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Friday, June 3, 2011

Making Scents of Butter and Onions

What do your favorite scents call to mind? Home, hearth, kith and kin? (Turns out both my kith and kin have uh, a decidedly Cilantro-esque thing going on.)

Have you ever been taken away from the everyday world by a mere whiff of something delicious?

I'm meandering down the street in Carrboro, perfectly, I mean perfectly, content - minding my P's and Q's and suddenly find my nose wandering off. Fragrances flounce wildly all around. Where are they? What are they? I stop. But my husband, Rich, if he is with me just keeps on walking.  He has a blind nose, as I call it.  Except where wine is concerned. Who knew?

Scent does take you back, and we've heard it time and time again. Marcel Proust made Madeleine's his calling card cookie. I think the reptilian brain is at work here. Scents cut through all the layers of protection standing guard and brings us right down to our knees; face to face with our strongest primal emotions.

Here are a few of my touch-stone aromas - what are yours?

Hot white vinegar recalls my childhood kitchen table covered with newspaper. Coffee cups are full to the brim with wild colors - and my brother, Jeremy and I are using those ridiculous wire holders to dip hot hard boiled eggs for Easter while Nana tells us to try dipping them in two different colors.
The minute I smell sauteing onions I am late to class, holding my toque in place as I run up to Roth Hall at the CIA. And hickory smoke means Charcuterie Block and Chef Jacques de Chanteloup. The world of Pates, Gallantines, and Balantines!
Frying seafood means I am filling the seafood buffet line at the Sea Pines Inn on Hilton Head Island, my externship days.
Asian scents on the street with traffic exhaust means walking in Chinatown NYC with my oldest son, Erick, in the backpack, while Jaryd, our youngest, snoozes in the frontpack. Bamboo steamers and Woks sizzle in the windows.
And Gardenias (Okay I know this isn't exactly a food smell, but) always call up having an exotic tropical dinner with Rich at the Kona Kai Restaurant which back in the 70's was in the Marriott Hotel on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia, as well as being in the garden with Nana on my wedding day.

But back to the Carrboro walk. I run to catch up with Rich, who is turning the next corner. I bump into him, and he turns holding a gardenia and a handful of just picked mulberries. Awww.


  1. Hi Dorette - my name is Jason Valle and I came across your blog by googling my grandfathers name - Jacques de Chanteloup. It was quite a shock to see him mentioned and I am glad he is remembered by his past students - I of course hope the memories are fond ones as I know full well he could be a tough man! But really a softie at heart though! If you wish to contact me I would love to hear more about him as a Chef and teacher as I was still young when he retired in 1985 and my memories of him while wonderful are a bit incomplete as to that side of him. Hope to hear from you - Jason.

  2. Jason, hi there! Well, wow. Now I am shocked. Thank you for writing. Your grandfather is remembered quite fondly and memorably. I don't remember him as being a tough guy, though, but more as a wonderful passionate instructor and one who loved Charcuterie. Honestly, my love for the art goes back to his class. Wasn't he also working somewhere in the City at the time? This would have been in 81/82 time frame. Are you in the biz? ~~~ Really, un grand merci! Dorette

  3. Hi Dorette - glad I checked this thread again and glad you got back to me! Perhaps I should rephrase "tough man" - more like no nonsense. My mother always told me those that were there to learn got on fine with him and those that were not, well not so much. Respect was key to Pepe! And it sounds like you were certainly there to learn. In 81/82 he, according to my mothers best recollection, was at Red Coach Grill but I do not know how long he stayed on there as Hyde Park to NYC is a bit far. And Red Coach Grill may have been even earlier than that, my mother is drawing a lot of blanks around that time. I glad you have such fond memories of him and his class! I not in the biz but I can say that I have developed a serious passion for food, particular food with a French influence running through it. I have been to France several times as well as Spain and countless trips to St Martin (Grande Case) and many places in NYC and he is always on my mind while eating and especially when trying new foods - that was a major pet peeve of his, people who wouldn't at least try something once. "You don't like it, spit it out" - as he always used to say. Ha - my first memeroable table food as a child was in Hyde Park at his home -- sautéed kidneys! Unfortunately Pepe passed away in December 2009, almost 19 years to the day as my Meme. He did remarry and move to Florida and would visit as often as he felt good and wanted to make the trek back North. Florida weather and of course the fishing was perfect for him. It was very nice touching base with you and both myself and my mother are very happy to know he left a mark on someone and that he is remembered fondly! May I ask please that if you or anyone that you may speak to, if you still do, from the CIA has a copy on tape or knows how to get one of him teaching it would be greatly appreciated. I know before he retired that he was filmed doing a few lectures, one being The Garlic Sausage and it would be great to have. It was great sharing these memories!!


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