Smith, who eventually became chef at La Résidence and now runs the kitchen at Crook's Corner, described the early days working in the kitchen of La Res: "Bill thought of the kitchen as a laboratory where creative possibilities were endless. There was a pied piper quality about him that was very attractive. In Bill's kitchen I learned something besides cooking. I learned that you don't have to be conventional about anything."
Jim Ferguson, initiator of the culinary history program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recalled: "What you two did out there was both cutting edge and charmingly naive. For me it was a touchstone to France, an acknowledgment that there is a season for things and a 'right way' to cook." Jim echoes Bill Smith in describing La Res as a laboratory, "a real attempt to develop a sense of what's important about food and about a way of life. No one had done anything like that around here, and there were enough people in tune with that attitude who wanted to support the effort."
Another of the first patrons and later our partner, Pat Stronach, adds: "Bill was enthusiastic, charismatic, and most definitely a performer. He was the first person we knew to bring food as a lifestyle to the Triangle. It felt neat, and really chic, to be a part of that."
Not everyone's idea of a good time is the same, however, and occasionally we failed to please. Our floor manager for years, Susan Perry, reminded me of the time a difficult group of guests demanded to speak to the owner. When Bill appeared at the table, they threatened to walk out. Without missing a beat, Bill replied, "It would be our greatest pleasure." Even when offending, Bill had tremendous flair!
After two years in Chatham County, La Résidence began to suffer growing pains, and being at the restaurant twenty-four hours a day was beginning to take its toll on our family life. In 1978 we moved the restaurant to an old house on West Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. Everything expanded: the volume of guests, the menu items, the hours worked, the payroll, our family.
Those halcyon days out in Chatham County were over, but there were compensations. No longer was the restaurant a mom-and-pop operation. Out of necessity Bill became, once more, a teacher. Intelligent, imaginative people, mostly graduate students, were attracted to the creative atmosphere at La Res. Bill, almost a cult figure by then, taught these students French technique and inspired them with his passion for excellence. In return, the staff contributed ideas and recipes that reenergized us and enhanced the restaurant. Every week the entire staff was invited to a potluck lunch, with the aim of trying out new dishes. Many of these ended up on the menu.
Looking to describe Bill's special magic, several friends used the same words: "seductive," "unconventional," "a sense of abandon ... he lived as if there were no tomorrow." As you can imagine, these very qualities made up a recipe for marital disaster. Bill and I ended our marital and business partnership in 1982, but our friendship (after a brief, tempestuous hiatus) survived.
I continued to manage the restaurant with the invaluable help of Cheri Klein and, later, Bill Smith, both protégés of Bill. Along the way, Nancy Brown, Ben and Karen Barker, Rick Robinson, and many other talented souls each added their own touch, but La Res continued in its original style-French country cuisine-and spirit until Smith and I both left in 1992.
New owners Tom and Frances Gualtieri shifted directions. Incoming chef Devon Mills brought an end to an era with his lighter "new American" fare. The Gualtieris still run the restaurant. As I write, an innovative new talent, Graham Heaton, is establishing his own reputation at La Res, and it continues to be a popular nightspot in downtown Chapel Hill.
There is just one recipe that has survived all these changes and still appears nightly on the menu-just about everybody's favorite chocolate cake: Kalouga!
The recipes in this chapter were served at La Résidence from 1976 to 1992. Some can be called "original," though Bill would be the first to admit, as his friend Hoppin' John Taylor reminded me, that "there's nothing new under the sun." Others were contributed by staff members, and still others were adapted from his library of frayed, food-spotted cookbooks by the cooks he most admired: Elizabeth David, Richard Olney, Lydie Marshall, the Troisgros brothers, Judith Olney, Marcella Hazan, Roger Verge, Simone Beck, Madeline Kamman, Jacques Pépin, and, of course, Julia Child.
A Note about the Recipes
I have adapted these recipes for use in an average home kitchen equipped with what I consider to be basics: good quality nonreactive (stainless steel or other nonaluminum) pots and pans, sharp knives, a food processor, a blender, nonreactive mixing bowls, and a medium-duty mixer (hand-held or stationary).
Few of the recipe cards used at La Résidence included exact amounts. For "a ton," "a bunch," "a million," or "a handful," I have substituted more conventional and exact terms: a tablespoon (T.), a cup (c.), and so on. As for "a pinch," you are on your own!
We emphasized using the freshest possible produce, herbs, meat, and fish, and for best results I suggest you do the same. I have indicated when a dried, frozen, or canned substitute would be appropriate.
As is customary in France, at La Résidence we used unsalted butter-the fresher, the better. (At home we used salted butter, as most Southerners still do.)
We used kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. If a good sea salt is available to you, by all means use it. For purely cosmetic reasons, Bill preferred white pepper when making pale-colored dishes. In such recipes, though, feel free to use the more flavorful black pepper. All pepper should be freshly ground.
Use large-sized eggs unless otherwise indicated.
Our standard brand of chocolate was Peterson's, a rich Dutch import. Substitute Ghirardelli or another top-quality chocolate.
Always use common sense when putting together these dishes, and try not to be too literal. For instance, when making the recipe called "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," feel free to use either fewer large or more small cloves than called for without feeling compelled to change the name of the recipe!
No matter how good a recipe is, adjustments will have to be made according to the varying qualities of the ingredients you have at hand.
Excerpted from Remembering Bill Neal by Moreton Neal Copyright © 2004 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
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