Burt Wolf's Table: France - #208

BURT WOLF:   France, the cultural center of the western world.  It's the place to take a look at how a classic chef is trained, to find out what the monks of a 16th century abbey were drinking to keep up their good health.  We'll find out about a widow who took over her husband's champagne business and made it famous.  And we'll cook up some easy and great-tasting recipes.  So join me in France, at Burt Wolf's Table.

If there's anything that fascinates the people of France, it's fashion. Many of the great fashion houses of France line the Avenue Montaigne.  Christian Dior, Chanel, and Christian Lacroix on one side.  Nina Ricci and Guy Laroche on the other.  Quite a street.

The Champs Elysees, with its Arc de Triomphe, mark the top of the Avenue.  The River Seine and the Tour Eiffel sit at the bottom.  The neighborhood is a namedropper's dream.  And right smack in the middle is the Hotel Plaza Athenee.  It's great from the outside, and everything gets better as you head in.  Look at the detailing on the door plates, and the workmanship in the lobby. 

Just to the right of the entrance area is the Galerie de Gobelins, which is named after the famous glassworks that made the chandeliers.  That's where the hotel serves its afternoon tea.

One of the most beautiful parts of the Plaza Athenee is the internal courtyard.  During the late spring and summer, the walls of the building are completely covered with ivy and the place is packed with tables, umbrellas and guests.

Well, as you probably guessed by now, it is not late spring or summer.  It's actually early April, and it's still pretty chilly in Paris.  Whoever it was who wrote the song "April in Paris", either he wasn't here at the time, or he was getting paid off big bucks by the French Tourist Association.  I did want you see the courtyard, however, when it's at its best.  Here’s a photograph.

Let me try that again. 

One of the most beautiful parts of the Plaza Athenee is the internal courtyard.  During the late spring and summer the walls of the building are completely covered with ivy, and the place is packed with tables, umbrellas and guests.

Hmm, I think the birds help a lot.

The main restaurant is Le Regence. The room is about as beautiful as a restaurant can get.  The hotel is also very proud of Le Relais.  It's a more informal restaurant that opened in 1937, and has been the place to see and be seen ever since.

Over the years I've looked at the famous guest list in hundreds of hotels.  The same names keep popping up.  Elizabeth Taylor.  Marcello Mastroianni.  The Queen of Denmark.  The King of Spain.  These folks are always on the road.  It's almost as if their parents won't let them come home.  But the most unusual name I've ever seen on a guest list is right here at the Plaza Athenee.

She was born in 1876 in the Netherlands, and her real name was Margrethe Zell.   She had a popular stage act, pretending to be a Javanese dancer.  When her show lost its popularity, she went to work as a spy for the Germans, and became one of the most famous spies of the 20th century.  She was known as Mata Hari.  And this was her room at the Plaza Athenee.  She would come here with French military officers, and use her.... (CLEARS THROAT)  “charms” to gain information. “Oh, my dear, did you have a hard time at the... oh, what unit did you say you were in?”  Seems to have worked.

The French Revolution of the 1780's changed the face of France in many ways.  It uprooted an ancient system of government and issued in a period of mass confusion.  During the reign of terror that was part of the French Revolution, thousands of nobles were sent to the guillotine.  One of the side effects of those executions was to put the cooks of the nobles out of work.  Thousands and thousands of cooks without any hope of ever getting their job back.  “Getting their job back,” they couldn't even get a letter of recommendation any more.  To earn a living, they literally invented the idea of the modern restaurant, and opened dozens of them all over Paris.

One of the functions that restaurants have served ever since then has been to give the people of a town or neighborhood a chance to get a good look at each other, to show off a bit.  Le Relais is famous for that.

Gerard Salle is the executive chef, and his job is to oversee every aspect of the hotel's food and wine service.  We were talking about the differences between the recipes used in home cooking, and those that are used in most restaurants, and I asked him about the traditional Sunday chicken dinners that were served in his childhood.  In response, he cooked the following chicken fricassee. 

A chicken is cut into twelve pieces and salted and peppered.  A little vegetable oil goes into a saute pan.  The chicken goes into the pan, skin-side down, and cooks for fifteen minutes.  Then the chicken comes out of the pan.  Two cups of button mushrooms get washed quickly and go in.  Cooking the mushrooms in the drippings from the chicken adds flavor and color.  A cup of cream goes in and cooks for a few minutes. Then the chicken goes back into the pan to mix with the mushrooms and the sauce.  In a separate saucepan, a cup of baby onions are cooked in a little water and butter.  At that point the chicken comes out of the pan, and the chef places it on a serving dish.  The onions go on, some asparagus, the mushrooms and the sauce.

Another piece of work in an entirely different way is the hotel's English bar, with its rather gentlemanly atmosphere. The walls of the bar have a collection of photographs that show the famous entertainers who have stopped in for a drink.

So what are the famous and fashionable drinking these days?  Well, it's actually a series of drinks that go back to the old Benedictine monks.  During the early 1500's, a monk by the name of Don Bernardo Vincelli began making an elixir. He made it in a Benedictine abbey in the French town of Fecamp.  


Bernardo had grown up with a great understanding of spices and how they were to be used both for flavoring and medicinal effects.  His secret formula for the distillation contains 27 different exotic spices and local herbs.  For almost 300 years the monastery reproduced Brother Bernardo's recipe.  The monks felt that the drink gave them strength and kept them healthy.  However, during the French Revolution, both the recipe and the manufacturing technique were lost.  During the early 1800's, however, a man by the name of Alexandre LeGrand was looking through a bunch of books in his family library, and he came upon a group that belonged to the monks.  Inside one of them was Brother Bernardo's original recipe.

LeGrand started to experiment with the formula, and was eventually able to produce an extraordinary drink which he began to offer to the public under the name Benedictine.  Monsieur LeGrand was kind of an amazing character.  He built this fantastic replica of a Renaissance palace to house both his manufacturing facility and a museum.

He was an early believer in advertising and commissioned artists to produce Benedictine posters.  He also asked them to design various other things that contained the Benedictine graphic. He was so successful in promoting his drink that soon people began to make counterfeits.  This display is made up of bottles that try to pass themselves off as the real thing, but are actually just fakes. 

As a result, LeGrand was deeply involved in the development of laws to protect brand identification.  Alexandre LeGrand translates into English as Alexander the Great, and in the history of distilled spirits, he sure was.

In 1937, a bartender at New York's 21 Club mixed some Benedictine together with some French brandy and created the drink called B&B.  Shortly after, the company that made Benedictine decided to do the blending themselves,  and began to offer B&B in a bottle.  Today these two products, Benedictine and B&B are still made in the little French town of Fecamp.

Today's drink at the Plaza Athenee is called a Marco Polo.  And it's made by mixing together one part Benedictine, one part cognac, and three parts of orange juice.  A variation of that is called a Sunny Day.  Two parts Benedictine to three parts of grapefruit juice.  They both get served with ice.

Well, those old monks certainly had a way with vitamin C.

The Plaza Athenee is named after the mythical Greek goddess Athena.  Athena is the goddess of wisdom, and I can't think of a more perfect symbol for the Plaza Athenee.  A number of America's most talented chefs got their training right here in this kitchen.  Two of the most famous are Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin, both of whom have very successful television shows. 

Even today the hotel has a classic program for apprentices.  You start in the vegetable area where you learn to clean and prepare various vegetables.  Every once in a while, if you appear to be skillful, that is, you'll get a fruit to challenge your talents.  That goes on for about two months.  Then it's off to the breakfast and soup area.  That's your first contact with heat.  And now you're really cooking.  Actually you're just boiling most of the time, but it's clearly a step in the right direction . A few months more and it's off to sauces, followed by grilling, fish cookery, food purchasing and storage, and finally the arts of pastry and candy-making.

Two years of hard work, and they're ready to go out into the world and do some serious damage to other people's waistlines.  Actually, that's unfair of me to say.  Everything is okay in moderation.  It's just that in this environment, I find it very hard to be moderate.

Another dish from Executive Chef Salle is fish provencale.   Gerard starts by putting a little stock or vermouth into a saute pan, and a little vegetable oil.  Then the fish goes in, and the pan goes into a 350 degree fahrenheit oven for twelve minutes.  When the fish comes out of the oven, it goes onto a pan that allows the chef to trim off the bones that catch the juices that are dripping from the fish.  The fish will always have more flavor if it's cooked with its bones in.  The fish is transferred to a plate.  Some cooked spinach goes onto one filet, then some fresh tomato sauce.  A little more tomato sauce on the second filet, which is then placed on top of the first.  The sauce is made by taking the juice that drips off the fish during the baking, and heating it in a saucepan with a little butter, and a few pre-cooked fava beans.  The fish goes onto the serving plate, and the sauce goes on top.  A little more of the tomatoes as a garnish.

No discussion of French food would be complete without a souffle, and Gerard has one with a chocolate base - my favorite.

The technique for making a souffle is really pretty straightforward.   A little milk is heated in a saucepan, and some sugar goes in.  Some butter is melted in a second pan, and some flour is whisked in to make what is called a roux.

I love it when a great chef asks me to help him.

When the flour is fully incorporated in the butter, the milk is mixed in, and a few egg yolks.  And finally, melted chocolate.  What you have now is the basic chocolate mixture.  That sits aside while some egg whites are beaten until they stand in peaks.  That should take about five minutes of beating.  Just as they begin to get stiff, some sugar is added in.  The beaten egg whites are then gently folded into the chocolate mixture.  That gets poured into molds with inside walls that have been given a light coating of butter and dusted with sugar.

One of the tricks that professional chefs use to make a souffle rise is to coat the inside of the mold with butter, and then to coat the butter with sugar.  When the souffle starts to rise up in the heat of the oven, instead of crawling up a shiny, smooth wall that's difficult, it has a texture like sandpaper, and that makes it much easier for the egg whites to crawl up.  It's a great idea.

Then into a 400 degree fahrenheit oven for ten minutes, and they're ready to serve.

Well, I think it's time to get out of the kitchen, and take a look at some of the more famous sights of Paris.  Paris is a great city for walking, and for most people walking is a great thing for your body.  I'm walking at the pace of four miles per hour, so if I do this for 45 minutes I will have covered three miles.  And my doctors tell me if I do that four or five times a week, I will have the basis of an exercise program that won't stress my body, and will help me with my good health.   They also think it might actually retard the effects of aging.  So let's do it!

That's the Louvre.  Its construction began in the 1200's as a royal fortress.  It first became a museum just after the French Revolution.  Nice place.  Lots of paintings with food.

When you look down the street from the Louvre toward the Arc de Triomphe, you're looking down the Champs Elysses.  In the 1400's it was a dump for butchers.  But in the 1500's, the Queen Mother, Catherine DeMedici, built a little chateau here and began the development of a series of parks.  The place soon became the fashionable spot to hang out.

The Place de la Concorde.  One of the most beautiful and dramatic parts of Paris.  The aldermen of Paris wanted to get on the good side of King Louis XV, so they built this place in 1755 and gave it as a gift to... to the Well-Beloved.  That was his nickname, the Well-Beloved. 

Well, I promised to stop here at Place de la Concorde, and thank a well-beloved friend of mine.  He's the chef at Air France.  I flew here to Paris on an Air France Concorde.  Took me a little over three hours from New York City.  It's quite amazing.  Not only did they serve an excellent meal on board, but they were kind enough to let my camera crew go into the kitchen and film the recipe.

The recipe is for a classic French apple tart called a tarte tatin.  Chef Michel Martin starts by peeling, coring and quartering ten apples.  Then he butters a pan and coats the bottom with a third of a cup of sugar.  The slices from eight of the apples are arranged in the pan.  The two remaining apples are chopped and scattered on top.  A little sugar goes on, a few dots of butter.  And finally a sheet of puff pastry dough that's fitted to the top of the pan.  A few holes in the dough to let out the cooking steam, and into a 375 degree oven for 60 minutes.  When it comes out, the pan is heated on a burner to caramelize the bottom, and then it's flipped over so the dough ends up on the bottom, and the apples on the top.  The classic tarte tatin.

A little further along on this walking tour, and you're confronted by the Arc de Triomphe.  It was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to honor the French military.  The church St. Mary Magdalene, known to Parisians as La Madeleine.  It looks more like a Greek temple than a Christian church, and these days it's undergoing a major renovation.  To keep it looking good, a life-size reproduction of the facade has been painted and hung up.

An amazing piece of work, but not a new idea for this city.  In 1810, the Empress Marie Louise was supposed to make her triumphal entrance to Paris, and pass under the Arc de Triomphe.  The only problem was the arch was a little bit behind schedule, and only stood about a foot and a half high.  Not very impressive for an empress.   So the architect made a life-size painting on canvas, and hung it from some scaffolding.  Two hundred years later, they're still doing the same stuff.

And there is the most famous symbol of the city of Paris, the Tour Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower.

When it was completed in the late 1800's, it was the highest manmade object in the world.  As we all know, the highest manmade object in the world today is the U.S. national debt.  And speaking of debt, I'd like to talk about a lady to whom everybody who works in television owes a debt of thanks.

She came to us through the efforts of public broadcasting, and she changed the way millions of Americans cooked.  She was the French Chef.

But how did Julia Child get to be the French Chef?  The proper technique for the preparation of rognons de veau a la grande moutarde is not something you pick up on the way home from the supermarket.  She learned to be a French chef right here in Paris at a cooking school called Le Cordon Bleu.

The history of Le Cordon Bleu goes back to the 1500's.  There was a society of knights who wore blue ribbons to mark their membership.  They also had a big deal reputation for good eating.   King Louis XV once told his girlfriend, Madame Du Barry, that he thought only men made great professional chefs.  Well, a little while later in what appeared to be a totally unrelated event, Madame invited Louis over to her place for a little late supper.  It was a wipeout dinner, at the end of which the King commented that he thought the new guy working in Du Barry's kitchen was as good as anyone working in his own royal household.  At which point Du Barry informed the King that her chef was indeed a woman, and that she thought the King owed her chef a Cordon Bleu in honor of her skills.  From then on , Le Cordon Bleu has been associated with good cooking.

The Cordon Bleu cooking school got started here in Paris in 1895.  In the 1950's film "Sabrina", Audrey Hepburn is sent to the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris to get her culinary education.  It was the only proper thing to do since this place is really the world's top-ranked cooking school for French technique.

If Sabrina was going for the ultimate, the Grand Diplome, she'd be taking a series of five courses spread out over nine months.  What if she had to get back to making movies?  Okay... three- to five-day intensive classes.   What if she had to get back to Cary Grant?  No problem.  One-day workshops.  They'll have you back in time to dress for dinner.


This was the first school to set up a teaching system that starts with an instructor showing the students how to make the dish.  It allows them to sample the proper taste and finally sends them off to their own individual cooking area to reproduce the recipe.  It takes time to learn this way, and it takes money to give each student his or her own ingredients, and cooking equipment, including a four-burner range and oven.  The students come from all over the world.  Right now in these classes, over 30 different countries are represented, and it's been like this since the beginning.

This is Cordon Bleu chef Didier Chantefort, and he's demonstrating the technique for pork with prunes.

A little oil and butter go into a saute pan.  The pork filets go into the pan and they're browned.  While the meat is browning, an aromatic garnish is prepared.  Thyme, parsley and a bay leaf are wrapped in a leek.  When the meat is brown on all sides, it's removed to a large casserole.  The instructor uses a fork but doesn't press it into the meat because he doesn't want to make any holes that would let the meat juices drain out.  The aromatic garnish goes onto the meat.  Some chopped onions and chopped carrots are browned in a pan.  A little flour is added.  The flour will help bind the sauce that he'll be making in a minute.  The onions and carrots go in with the meat, and the pan that they were cooked in is deglazed with white wine.  Deglazing is a simple process.  Whatever is cooked in a pan is removed and a liquid is poured in.  The heat is turned up and the pan drippings are scraped into the liquid.  The liquid is cooked down to about half the original volume to thicken the sauce, and that's deglazing.  And that's poured onto the pork.  A little meat stock is added.  The cover goes on, and it's into a 375 degree fahrenheit oven for 25 minutes.  At that point the pork comes out of the oven, and out of the pan.  The sauce is finished off by skimming the liquid for any impurities, and passing the clean sauce through a sieve.  That particular form of sieve is called a Chinese hat.  The vegetables are pressed to get out all of the juices and their flavors.  The drippings are then heated and a little cream is added.  A cup of pitted prunes come in.  The prunes have a natural sweetness that gives the dish a rich flavor.  Prunes are actually an ideal flavoring for pork and poultry recipes.  A few more moments of cooking, and the dish is ready to plate.

In 1772, Philippe Clicquot announced that he was going into the wine business.  Philippe's family had been living in the champagne district of France since the 1400's, and had become rather prosperous middle-class merchants.  It was not unusual for a family of this type to make and sell a little wine from the vineyards on their land.  But now Phillipe was getting real serious about making great champagne.

In 1798, Philippe's son, Francois, became a partner in his father's business.  He had a plan for expanding the business by using traveling salesmen who would stop into any town in Europe where they thought they could get a respectable order.  Business was doing quite well when suddenly Francois died.  His widow took over the business.  She was only 28 years old at the time.  And what a time it was, too.  The Napoleonic wars were underway, and Europe was a wreck.

Nobody, but nobody was interested in ordering champagne, and besides, you couldn't deliver those orders anyway.  The British Navy was blockading all of the ports, and the overland roads were unsafe.  And if by some miracle you actually got a valid order and you were able to deliver it, you probably would not get paid.  And it was in this magnificent business climate that Madame Clicquot spent her first few years at the company. 

You have got to love this woman.  She must have been made of steel.

As soon as the war ended, and the royal house of France was restored, Madame Clicquot made a shipment of champagne to Russia.  The Russians loved the quality, and very soon Clicquot became a household name.  Of course, it was the household of the Czar, but it's always been important to have your name mentioned in places of power.

When Madame Clicquot took over the business they were shipping 50 thousand bottles a year.  When she died in 1866 at the age of 89, they were shipping 800 thousand bottles a year.  Quite an increase in the business, and all due to the efforts of this one woman.  She also bought some vineyards to make sure that she had a good supply of top quality wine, and she never gave up her search for improving the quality and techniques of her own champagne.  The business is literally named after her.  Veuve Clicquot means the Widow Clicquot.


This is Edouard Denazelle, whose family has been giving direction to the company for many decades.  And these are the company's ancient caves, through which he will direct me.

“Tell me about the caves.”

EDWARD DENAZELLE:   Well, these caves are quite ancient.  They are between 1800 and 2000 years old.  They were....

BURT WOLF:   These caves are made of limestone chalk that was deposited here thousands of years ago when this part of France was actually at the bottom of an ocean.  The ancient Romans knew about these caves, and used them to quarry large stones.  The stones formed the walls of the forts for Julius Caesar's army.  The champagne in these bottles starts out as the juice of a grape which is brought here in a wooden cask.  This is the most northerly area in Europe for quality wine grape growing.  North of here are the beer drinkers. 

The natural yeast on the grape turns to sugar and the grape juice to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.  The result is called wine. 

The wine from each growing area is held in a separate barrel.  The art of the champagne house is really to blend together all the different wines to get a perfectly balanced champagne.  The wine sits in these bottles and the growing yeast inside causes bubbles to form, which is what champagne is all about.

The early champagne makers could only produce a champagne that was cloudy, because the dried yeast cells remained in the bottle.  And then a system called riddling was developed.  The bottles are slowly turned upside down until all the yeast sinks down to the neck.  The table that makes that easy is called a riddling table.  It was developed by Madame Clicquot from one of her desks.

After a few years in the cellar, the cellar master checks the yeast sediment in the bottle.  Then he opens the bottle...


And lets the pressure blow off the sediment.  At that point the bottle is recorked so we can open it later.

Well, that's all from France.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and drink at Burt Wolf's Table.

Gatherings & Celebrations: New Years Eve in Versailles and New York - #117

This is the Palace of Versailles.  It stands about fourteen miles west of Paris and it was built in the 1600s by order of Louis XIV, King of France.  Louis XIV was the most elegant and luxury-loving of all the kings of France.  And when it came to throwing a party Louis was, to say the least, opulent.  He left no peasant unturned in the pursuit of pleasure.  He was the party animal of his century.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Louis hated Paris.  It was a difficult town for him to control the other nobles, and it made him feel insecure.  As a matter of fact, on a number of occasions they had tried to kill him.  So he decided to get out of town and build himself a place in the country.  And while he was at it, he thought he would build a place that was so big, so luxurious, so magnificent that its sheer size would overpower the minds of the people who came here and make them feel small. And you know what?  It worked.

Versailles was a little country village when Louis started drawing up his plans.  When he finished, Versailles was one of the architectural wonders of the world.  There are eleven square miles of gardens to be weeded.  44,000 windows to be washed.  6,000 mirrors to be polished.  And it takes a team of four people over thirty days just to do the dusting.  On the other hand, it was a great place to visit.  Especially if you had been invited to one of the great parties.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Nice place.  Maybe a little too big for me now that all the kids have left home.  But it was great for Louis, especially when he would have one of his little dinner parties for five or six thousand of his closest friends.  And it was ideal for a New Year’s Eve celebration... which is what this program is all about.

FILM CLIP:  Ann Miller singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

Some historians believe that our very first ritual was the one we designed to celebrate the start of a new year.  It usually makes sense to start at the beginning.  But how do you decide when the beginning begins?  Interesting problem... and societies have answered the question differently from century to century and from place to place.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Very often a society will choose the date for its New Year’s based on something that’s happening in nature.  A change in the weather.  The beginning or the end of a growing season.  The return of a favorite food source, either animal or vegetable, to the neighborhood.  For hundreds of years, the people in Europe liked March as the beginning of the year; it was the end of the winter, the beginning of spring, the earth was coming alive again -- clearly, this could be the start of something grand.

But there were some cultures that liked fall for the start of a New Year, and we still feel that influence. The school year starts in the fall.  Many corporations begin their fiscal year in the fall.  And the new TV season begins in the fall.  Originally the French went for New Year’s on Easter Sunday.  Nice time for the celebration of rebirth.  And it was also a good season for eating.  The food was younger, the wine was older.  The French have always understood the importance of coordinating their gatherings and celebrations with what’s good to eat.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The idea of celebrating New Year’s on a day where nothing much was happening in Nature comes from the ancient Romans.  They were using a calendar with ten months.  Tight budget, I guess.  Their first month was March and their last month was December. At the end of December, everybody just stopped counting until the March came back.  At one point, someone, we think they were  probably in Egypt, decided to fill in those sixty days with two new months. The Roman Senate loved it, called them January and February, and made January 1 the official opening day of the new year. Now, this was quite a change, because suddenly we had the totally arbitrary ideas of Man taking the place of Nature. Eventually, just about everybody in Europe accepted January 1 as the opening day of the new year, just to go along with the Romans, and that’s where it still is.

There’s an old belief that the food and drink of New Year’s Eve will influence your life during the coming year.  The Romans would cover their tables with all the foods they loved.  They thought that the table held the Luck of the Coming Year.  So you wanted to cover the table with a sample or symbol of everything you wanted for the future.  If you left something out, you ran the risk of not having it during the coming year. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The foods that traditionally show up at New Year’s are designed to show two sides of our personalities.  The first set of foods are always simple, inexpensive, easy to make.  They want to show that we are not wasteful, and are therefore deserving of good things in the new year.  The second set of foods are very expensive and extravagant.  Basically they want to send a signal to the Great Spirit that says, “Excuse me!  Could I have more of this good stuff in the new year?”

The shape of the foods that are eaten on New Year’s is also important.  Breads should be well-rounded... the way you would like your year to be.  No long-shaped loaves with an open end where good luck might escape.  Same for pasta.  Pasta served at New Year’s will usually be round rather than straight.  It’s also time to eat something unusual in the hope that something or someone new will come into your life.  In some cultures New Year’s is a time for gift-giving. The ancient Romans often gave gifts of food.  Most typical were nuts and dates, dried figs, honey and sweet cakes.  Nuts were often used as a food to mark the start of something new.  You can still see that idea in action.   On New Year’s the French give jars of Marrons glaces...cooked chestnuts in sweet syrup.  Nice with ice cream. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Chocolate is a common gift at New Year’s.  You can give somebody a box of rich sweet chocolate as an expression of your hope that they will have a rich and sweet year.  And I guess if you feel differently about somebody else, you can send them a bar of “unsweetened bitter.”

Across the road from the palace of Versailles is The Trianon Palace Hotel.  It was built in 1910, and quickly became a favored location for the gatherings and celebrations of the French upper-crust... and it still is.  The hotel’s property is set out on seven acres of parkland at the edge of the King’s former estate.  You can sit at the tables of the restaurant and look out at sheep grazing on the same fields as the sheep of Queen Marie Antoinette.  Her little make-believe farm was just down the road.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Now, they tell me that those sheep are actually the direct descendants of the sheep owned by Marie Antoinette.   Can’t confirm that, though, until I get back the DNA report.  I can, however, confirm that the hotel is quite magnificent.

When you arrive at the front of the building, a young man at the door has a list with the names of all the guests that are expected to arrive that day.  He has your assigned room numbers and from the very first moment you come in contact with the hotel you are made to feel at home.  Small touch, but very nice.   Splendid entrance area... elegant public rooms... spa facilities and swimming pool... a Michelin Two-Star restaurant just so you don’t lose too much weight in the spa... and a chef who’s going to prepare a few of the dishes he likes to serve on New Year’s Eve.

Vincent Thiesse is his name, and his first recipe is for Chicken Provençal.  It’s easy to do, which is good for the home cook.  It does not contain any expensive ingredients, which sends a message that you are not extravagant and therefore deserving of good things in the New Year.  And it tastes great. 

Vincent starts by cutting a chicken into eight parts, which you can do yourself, or you can have it done at the market. I belong to Let Your Butcher Do It school.  I should also mention that when I made this recipe at home I used four whole chicken breasts, skin off, bone in.  It gave me four equal portions and made life easier and healthier.  A little salt goes on.  Some oil is heated in a deep pan.  The chicken goes in... in one layer... and gets cooked for three minutes on each side or until the surface is brown.

While the chicken is cooking, the vegetables are prepared.  Two onions are peeled, cut into small pieces and added to the pot.  The ends of the onion are not used because they’re too hard and often bitter.  Then a red bell pepper is seeded, cut into small cubes and added.  The red bell pepper is followed by a green bell pepper... also seeded and chopped into small pieces.  The final bell pepper is yellow... seeded and chopped.  Everything gets shook up.  An eggplant with the skin left on is cut into cubes and added to the pot.  A zucchini is trimmed of its ends, sliced, cut into cubes and added.  Once again... there’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on.  A little more salt.  A little more pepper.  Two cups worth of dry white wine go in.  Some thyme.  A few bay leaves are added, and four cloves of garlic that are crushed but not peeled. 

Ten minutes of cooking with the cover off, at which point, if you are using a whole chicken... the two breasts are removed.  The breasts are very tender and will cook faster than the other chicken parts.  So they get taken out, which prevents them from being overcooked.  Two cups’ worth of tomatoes are sliced into small pieces and added to the pot.  A little stirring and ten more minutes of cooking.  The rest of the chicken comes out.  Two tablespoons of tomato paste go in... and everything cooks for five minutes more.  The plating starts with two pieces of chicken being arranged in the center of the serving plate.  The vegetables are placed around the chicken in a circle.  A few fresh basil leaves.   A few sprigs of chervil... and it’s ready to serve.

Vincent is also going to make a salmon dish for New Year’s.  In many societies salmon is considered a luxurious ingredient, something special, and it was often used as a symbol for abundance.  Anything that stands for both opulence and plenty is an easy candidate for a dish at New Year’s Eve.

He starts with a four-ounce piece of boneless, skinless salmon which he cuts into rectangular pieces.  He cuts six pieces for each person.  A little salt and pepper goes on each; then they are held aside while the other ingredients are prepared. 

He cuts the tips off six stalks of asparagus.  Each piece ends up being about four inches long.  The asparagus is cooked in boiling water until it’s tender.  An orange sauce is made by peeling an orange and slicing it into six rounds. The juice of a second orange is poured into a saucepan and heated over a medium flame.  A pinch of salt is added.  An ounce of butter goes in.  A few grinds of pepper.

At this point the salmon is cooked.  A little butter is melted in a sauté pan and the salmon goes in for about one minute on each side.  The salmon comes out and the six rounds of oranges go into the same butter that the salmon was cooked in -- just for a minute.  Then the salmon pieces are arranged in a circle on the plate.  The slices of orange go between the salmon.  Then the asparagus tips.  The orange sauce.  Strips of chive, and an optional dab of chopped olives.   Not a bad way to end a year.

Dessert, however, is a straight shot at indulgence.  A gift for the trials of the past and a hope for the future. 

Three whole eggs go into a mixing bowl and get whisked together until they are quite fluffy and filled with air.  That’s a ten minute job by hand or about two minutes by machine.  In a second bowl, a half cup of sugar is mixed together with a half cup of flour and a cup of melted semi-sweet chocolate.  The chocolate mixture is then blended into the whipped eggs... a little of the egg mixture at first, then the rest.  You don’t want to mix so much that the air in the eggs in forced out.  The air gives the final cake its lightness. 

Half cup molds are filled about three-quarters of the way with the batter.  Then it’s into a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for twelve minutes.

Then Vincent mixes a little heavy cream together with a little Bailey’s liqueur and covers the base of the serving plate with that blend.  A design is drawn on the cream with some melted chocolate.  Finally the baked chocolate is placed onto the plate.  It looks like a little cake, but when you cut into the center it will be soft and runny like a soufflé.  Definitely a great start to a new year.

And the traditional beverage for a New Year’s celebration is champagne.  Champagne is one of the ancient regions of France and it was the place where champagne was invented. But its first formal presentation to the nobles of France was at a party at Versailles.  One of the great champagne houses is Laurent-Perrier. It is run by the family de Nonancourt. There is Bernard and his two daughters, Alexandra and Stephanie.

Their champagnes are made in a small town in the middle of Champagne and they are made by the most traditional and authentic methods.  Bernard selects his grapes from over a thousand different growers in the region, and his job is to find just the right balance.

When the grapes arrive from the growers, they are crushed and their juices allowed to ferment, which takes about two to three weeks. The sugar in the juice changes to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.  The gas is allowed to escape.  The wine from each area is held separately in a stainless steel tank.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Each champagne house tries to develop a “house style” for its non-vintage champagne, and to reproduce that style each year. The job of developing the house style and reproducing it year after year is the work of the champagne blender.  The blender will use wines from over two hundred small villages, and a number of different years, in order to develop and maintain the house style.

After the blending, the wine goes into its bottle along with a small amount of yeast and a little cane sugar.  Then the bottles go into the cellars for the next three to five years.  Shortly after they arrive, the yeast in the bottle starts a second fermentation.  Gas is formed again, but this time it is trapped in the wine -- and that’s how champagne gets its effervescent bubbles.

The next step in the process is called riddling. The bottles are held more or less on their sides. Each day a riddler comes by and turns the bottle a little to one side and slightly up.  The solids that have formed in the bottle as a result of this second fermentation slowly slide down to the neck. A riddler goes through 60,000 bottles a day.

When all the sediment is in the neck, the bottle is placed into a very cold solution of brine.  The liquid in the neck freezes. The cap is taken off and the block of sediment shoots out.  A little cane sugar is added to balance any acidity, plus some more wine to top off the bottle.  Then the cork goes on, followed by the wire covering that keeps it in place. The wire is important... there’s a considerable amount of pressure in the bottle.  Three more months of resting in the cellar and it’s ready to party.

In addition to its standard white champagnes, Laurent-Perrier makes a Rose and they make it by a rather difficult method called “vatting,” as opposed to the simple method of just adding some red wine to the white wine.  Vatting requires the grape juice to rest together with the grape skins for about two days at the very beginning of the process.  The skins give a delicate color to the champagne.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   What makes one great champagne house different from another is the style that they use in making their non-vintage champagne, and it’s a style that they use year after year.  But every once in a while the grapes of a specific year are so extraordinary that they decide to make a champagne just using the grapes of that year.  And when they do, they call it a vintage champagne.  But a vintage champagne tells you more about the year than it does about the style of the house.

When everything is perfect, the wines are used to make a champagne called Grand Siecle, which means the “Great Century.” It’s a reference to the time of King Louis XIV. Louis XIV was also known as The Sun King because he brightened everything up... often by covering it with gold. The sun became his symbol. There it is on the label.  And that is why there is a very special association between the house of Laurent-Perrier and Versailles.  They were both designed for good times.

You hear the sound of a champagne bottle opening and you think... somebody’s celebrating something!  In this particular instance, I am celebrating New Year’s Eve -- and I’m celebrating it at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City.  Clearly this is the right place for me to start my New Year.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   New Year’s is filled with superstitions, and the elaborate rituals that go along with them.  Some people feel that whatever it is you do on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will set a pattern that will be carried on throughout the year.  They tell me that if you like your work and you want to continue in it for another year, you should carry something on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that is a symbol of your work. 

If you wear something that’s new, it will help you get new things.  It is also recommended that you get up early in the day... don’t lend anything... and don’t cry.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   New Year’s is a time where traditionally people pay a lot of attention to money.  They try to pay off all of their bills.  But it’s important to pay off those bills before New Year’s Eve.  You don’t want to start the new year laying out money.  It might set a pattern and you’ll end up laying out money all year long.  They also tell me you should keep some money in your pocket on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day. And if you have children, put some money into their pockets.  There’s also a plan that says you should hide some money outside your home on New Year’s Eve and then take it in on New Year’s Day.  Might send a signal.

In Scotland there is a belief that the first person to come into your home on New Year’s will set the tone for the next year. The person is referred to as the First Footer, and is sometimes chosen by the family in an attempt to control their own luck.  The person should be tall, dark-haired, not flat-footed and not have eyebrows that meet in the middle of his brow.  He is sometimes called “the lucky bird.” He may bring a gift, but it should be something that will be used up and it should not be taken out of the house again.

VISITOR:  A piece of coal... some salt... and a bottle of whisky.

WOMAN:  Thank you very much.  Do come in.

VISITOR:  Thank you very much.

In France, there was a time when many people would use New Year’s Day to pay a visit to the home of associates or people they wished were their associates.  Almost always the people you went out to see weren’t home because they were out trying to visit people that they wished were their associates.  The result was that almost no one was at home -- but you left your visiting card, to show you cared enough.  Eventually everyone gave up leaving the card in person and just popped it in the mail... which is how our present custom of mailing New Year’s cards got started.  Traditionally, the French gave their seasonal gift on New Year’s.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s that they started giving Christmas gifts!

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   These days we make a great effort to differentiate New Year’s from Christmas.  Christmas is basically private, a family affair, and we pay a lot of attention to our children.  New Year’s, on the other hand, is public and designed primarily for adults.

The moment when the Old Year becomes the New is also very important.  You’re supposed to stay up and be clear-headed as the bells start to toll.  It is a turning point and you want to be able to consciously direct your fate at this very significant moment.  It’s important to be happy as the bells ring.  The whole idea of the New Year’s Eve party is just to support the idea of being happy as the New Year begins.  You want to get off on the right foot.

HOST:  Ladies and gentlemen, we’re closing in on the last minute, about to welcome in a new year!  We’ve got about ten seconds left here -- nine!

EVERYBODY:  Eight!  Seven!  Six!  Five!  Four!  Three!  Two!  One!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

New Year’s Eve tends to be noisy. In farm communities it was important to keep your crops and animals free of evil spirits at the moment that the new year began.  The tried and true technique for keeping evil spirits on the move appears to be blowing horns and banging drums. Old farmers tell me it was very effective.  Keeping evil spirits away is clearly one of the reasons that the moment when the Old Year becomes the New is greeted with shouting, blowing whistles, tooting horns, and ringing bells. Making noise is often part of a ritual that starts something new.  It’s like banging on a door to make it open.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  New Year’s Day was often used to visit the oldest members of your family and to have dinner with them.  And it was always a mark of honor to do the visiting.  Which is why I would like to thank you for visiting with us while we took a look at the rituals of New Year’s. And I hope you will join us next time, as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Food and Romance in Verona - #114

We know that people have been living in the region of Verona since prehistoric times.  But the oldest remaining structures are from the days of the ancient Romans.  Twenty-one hundred years ago, this was a major Roman settlement -- and you can still see parts of the actual buildings that stood here.  The number of Roman remains in Verona and the quality of their preservation is second only to Rome. 

This is what remains of the Lion’s Gate, which was the entrance to the city during the first century BC.

In size and historic importance, the Roman Amphitheatre in Verona is almost as significant as the Coliseum in Rome.  It’s over two thousand years old.  When it opened, it was used for the battles between gladiators, sporting competitions and the general spectacles that were put on by the government.  These days it’s used for the presentation of operas.

Verona is itself a museum that is easy to visit.  A simple guide book and a good pair of walking shoes are all you need.  The Piazza dei Signori was built in the 1200s.  All the entrances to the square are accented with arches.  In the center of the square is the statue of Dante, the author of The Divine Comedy.  When his political beliefs became offensive to the rulers of Florence, he moved here to Verona, and lived under the protection of the Scala family.  To the side of Dante is The Palazzo del Comune.  Its walls are constructed of the distinctive bands of brick and stone that are used throughout the city.

Verona is also packed with wonderful churches.  Verona’s cathedral, known as the Duomo, was consecrated in 1187.  Students of art are particularly interested in the double arches over the entrance.  The first church on the site of San Zeno Maggiore was built during the 400s.  The present structure was put up during the 1100s.  It’s considered to be one of the great examples of Romanesque architecture.  The panels on the doors present scenes from the Old and New Testaments, stories of belief and devotion.

Of all the stories that can be told in Verona, the story that is most often associated with this city is the story of Romeo and Juliet.  Shakespeare set his play here and lovers have taken it to be the truth for the past four hundred years.  Number 23 Via Capello is said to be the actual home of Juliet.  This would have been the courtyard where their great love scene took place -- and the balcony. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Interesting thing about the relationship of love and food... many of the same words that are part of the vocabulary of romance are the same words that are part of the vocabulary of cooking.  I’ll run down a few.  You think about them in terms of love, and I’ll think about them in terms of things that go on in the kitchen.  Steamy... hot... tender... moist... juicy... spicy... delicious... hungry.  I’d better stop or I’m gonna end up with the first R-rated recipe, which could be too hot to handle.  In either case, Verona is an ideal city to take a look at the relationship of love and food.

Romeo and Juliet, as the play or the ballet, is the story of clashing families that threaten to destroy the fabric of society.  The young lovers, however, are wiser than their society, but the madness of their culture destroys them.  Their destruction is a lesson:  Don’t let your society split up into factions that hate each other.  That kind of conflict will destroy the culture’s youth.  When Romeo and Juliet die, everyone realizes how wrong things are, but by then it’s too late.  The tragedy has taken place. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In reality, Romeo and Juliet may or may not have existed -- but their families, or families like theirs, certainly did.  It was a time in Italy where the powerful families were getting bigger and bigger.  They began to bang up against each other and feel crowded.  There was constant fighting in the streets. One of the things that reduced the tension was a marriage where two families ended up in an alliance.  That smoothed things out and made life a lot more peaceful.

Marriage was important -- but the real issue was children.  A society needs children:  no children, no future.  One way of getting the lucky couple together was for the head of one family to decide where the alliance was needed and make a deal with the head of the other family.  If your family did not choose your mate for you in a kind of pre-emptive strike on your emotions, then you might actually meet someone on your own.  At that point, all you needed was your family’s approval.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  A good place to meet somebody was a festival.  Festivals were ideal for romance.  Lots of men and woman, different ages, all in the same place at the same time.  At some festivals you were asked to wear a mask -- so your identity would be a secret.  At a festival the best place to meet somebody was at the food table.  Lots of people hanging around, all hungry for, ummm... one thing or another.  Sounds like hot stuff to me.

If your family wasn’t in the festival set, the church was the next best place, and as a fallback position you could always count on the local fountain.  In the days before inside plumbing, young men and women were constantly going off to the water fountain to bring home a bucket’s worth.  But the well also offered you a place to meet someone.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  “Come here for water often?”  We still think of fountains as romantic places where people come to meet.  As a matter of fact, when I think about my old neighborhood where I grew up, there was kind of a pub, a tavern where everybody would go to meet each other, and we always described it as “the local watering hole.”

The Latin word companion literally means “someone with whom we share bread.”  And sharing is what holds people together. It could be two lovers, a family, a group of friends or an entire society.  To share food is often an expression of love.  There are a number of societies where a man and women eating together in public is a clear statement that they are sleeping together in private.  The flip side, of course, is that if a woman stops cooking for her man, or drastically lowers the quality of her cooking, he’s got a real problem.  Same thing when a man cuts down on eating his mate’s cooking or if he starts to cook more and more for himself.  Something is failing.  Though I should point out that I do most of the cooking for my family, so these signals can get flipped around.

For thousands of years, there’s been tradition and ritual around the foods of lovers.  In order to be “sexy,” the meal must be titillating, more about tasting than eating.  We wouldn’t want anyone to think that the food was the main attraction here.  But there are foods that are believed to arouse desire.  Exactly which food depends on where in the world you are dining.  For a long time, the focus was on any animal with a reputation for great sexual activity.  The idea was that the same abilities would be induced in anyone who partook of that animal at a meal. 

Guys would look at salmon.  Finding their way back from the open sea to the river they called home.  Hundreds of miles of swimming against the current.  Hurling themselves up through waterfalls.  And all done in the name of love.  Let’s have some salmon for dinner!  Couldn’t hurt.

There are foods that some people identify as having sexual textures.  Oysters are in that category.  And then there are foods that come into the culture with a well established reputation as a tasty morsel that will by themselves induce thoughts of love.  Chocolate is the leading food in that category.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Chocolate had been around in South America for hundreds of years before the first European had a taste of it.  Legend has it that the lucky guy was the Spanish explorer Cortez, and he got that first taste from the Aztec ruler Montezuma.  Montezuma recommended chocolate as the appropriate beverage for the amorous evening.  And we’ve been repeating that story for 500 years.  Is it true?  Will chocolate affect your love life?  Every couple of years a scientific group announces the result of their studies.  Some say there is absolutely no effect from chocolate, except the positive feeling you get from eating the chocolate itself.  Others say that chocolate can have an enormous effect on your emotions.  You pay your money and you take your choice.  There is, however, one chocolate that does come with a true story of love; it’s called a Baci, which is the Italian word for “kisses.”

In 1907 the Buitoni family was already well-known in Italy as manufacturers of pasta.  To broaden their production, they decided to start making sugared almonds, which were traditionally used in wedding ceremonies.  They set up their confectionery in the Italian city of Perugia, and called it Perugina.  The family’s 22-year-old son Giovanni was sent to run the facility.  Giovanni fell in love with Luisa Spagnoli.  Luisa was a confectioner and developed many of the company’s products.  Luisa invented the Baci in 1922, and used her work samples to send secret messages of love up and back with Giovanni.  To commemorate that correspondence, Perugina wraps a love message into every Baci that they make.  Baci were introduced to North America at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, and promoted by some really big names.  Joe DiMaggio handled public relations on the west coast and Frank Sinatra was their spokesperson in Italy.  Talk about lovers!

And this is the facility in Perugia where the Baci are made.  Ground hazelnuts come down from the top.  The chocolate base comes up from the bottom.  They’re mixed together and formed into a small round disc that is about an inch in diameter.  Then a whole hazelnut gets placed on top.  Each nut is checked to make sure that it is properly placed.  You know, you can’t be too careful when you’re dealing with nuts. 

Next -- The Enrobing.  A curtain of liquid chocolate pours down, completely coating the centers.  For the next ten yards, the Baci pass through a cold tunnel, set at twelve degrees Centigrade.  At the end of the tunnel, the chocolate is firm.  And since love works best in twos, there’s a second coating.  One more cooling and they’re off to the wrapping machines.

Bright colors are also thought to be important at meals for lovers, especially red.  Scientists who study the effects of color believe that red is received as a warm color, something that is near and attracts the viewer.  It’s alive and vibrant.  Red is the color of passion.  We color our hearts red.  We give red roses.  We wear red lipstick and rouge.  And we include red foods in menus for lovers.  A common double threat is the red strawberry dipped in chocolate.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  There are also places that are ideal for romantic rendezvous.  In order to be a good meeting point for lovers, you need a couple of things.  You should be able to sit down, because you never know when somebody is going to be late.  It’s also nice to be able to order a little something to eat or drink.  And it’s very important to be able to look like you are not waiting for somebody when you are actually waiting for somebody.  The cafe is the ideal spot.  It’s like a mini-festival -- you can come in, sit around, and when you’re ready, you can leave.

This is Verona’s Piazza Bre.  It’s one of the largest squares in Italy.  The line of buildings is emphasized by a wide pavement, which is covered with cafes.  The other place in Verona that is like an ongoing festival, always available for people to see and be seen in, is the Piazza Erbe.  It’s almost in the exact same spot as the ancient Roman Forum that stood here 2,000 years ago.  There’s a colorful and active fruit and vegetable market covered with giant umbrellas and surrounded by historically famous buildings.  And, of course, cafes and restaurants.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  A restaurant can also be an excellent place for romance, especially at the beginning of a relationship, when you’re just getting to know each other.  You’re in a public place.  The restaurant staff can see you.  The diners can see you.  You’re almost “under surveillance.”  And that keeps everybody’s behavior in check.  Quite reassuring.  But it can also be used to make things more exciting.  There are lots of rules in our society against touching in public.  So when you lean across the table... and hold hands... you are breaking the rules.  And you are breaking them where everybody can see you!  That’s juicy stuff!

One of the more romantic restaurants in Verona is the All Aquila, at the Hotel Due Torri, which means “The Two Towers.”  The hotel is an elegant structure which was built on the site of a guest house for the lords of Verona since the 1400s.  The furnishings are the work of local craftsmen, some dating all the way back to the Renaissance.  One of the restaurant’s most romantic recipes is for tortellini.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  I thought tortellini only came with sauce -- but it comes with a legend.  It is called “The Noodle of Love.”  “Alla fine del 300, nel corso...”  English.  At the end of the 1200s, there was a captain of the guards named Marco, who lived just outside of Verona.  He fell in love with a nymph who lived in the river.  But the Duke’s niece wanted Marco for herself, and so she forced the nymph back into the river.  Before the nymph left, however, she gave Marco a handkerchief made of silk with a knot tied in it to remember her.  Since then, a silk handkerchief with a knot tied in it has been a symbol of love, and the people around here reproduce that in pasta.  And that’s how tortellini got started.  Now, if that legend is a little implausible for you, try this one:  tortellini is a reproduction of Venus’ belly-button, sent here from the gods.  You choose your story and you eat your pasta!

Chef Agostino Clama starts his recipe by heating a little oil in a saute pan.  As soon as the oil is hot, in goes a cup’s worth of sliced mushrooms and a little salt.  While the mushroooms are cooking, the stems are removed from two tomatoes, after which they are blanched for ten seconds in boiling water.  The boiling water loosens the skins, and then they are peeled.  For me, peeling tomatoes is always an optional process; I kinda like the skins.  The tomatoes are sliced... seeded... chopped... and added to the mushrooms.  A sprinking of dried hot pepper flakes are added.  A touch of salt goes in.  A little more olive oil.  Then a teaspooon of minced parsley.  Four quarts of water are brought to a boil.  A pound of freshly-made cheese tortellini goes in and cooks for about 45 seconds.  Then the tortellini are drained from the water and added to the sauce.  Everything heats for a minute, and the pasta of love is ready to serve.

Tagliatelli in chicken sauce... orecchietti and broccoli... linguini puttanesca... The cooks of Italy are some of the finest pasta makers in the world.  And they have a few simple rules for cooking pasta that are well worth remembering.

First of all, you need at least four quarts of water for every pound of pasta.  If you’re worried about the foam on the water bubbling out of the pot, put a little oil on top.  That will keep the foam down.  As soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, add all of the pasta to the pot at one time.  Whenever you’re cooking long strands of pasta, like spaghetti, as soon as it gets into the pot, press it down and bend it in half so it is fully submerged.  You don’t want to break pasta into pieces. It also helps to keep the individual strands of pasta separate.  Stir the water to separate those strands. 

As soon as the pasta is tender enough so you can bite through the center without hitting a hard spot, it’s ready to eat.  Then quickly drain it away from the water.  As soon as the pasta is drained, add it to the sauce.  One of the techniques that seems to be used by all of the great pasta chefs of Italy is to add the pasta to the sauce while the sauce is still in the cooking pan.  The pasta gets a better coating of the sauce, and all the food stays warmer until the moment of serving.

The next recipe is for something that any Romeo would love:  chocolate biscotti called Juliet’s Kisses.  Eight ounces of semi-sweet chocolate are melted over a pot of simmering water.  While that’s taking place, four ounces of butter go into a bowl, followed by a cup of sugar.  Those ingredients get creamed together unitil they are light and fluffy.  Then one and one third cups of pre-sifted all-purpose flour are added.  A little more mixing, and then in goes the melted chocolate.  Everything is carefully combined...  and then finally -- The Secret Ingredient (or at least the previously Secret Ingredient):  a hard-boiled egg and a hard-boiled egg yolk, which are pressed through a sieve into the batter.  A bit more mixing, and the batter goes into a pastry bag.  Inch-and-a-half rounds are piped onto a baking sheet, and then placed into a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 15 minutes.  When they come out, they are cooled and given a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar.  “Wherefore art thou, Juliet?  Your kisses are ready!”

For thousands of years the land around Verona has been producing wine.  And many of those wines have become quite famous.  Soave, Bardolino, Valpolicella -- all world-famous, and all made in this part of Italy. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  That fame, however, presented an age old problem, a problem that confronts lovers and a problem that confronts winemakers -- and it’s the same problem.  It’s good to be popular.  It’s good to be in demand.  It’s good to be sought after.  But a lover or a winemaker who gives in too much to the demands of popularity can end up with a highly compromised reputation.  And that is precisely what happened here.  The winemakers gave into the demands of popularity and the quality disappeared. 

But things that go down sometimes get an opportunity to come back up.  And that’s actually been the case here in Verona.  Phillip di Belardino is an expert on Italian wine, and has kept track of this renaissance.

PHILLIP DI BELARDINO:  This is one of the most beautiful areas of Italy.  This is, of course, the Soave area, within the Verona district, and this used to be part of the Venetian Republic, which was founded about the time of the Renaissance.  And speaking of renaissance, that word certainly applies to a revolutionary winemaker, Roberto Anselmi.  He looked at his area, Soave, and went back, literally, to the roots of why this area was great at one time.

BURT WOLF:  Nice choice of words, “roots.”

PHILLIP DI BELARDINO:  And what he discovered is, when you imitate something, the way Soave was, it had to be great to begin with.  And what was great about Soave was that it was originally produced on hillsides.  In fact, to separate the new latecomers of Soave, which are produced on flatland, the ones on hillsides are called Soave Classico, and the ones on the flatland are just called plain Soave.  Now, the hillsides are essential for reducing the number of grapes per acre, which therefore makes a much more concentrated wine.

BURT WOLF:  Fewer grapes, better wine.


BURT WOLF:  Makes sense.

PHILLIP DI BELARDINO:  And the way they could tell where the best vineyards were on the hillsides, were where these -- well, they called them “chapels,” but we would call them overgrown altars.  In fact, the word in Italian for “chapel” is capella.  In fact, if you sang in a chapel, it was --

BOTH (IN UNISON):  --a capella.

PHILLIP DI BELARDINO:  Exactly.  But in local Veronese dialect, it’s capitel, is the word.  And what these altars would serve was a religious function, obviously, because the workers didn’t have cars or horses a hundred and fifty years ago, and would have to walk to the vineyards, which was over an hour.  They would stay here for the entire day, they would have lunch there, and they would also pray.  And the best capitels are Capitel Croce, Capitel Foscarino, and of course Capitel San Vincenzo.  San Vincenzo is Saint Vincent, who is the patron saint of the vinegrowers.

The English poet Edward Fitzgerald said it best -- “A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou” -- traditional ingredients for an affair of the heart.

WOMAN IN FILM CLIP:  Oh Ken, isn’t this heaven?  Nothing’s changed, has it, Ken?

MAN IN FILM CLIP:  Of course not, angel.

WOMAN IN FILM CLIP:  I’m... still a mystery to you?

MAN IN FILM CLIP:  As mysterious as life itself.

WOMAN IN FILM CLIP:  I want it to stay this way forever and ever.

The relationships between wine and food and romance are also about sharing.  And I think the actress Mae West expressed it best when she said, “It’s not what I share, but the way that I share it.”  And I hope you will share some more time with us as we travel around the world, looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Three Glorious Days in Beaune, France - #113

In the middle of France is a district known as Burgundy, and there’s considerable evidence that people have been living here since the Stone Age.   It was a major area for the Celts, and the ancient Romans had a number of strongholds in the region.  During the 400s a group of people came down from the Baltic Sea and took control of the territory.  They were known as Burgundians and that’s the name that has stayed with the neighborhood. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   One of the first people to put Burgundy on the map was a fellow named Charles the Bald.  The idea of putting a descriptive word behind the name of a ruler was a big deal in Burgundy.  Not only did they have Charles the Bald... they had John the Good, Philip the Bold and James the Fearless.  Interesting to think about what our modern leaders might be called if this came back into fashion.  We might have had Ike the Likable, Abe the Honest, and my personal favorite, Richard the Impeachable.  Not very flattering, but at least you had an idea of what you were in for.   And at the time, the people of Burgundy were in for King Louis XI of France, who had it in for the people of Burgundy.  Now, when Charles the Bald was in charge of Burgundy, that was okay.  But when Charles the Bold took over, that was too much for Louis. Charles the Bold was too rich, too famous, too powerful and too good-looking for Louis.  So in the middle of the 1400’s Louis used his military might to force Burgundy to become part of France.  And that’s where it’s been ever since.

The political capital of Burgundy is the city of Dijon, but the gastronomic capital of Burgundy is really a strip of land that runs south from Dijon through the town of Beaune.  For me, Beaune is the real heart of Burgundy.

The food of Burgundy, like the food of most places, is the result of its history and geography.  Burgundy is in the very center of France and there are no important rivers connecting the area to the ocean.  Its major influences come from inside rather than outside.  Throughout its history it’s been primarily an agricultural community.  But for many centuries it was a very wealthy agricultural community.  Basically, the food of Burgundy is farm food raised to the highest levels. 

And then, of course, there are the wines of Burgundy.  Each town along the road from Dijon to just below Beaune is famous for its wine.  The name of the village is right on the label.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The first mention that we have of the great vineyards of Burgundy is in a note that was sent to the Emperor Constantine in the year 312.  The note mentions the fact that the wines of Burgundy are already famous, and then goes on to inform the Emperor that the water drainage system in the neighborhood is a disaster, and he should get it fixed ASAP.  Obviously an outspoken approach to life, as well as a love of great wine has been part of the Burgundian character for quite a while.

The vineyards of Burgundy are owned by over 46,000 different landholders and there are only about 90,000 acres.  In many cases the actual parcel of earth owned by the grower is tiny.  And each owner has his or her own idea of how their grapes should be grown.  In general, the people who grow the grapes don’t make the wine.  But that’s not the case when it comes to the largest owner of the important vineyards -- Bouchard Pere & Fils.  Pere & Fils means father and sons.

This is the Chateau de Beaune.  It was built as part of a fortress during the 1400’s.  During the 1700’s the Bouchard family moved in, and it’s been the center of the business ever since.  Part of any respectable 15th century fortress was a series of underground caves for supplies and troop movements.  Today the caves are used for the aging of some six million bottles of Burgundian wine, including a selection of very rare wines dating back to the 1800’s.

Winemaking, of course, starts in the vineyards, and Bouchard is the largest owner of the highest classifications in Burgundy -- over 230 acres in 25 different areas.  The parcels are separated by rural hamlets, dirt roads, and ancient stone fences.  This is one of my favorite spots in the region.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Behind these iron bars and ancient protective stone gate, lie the extremely valuable chardonnay grapes used by Bouchard to make one of the world’s great wines -- Montrachet.  Le Montrachet was a local lord who lived here during the 1100’s.  He grew his grapes on the land behind me.  The wine that comes from that land still bears his name -- Montrachet.  Right on the label.  Lord Montrachet had a son who went off to the Crusades.  Unfortunately he did not return.  To commemorate his son’s valor, he took a plot of land at the top of the hill and called it “Chevalier- Montrachet.”  Right on the label again.  “Chevalier” roughly translates as “Crusader-Knight Montrachet.”  A few years later, the lord met an extremely attractive young lady, and they got into the habit of spending the afternoons, um, “walking through the fields.” A year or so later she had a son.  That pleased the lord even more.  Across the road he took a plot of land, marked it off, and called it “Batard-Montrachet,” which means “the Bastard of Montrachet.”  Now, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that on television, and if you heard BLEEP Montrachet. I just wanted to mention that batard is a French word meaning “illegitimate child.”

Bouchard is an old family name in Burgundy.  They actually went into the business the year before George Washington was born.  But some of their techniques are very new.  They were the first winemakers in Burgundy to initiate what is called a “green harvest.”  Early in the growing season, they take perfectly good bunches of grapes off the vines in order to concentrate the juices in the remaining grapes.  It intensifies the flavor.  You know, when you’ve been making wine for 260 years... you can take a few risks.

Nicholas Rolin was the Chancellor to the Dukes of Burgundy.  He was one of the most powerful men in Europe during the 1400s.  Nicholas had been widowed twice, when he married Guigone de Salins, a very pious and respectable lady who came from a very wealthy family.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Salin means “salt,” and for hundreds of years her family had owned the most important salt mines in France.  Clearly these were good times for Nicolas and Her Saltiness.  But not for everybody else.  The Hundred Year’s War had just come to an end, and bands of demobilized soldiers were wandering around the countryside destroying everything and everybody they could get their hands on.   A devastating famine had begun.  Ninety percent of the people in Beaune were considered destitute.  But all this presented an interesting opportunity for Nicolas.  He discovered that he could do well by doing good.  You see, Nicholas was concerned  -- concerned that some of the things that he had done on his trip from poor country lawyer to Lord of Burgundy might not look so good on his application for passage through the pearly gates on his way to heaven.  Clearly, this was a time where Nicholas could play... ”Let’s Make A Deal.”

So Nicholas built a great hospital for the needy of Burgundy.  A magnificent place.  A place that has become famous throughout the world.  And that fame was central to Nicholas’s plan.  You see, Nicholas built the Hospices De Beaune with the hope that someone “Upstairs” would notice it and give him a discount on his sins.  This was not an uncommon practice at the time.  “Celestial” favors were a big business and this “arrangement” in no way diminished the magnificence of his charity.

And let me show you just how magnificent that charity was.  They tell me that much of the art created for the Hospices was commissioned by Rolin in order to distract the minds of the patients from their own condition and redirect their thoughts to prayer and requests for God’s forgiveness.  Well, let me tell you... lying in bed in a hospital and looking at the detail of the Last Judgment could certainly do that.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   When the well-to-do were well enough to leave, they would make a generous gift.  Sometimes it was money.  Money was good. Sometimes it was land.  In 1471, for the first time, it was a vineyard.  Wine was thought of as a health-giving liquid, and water something that could kill you.  So the vineyard was a giant step in the right direction.  The Hospices could use the grapes to make wine... give some of it to the patients... and sell the rest of it for money.  And they could do that year after year after year.  The vineyard... a gift that keeps on giving.

Over the centuries many vineyards were donated.  Today the Hospices has holdings on over 50 estates, and they are on some of Burgundy’s best land.  Each year grapes are gathered from these hills and employees of the Hospices make the official Hospices wine.  On the third Sunday in November, the results of these winemaking activities are sold at the world’s largest charity wine auction.  Buyers come from all over the world to bid and many millions of dollars are raised to cover the upkeep of the Hospices.  This is not an auction for the casual buyer.  You must be considered a potentially serious purchaser in order to get into this room.

BURT WOLF:   How do you signal for a bid?

GUIDE (LUC BOUCHARD):  You have to wave your hand.

BURT WOLF:   Just like that?

GUIDE:  Hey!  Be careful!

BURT WOLF:   What did I buy???

GUIDE:   Seven hundred bottles of Pommard!  Just for you.

BURT WOLF:   Seven hundred bottles of Pommard.  Great.  Wonderful.  I love this.

And you never can anticipate who will be bidding against you.

WOMAN WITH BABY:  This little boy is two months old, and he’s just the youngest bidder for today’s wines.

BURT WOLF:   Did he buy, or did he just bid?

WOMAN WITH BABY:  He bought.

BURT WOLF:   Ah-hah.  It’ll be a while before he drinks it, though.

WOMAN WITH BABY:  Hopefully eighteen years.  [laughs]

Throughout this weekend, Beaune not only celebrates its great wine, but also its excellent food.  The hotels and restaurants are packed.  Some of the most sought-after tables are to be found at the Hostellerie de Levernois, which sits in its own ten-acre park, filled with fields, woods and brooks.  The hotel itself is quite elegant...and the cooking has earned it two stars from the Michelin Guide.  The kitchen is under the direction of Christophe Crotet, who’s going to prepare as traditional a dish from Burgundy as you can get -- Boeuf Bourgignon.

Christophe starts by cutting an onion into small pieces.  Next he cuts a carrot into small cubes and chops a clove of garlic.  Those ingredients are going to be used in the sauce.  The meat is a three-pound piece of lean beef that has been sliced into two-inch cubes.  Next a cup’s worth of bacon, cut into small cubes, goes into a saucepan, gets covered with water, blanched for five minutes, and  drained.  Now the cooking really gets started.  Two tablespoons of oil go into a pan, followed by a quarter cup of the onion, a quarter cup of the carrot, and a  few sprigs of thyme.  The ingredients are cooked for a few minutes. 

The beef gets sauteed in a second pan.  It’s important to brown the beef well on all sides.  Christophe points out that the browning is essential in order to give the dish its proper color.  When the meat is brown it gets combined with the vegetables.  Two tablespoons of flour are added and stirred into the moisture around the beef.  The flour needs to be cooked for about five minutes.  The cooking will remove the flour’s starchy taste.  At that point two cups of red wine are added to the pan.  It’s brought to the boil, then simmered for two minutes.  A round of parchment paper is used to cover the pan and it’s into a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for one and a half hours. 

BURT WOLF:   When I saw Christophe put the paper on top of the sauce, I knew it was there to hold the moisture in while the pot was in the oven.  But I’d never seen anybody do that with paper.  So I asked him why, and he had a wonderful reason -- he said that was his favorite pot, but he didn’t have a cover for it.

While the beef is cooking another saute pan arrives and in goes two tablespoons of oil, followed by the blanched bacon.  Then  six shallots that have been cut in half.  The bacon and the shallots cook together for about five minutes.  A half cup of sliced mushrooms are added and browned for two minutes.  A few flips to impress the television crew.  Then in goes a cup of red wine which is then boiled down until it’s almost entirely evaporated.   When the pan with the beef comes out of the oven, the bacon and mushrooms are added, followed by ten more minutes of cooking. That’s it.  When it’s time to serve, noodles go onto the plate, then a few pieces of the beef, the sauce and a little minced fresh parsley.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Italy was the original home for the order of the Benedictine monks.  But their greatest monastery was here in France, at Cluny.  The Benedictines had become rich and famous and powerful and luxury-loving.  But some of the Benedictines thought that the good life was a bad thing.  So they left to form their own monastery.  Eventually the head of their sect became known as Saint Bernard.

Their first abbey was built on a marsh where only reeds could grow.  The French word for “reed” is cistels, so the monks ended up being called Cistercians.   The Cistercians withdrew into the solitude of the countryside.  They renounced worldly pleasures... with one possible exception.  They made great wine.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   In all fairness, the rules of St. Benedict allowed a little bit of wine to each monk every day.  It was important to their religious services.  But they got into the idea of making great wine because they wanted to sell their surplus for money.  Worked very well for everybody.  The monks got to drink better wine, their pursuit of excellence showed their love of God, and they certainly turned a bigger buck.  Eventually the Cistercians ended up with a huge international business dealing in very fine wines.  It was all quite heavenly -- and it should have been.  The Cistercians certainly had friends in high places.

In the year 1150 a man named Walo Gilles donated this land to the Cistercians in exchange for a letter of recommendation that he could use to obtain... um, shall we say... “better accommodations in the after-life.”  Today it is known as the Clos de Vougeot and you can still see what the wine business looked like about a thousand years ago.  There are about a half million vines that will produce enough wine to fill about 300,000 bottles.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The action really got started here in the courtyard.  Carts would come in with the grapes.  The grapes would be transferred to big tanks.  The pressure of one grape on top of the other forced out the free-running juice. Then the grapes were transferred to enormous presses where the rest of the juices were forced out.  Each of the presses had a name.  My favorite is Tetu, “the Stubborn.”  Seven hundred years old and still working.   When the grapes came in, they went into these giant rectangular presses.  The press bar would come down and force out the juice.  The power for the bar came by turning the screw at the end.   The power for the screw came from the monks.  These huge barrels were used to ferment the grape juice into wine.  The Cistercians did everything they could to make the best wine possible, and they knew that a happy monk was a happy winemaker.  So they laid out the area as efficiently as possible. Everything took place on one level.  No wasted energy running up and down stairs for these monks.

The one-level plan was a good idea from the operations viewpoint, but it also made sense in terms of construction.  The land here is made up of very hard limestone. Digging a wine cellar would have been a murderous job. They also covered all the walkways to protect the monks from the bad weather.  They dug a great well and set up an ingenious system for getting the most water up for the least effort.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   These days, Clos Vougeot is home to an organization called Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.  Which loosely translates as... “The Bunch That Likes To Drink Good Wine.” And in this case the wine they like to drink comes from Burgundy. The organization was put together in 1934 to promote the wine and the culture of the region.  Each November, during the third weekend, about 600 of ‘em get together in the old wine storage area to celebrate the introduction of new members.

Considering the number of people that are being served here, and all at the same time, the food at this banquet is quite excellent... and of course, each course is accompanied by an appropriate wine of the region.

This evening is a big deal.  How big?  Well, Catherine Deneuve will be sitting at the head of the table!  And then the ultimate guest of honor arrives.

This is also the time for the induction of new members.  The horn players face away from the audience, partly because they want the bell of the horn to face out, but also because they’re shy and they don’t get much time to practice, and they’d prefer not to be recognized.  After all, this is a voluntary group.   Each year about half a dozen people who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of the wines of Burgundy are inducted into the organization. 

And the next morning, as dawn spread out her rosé-tipped fingers, there was much rejoicing throughout the land.


BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Well, the people of Beaune are certainly having a barrel of fun, but there are some pressing issues that have not been resolved.  Did Nicholas Rolin actually get pre-boarded on his trip to heaven as a result of his good works?  If I buy wine at the auction at the Hospices de Beaune, is there at least a possibility that I will receive “celestial favors”?  No one can answer these questions.  So for the time being, everyone here will continue pressing their grapes, and I will continue pressing my investigation into the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I hope you’ll join me.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: A Formal Dinner Party in the Loire Valley - #106

The Loire is the longest river in France and people have been living on its banks since the Stone Age.  The ancient Romans had a number of settlements in the area, and during the 400s locals of importance began turning the old Roman buildings into fortified strongholds. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Members of an important local family would take up residence inside.  It became the agricultural center of the area and if the lord was important enough, he would mint the local currency here.  But the single most significant function of the structure was as a place where everybody could come and take refuge when the bad guys attacked.

The baddest of the bad guys were the Vikings, and they came through during the 800s.  Building a defensive tower was a right that had belonged only to the King, but the lords of the Loire decided to skip over that ruling and construct the strongest fortifications that they could.  Nothing like finding out that the Vikings would Soon Be Coming To A Neighborhood Near You to make you want to build a fortified tower.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  For hundreds of years, building yourself a defensive castle was the thing to do.  An expert would come along and help you design something that met your own very special needs.  Stone walls, high tower, reinforced turrets.  You needed a great hall, places for your soldiers and servants, storerooms, stables... You wanted all the basics in one building that was difficult to attack, yet easy to defend.

During the 1300s, however, things began to change.  Construction for conflict was becoming unimportant, while elements of comfort were becoming more important.  Less war meant more windows.  By the 1500s, sieges were out and sofas were in.  The fortified castle had become a French chateau.  Of course, you’d still build a moat now and then, but it was only there to reflect the beauty and elegance of your chateau.  By that point in the history of France, what kept people out of your castle was not a stone wall or a moat; what kept them out was their lack of status in your social set.

This is the Chateau Sully-sur-Loire.    It’s unusual because in it you can see the two distinct parts that illustrate the shift from conflict to comfort.  The older structure dates from the 1300s and was built as a fortress.  The wing that was added in the 1600s was clearly designed for pleasure.  The old section consists of three huge rooms that give you a snapshot of what life was like in the Middle Ages.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The real action took place in the giant halls. At the time, furniture was mostly made up of chests.  You stored things in them, and you sat on ‘em.  When it was time for a meal, trestles would come in, boards would go on top, cloth and service on top of the boards.  After the meals, the trestles and the boards would go away, and it became a sleeping area.  The Lord and his Lady may have had a private room but everybody else slept in the center... as many as twelve to a bed.  The twelve-to-a-bed thing wasn’t because they were such a close family -- it was about keeping warm.

The tapestries were also there to keep out the cold and to do a little room dividing.  The roof is considered to be one of the most valuable architectural elements of the period.  It’s over six hundred years old and was made in the shape of a boat’s keel.  The timbers that were used to make the roof were soaked for several months, then slowly dried, heated and bent.  I was told that it took fifty years to complete the process, but no one could tell me if the lord of the chateau had been warned in advance that the roof was gonna take fifty years or he just had a contractor that was running late.

And then there’s the 17th Century wing, which undoubtedly shows the influence of an early Martha Stewart.  Nice painted ceilings.  No more exposed construction.  Wood-paneled floors.  It’s a good thing.

The Loire was on its way to becoming the heartland of France.  For many years it was the center of the royal court, and when the court moved to Paris it still kept the Loire as its residence in the country.  As a matter of fact, when most people think about the traditional romantic beauty of a French village or the French countryside, the images that come to mind are pictures from the Loire.

This is the town of Gien, and it was built during the 1400s.  Almost everything about it, from the geometric pattern of the bricks used in the chateau... to the flower-lined streets... are typical of the Loire.  And this is Jean-Pierre Hurtiger, the Mayor.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  The castle was built in the fourteenth century, and the daughter of Louis XI came here to live peacefully, because France was then going through another war, and she found the right place -- a quiet place, a peaceful place.

BURT WOLF:   It’s certainly that way now.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  Yes, we try to keep it, even though we went through the last war, and the whole town was destroyed -- and a miracle happened at the castle.  After the bombing, a fire started, and a big storm, a rainstorm came down to stop the fire. 

BURT WOLF:   Somebody wanted it to be here.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  That’s right; somebody wanted Gien to live peacefully.  That’s what we are trying to do still today, and I hope that everyone will come around to share peace with us.

BURT WOLF:   Oh, there’s a pharmacy; we can go in and have our mushrooms checked.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  That’s right, we will go and ask the pharmacist if our mushrooms are the good ones.

BURT WOLF:   So whenever I pick mushrooms here, I can just go into the pharmacy, show him what I’ve picked, and they’ll tell me what’s good to eat and what’s dangerous.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  That’s right, but --

BURT WOLF:   What a nice service!

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  -- how to double-check, because if they’re bad they won’t see you again.  [laughter]

BURT WOLF:   I wonder who the first person was that had the sense of adventure to pick and eat a mushroom?

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  I guess he picked the wrong one; that’s why we don’t know him.  [big laughter]

The Loire is where the great cooking of France got started.  It’s the place where many of the most classic of French dishes became part of the national cuisine, and eventually the cooking of many of the most respected restaurants around the world.  When you look at the menu of a traditional French restaurant in Paris, or London or New York, very often the dishes that are being described are dishes that began in the Loire.

For the most part, the recipes of this region produce straightforward, down-to-earth home cooking.  The talents of the cooks, however, have made the dishes famous.  One of their most traditional recipes is for noisette de porc aux pruneaux, roast pork with prunes. Simple idea, but when it’s done well it’s a knockout.

For centuries the noble families of France have come to this region to hunt. The woods are filled with wildlife. The Loire is clearly the national center for great game.  And the rivers supply top-quality fish. There’s pike and shad, fresh water salmon, carp, trout, eels, even crawfish.  The poultry is excellent and often prepared in what is called a fricasse.  The chicken is cut into parts and sautéed with an assortment of vegetables.  When it comes to baking, the specialties are fruit tarts and macaroons.

The Loire is also well-known for its charcuterie.  Charcuterie is a word that traditionally refers to prepared pork products.  But here it’s used to describe all sorts of sausages, cured meat recipes and pates

Many of the recipes include wine as an essential ingredient.  Coq au vin, chicken cooked in wine, which may well be the most widely-exported French recipe, is a specialty of the Loire.  Gerard Salle, one of the outstanding chefs of Paris, was born in the Loire, and regularly presents the traditional dishes of his native district.  Here’s his take on coq au vin.

Gerard starts by cutting a chicken into pieces that are all about the same size.  The uniformity of the chicken pieces makes life more convenient for each of the people at dinner, and it appeals to the French sense of justice.  After all, the national motto is “liberty, fraternity and equality.” If everyone gets an equal portion of free-range chicken the meal is more politically correct.  A little salt and pepper goes on and the chicken is set to rest in a deep-sided dish. 

Then a marinade goes on that is made from red wine, rosemary, bay leaves and celery leaves.  The chicken rests in the wine marinade for twenty-four hours.  At which point the cooking begins.

A few tablespoons of oil are heated in a saucepan.  The chicken pieces are removed from the marinade and placed into the pan, where they are browned on all sides.  That takes about ten minutes.   Then a few tablespoons of flour are added. The flour forms a liaison with the oil in the pan and becomes the basis for the sauce.  A little turning.  A little cooking, and the marinade is poured in.  Additional wine is added until all the ingredients are covered.  A cover goes on the pot, and it’s into a 375 degree oven for an hour. 

When it comes out of the oven, the chicken is transferred to a shiny copper sauté pan, which will become the serving dish that is brought to the table. Some sautéed baby onions are added, plus some sautéed mushrooms.  The sauce is poured on.   Finally, a few pieces of toast that have been cut into heart shapes have their tips dipped into the sauce and then into chopped parsley.  They are set, point side up, into the pan and everything is ready to serve.  Those little hearts, by the way, are purely optional.

Gerard is the executive chef at the Hotel Plaza Athenee, which is situated in the middle of Paris, on the Avenue Montagne, which is where many of the great fashion houses of France are located.  And the hotel itself is pretty fashionable.  It was originally opened in 1911 and has been able to maintain its classic beauty ever since.

The main restaurant is Le Regence.  It opened in 1937, and remains the place to see, be seen, and enjoy Gerard’s cooking -- which today includes a dessert of mini-savarin cakes with a vanilla sauce.

Two cups of flour are mixed together with two tablespoons of sugar and two eggs.  Two-thirds of a cup of milk, mixed with two teaspoons of active dry yeast, is blended in.  Then the batter is left to rest for twenty minutes.  At which point it is poured into mini savarin molds and set to rise for another hour.  Then they go into a three hundred and fifty degree Fahrenheit oven for fifteen minutes of baking.  When the savarins come out of the oven they go into a syrup, which is made from water, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, anise, coriander, orange peel, and lemon peel.  They soak there for thirty minutes.  Then the savarins are placed into individual soup bowls, a strip of vanilla bean is laid in, and then the syrup and a little ice cream.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   And finally, the Loire may be responsible for the high quality of the wines of France.  There’s an ancient legend about a local monastery where the young leaves of the vines were eaten by farm animals that had escaped from the stable.  The monks thought that the winery had been destroyed.  But the reality was that the next year, the vines that had lost the most leaves gave the best grapes.  The monks had discovered pruning. Or was it Divine Intervention?

The Loire river runs through France in a strip that covers over six hundred miles.  And from one end to the other, the hillsides that build up from the banks are used for the growing of wine grapes.  Most of those grapes are used to produce white wine.  In the middle of the district, in Touraine and Anjou, the winemakers make sweet wine.  At both ends of the region, the winemakers make dry wines -- Muscadet in the west, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in the east.

This is the eastern winemaking area of Pouilly-Sur-Loire and, as you might expect, it has a Chateau.  In this case it is the Chateau du Nozet... a parcel of land that has been growing wine grapes for over six hundred years.  And since 1792 it has belonged to the family of Baron Patrick De Ladoucette.  Now, in North America we have a rather limited knowledge of royal titles.  We all know that Elvis is the King, Basie was a Count.  There was a Duke of Earl, and for a while we had Prince.  But I’m not quite sure what a Baron is.

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Well, it depends on which days.  In the 1100s, when my family was first entitled, the title of Baron meant you were very close to the king.  Today it means a different story; it means you have been carrying along a very long tradition of nobility, and you must find a way to pass it through.  The way I found has been to try and make the best white wine in the world.

BURT WOLF:   You’d better -- your family name’s on every bottle.

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  That’s right.  So here we have been cultivating for centuries the savignon blanc, and this is the grape that we use to make our Ladoucette pouilly fume and sancerre.

BURT WOLF:   How do you know when to pick the grapes?

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  We do tests for about a month, and then we see the evolution of the sugars and the acidities, and when we have the best balance, then we start the crop.  Sugar is not everything.  If you are in a very, very warm climate, you will have the sugars all the time, but you will miss the acidity.  When you have a cooler climate, then you will miss sometimes some sugar, and you will have the right acidity.  So you always have to get to a compromise where you get to the best wine.  But also it depends which style of wine you want to do.  If you want to do a wine that’s very rich, very big, then with plenty of sun you’ll have it all the time.  But if you wanted to do something a little more subtle, which sometimes will have a little more finesse, then it’s a good balance between the acidity and the alcohol.  . . .  So there’s an interesting story about this staircase; it has been carved by our own people on the estate, as well as the stones come from the estate itself.  All the woods and the panellings and everything are in the same way -- they have been made from the woods from the estate and they have been panelled and carved by our own people as well.

BURT WOLF:   It’s a homemade chateau!

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Yes, exactly, a make-it-yourself!

BURT WOLF:   Does it come in a little kit, with numbers...?

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Yeah, “Number one, number two...”  So there are three floors, three main floors, and this staircase leads to seventy rooms.

BURT WOLF:   Do you know where all seventy are?

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Oh yeah, sure.  Sure, because we’ve been restoring them over the years...   . . .  Burt, this is your room.  Take your time, relax.  Dinner will be at eight.

BURT WOLF:   Dinner at eight!


BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Thank you.  Good -- because the real reason I came to the Chateau was to take a look at the rituals that are part of a formal dinner -- to find out what it is we do at a structured meal, and why we do it.  And this is definitely the place to take a look.

Patrick’s ancestors moved into this part of France at the time when the nobles were settling into the rituals that are now considered to be the standard for polite behavior at dinner.

At a formal meal, the host or hostess is expected to have a seating plan.  The precise position of each guest at the table should be marked with a card.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The kitchen at the Chateau du Nozet, like all kitchens of noble households constructed during this period, are far away from the dining room, downstairs.  As a result the food makes quite a trip to the table. 

When Louis XIV was King of France and living at his little place in Versailles, his food had to travel for a quarter of a mile to get from the kitchen to his table.  Covers were put on the dishes to help hold some of the warmth.  They were also on to help prevent anyone from adding a little poison during the trip. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The end result is that the poor king actually never had a hot meal.  Things, however, are better here -- it’s only fifty yards from the top of the stove to the top of the table.

The French royal court was not only a difficult place to get a hot meal -- it was a difficult place in general.  The king had gathered all the nobles into one spot and set up his own school of manners, and it had an amazing impact on everyone’s lifestyle.  In the same way that the designers of the chateaux shifted their interest from armies to amenities, the route to power amongst the nobles shifted from muscles to manners.  Combat was out, courtliness was in.  The king actually made table manners a political issue.     If he liked your manners, you got to sit next to him.  The tax collector would notice the power of your new seat and reduce his demands accordingly.  The importance of the new table manners spread throughout the noble houses of France, and eventually throughout Europe.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Now, whenever food comes to the table on a big tray like that, it’s gonna come from the left, because most people are right-handed.  And it’s a lot easier to reach with your right hand and put it there than to try and reach across to the other side.  It’s just... logic.

Wherever you look at a formal dinner, you see the influence of the French.  It was to the French Cardinal Richelieu, arch-enemy of The Three Musketeers, that we owe the blunt-ended table knife.  Richelieu saw a guest at one of his dinner parties picking his teeth with the point of a knife.  Richelieu was so upset by it that he ordered all the knives in his household to have their points ground down to a round end.  Eventually a law was passed making it illegal for French knife manufacturers to produce dinner knives with points.  The only exception was the “steak knife.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Up until the 1800s, formal meals were served in a style called a la francaise, “the French style.” It was the same system that had been used during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  When you got to the table, the food was already there -- an enormous amount had been laid down in the center of the table.  Meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits, sweets -- everything you could imagine.  You took whatever you wanted.  After a while, it was cleared away, a new tablecloth was put on... and another round of food!  Same thing -- meat, fish, poultry, sweets, vegetables, fruits -- but different ones.  This went on for three or four courses.

Then in the early years of the 1800s, a Russian Prince by the name of Kourakin introduced an entirely new way of serving a formal dinner.  Everyone sat down at the table and the food was brought to them one course at a time.  It became known as feasting a la russe, “in the Russian style.” And it is that form that we are still using.  Service a la russe required lots of servants to handle the last minute prep and presentations and the rich liked that, but it deprived them of the pleasure of showing their great collections of valuable dishes.  They solved that problem with display areas against the walls of the room.  Nice touch.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  You’ll notice that everybody who lives in Europe is using their knife and their fork this way -- they hold their fork in their left hand and they keep it there.  They cut whatever they’re going to cut, with their right hand, and then they eat it with the fork in their left hand.  In the United States, we’ve done things differently.  We cut it, and then shift everything to our right hand, and eat it that way.  Well, that was the original way, and people did that until the 1860s, 70s, 80s.  And at that point, everybody became concerned about knives.  They didn’t like knives at the table, and they thought the less you used the knife, the more polite it was.  So they put the knife down as soon as they could, and switched the fork to their right hand because they were right-handed.  About 1880, the English decided that there was a better way to do that, and that would be to keep the fork in their left hand.  And the reason they did that is because it’s much harder to eat with your fork in your left hand; you have to kind of balance everything on the edge of the fork, and it’s backwards -- you’re not using it like a spoon.  That’s more difficult -- and we always think that the more difficult it is to do something, the more “mannerly” it is.  So the English started this, everybody in Europe accepted it, but the Americans said “No -- we’re sticking with the old way.  We’re gonna take the fork and shift it over to the right hand.”  And we never adjusted to the new system.  And this is the actual old way of eating.

The French word desservie means “to clear the table,” and that is where our word “dessert” comes from.  We clear the table and serve our sweet endings.

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to come with me for a little cup of coffee and a little cognac.

These days, when we rise from the table at the end of a meal we’re supposed to leave our napkins loosely folded on the table, never on the chair.  There’s an old European superstition that a guest who leaves his napkin on the chair will never come to dinner again.  The slightly unfolded napkin shows that you know that your host is going to wash the napkin before it is given to someone else to use.  If I folded it very neatly it would be a signal that I intended to stay for another meal.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   That’s a look at a formal dinner -- but it’s a modern formal dinner.  Two hundred years ago, when the Baron’s family first started giving formal dinners in this chateau, they were much more formal.  And the formality was used to keep people apart.  During the last two centuries, there has been a big move towards informality, in the hope that the informality will bring us all back together again.  It is a revolutionary idea -- even for France.  And for more revolutionary ideas, please join us next time as we travel around the world looking at Gatherings and Celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Bordeaux's Harvest Festival - #103

The Bordeaux region of France is in the southwest part of the country, bordering on the Atlantic Ocean.  The Gironde Estuary cuts in from the Atlantic and is wide and deep enough to make the city of Bordeaux a port... even though it’s fifty miles from the coast.  During the Third Century, the ancient Romans came into the area, and by the Fourth Century it was a major commercial center. 

Brigitte Benjamin is an official guide to the city, and she’s taking me on a tour of the public gardens of Bordeaux, which were created in the Eighteenth Century.

BRIGITTE BENJAMIN:  It was replanted in the Nineteenth Century in the way we can see now, in a natural way, like English-style of the Nineteenth Century.

BURT WOLF:   That’s always a big difference between the English and the French --


BURT WOLF:   -- the English liked it very natural, and the French liked it very structured.

BRIGITTE BENJAMIN:  -- straight.  Exactly.  And in English style, you have the rivers and bridges and little boats... very like nature.  Every tree has a label, with the common name, scientific name, date of plantation, the country it comes from, et cetera.  So it’s a scientific process of Bordeaux; arboretum, we call it. ... So this monument here is Girondin’s Monument.  It’s linked to these deputies killed during The Terror.  This monument is also linked to the Third Republic --

BURT WOLF:   -- which was in the late 1800s --

BRIGITTE BENJAMIN:  Yes.  So now we can see the fountains with the Republic, the woman here with the world in her hands.  And she is with three people in front of her -- the man is the symbol of  Work, the woman is Security, with cask [?] and sword, and the lion, the Force.  And they are going to kill the three men in water -- one is Hypocrisy; the middle, you can see the ears maybe, it’s Vice; the other one hiding himself is Ignorance.

BURT WOLF:   Ignorance, Vice and Hypocrisy -- killed by the Third Republic.

BRIGITTE BENJAMIN:  It’s a large program.  And these [?] disappeared from the last war; they were restored only in 1983, because the German people wanted to make cannons from them.  And it was restored back only a few years ago.  So you see a very large symbol of the Third Republic.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   During the middle of the 1100s,  King Henry II of England married Eleanor of Aquitaine.  In her dowry were the lands of Bordeaux.  And so they became part of England and remained there for over three hundred years.  It was during those three centuries that the English discovered the great wines of Bordeaux, and began making them famous all over the world.  Each year, at the end of September or early October, the grapes of the vineyards of Bordeaux are harvested -- and it is that

gathering that we have come to take a look at.

And one of the ideal places to take a look at a traditional vineyard harvest is the Mouton Rothschild Chateau. In 1853 Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild purchased a wine- making property in the Bordeaux region of France and called it Chateau Mouton Rothschild.  In spite of the fact that it was an excellent vineyard, no one in the family showed any professional interest in it until 1922, when Baron Philippe de Rothschild decided to make it his life’s work.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In 1924 the Baron introduced a new and rather revolutionary practice.  He took all of the wine that he had made that year and placed it  into bottles at the Chateau.  Before then, he had sold his wine in barrels.  The individual  wholesale purchaser had put the wine into bottles.  Some of them did a good job, and some of them were less talented.  It was kind of like having a great chef make a wonderful  meal. Some of the meal came to the table in the hands of skilled waiters,  and the rest

in the hands of The Three Stooges.  By putting the wine into the bottles at the chateau, the Baron took complete control of the process. 

The system eventually became an important aspect of production for all the top winemakers in Bordeaux.  Every bottle of wine from this area that is bottled at a chateau, whether it’s Rothschild or someone else, now displays a line on the label that says mise en bouteilles au chateau... “put in the bottle at the chateau.”   The grower suddenly became responsible for the quality of the wine, all the way down the line. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Baron realized that this new association between the winemaker and the final bottle made the label a kind of birth certificate, a producer’s guarantee. And so he tried to make his labels as interesting and distinctive as possible. 

The method was very direct.  Each year he commissioned a leading international artist to produce an original work of art for the label.  Famous artists like Miro... Chagall... Braque... Picasso... and Warhol have made labels for Chateau Mouton.  The Baron also decided that he could use the distinctive grapes of Bordeaux to produce a wine with a more accessible price, which he called Mouton Cadet.  In this case he kept the major art in the bottle.

PHILLIPINE DE ROTHSCHILD:   The harvest is going on, we’re extraordinarily happy this year because the weather’s fabulous, and we think we’re going to make a great. great vintage, and this we’re very happy about...

Philippine De Rothschild is the daughter of Baron Philippe.  She grew up loving the French theater and eventually became a member of the Comedie Francaise, which is one of the most famous classical theater companies in the world.  At one point, however, she decided that though she loved delivering her lines she felt a greater responsibility to her vines.  So she came home to direct the company and devote herself to the art of making wine.

PHILLIPINE DE ROTHSCHILD:  Ahhh, Mouton Cadet, my darling Mouton Cadet.  Mouton Cadet, of course, is a fabulous wine.  I mean, it’s a wine we sell all over the world; my father invented Mouton Cadet, and really, it’s the first branded wine sold around the world.  But one has to be clear about Mouton Cadet.  You know, there’s been a lot of confusion; people were saying “it’s the second wine of Mouton Rothschild...”  Of course, this is nonsense!  Mouton Cadet is a wine that can stand on its own and for its own.  And this year I’m particularly happy because the vintage is so fabulous for all of us in the Bordeaux region.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Most celebrations take place on a specific day.  It can be very precise like Christmas, which is always on December 25th.  Or it can be a date that shifts around in relationship to some other date, like Easter does.  Harvest celebrations, however, are different.  A harvest feast can only take place after the crop has been brought in.  As a result, harvest feasts shift from crop to crop, place to place, and year to year. 

The full moon that comes up at the beginning of the fall season stays up longer than any other full moon. It also seems to give more light. And since that light is used by farmers who are busy bringing in the harvest, it’s known as The Harvest Moon.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In general the fall harvest was a happy time.  The farmers had set a plan to produce a crop, and feed their family during the long winter.  And they had stuck to the plan.  So they had some sense of control over their environment. On the other hand, some farmers felt that they had taken the life of a living plant.  And taking life in any form is scary.  So they were happy... and they were sad.  What can I tell you... life is never perfect.

Many of the farmers believed when their crops, whatever they were, were cut down, the spirit inside the plants suffered.  They were worried that if the spirit wasn’t honored properly and thanked, it wouldn’t come back next year with a new crop.  The farmers suspected that as the harvest went on, the spirit jumped from plant to plant to avoid them... until it ended up in the last plant to be cut down.  Now, at the end of the season, the soul of the plant was hiding, in some concentrated way, inside this last stand.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  A farmer would try not to be the one who did the final cutting. Very often a group of them would stand around the last plants and actually throw their tools at it.  That way no one could tell who caused the final end.

Harvesting a vineyard, however, was different.  The vines that gave the grapes stayed alive.  The grapes were a gift.  If you cared for the vine and honored the gift, everything would be okay.  And let me tell you, there is no plant in the world that is more cared for than the plant that produces top quality wine grapes.  As far as “honoring the gift” is concerned, take a look at what goes on in a fine restaurant when wine is being ordered or served.  It gets its own list that is separate from the menu.  It has its own waiter who just deals with the wine.  Nothing at the table gets more attention.  With the possible exception of a grandchild.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In order to get the real story, a reporter has to be able to fit in with the locals -- to dress like them and be accepted by them.

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   Okay, Burt -- time to go to work!

BURT & XAVIER:  [speaking French; probably “let’s go”]          

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   Well, here we have mainly Cabernet Sauvignon; this is the plateau of Mouton Rothschild, which is considered as the best piece of Mouton.  And it’s essentially Cabernet Sauvingon.  We also have around here some Cabernet [?] and Merlot, which we use for the final blend of Mouton Rothschild.  And the vines that we have here are an average of fifty years, which is obviously excellent, because the older the vine, the better the wine.

BURT WOLF:   It’s like men and women, too.

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   Men and women, definitely.

BURT WOLF:   All right, how do I cut these guys?

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   Well, Burt, all you have to do is cut it from the top, right on the stem.

BURT WOLF:   Okay... careful not to get -- is that right?

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   Yeah, not to get any leaves.  That’s very important.  This is wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon.  Very good.

BURT WOLF:   It’s not gonna be a big harvest if you’re depending on me, you know.

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   Well, but you know, you have to do it very gently and very nicely, because these grapes are very delicate.  Thank you.  I think we have about one bottle of Mouton Rothschild already.

BURT WOLF:   (laughing) How many weeks does it go on?         

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   Well, depending on the year, between ten days and three weeks.  It really depends on the weather.  This year we had superb weather for the past three months, so we hope to complete the harvest in just about ten days.

BURT WOLF:   And can you harvest when it’s raining, or do you stop during -- 

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   No, we stop, always, you know, because it’s not very good to harvest under the water, and even in the morning, when there’s morning moist, we like to wait until the grapes are perfectly dry before starting picking.    

BURT WOLF:   How many years should the wine be in the bottle?

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   Definitely a minimum of twenty years to be ready.

BURT WOLF:   Oooh.

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   That doesn’t mean -- at its peak.

BURT WOLF:   Okay.  So what we’re picking today will be ideal in my glass twenty years from now.

XAVIER DE EIZAGUIRRE:   About twenty years, yeah.

BURT WOLF:   We’d better stay in good shape if we’re gonna enjoy this.



Good-tasting and nourishing food is usually an essential part of the harvest, too.

Here at the Rothschild harvest, the lunch break runs from noon to 1:30 and there is always a hot home-style meal for five hundred.

For hundreds of years, Bordeaux had two things going for it: great wine and great wealth.  Together they made the area one of France’s most important centers for eating.  Bordeaux is the home of the black truffle and the livers of fattened geese known as foie gras.  From late summer until the end of fall, the forests of Bordeaux are filled with wild mushrooms.  Oil is the cooking medium and shallots are the starting ingredient for many recipes.  Steaks are cooked over burning twigs that have been pruned from the vines.

One of the leading restaurants in Bordeaux is Le Chapon Fin, which can be very loosely translated as “the fine chicken.” The restaurant was originally opened at the turn of the century and the main dining room still has the same decorative style as it did at the beginning. Geraldine Garcia is in charge of the front of the restaurant, and her husband Francis is the chef.

He’s starting out his menu with a potato, leek and codfish soup.  A potato is peeled and sliced into thin strips... then cut into small cubes.  An onion is diced.  Then two leeks that have been carefully washed are cut into small pieces... every part of the leek, except the very end.  The potatoes go into two cups of water that are simmering in a saucepan.  The onions are added.  After a minute the foam that comes up from the onions is skimmed off.  Then the leeks go in.  A little stirring.  About ten minutes of cooking and the potatoes are tested.  When Francis can press the potato into a paste between his fingers, it’s time to add the fish.  A cup of dried salt cod that has been broken into flakes goes in.  An ounce of butter cut into thin slices.  And finally, about two tablespoons of chopped chives.  Another three minutes of cooking and the soup is ready to serve.  It’s garnished with sprigs of parsley and chervil.

The main course is beef with a sauce Bordelaise... which is only fitting for a restaurant in Bordeaux.  Two tablespoons’ worth of chopped shallots go into a saucepan with a bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme, some black peppercorns, and a cup of red wine.  The sauce is boiled for five minutes and flamed to reduce it.  The top of a mushroom called a cepe is peeled and cut into cubes.  A little oil is heated in a frying pan.  The tops of two more mushrooms are set into the pan.  The chopped mushrooms are added.  A little salt and a little cooking.  After a minute or so, the whole mushroom tops are turned.  Salt and pepper goes on.   A shallot is minced.  Some parsley is minced.  The shallots go in with the mushrooms; the parsley goes onto the mushrooms.  Next, the fat is trimmed off a tenderloin of beef.  A piece about two inches thick is sliced off... flattened, salted and peppered... then placed into a non-stick sauté pan that already contains a little heated oil.  By this point the sauce has reduced to about a half-cup’s worth of liquid... to which is added a thickened stock called a demi-glaze.  A minute more cooking... a pinch of sugar... and the sauce is passed through a strainer.  The result is Sauce Bordelaise. 

And now for something completely optional.  The chef prepares a slice of marrow. Marrow is found in the center of bones.  This piece comes from a beef bone.  It’s sliced into rounds that are about a half inch thick... lightly floured and sautéed for a moment next to the beef.  The mushrooms go onto the serving plate... then the beef, the sauce and finally the marrow.  

Dessert is an apple tart.  Pastry dough is floured and rolled out to a thickness of about an eighth of an inch.  A plate is used as a guide to cut out a circle of the dough, which is then transferred to a baking sheet.  The tines of a fork are used to make holes in the dough.  The holes help prevent the dough from puffing up during the cooking.  An apple is peeled, cored, cut into thin slices and arranged on top of the dough in concentric circles.  A few pats of butter go on.  Sugar is slowly sprinkled in circles onto the apples.  Then into a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for six minutes.  When it comes out, it is presented as a single serving.  Francis points out that he only used one apple and a very thin slice of dough so it looks big but it’s not an overly large portion.  A scoop of vanilla ice cream is placed in the center, and a sprig of mint.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Along with all the good eating and drinking at harvest time, there is a ritual called first-fruits.  Now, first-fruits are not necessarily fruits. The word “fruit” is being used here to describe the fruit of one’s labor during the growing season.  The ritual consisted of taking a portion of whatever it was that was harvested and offering it to the gods.  It was a way of saying “thank you for your help in this harvest.” Now, I hate to bring this up because I know it’s painful for many of us, but... this business of first-fruits?  It’s where taxation began.  Originally we gave a small portion of whatever  it is we harvested to the gods.  Then the ancient priesthoods decided that they were entitled to a bigger portion.  And finally our modern governments decided that they were entitled to a huge portion of whatever it was we produced.  You have to be careful with new rituals...  you never know where they’re going to end up.

The harvest was also the time of the Hiring Fairs, where people who were looking for work would stand around holding an emblem of their trade.

One of the traditional foods at the harvest was a goose.  As the harvest came to an end, geese were let loose on the fields to fatten on the corn that was left by the harvesters.  These were geese that had hatched in the spring and were being eaten in the fall.  Symbolically, they joined up different seasons of the year. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The harvest goose was also used to foretell the future.  Our modern custom of breaking a wishbone in half in order to see if our wish is going to come true actually originated with reading the harvest goose-bone.  They were particularly important in terms of forecasting the weather.  If you had a light goose-bone, you were in for a mild winter.  If you had a dark goose-bone, you were in for a tough winter.  If you didn’t have a goose-bone, you were already in trouble.  I have a goose-bone.  Let’s see what it says:  “Strong winds out of the north, gusts to fifteen miles per hour... heavy rain with up to two inches of accumulation in low-lying areas... considerable thunder and lightning from low clouds.”  Well, I’ll tell ya... these goose-bones are a lot  more detailed than I thought, but not a lot more accurate than some of the guys working on the evening news.  Whatever the weather is, I hope you will join us next time as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.


BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Uhhh... think I’d better have another look at this goosebone...

Travels & Traditions: Cruising Provence - #908

BURT WOLF: Provence and the French Riviera make up the southeast corner of France. The warm weather, intense sunlight, and magnificent scenery attracted artists like Van Gogh, Cezanne and Matisse.

Its coastline along the Mediterranean Sea made it a playground for the rich and famous.

The region is filled with ancient ruins, 2,000 year old towns, unique shops and good things to eat and drink.

For centuries, the Rhone River has been the area’s main north-south highway and the route I chose for a river cruise between the towns of Tournon and the city of Nice.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, the ancient Greeks were trading in this area.  They were followed by the Ancient Romans.  Romans liked to go everywhere the Greeks had been, it was that kind of relationship.  There were three things going for this spot:  it had a Big River that emptied into the Mediterranean.  It had a Small River joining up right here which gave them the ability to go deeper inland.  And it had a couple of high mountains where they could build their forts to defend the area.

BURT WOLF: The twin towns of Tournon and Tain L’Hermitage face each other from opposite sides of the Rhone River. In 1825, they were linked together by the earliest suspension bridge in Europe.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Originally all suspension bridges were built with chains.  And of course they were only as strong as their weakest link.   Then in the middle of the 1800’s a couple of architects came up with the idea of twisting steel wires together to make a much stronger cable.   That gave them the opportunity to build longer and stronger bridges. And the first one of this type built in continental Europe, was built right here.

BURT WOLF: The quiet riverside road at the edge of Tain L’Hermitage offers some of the most beautiful views of the river.

One of the city’s original gates is still standing, with its town crest and motto:  strong walls make good neighbors.


BURT WOLF: That evening we arrived in Viviers. During the 5th century, a big deal bishop made Viviers his home town. And during the 12th century a huge cathedral was built to signify the town’s importance.  


CREWMAN 1 ON CAMERA: Welcome aboard.

CREWMAN 2 ON CAMERA: Welcome aboard.

CAPTAIN ON CAMERA: Cheers and enjoy the first evening onboard. Cheers to everybody.

BURT WOLF: River cruising is becoming more and more popular.  The ship is your hotel and you unpack only once. And when the ship docks it often docks in the hearts of the towns that you visit.  For me it’s a much more relaxed way to travel.

The boat we sailed on was part of the Avalon fleet with some of the newest and most comfortable river cruises in the world and they use a new design.

The engines are located at the back of the ship and are heavily insulated which produces a quieter and smoother ride.

The interiors are spacious, light and open.  And yet they offer a sense of intimacy. 

The lounges and the restaurants give everyone an unobstructed view of the passing scenery.

There’s also a sky deck that’s used for relaxing, taking pictures, and sunning.

The interior of the ship is non-smoking.

The entire staff is English speaking. And the ratio of crew members to passengers is about one to three.  And there was plenty of good service. 

All the staterooms face outside.

They measure over 170 square feet which is quite big for a river cruiser.

Almost all the staterooms have gliding glass doors and many have a small balcony.

Nice full sized closets.

Individual climate control. 

Mini bar.

Modern bathrooms with powerful showers.

There’s a television and a radio that I never turned on.

And an exercise room that I never visited…but I meant to.

Where I did spend time was the dining room. The have one seating for each meal and it’s open seating. If my crew doesn’t want to eat with me, they don’t have to.

At breakfast there was a buffet table with a wide variety of breads, hot and cold cereals, fruits and fruit salads, cold cuts, smoked salmon, cheese, pastry, yogurts, and juices. There were scramble eggs, sausages, bacon, pancakes and French toast. There was also a chef who prepared fresh omelets and other egg dishes to order.

Lunch was also buffet style. Appetizers, soups, sandwiches, cold cuts, breads, a salad bar, two main courses, one of which was usually a carving station, a dessert table, a cheese board and fresh fruit.

Dinner was a traditional four course meal. And there was always a red wine and a white wine in unlimited supply and free with dinner.


BURT WOLF: The next morning our ship was deep into the heart of France known as Provence. Some locals like to tell you that this land came into existence when God decided to take all the best parts of the universe, that were left over after the Creation, to make his own paradise. Interesting view --- It’s humble in the sense that you are working with leftovers, but awe inspiring because it’s God creating his own paradise.  Typical attitude for Provence---everything here is simple, but it’s the best.

We tied up in the town of Avignon.

DAVID ALFON ON CAMERA: The old name of the city was Avignon.  The city of the wind.  And here we have a very cold wind called the Mistral wind.  Mistral in Provencal that means the master.  And this wind is coming from the north of Europe getting cold in the Alps and crossing the Rhone Valley.  But this wind is very useful because it’s pushing the clouds away.  So when the Mistral is blowing, no clouds, very sunny day, very beautiful day.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: On one side of this river is the town of Avignon which belonged to the Popes.  On the other side of this river is land that belonged to the king of France. And for hundreds of years they were connected by a bridge.  Then in the 1600s a huge flood came down the river and knocked out half the bridge.  Obviously it had to be repaired.  So the Pope called up the king and said “Hi, how about fixing your bridge!?” And the king said “ha ha ha it’s not my bridge, it’s called the Pont de Avignon, the bridge of Avignon. Your town,  your bridge.  You fix it”.  And they discussed that for a while.  And today if you want to go from one side to the other, you swim.

BURT WOLF: The reason the Pope was in Avignon was because during the 1300s Rome was in such chaos that he decided that he had to get out of town and the new town he chose for the Papal Court was Avignon. That’s the Papal Palace that was built for him. It was a busy place when the Pope was there, and filled with magnificent works of art. But it was also a primary target during the French Revolution and inside not much is left.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: People have been living in this area for thousands of years.  But in the year one hundred twenty they became citizens of the Roman Empire.  The big town in the neighborhood was Nimes and 50,000 people lived in it which meant they needed 40,000 cubic meters of water everyday.  Roman architects solved the problem by building an aqueduct that came from this spring to the center of town.  The spring was always filled with water.  Cause it rains a lot.

In about the year 50 AD, Roman architects began building an aqueduct to bring water from the mountains to the city of Nimes. It was an impressive structure than ran for almost 30 miles and the most spectacular part was the span over the Pont du Gard. Even today it attracts thousands of tourists. It illustrates the high level of architectural skill possessed by the ancient Romans.

The Pont du Gard passes over the normally quiet Gardon River at the bottom of a deep valley. But from time to time the Gardon floods and walls of water crash against the pillars that hold up the bridge. In order to protect the structure against these destructive currents the Roman architects shaped the pillars like the prow of a ship.

The walls of the canal were waterproofed with a type of plaster that was made from a mixture of lime, pork fat, wine and figs. Salt and pepper was added to taste. It was so effective that two thousand years later it can still be found on parts of the aqueduct.

Much of the primary work for the construction was done at the stone quarry. Each stone was cut to a particular size and shape --- then lettered to indicate which arch it was for and numbered to show the workmen where it was to be placed in the arch. Not quite a kit from IKEA but getting close.


BURT WOLF: On the tenth day of our trip we arrived in Arles. A lot of its ancient Roman architecture still stands and gives the town a strong sense of history. Its Roman arena was built to seat over 25,000 spectators.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Over two thousand years ago Roman architects figured out how to design a stadium so people could get into it and out of it quickly.

There was a circular walkway that went completely around the stadium.  Off the walkway were stairs.  Some of them went down to the lower seats.  Some of them went to the middle seats.  And some of them went up to the bleachers.

BURT WOLF: The spectators showed up regularly to see the gladiators take on the wild beasts. You can still see the tunnels where the animals charged into the arena. And there’s where they posted each day’s final score ---Gladiators 2, Lions 7.

The Church of St-Trophime is a magnificent example of the Romanesque architecture of Provence. And it’s famous for its 12th century portal and cloister.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For me the most interesting aspect of Arles is that it was the town where Vincent Van Gogh created many of his most famous works.  He arrived here in February of 1888 and in the 15 months he lived here produced over 300 paintings and drawings, including this one called The Drawbridge.  I don’t think that looks anything like that.  Hey Andy, are we in the right place?

This is another famous Van Gogh painting called Aliscont.  It’s a walkway designed to look like Roman Burial ground.   You guys are kidding right?! Van Gogh was fascinated with the challenge of painting an outdoor scene at night.  And this is one of his most successful solutions. It’s called the Café at Night and you can see he’s begun to put in his famous stars.  That actually looks like the café.  The location scout’s getting better.

BURT WOLF: That afternoon, we took a ride through the countryside to the village of Les Baux de Provence. It’s a pedestrian-only village next to the ruins of a 13th century castle.

DAVID ALFON ON CAMERA: First the Prince of Hibble came here and built this village because they got a lot of enemies all over Europe.  And then during the 17th century they became Protestants and the French king say to his prime minister, Richelieu, to come over there and destroy all the area and kill everybody. 

So the French Army came here and destroys all the area.  So that's why you have the rooms of the castle at the top of the village.  Then during the19th century an engineer came and found the bauxite in this area.  And they were mining over there to extract the bauxite and the people came here to work in the mines and they did renovation in the village.  And that's why you have this very well preserved village just behind us.


BURT WOLF: After breakfast we took a motor-coach drive along the Cote d’Azur to the city of Nice. The Cote d’Azur translates into English as the azure coast and it takes its name from the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the blue skies above the French Alps. For almost two hundred years this region has been a summer playground for the rich. The first to arrive were the English aristocracy looking for a healthier climate. Then their equally well-to-do friends from the great cities of Europe. During the 1920s the Americans started arriving. F. Scott Fitzgerald often used the Cote d’Azur as a background for his novels. They all arrived as tourists but soon ended up buying property and building magnificent villas surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Nice is the area’s capital city. During the 4th century B.C. the Greeks settled in --- then the Romans. Later it was under the control of the French. Other times its allegiance was with the Italians. In 1860, the Treaty of Turin was signed and Nice became an official and probably permanent part of France. Many of the street signs are in French and Nissart. Nissart is a true language that is closer to Italian than French and was spoken here for hundreds of years.

The Promenade des Anglais, which means the English Promenade, was built during the 1800s by Nice’s wealthy English community.

And from the very beginning, in a generous show of equality, they allowed non-English people to walk on it with them.

And it’s still the thing to do. And as you walk along you will pass the Hotel Negresco.

The Negresco was built in 1912, and has been a social and gastronomic landmark ever since. Dozens of great French chefs worked here when they were first getting started. And anyone who thought they were someone paid the hotel a visit.  The dome of the Salon Royal was built by Gustav Eiffel in an attempt to prove that his life was not just about towers.

The chandelier that hangs from the dome is made of 16,000 pieces of crystal and was made by Baccarat.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It was ordered by the Czar of Russia but by the time it was ready for delivery to the palace in St. Petersburg the Russian Revolution had already begun and if there was one thing that Lenin hated it was a big chandelier. Time and time again, they come up in his writings as an example of the capitalist exploitation of the masses.

BURT WOLF: They also have the first hotel elevator built especially for the handicapped.  It opens by itself.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the late 1800s, Lord Coventry retired from the British military and took up residency here in Nice. His wife was a bit absent-minded and often forgot to start his Lordship’s lunch on time.  And so he had a cannon placed on top of the hill and fired it every day at noon to remind her to get started. And don’t forget to chill the wine!

BURT WOLF: The hill itself offers excellent views of the city and was the spot where the Ancient Greeks in 400 B.C. -- give or take a few years -- set up their settlement.  During the middle ages it was the site of a defensive castle. It was strategically placed and appeared to be impregnable, until Louis XVI blew the whole thing to smithereens in 1706 because he was fed up with the locals yelling about their right to independence. The net result is a lovely place for a picnic, quite flat.

And to help you with the preparations of that picnic, there’s a daily outdoor market that’s famous for its local fruits, vegetables and flowers.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: This is a typical French bread.  It’s called a ficelle, which means a rope or a string and the reason it’s so thin is that the bakers figured out that their customers liked a lot of crust but not much inside.  And so they ended up baking it as thin as they could. Ficelle.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA (EATING OLIVES): Fantastik…WOW, just a maniac around olives!  Merci, au revoir.

BURT WOLF: The cooking of this part of France is often described as la cuisine du soleil – the food of the sun - and its history goes back for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks settled here and carried on their traditional approach to cooking. After all, like their own communities, this was just another city on the sea. Then the Romans came along with their recipes and for hundreds of years this area was under the control of the Italians.  And let’s not forget the Spanish. For a century or so this was their land. Today the cooking of southeastern France is a blend of ancient Greek and Roman, Italian, Spanish and French.

The most famous dish in the city of Nice is salade nicoise.

And almost every restaurant had some version of soupe de poisson.  It’s served with rounds of toasted French bread and a sauce based on garlic, pimiento and chili pepper.

The chefs of the southeast coast of France are also serious about their vegetable cookery. A perfect example is melanzane Parmigianino – a simple dish made from slices of fried eggplant that are layered with tomato sauce and mozzarella.

One of my favorite spots in Nice is the Musee Matisse.

Many art historians consider Matisse to be the most important French painter of the 20th century. I find that his works have a distinct Mediterranean feeling that make them even more interesting to see when you are in his old neighborhood. He painted the people he knew, the rooms he lived in, lunch.

The last few hours of our trip were spent shopping for local specialties.

My first stop was Alziari which specializes in olives and olive oils.

As the ancient Greeks and Romans set up their colonies around the Mediterranean one of the first things they did was see if the climate was right for growing olives and if it was olive trees were one of the first things they planted. As a result of this Greek and Roman policy, for thousands of years, olives have been grown in the southern part of France and processed into olive oil.

After Alziari we went to Auer.  The chefs at Auer are master sugar workers and produce some of the world’s finest candied fruits---cherries, oranges, orange peels, apricots, pineapples and pears. The fruit is blanched in boiling water then cooked with water and sugar and dried. The sugar acts as a natural preservative.

My last stop was Molinard. It’s the retail shop of a perfume factory in the nearby town of Grasse, which is an epicenter of perfume production. The fields around the town are filled with roses, jasmine and bitter orange blossoms that are used to produce natural fragrances for the perfume industry.

Each perfume is made up of three elements. A top note which is the first thing you smell. Then a middle note which gives the perfume a sense of solidity and finally an end note which is the smell that stays with you.

All of which makes a nice end note for my cruise through the south of France. For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Cruising France - #904

BURT WOLF: In 1991, a French archaeological team working on the banks of the Seine River in the middle of Paris discovered three dugout canoes that proved to be 6,500 years old.  The canoes belonged to a Neolithic tribe of hunter-gathers. So it seems that people have been hanging out in this neighborhood for at least 7,000 years. 

About a mile up stream from the spot where the canoes were found is an island in the middle of the river. Around 300 BC, a Celtic tribe known as the Parisii set up a trading post on this island. It was the perfect spot for a settlement. The river was used for east-west trade. And a north-south land route passed over the island. Once again, the spot where a land route crossed a river became the point of origin for a great European city. The ancient Romans saw the value of the location and developed the island into a typical Roman outpost. Today, it’s called the Ile De La Cite and it’s one of the best neighborhoods in Paris.

It is also the starting point for my tour and river cruise from Paris to Lyon in the middle of France.

The eastern half of the Ile De La Cite is home to the cathedral of Notre Dame. Construction on the cathedral started in 1163 and went on for almost 200 years. At the time, most people could not read, so the builders used the front of the cathedral as a giant billboard to illustrate stories from the bible. In the middle is the Last Judgment and the Resurrection. 

In the year 250, St. Denis, a Christian missionary and the first bishop of Paris, was beheaded on this hilltop.

Legend has it that he picked up his head, and took 6,000 steps to the spot where he wanted to be buried. The hill became know as Mons Martyrum, which means the martyr’s mound. These days the area is known as Montmartre and it’s the highest point in Paris. During the last decades of the 1800s and early 1900s, Montmartre was the favorite district for artists and the place where Impressionism and Cubism were born. This was the neighborhood of Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso. It was, and still is the home of the Moulin Rouge and its traditional Parisian cancan show.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In 1896, the Moulin hosted the annual Paris Arts Student’s Ball, during which the first all-nude striptease was presented. The model who unveiled this new art form was arrested and taken to jail at which point the citizens of Montmartre rioted. It appears that the right to undress completely in an appropriate public space is a basic French liberty and not to be interfered with.  And so she was released.

BURT WOLF: Another revolutionary triumph for French freedom that made my list of top ten tourist sites in Paris is The Arc De Triomphe. It was commissioned in 1809 by Napoleon in order to illustrate his most important military triumphs and its size was meant to match the dimensions of his ego. It lists 128 major battles which are richly illustrated, and the names of his 660 favorite generals who took part in those battles.

I hear that his personal recipe for the cream filling that goes into a Napoleon pastry is inscribed on the monument, but up to now, no one has been able to find it. Actually, it’s not so easy to find a Napoleon pastry in Paris.   However, right down the block from Napoleon’s Tomb is Le Boulanger– a pastry shop that opened in 1901 and has been making great cakes, pastries and breads ever since.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Now most pastry shops carry something called a millefeuille, it’s French for a thousand leaves. Same pastry cream as a Napoleon. Same pastry dough as a Napoleon. But on a millefeuille the top is powdered sugar.

BURT WOLF: The top of a Napoleon however has icing with a brown N on a white background. The N stands for Napoleon.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But when Napoleon lost at Waterloo, the pastry chefs of Paris decided to keep the pastry but drop his initial from the top. You know this is a tough town and your pastry is only as good as your last battle.

BURT WOLF: The Eiffel Tower was built as the entrance way to the international exposition of 1889, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.  And its design was quite revolutionary.

The French government held a competition and over 100 plans were submitted to the committee. The government was looking for a monument that expressed their sense of achievement.

BURT WOLF: The winning design was presented by Gustave Eiffel, who until the time was considered to be a talented bridge engineer. His idea was to construct a 1,000 foot tower made of open-lattice wrought iron.

The plan was to keep it up for only a few years.  But with the high cost of taking it down, and the fun that everyone was having going up, it’s still here.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Until 1930 when it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building in New York City it was the tallest structure on earth.

BURT WOLF: These days, it’s the best place to get the ultimate view of Paris.

And there’s the Musee D’Orsay.

The Gare D’Orsay was a train station built for the 1900 World’s Fair. By the early 1950s, however, its platforms were too short for modern trains and the building was scheduled for demolition. But the President of France, Giscard d’ Estaing, understood the value of the structure and turned it into a national museum. A museum filled with works of the great French Impressionists.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: French Impressionism got started in the late 1800s and early 1900s when a group of painters in Paris got fed up with the traditional subjects of French painting. They’d had enough of religion and mythology and history, they wanted something new.

BURT WOLF: During the late 1860s, Claude Monet began concentrating on the effects of light and color. The subject matter of the painting, the depth and the perspective became less important. Surface pattern became more important. The Impressionists did all of their painting outside while looking at their subject as opposed to the conventional practice of painting in a studio.

Today the Musee D’ Orsay presents the works of the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists including Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh---artists who freed Western painting from thousands of years of tradition.

And then there’s the Louvre---the largest museum in the world and probably the most famous. You could easily spend five years working your way through the main collections.


BURT WOLF: The next day we headed south past the forests of Fontainebleau, which were the favorite hunting grounds of the French kings, and into the Burgundian city of Beaune.

People have been living in Beaune since prehistoric times. For centuries it belonged to the ancient Romans and was a center for cattle raising and the production of wine. For many years it was the home of the Dukes of Burgundy who were more powerful than the King of France, until 1478 when the King invaded and made it part of France. Today, Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy and much of its economy is based on the production and sale of wine --- so you owe yourself a drink.

The most famous landmark in town is the Hotel-Dieu.

During the 1400s, Nicolas Rolin was the Chancellor to the Dukes of Burgundy and one of the most powerful men in Europe.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Things were good for Nicolas, but not for everybody.  The Hundred Year’s War had just ended, and there were bands of soldiers wandering around the countryside destroying everything and everybody they could get their hands on.  A plague had just begun and ninety percent of the people in Beaune were destitute.  Ah but Nicholas saw an opportunity in all of this, he thought he might be able to do well by doing good. He was a bit concerned about the things that he had done to become the great Lord of Burgundy and how they might look on his application to get into heaven.

BURT WOLF: So Nicholas built a great hospital.  A magnificent palace.  A place that has become famous throughout the world.  And that fame was central to his plan.  Rolin figured that if someone “upstairs” noticed what he had done it might reduce the impact of his sins and improve his overall standing with the Almighty. This was not an uncommon practice at the time.  Celestial favors were a big business and this arrangement in no way diminished the magnificence of his charity.

Much of the art created for the Hospices was commissioned by Rolin in order to distract the minds of the patients from their own condition and redirect their thoughts to prayer and requests for God’s forgiveness.  Well, let me tell you... lying in bed in a hospital and looking at the detail of the Last Judgment could certainly do that.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: When the well-to-do were well enough to leave, they would make a generous gift.  Sometimes it was money.  Money was good. Sometimes it was land.  And in 1471, for the first time, it was a vineyard. 

BURT WOLF: Wine was thought of as a health-giving liquid. Water was often dangerously polluted and considered something that could kill you.  So donating a vineyard was a great step in the right direction.  The Hospices could use the grapes to make wine... give some of it to the patients... and sell the rest for money.  And they could do that year after year after year.  The gift of a vineyard was a gift that kept on giving.

Over the centuries many more vineyards were donated.  Today the Hospices has holdings on over 50 estates, and they are on some of Burgundy’s best land.  Each year grapes are gathered from the hillside and employees of the Hospices make the official Hospices wine.

On the third Sunday in November, the result of these winemaking activities are sold at the world’s largest charity wine auction.  Buyers come from all over the world to bid and many millions of dollars are raised to cover the upkeep of the Hospices.


BURT WOLF: The boat we sailed on was the Avalon Scenery which was launched about a month before we arrived. It’s a perfect example of a new approach to comfort and convenience.

The Cruise Director is Jean Loup Domart.

JEAN LOUP DOMART ON CAMERA: Traveling on the boat, making it easy, you’re going to spend seven nights on the ship.  You just park your suitcase; you don’t live out of a suitcase for a change.  We have among the largest state rooms on the river and the decoration is nice, soft and relaxing in terms of treating the wood colors and the textiles.  And most of the rooms that we have on this ship have got sliding doors with some of the most beautiful views of the rivers as we’re sailing.  You have plenty of sky deck, and it’s extremely relaxing on a nice sunny afternoon to just relax on the deck.  Even with a nice cocktail and sort of sip the glass and the scenery as you sail along.  You have on the top deck also a Jacuzzi; you have a gym as well on the lower level and the services of the hair dresser.  The food on the boat, we try to reflect as much as possible the different areas that we are crossing, there are three important meals on the ship.  Morning breakfast, which is a traditional American buffet breakfast.  Then we normally cater a buffet at lunch time and then dinner always with different themes.  Could be a Provencal dinner, could be any kind of dinner that has been planned by the kitchen.  One nice thing about this dinner is that every single dish that is presented at the table to the guest was actually paired with wine. 

We have evening’s entertainment at the ship at least three times a week.  Everybody knows a lot of these French songs so we have a singer coming from one of the cabarets in Lyon that actually sings for us and then as we get to the south there is an important culture that is extremely strongly Spanish influenced and we have the privilege of receive onboard, once a week, The Gypsy Kings.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we visited the Chateau De Cormatin.

It was built in the early 1600s as the private residence of the Marquis d’Huxells, who had the brilliant insight to marry the daughter of the Count de Monee who was the Finance Minister of King Louis the XIII.

Most of the Chateaux that were put up during this period were vacation homes for the Parisian nobility--- nice little places so you could get away from it all.

They had rustic fireplaces.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Chicken noodle…

BURT WOLF: Old fashioned wooden ceilings.

Lots of paintings --- probably done by the kids in school.

A country kitchen.

A place for the little things you collected as you traveled around.

A few extra bedrooms in case you wanted to invite two or three hundred of your closest friends for the weekend.

And pleasant little gardens where you could grow a few herbs or vegetables or flowers.

Or plant your own forest.

The simple life.

This place was built during the time of the Three Musketeers and I can definitely see them in the neighborhood.

That afternoon we arrived in Macon and took a walk around the town.

We also visited St. Vincent’s Cathedral which was built during the 6th century.

But about 1100 years later, during the French Revolution, local citizens decided that they had a better use for the stones than a church, so these days there isn’t much left of the old cathedral.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: That’s the oldest house in the city.  It was built in the 1400s.  And because there’s a row of figures on it that appear to be half man, half animal, it was thought to be owned by the devil and when you walked by it you weren’t supposed to look at it.  But recent research indicates that those are just naked guys hanging out in a bar.  So if you want to look at it you can.

BURT WOLF: Macon is the southernmost wine town in Burgundy. The wines that come from this area are usually light, uncomplicated, easy to drink and a good value for their price. Pouilly-Fuisse is the most famous and most expensive wine of Macon.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But I’d just as soon drink the Macon-Village --- considerably less expensive. Great taste and because the wines of Macon are not aged in oak they are ready to drink when they are released.  And I’m ready.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we sailed to the city of Lyon which was founded by the ancient Romans in 43 BC. They developed their settlement on a peninsula formed by the meeting point of two great rivers --- the Rhone and the Saone.

The hill above the city is called the Fourviere --- probably a contraction of “Forum Vetus” which is Latin for Old Forum.

On the top is the church of Notre Dame. It was built in the 1870s.   It’s a little flashy for some of the local residents who refer to it as the upturned elephant because of the four short towers that stick up from the corners.

Even though the subject matter is the Virgin Mary, the mosaic-covered walls and floors give the inside of the building a Moorish quality. It has become a major pilgrimage site with over a million visitors each year.

Right down the street is the excavation of two ancient Roman theatres.

They were discovered during the 1930s by a group of nuns digging a garden.

The larger theater was constructed in 15BC and had over 10,000 seats. If you got to perform here, it was considered an important booking for your act and a tribute to your agent’s power and influence. It was like playing the big room in Vegas.

Even today, the theatres are used to present special events.

These giant Roman amphitheaters are the earliest Roman structures outside of Rome.

At the base of the amphitheater’s hill is Lyon’s Old Town. During the 1400s,

King Louis XI of France granted Lyon the right to hold commercial fairs that brought in buyers and sellers from all over Europe. Many of the merchants who took up residence in Lyon were from Italy and the buildings have a similar look to the buildings that were constructed during the same time in Florence. In fact, Lyon’s Old Town has one of the largest collections of Renaissance buildings and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BURT WOLF: The word Renaissance literally mean rebirth and in the arts it’s reference to a period in European culture that followed the Middle Ages.  It was characterized by an interest in the classical knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. In architecture the objective was to re-create the ancient classical structures of Rome. Harmony, balance and proportion were the essential elements.

At the beginning of the 1800s, Lyon was considered to be the silk capital of Europe. Over half the population of the city was involved in the weaving and dying of silk.  The weavers were known as canuts and today La Maison des Canuts is a museum dedicated to the history of Lyon’s silk industry.

A guided tour covers the history of the textile industry in Lyon, the invention of the jacquard loom which revolutionized textile weaving and how the industry is evolving in the 21st century. In addition, the museum has a gift shop with great silk scarves and fabulous ties.

Lyon also has a unique architectural feature --- known as traboules, they are narrow covered alleys that were designed as private connections between the great family mansions. They were originally used to transport the delicate fabrics between the different producers and the dyers, and to allow private visits between the families. During the Second World War they were conduits for the French resistance. The residents of Lyon knew the network --- the Nazi’s didn’t.

Today the traboules are still private but agreements between the owners and the Lyon Tourist Association make them available to visitors.

Many people say this is the town that invented modern French cuisine.  Chef Paul Bocuse reinvented it in the 1970s.  We sampled some of the signature dishes at Brassiere Le Nord.  For starters, a chicken liver and foie gras mousse, roasted beet salad and a puree of cod and potatoes.  The main courses were pan roasted chicken, steak in a pepper sauce and whatever the daily special is.  Today it’s saddle of lamb.  For dessert, a fresh fig and raspberry tart and a pineapple upside down cake with coconut ice cream.

That evening we returned to our boat for a private performance by The Gypsy Kings.  The Gypsy Kings are a musical group who perform Rumba Gitano music which is a blend of rumba, rhythms and flamenco.  Their first album was released in 1987 and since then they have sold over 18 million albums.  They’re the world’s best selling musical group from France.

It was a great concert and a perfect way to end our cruise.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.