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Joining Les Dames D’Escoffier and Deconstructed Desserts

Remember when you were a kid and you wondered when you’d be grown up and what it would be like?  And have you noticed that since becoming a grownup you haven’t figured out  if you are really grown up, or even if you’re one of the big kids?

Apparently this never changes.  I mean, let’s face it, when you’re pushing 70 you’re a grownup. But having been the youngest and smallest in my class, and having always aspired to be a teenager, or an adult with a cool job or someone who has done something really important, I apparently haven’t quite grasped that I’m one of the big girls after all.

As a result, when I was invited to join Les Dames, I had the feeling of, Wow!  I get to be with women who have really done something special!

With that in mind, you can imagine my shock and surprise to learn that the San Francisco chapter had voted me in as their first and only Living Legend. It wasn’t until I needed to write a biographical sketch about my work with vanilla and farmers that I realized that maybe I actually had done a few things and that a few of those things had made a difference.

So I put on my grownup clothes and went to the induction ceremony in San Francisco, which was held September 14th at Orson in San Francisco.  Suddenly, standing among these very accomplished women, who were laughing and talking like crazy, I felt as if I belonged there.  Especially when I realized that this was not a formal event at all, but a time to get down and have fun!

Even the ceremony was informal and welcoming.  Some great young women were inducted into Les Dames, several of whom are instrumental in making a difference for the community at large.  That was exciting.  I’m really glad to be one of the big girls — even a Living Legend if necessary– as long as it allows me to support and mentor the young women following us big girls.  The shoes do fit.

Orson is a hoot.  It’s a big, rangey restaurant attached to an old hotel south of Market Street.  The main room is huge, almost cavernous, and painted in dark, industrial tones.  We met upstairs in a private room off a balcony that looks down on the dining room.  The room was painted black and dimly lit.

Dame Elizabeth Faulkner had graciously offered to host our meeting at Orson.  I was really excited to try her food as I knew it would be adventurous.   In addition to the restaurant, she has a bakery,  Citizen Cake, and she wrote Demolition Desserts, with recipes that are a creative stretch that are difficult to describe.  So into the cave we went to dine.

The Menu

First
Fennel, apples, and chevre with a Hazelnut Vinaigrette
Small, fresh, flavorful, no lettuce, just finely chopped apples, shaved fennel, goat cheese and a crunchy vinaigrette.

Main

Chicken ballontine with Blue Cheese Ice Cream

Fried Chicken Ballontine, Celery Root Mousseline, Habanero BBQ Syrup, Blue Cheese Ice Cream
Yes, blue cheese ice cream served on a porcelain Chinese soup spoon.  The chicken was molded in a ramekin and delicious as was the celery root mousseline.  It was more like a coulis spread across the plate than what I would call mousseline, and I wish there had been more of it as it was delicious.  I don’t do hot, so I didn’t try the Habanero syrup, which was served on the side.  The blue cheese ice cream?  It didn’t hold together for me flavorwise or as a refreshing side to the chicken.  But definitely unique.

A Selection of Desserts
I brought my camera and took pictures of everything brought to the table.  But the ambient light was so dim that there was no way to effectively shoot the food, and the desserts took up only a small portion of the huge bowls they were served in, making it even more challenging to do them justice.

We had five desserts placed in the center of our table of eight and we were each given spoons.  I only have the name of three of the desserts:  Midnight at the Oasis, Aple 3.14 and Grilled Sourdough Ice Cream Sundae.  I think we had some kind of shake in a glass and I don’t remember the last of the desserts.  Suffice it to say, I had no clue which was which though the picture below might be the Midnight at the Oasis.  They all were based on ice cream.  There were smears of flavors across the bowls, and they tasted good.

One of the Desserts

But the only way I can effectively describe them would be to quote my last husband, who looked at the meal I presented him one evening and said, “No one in my family would recognize a thing on this plate.”

This wasn’t criticism, it was simply the truth.  He came from Southern parents and his mother  specialized in five-minute meals from a box or can.  And in a very different way, that’s how I felt about dessert.

Elizabeth has a degree in Fine Arts and everything about her restaurant and food is trendy, industrial and artistic.  Willowy, with punked-out bleached blond hair, even in her chef-whites and apron, she has the demeanor of an artist.  Surprisingly, for all the bravado of the restaurant and the food, she’s humble, almost shy in person. 

Shortly after becoming a Dame and given a new title, I received a bill for the 2011 dues.  Back to reality  — oh that! — and the dailiness we all deal with as grownups, or not.  But I now have something new and fun: My name now reads: Patricia Rain, Vanilla Queen, LL.   And I’m finally over it; I’ve accepted that I  am a grownup after all.

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Patricia Rain

is an author, educator, culinary historian, and owner of The Vanilla Company (www.vanillaqueen.com), a socially conscious, product-driven information and education site dedicated to the promotion of pure, natural vanilla, and the support of vanilla farmers worldwide. She also does culinary presentations for food professionals, cooking schools, trade shows, food fairs, and private groups, and is a regular radio and TV guest.
Patricia Rain
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